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How to Mix Kick and Bass to Perfection

Apr 10, 2024

Getting these two low-frequency elements to work together is one of the hardest parts of music production. This is our guide to unlocking powerful and accurate low-end every time.

How to Mix Kick and Bass to Perfection

No matter what kind of music you make or mix, you’ve undoubtedly faced the challenging process of mixing your kick and bass. Getting the low end of your track to sound right is arguably one of the hardest parts of music production, and it’s also one of the most important if you want your music to compete with professional productions.

In this article, we’ve highlighted eight techniques for tackling your mix’s low end using a number of traditional mixing processes including balancing, EQing, compressing and saturating.

In This Article

Balance the Levels of Your Kick and Bass

As the power and availability of music production software continue to expand, it’s extremely tempting to reach for the newest plugin in your folder while neglecting to take care of the basics. Setting your tracks’ levels correctly is essential for a solid mix, and that applies to your kick and bass too.

When you start a new mix, it’s good practice to dedicate 10 to 20 minutes of your time to setting the overall balance of all of the channels. At this point, loading some reference tracks into your DAW will help to direct your volume decisions and keep your ears calibrated.

Alt tag: Mix levels to reference tracks

You can also use your DAW’s channel meter to set your kick and bass loudness according to specific levels. For example, in dance music you might set your kick to -12dB and your bass to -14dB as a rule of thumb.

Use metering to help get your levels right

While this might help to keep your kick and bass levels consistent across several songs, there are many other factors that influence how you mix your low end. Ultimately, if it sounds good then it is good, so you should always trust your ears before all else.

Ensure Your Kick and Bass are Tuned Correctly

There is a long-standing internet debate about whether you should tune your drums or whether it doesn’t really matter. We’re not here to tell you what to do, but when it comes to mixing your kick and bass for maximum cohesion, it’s certainly worth trying to get them in tune with one another.

If your kick does sound slightly out of key with the rest of your track, you can use a plugin like Torque to tune your drums without affecting their transients. Load Torque onto your kick channel and locate the fundamental frequency using the Focus control.

Retune the pitch of your kick tracks

You can now use the Torque control in the middle of the plugin to adjust your kick’s pitch in cents. While you can use a spectrum analyzer or tuner to check your kick’s key, it’s often best to follow your ears with regard to what sounds best in your mix.

Tame Boisterous Bass Frequencies with Bass Rider

Whether you’re mixing a bass guitar for a Rock track, or an 808 bassline for a Hip Hop track, some bass notes or frequencies can really overshadow the rest of the low end. Sometimes, this is because of a particularly dynamic performance, or sometimes a particular frequency carries a lot more weight in the mix.

Whatever the reason, stray bass notes can stick out like a sore thumb. Not only is it distracting for the listener, but it makes it hard to mix your low end accurately. Using a dynamics processing plugin like Bass Rider, you can control those extraneous bass notes and give your low-end a more consistent and professional feel.

Start by placing Bass Rider on the troublesome channel, then set the Target to your bass’ average level. This dictates how much Bass Rider will try to adjust your gain, and should deliver the most transparent results.

Get the level of your bass perfect

Bass Rider will automatically adjust the gain of your bass’ signal according to the input level, making it sound more consistent across each note.

Invert Your EQs to Create Separation

One of the main hurdles many music producers and mix engineers face when they try to mix kick and bass, is that there is a lack of separation in the low end which causes the mix to sound muddy and jumbled.

One way to tackle this is by using an EQ on each element, each doing opposing things. Start by placing an EQ on the kick channel. In this instance, we’re using CLA Mixhub as it allows us to assign both the kick and bass to the same Bucket for easy control of both tracks.

See the pitch of your kicks

Using PAZ Analyzer we can see that the kick’s fundamental frequency is around 54Hz. We can slightly boost that frequency using CLA Mixhub’s LF band in Bell mode. We can then place the LF band on the Bass channel in Bell mode, and do the opposite by setting the frequency to 54Hz and reducing the gain by 3dB to 4dB.

