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Tips for Mixing Low End

Transcript
In this video, I’m going to walk you through some tips for managing low end in a mix. In other words, low frequency elements like bass, kick, and even vocal harmonies. Stuff we don’t normally associate with low end.

I’m going to be using a track by Will Dailey, it’s called Sunken Ship. It’s got kind of a Reggae/Dub vibe, which means there’s lots of low end to play with, but even if the music you’re mixing isn’t Reggae, there’s still lots of takeaways for people mixing Hip Hop, EDM, Rock, or any genre really, considering how most genres of music these days contain lots of low frequency content.

So let’s just dive in.

Managing low end in a mix is a little bit like a war. A war specifically between the kick drum and the bass. My advice is that if you’re dealing with such a battle, you could choose to let one element stand out over the other. Essentially, letting one instrument win that war. Like in this track, we’ve got a kick and a bass guitar. So I’m going to solo just the kick out mic, as that’s where a lot of low frequency rumble is coming from, and I’m also going to solo the bass group over here, into which a bass DI and bas amp are being fed.

So letting one instrument win that war is really easy to do with Neutron 2, as long as I have a Neutron somewhere else on another channel in the mix, I can see what’s happening on that track’s EQ and make some moves.

So I’m going to go up and choose my kick out Neutron, and from here, because I have a Neutron down over here on the bass group, I can open up masking, I can go find that bass track, and see what’s happening EQ wise on the bass, without ever leaving my kick out Neutron.

So now I can play and look to see if there’s any sort of masking happening, if these two tracks are sharing any low frequency information which might be muddying up our overall bass sound, which it needs to be pretty sharp and defined.

So let’s listen and have a look.

[kick and bass]

So I’m noticing right away that the kick has a lot of sub frequency information. We can see it over here from around 0 to 100Hz, and our bass also has some sub frequency information over here. So we need to make a decision now, who’s going to own that space? So I’m going to decide that the kick is going to own that space, and to do that really easily, I’m going to use a high pass filter on the bass track, right from the kick’s Neutron, because this EQ down here is not a ghost EQ. I can action it, and actually make some moves. So we’ll do that right now.

I’m going to stay with this slope that’s selected over here, I just turn it on like this, and if I right click, I can choose the kind of slope that I want. I’m going to go for a very steep slope at 48 dB.

Now, I’ll just shave off some of that sub energy that the bass is occupying so that the kick can have it.

So then the next thing that I want to do is add a little bit of articulation and energy back to the bass, but via these harmonics over here, and to do that, I’m going to boost with the first, and I’ll turn on the second note as well, and to make sure that I make some pretty specific surgical boosts, I also want the kick to go down as I make boosts on the bass, and to do this, I’m going to use the inverse link function. So I’ll press it and you’ll see what happens here.

So see how both nodes are moving? So now, I’ll make a boost over here to increase the energy of the bass, and that kick node goes down so that the bass can really own that area in the spectrum.

So I’ve unsoloed my kick, I’ve unsoloed my bass. Now that we’ve made our EQ moves, I want to hear what these moves sound like in the context of the entire arrangement, and I’m going to do that by using the bypass EQs function here as we go through this loop. So let’s have a listen to see what kind of difference we have in the definition of the overall low end.

[mix]

So to my ears, we have so much more definition in the bass now, and the kick is kind of owning that sub frequency space, which is helping people bob and kind of get into the song, but the most important thing is I can hear those two elements a lot more than I could before. Before we made these moves, I felt like it was kind of a swampy low end mess.

So in your mix, you can go either way with who wins, but the bottom line is, separating these elements leads to a much more organized, tight overall low end.

Having a benchmark for what kind of low end you want in your mix is really important, and frequency analyzers come in especially handy right here. Like our Tonal Balance Control plugin, which is on the screen right now. This shows you not just if your low end is stacking up against bass heavy, modern, or orchestral targets — not to mention that you can add your own. More on that in a moment — but it also lets you know if your low end is appearing too compressed with the low end crest factor meter over here, which I’ll talk more about in a moment.

