How to Make Bass Guitar and Bass Drum Cut Through the Mix

TECHNIQUE 1: COMPRESSION AND GATING.

For bass, you can really squeeze the signal and still have the audio sound good and healthy. With a lot of compression you may bring up the level of unwanted noise at the parts the bass isn’t playing, so remember to edit those parts out or use a gate to silence them.

For the kick drum, especially with a live recorded drumset, you can really tighten it up with a gate. Try setting the ratio to 100:1, having a pretty short attack time and have a 200 millisecond release time. (It varies per song.) It’s important to blend this once long decaying kick drum into the overhead mic(s) to have a natural drum sound and not to make the drums sound too gated and dead. After using a gate on my bass drum I usually don’t apply compression but if you want, throw on a compressor and use a slow attack time and fast release, and then visa versa, see which one makes your particular kick drum sound punchier and cut through the mix more.

TECHNIQUE 2: EQUALISATION.

When equing instruments, especially the important ones like bass and bass drum, be subtractive about it. Try to cut more than you boost. It’s a mindset you should try and obtain as soon as possible as a person equing an instrument. As for boosting, try to limit yourself to a less than 4db boost, just a little tip.

With that in mind, let’s throw the stock Pro Tools EQ on our bass guitar. Stock plugins will always be able to do the job. I started by making a low and high pass filter. I highpassed up to 70hz as I wanted to clean up the low end and free up some headroom. I lowpassed down to 1500hz as I did not need anything above that. Also the recording had a fair bit of noise which was mostly removed by making this low pass cut. I next cut away around 7dB along the 240hz to 420hz area. This cleaned up the bass phenomenally and removed the unwanted muddiness. Lastly, I added a 3dB boost to the 1100hz area. This brought out the high mid sound of the bass which helped it cut through the mix.

Okay, keeping up so far? Good.

For the bass drum, kick drum whatever you want to call it, I started by making a similar cut that I did to the bass around the infamous 240hz – 420hz area. The muddiness was cleaned up by doing this. I then added a generous 4db boost at 2000hz which brought out the beater of the drum and helped it cut through the rest of the mix nicely. After this I knew the bass drum needed more oomf, more thump, so I made a good old R&B mixing trick and made a 4dB, narrow Q boost at both 40hz and 70hz. Play around with where these boosts are in your bass drum and see what sounds most effective. It instantly hit me right in the chest. But I did notice it was interfering with my bass a bit too much, so I rolled forward the high pass on my bass guitar to remove a bit more low end. Easy peasy. Sounds perfect. This narrow Q bass drum boosts are a good old R&B trick but in my opinion they work in any genre. Try it out today!

TECHNIQUE 3: DISTORTION / SATURATION / HARMONICS

This part is really the key to bringing out instruments and making them cut straight through the mix. This is what can make the beater of your kick drum and high mids of your bass cut through on your crappy laptop speakers or your tiny earphones.

For the bass, I generously distorted it using the stock Air distortion plugin that comes with Pro Tools. Remember, stock plugins can get the job done as properly as anything. This distortion made my bass sound a lot warmer, it added a whole new sound to the high mids which I found it completely unachievable with compression or equing. It saturated the high mids which made it cut through the mix amazingly. The bass sound on its own did sound a bit unnatural though, when it was soloed. But remember, it’s all about what the final stereo waveform sounds like. So I unchecked the solo button and it sounded perfect. It sat in the mix perfectly and cut through with the help of the saturation.

For the bass drum, I used the Air harmonic distortion plugin. I turned up the low end knob and tuned it to 70hz. Boom, more low end energy. I then turned up the high end knob and tuned it to 1500hz. Boom, more presence. It cut through the mix better than ever.

So in conclusion, compression, EQ and distortion are my three best solutions to make bass and bass drum cut through the mix. Mess around with the order in which these plugins are in your plugin chain. I usually go, from top to bottom, Gate, EQ and Distortion for bass drums and for bass guitars I have Compressor, Gate, Distortion, EQ. This chain can vary of course.

I hope you know more about making your bass guitar and bass drum cut through the mix now!

Look forward to more mixing tips.

Have a nice day.

-Evan.