Pro Audio Files

Tips for Mixing Bass Guitar with Multiband Compression

Transcript
Hey folks, Matthew Weiss here — theproaudiofiles.com and theproaudiofiles.com/workshops.

I’m going to be talking about multiband compression a little bit, and I’m going to be specifically talking about bass guitar. This is sort of a nuanced tutorial going over a specific subject, but this is going to be some ideas as to why you may or may not want to use multiband compression, specifically on a bass guitar.

So like all tutorials, first we’ve got to start with what we’re starting with. Let’s check it out.

[bass]

[bass and drums]

Now, as far as a bass DI and amp blend go, this sounds pretty darn good, but it is a little bit flat.

Now, what I would normally do in this circumstance is probably just straight up EQ, because I think that I could probably get everything I want accomplished with just some regular EQ. However, sometimes we want things to be a little bit bigger, or a little bit more powerful than what would sound natural, and sometimes we can do that by getting involved with a little bit of multiband compression.

There’s also some cleanup that we can do with a bit of multiband compression that’s going to be pretty transparent. So for example, when we listen to this bass…

[bass]

I do notice that there are some — not so much there, but in other spots, there are some places where it gets a little bit gnarly, and a little too harmonically chunky in the lower range, like maybe somewhere between about 150Hz, 200Hz, somewhere in there. So that’s an important spot for the bass. That’s where a lot of the power and some of the fundamental notes are going to come from.

So one way we can tame that is by using multiband compression. This is not really different than how I would use it on a vocal.

[bass]

And we can hear it in context a little bit better.

[bass and drums]

So just when I do this little bit of multiband compression, it opens up the bass guitar to make room for the drums pretty nicely, and it does it in a way where we don’t feel like we’re really losing much of the bass guitar at all.

The key to doing the multiband compression on the bass guitar is just to be really aware of your timing constants. I don’t want to lose any punch from the bass guitar, so I’ve got my attack set to a fairly — I wouldn’t say slow slow, but like, a medium-ish attack would — 42 milliseconds, and the release is about as fast as I could manage to get it before it started sounding a little distorty.

So being aware of what we’re trying to do in relation to time, we want to keep the punch in that range, so we set the attack a little slower, and we also don’t want to lose more than what’s absolutely necessary, so we’re setting the release pretty fast. We’re really only knocking off a couple of dB here, just to open it up for the drums and get rid of some of those gruffer sounding overtones.

Okay, so now let’s talk about the low end.

[bass and drums]

So I feel like there could be a little bit more weight in like, the lower area, like, around 100Hz. That like, real body of the bass. If I just pull that on…

[bass and drums]

We do sort of notice this kind of inconsistency where there’s sometimes a little too much of the 100Hz, and sometimes, maybe not quite enough of it, and somewhere right in the middle, so it’s like, on some notes, there doesn’t appear to be too much power in there, and then in other notes, it’s getting a little bit flubby.

So whenever we’re talking about multiband compression, the word consistency should be in mind. When we have something that’s inconsistent tonally, multiband compression might be a good approach. It’s something to consider.

So what I’m going to do here is just focus on the low end of the bass.

[bass, filtered]

So just that stuff that’s like, around 100Hz and below, and what I’m doing is some — not super heavy compression, but pretty notable compression. Really, I want RMS compression.

[bass, filtered]

So I’m using RMS compression. RMS compression is going to even things out on a more macro dynamic scale. So if we’re talking about, like, the variation between different notes, we’re going to be thinking RMS style compression. If we’re thinking about the variation within the shape of an individual note, meaning the attack, the sustain, the decay, the release, then me might want to think about peak compression, or also if we want to do something that’s very fast acting, and really only just chopping off certain spiky moments. Then we would think about peak compression.