But for now, I want to see if the Sunken Ship track is conforming to a tonally balanced, bass heavy track target. This target is one that we developed by analyzing thousands of tonally balanced, well regarded bass heavy tracks. So make sure that your copy of Tonal Balance Control is sitting at the very end of your master buss, just like mine over here, and you’ll also want to make sure that you select the loop that has a lot of energy. Maybe a chorus or something. So I’ll do that right here.

So let’s have a listen and a look at Tonal Balance Control to see how our track stacks up against the bass heavy target.

[mix]

So it looks like we have this line, which represents the energy from zero to 250Hz, going a little bit north of this green overlay.

So I can really easily make a mixing decision or a mastering decision, as long as I have a Neutron or Ozone on one of the channels in the mix, and I can access it from Tonal Balance Control. So to get this line down a little bit, I’m going to go and see if maybe something’s happening on the bass, or maybe it’s the kick track.

To be extra sure, I’m going to use the Option, or Alt on a PC, and click function, which lets me kind of scrub around the frequency spectrum, and really kind of investigate where the sonics are coming from. So I’ll select another loop over here and show you what I mean.

[song, filtered]

So I think the culprit is the kick out, so I’m going to go down to select a plugin. You’ll find my kick out right there. And now, we can actually affect the EQ of the kick out right here without having to go over to that track or that channel to talk to that Neutron. We do it right from Tonal Balance Control.

So I’m going to make some EQ moves, get my loop going again.

[music]

So it looks like the culprit that was causing this line to go a little bit north of the overlay for the bass heavy target and the low end was that kick out track. So we dealt with that in a mixing move by dealing with the Neutron over there from Tonal Balance Control. I could remote control it.

So let’s say we want to make a mastering move instead of a mixing move. Well, as long as we have an Ozone somewhere in the session, we can do the same thing. In this case, I have an Ozone on my master track, right over here, and you’ll see that it’s called Ozone Master.

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So the process is the same for remote controlling it from Tonal Balance Control. I’ll go and find Ozone Master, and now I’m making some mastering moves.

I want to play some audio and look at the crest factor really quickly so we understand what we’re seeing over here. So the crest factor meter shows information about the low end dynamic range of your track. When the meter, this little ball, is weighted a little bit too far to the left, this indicates that your mix is too dynamic in the low end. When it’s weighted too far to the right, it indicates that your mix is too compressed in the low end.

So things are looking pretty good for us in the chorus, but if it were too far to the left, I might try and add some compression to tighten up and frame the low end, either on the individual bass or kick tracks, or maybe, with a mastering move in Ozone 8. If it were too far to the right, I would fiddle with the attack, release, and makeup gain settings in the bass’ compression, or the kick’s compression settings, or I could simply turn the bass elements in the mix down.

I should also point out that you don’t have to use our targets. The bass heavy, modern, and orchestral. You can upload your own by clicking here and choosing, “Create custom target curve from audio file,” or even bring in a whole folder of songs that you love and think sound great to have a custom composite curve created in Tonal Balance Control.

So the bottom line is, using Tonal Balance Control gives us the ideal metering situation. We can see if our track is stacking up against the greats in the bass heavy category, and we can solve problems right from the plugin of Tonal Balance Control if it’s telling us that we have more work to do.

When most people think of low end masking issues, they worry about the kick and the bass masking each other. In other words, the kick and the bass competing for space in the frequency spectrum, which usually leads to a kind of unintelligible kick and bass, and an overall swampy low end.

While that’s important to consider, it’s also important to see if mix elements that we don’t normally associate with bass, like lead vocals, keys, percussions, guitars, are also causing muddiness. So I’ve pulled up my bass’ Neutron, and I’m going to decide that the bass is going to be the benchmark for the overall low end sound of this mix, and anything competing with it below 200Hz or so is going to get scooped away, because I want the bass to own that space.