Get better kick impact

This makes the bass give way to the kick, giving the kick a little more impact in its fundamental frequency.

Use Sidechain Compression for More Separation

If you want to create even more separation between your kick and bass, you can use sidechain compression to duck the bass out of the way when the kick sounds. To do this, you’ll need a compressor with a sidechain input such as Renaissance Compressor.

Place the compressor on your bass channel and set your kick as the sidechain trigger. Now set the Attack to be extremely fast, and the Release to be slightly slower. Bring the Ratio up to around 10:1, and reduce the Threshold until you hear the bass ducking.

Use sidechain compression to get bass working

Tweak the Attack and Release settings until the bass is ducking in rhythm with the rest of your track. Once you’re happy with the sidechain compression timing, slightly increase the Threshold or reduce the Ratio to tame the pumping. The ducking should just create some additional space for the kick, and shouldn’t be audible to the listener.

Apply Saturation for More Bass Presence

Have you ever seemingly mixed your track to perfection, only to find out the bass has completely disappeared when listening on certain sound systems? If so, this next technique is for you.

Read more: 8 Tips for Great Mixes on Small Speakers.

One of the reasons that kicks and basses are notoriously hard to mix is that low frequencies don’t always translate well onto other sound systems. This is particularly problematic for pop music which is mostly played on consumer-level playback devices, and dance music with a lot of sub-bass.

There are a few ways to give your bass more presence, even on small sound systems. One of which is by using saturation to bring out a bass’ upper harmonics. Magma BB Tubes is a perfect way to bring out your bass’ upper harmonics, as you can apply Even and Odd order harmonics with the Beauty and Beast controls respectively.

Get bass fuller with saturation

If we wanted to apply some aggressive, gritty distortion, we could use the Beast control. But in this case, we just want to add some subtle harmonic distortion to make our bass sound bigger and warmer, so we’ll increase the Beauty amount.

Apply Glue Compression to Gel Your Low-end

Another common problem with mixing kick and bass is that the two elements can sound disjointed and incohesive. While we generally do want some separation between the two elements, the low end should still sound like one entity, as this gives it more impact in the mix.

To gel our kick and bass together, we can use a glue compression trick made famous by the G-Master Stereo Bus compressor on the SSL 4000 series console. The Waves G-Master Buss Compressor is modeled on the original hardware compressor and has been licenced and validated by SSL themselves.

Glue your bass and kick tracks together

Send your kick and bass to the same group or buss, then add the G-Master plugin to it. We’ve opted to use Richard Chyki’s Subtle Glue preset, then we’ve adjusted the Threshold until the maximum Gain Reduction is around 4dB. We’ve also set the Release time to .1 which works slightly better with the groove of our low end.

Check Your Low End with a Low-pass Filter

As you mix your kick and bass, you might want to regularly reference it against your original reference tracks to see how it sounds compared to a professionally mixed and mastered production.

You can take your referencing a step further by placing a low-pass filter on your master channel and only comparing everything below around 250Hz. We’re using Renaissance Equalizer 2’s low pass band mode to achieve this.

Low-pass filter your master

Auditioning the low frequencies of your mix allows you to really focus your hearing on the kick and bass and how they interact with one another. It makes it much easier to hear if certain frequencies are clashing and require more EQing to get them sitting correctly.

You can also hear how compression is affecting the rhythm of your kick and bass, and whether tweaking your compression settings might help to achieve a better overall sound.

Get all the low end mix chains you’ll ever need

Now you know the main techniques and the tools producers use to get the relationship between their kick and bass instruments working better in a mix, why not try some additional options using the kick and bass mix chains in StudioVerse.

One of simplest ways to get any kick or bass mixed perfectly into any style of production is with our ever expanding library of StudioVerse mix chains. Simply load StudioVerse across any track, and with the powerful AI search, discover a world of production ready kick and bass chains that you can hot switch between in real-time. All the chains in StudioVerse are completely editable. If you find a chain that almost fits to bill, use the macros to dial in the perfect feel or the powerful plugin chainer to add, edit or remove plugins as you wish. Explore StudioVerse today.

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