So in this case, I’m using RMS compression, because I’m just trying to balance the difference between different notes. Again, I’m using a fairly slow attack, I’m using a slightly slower release, because I want the compression to feel a little more evenly balanced, and even a little bit of a slight edge to the knee. Like, a slight bit of curve to the knee so that it just kind of moves in and out of the compression a little bit more smoothly than hard knee compression, and I’m using a 3.3 to one ratio. That’s what I found to work the best and give me the right blend of compression and transparency, but you know, it’s going to completely vary depending on how compressed the bass already is.

Like, it felt this bass already had a good amount of compression on there, so maybe if it was a less compressed bass, maybe I would need a higher ratio, or if it was a more compressed bass, maybe a lighter ratio. Whatever, whatever.

Bottom line is that I’ve got the low end sort of sitting in the same place now.

[bass, filtered]

And on any given stretch, I’m knocking off anywhere from about 1dB to about 4dB, which is going to pull it in just the right amount. I also have the limiter on the iZotope Multiband here engaged. It’s just for if there’s any spots where the bass player just lays into the note a little too hard, it’s going to catch any overs.

So now that I’ve done that compression, what I have now is a balance of the low end, and once I have that balance of the low end, then I can boost the whole thing up — all of the low end up, and get that power and that strength, but without it feeling uneven and weird.

So before…

[bass, before processing]

I’ll only take that segment right there, because that’s where it starts to sound a little unbalanced.

[bass]

Okay. After.

[bass, after processing]

So it just sort of locks it in place, and we could probably even get away with boosting it a little bit further once we’ve done that.

[bass]

[bass and drums]

So let’s listen to our bass guitar, before and after real quick.

[bass and drums, before and after processing]

That sounds pretty good to me. And one of the things that we want to keep in mind is that not only is our bass sounding bigger and fuller and heavier, but it’s also not stepping on the drums any more or less than it was before we started pumping it up, because really, if it was just a bass guitar, we could pump it up infinitely and it would never be a problem, but as soon as there’s other stuff in the mix, that’s when we have to start making considerations.

Alright, the last example I want to show you here is sort of the opposite idea. In the first two instances of multiband compression, I was taming things down. I was either doing some subtle attenuation that was reacting to the levels, or I was just keeping the low end very consistent, both of which are attenuations using multiband dynamic processing.

This is going to be the opposite. This is going to be multiband expansion, so when something gets loud, I’m going to end up making it louder. So it gets louder and I boost it even more.

This is a cool technique where if you want to bring out, like, the plectrum of a guitar, or an acoustic, or a banjo, or a bass, you can do that by centering in on the frequencies where that sound exists.

[bass, filtered]

Right? We hear the little, chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk kind of sound from the pick, and what I do is I set the attack very fast, I set the release pretty fast, I set the range for as much as I want to end up boosting that sound, and the ratio correspondingly to how much I want to be boosting that sound, and then set the threshold so I make sure that I’m catching all of those different strums, and what we end up with is the difference between this…

[bass, no expansion]

And this.

[bass, with expansion]

Right, where you can hear that picking a little bit more, and if I really exaggerate it…

[bass, exaggerated expansion]

Right. Obviously that’s a little bit too much, but with just a little bit, that can be good, and that plectrum can be really useful in first of all, reminding people it’s a real bass guitar, but second of all, also keeping the rhythm inside the groove, and bringing out the life of the bass once we have other things in.

So here is before…

[bass and drums, before processing]

After.

[bass and drums, after processing]

Now whether or not we want that is going to depend on what else is in the arrangement. If there’s a whole bunch of guitars and a whole bunch of synths and things like that, we might just ultimately really be adding noise to the equation here, but as is and as it stands, bringing out that plectrum when we have a more reduced arrangement can be pretty cool.

So those are some of the uses of multiband compression, specifically on a bass guitar. Now if you want to see me get a lot more in depth into multiband compression, if you go to theproaudiofiles.com/workshops, one of the workshop series that I do is specifically on multiband compression. How it works technically, how we might use it and incorporate it into our mixing for both the purposes of sonics, as well as the purposes of creative, artistic decisions.

So I hope that you check that out, I hope that you learned something, and until next time.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.


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