So now, I’m going to talk to other Neutrons in this mix, either on channels or inserts, or even on groups to see if anything is masking this bass, and I’ll do that by clicking on masking, and let’s go over to the guitar buss over here.

So I’m just going to select the loop…

[song]

Now, we’re seeing a couple of visual pieces of feedback here. The first are these white lights that show up across the EQ. Now, these are telling us that there is some masking happening between the guitar buss and the bass. So I can up the sensitivity over here to get an additional layer of visual feedback by way of these pink chutes that will emerge, right there.

So we’re seeing that there is a little bit of masking happening below 100Hz between the guitars and the bass. So — and even more over here.

So I’m going to action a high pass filter, choose a pretty steep slope over here, and just start scrubbing. Now, I’m going to go over and take a look at the lead vocal to see if anything’s happening over there. Again, not a very traditionally low end instrument, but it’s really important to check and make sure that you’re clearing space for the bass elements of the mix, and besides, Will’s lead vocal is very mid-rangey and top heavy, so even if there is something happening down there, I don’t want that to get pooled into the rumbly, muddy low end from all of the other instruments. I want to keep the bass nice and clean.

So let’s select another loop over here and see what’s happening.

[mix]

So a little bit of activity over here. Let’s bring the sensitivity meter up. A little bit of rumble there. Let’s clear it away. And it’s always a good idea to go a little bit too far to know when to pull it back. So we’ll pull it back. Let’s take a look at the keys as well. We have some organs and accordions down there. Let’s see how those are doing.

[song]

Bring the sensitivity meter up. So that’s actually pretty good. So I’m not getting any visual feedback of masking either in the northern lights or the pink chutes, but just to be safe, I am going to add a little bit with a less steep shelf, just to make sure we’re covering our basses.

So clearing away low end content from instruments that we don’t always associate with low end is crucial, because is sessions with heavy track counts, these bass light instruments can pool together and lead to a really muddy mix.

So open Neutron, check for masking, clear it away to help mitigate against this effect.

A lot of loveable low end content can suddenly disappear from cheap ear buds or computer laptops. So if you’ve ever put your mix up against a famous commercial reference on a laptop speaker and wondered why the bass is lacking and disappears in your mix, try the following trick.

Buss your bass, kick, or low end elements to a separate aux channel, as I’ve done here with bass aux 1. Then examine it with a frequency analyzer to see where the fundamental frequency range is. This is where you see a spike in frequency response.

To do this, I’m going to use the EQ in Neutron 2. To get a better sense of where that fundamental is and where its overtones are, I’m going to right click, go to spectrum options, and then choose ten seconds, just to slow this down.

That’s much better. So if your fundamental frequency is in the 60-120Hz range, you might not be able to hear that on a laptop, but you will hear its overtones, which help carry the illusion of bass across narrow frequency listening systems. An octave up should do the trick, so if your bass is hitting at 80Hz, juice the corresponding aux track to give off more at 160Hz.

Here’s the thing. We’re not going to do this with the EQ. Instead, we use harmonic distortion to achieve this effect. Something like Neutron 2’s Exciter can easily do the trick with its various settings, so I’m going to go over there, turn it on, and as you can see, I’ve already created a bit of a system here whereby the middle band is all the way over here to the tape algorithm, and this is intentional. You don’t want a lead guitar kind of distortion, you want something kind of warm and rounded.

I have this active just in the middle band. I have these bands engaged in position, but they’re bypassed, so we’re not actually getting any distortion to the upper frequencies over here, just what’s happening in here.

So once you have your desired effect in…

[mix]

You can go over to the buss and dial it in to taste.

Now, you may want to audition this mix through a high pass filter that broadly mimics the response of a laptop as you play with the right levels, but when you get it right, you won’t have clouded up the low mid-range, but the low end will feel more noticeable on laptop speakers, thanks to harmonic saturation from Neutron 2’s Exciter.

Thank you so much for watching this video. We hope that the strategies provided here give you a confidence and know how to tackle any low end issues that creep up in your mixes. Take care.

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