Guide to mixing bass – How To Make Your Bass Sound Better [2021]


Man playing 5 string bass guitar slap bass

Getting your bass tone sounding good is probably one of the most important steps to producing a great track. The bass drives the rhythm of a song, if it is lacking in some way it can throw off the entire song.

Understanding where your bass is going wrong will help you solve the problem and move on with your track. Does your bass sound too thin, or is it too muddy? Maybe your bass isn’t punchy enough and doesn’t cut through the mix properly? Either way, there is so much you can do to fix it!

How to make your bass sound better

To make your bass sound better, try these techniques: adding a limiter, using a high pass filter, adding saturation and distortion for color and subtractive EQ.

Read on to find out in detail how to apply these techniques and for a couple of unexpected ways to make your bass sound better in more detail and learn how you can make use of them in your mix.

1. Using a limiter when mixing bass

Although it seems counterproductive, adding a limiter to your bass can actually make it cut through the mix way better and bring up some of the higher bass frequencies. These higher frequencies often get lost during the production of the bass sounds, where a low-pass filter is applied. 

Start by adding a limiter to your bass, even just a built-in one form whichever DAW you are using. The ceiling will be at -1dB to start out, you want to apply no more than a 6dB reduction from your limiter. Less is more in this case. 

This technique will give your bass its power back and help it cut through how it should without leaving out some of the vital higher bass frequencies. Along with being much louder and punchier, all the bass frequencies will now also be more leveled out. 

Depending on what type of bass you are using, you can also try using a compressor or soft-clipping your bass instead. A limiter will work better on a sub or an electronic bass, where a compressor will work better on acoustic bass. 

Soft-clipping will level out the frequencies of your bass and give it more power much like a limiter does. However, it will also add its own color and distortion so have fun with it and see what works for you. 

2. Using EQ (Equalization) to Make Room in the Mix for bass guitar

A common problem with getting bass to sound good in the mix is muddiness. If your arrangement is off, you may have instruments competing in the mix.

Bass sits in the 60-200Hz frequency range. When you have other instruments overlapping in this range it will compete with the bass and make it fade into the background.

To fix this problem, you may have to rearrange some instruments or change the frequencies of certain notes in the mix. The more space you give your bass in the mix, the more clear your bass will sound, giving it room to punch through and be heard. 

Try to keep this in mind when you compose songs from the get-go. If your song has room for the bass from the start, you can get the perfect recording and save yourself a lot of trouble in the editing phase. 

3. Boosting low mid range frequencies on bass guitar

If your bass is sounding a bit thin in the mix, or it isn’t punching through like you’d hoped, especially once you’re playing it away from your DAW, you may need to go back and pay more attention to your mids. 

Most producers use high-quality studio monitor speakers when producing their tracks. The problem with this is that lower quality speakers don’t have as good of a range as these studio monitors do. Focusing on your mids can do just the trick to bring out the bass on any speaker. 

When you’re trying to boost your bass, instead of focusing too much on the 100-200Hz range, try boosting more around the 250Hz low-mid range. You can also boost a little higher up on the mid-range frequencies to bring out the attack of your bass more and help it sound more punchy.

4. Experiment with Distortion and Saturation

When used in moderation, distortion and saturation can make bass sounds richer by boosting the upper harmonic parts of the bass frequencies. 

Distortion

Distortion can help you boost the perceived loudness of your bass and make it sound heavier, or extreme. The amount you want to add will depend on what type of sound you are going after.

Distortion is often used for a more metal-type sound to add an angrier tone. It also works very well for genres like dubstep, and other music with a heavy bass component.  

Although distortion is actually the clipping of frequencies, you can use distortion to your advantage by playing around with the amount you add. Experiment with the different effects that you can get by adding more or less and seeing what happens. 

Saturation

Saturation and distortion are similar in certain ways, as both can be used to boost the perceived loudness of your bass. The difference lies with the effect of adding saturation. 

Adding saturation can help add more color to your mix instead of just hard-clipping the frequencies. The effects of saturation are much gentler and can be used to add a very nice warmth to your mix.

Saturation is great for rounding up bass frequencies, helping them cut through the mix smoothly and softly with a very light compression called soft-clipping. Where distortion is heavy and gritty, saturation is warm and well-rounded.

5. Use a High Pass Filter on Your Bass

Another great way to make your bass sound better that seems completely counterproductive, is using a high pass filter on your bass. After all, we are trying to make our bass sound better and louder so why would we want to get rid of some of it? 

There is a certain point, at least 20Hz, where we can no longer hear bass frequencies and only feel it as a vibration. The human ear at its best can only hear above 20Hz and even less with age and damage. 

Songs with inaudible bass frequencies below 20Hz vibrate all the windows and walls of a room when the volume is turned up. Not only do these frequencies stop you from turning the volume up higher, but they also use more amp power. 

Removing these frequencies with a high pass filter around 20-30Hz will allow you to turn the volume of a song up without the unnecessary amp usage of the frequencies. You will hear the audible bass frequencies much louder and clearer. 

6. Layer Your Bass tracks With A Sine Wave

Much like you would with any other sound, you can layer your bass to get it sounding smoother, fuller, and stronger in your mix. Sub-bass always makes the bassline sound more complete.

Great sub-bass for a smoother low frequency is a sine wave. To do this, add a sine wave that plays the same notes as your main base frequency, preferably around 20-80Hz. High pass your main bass to around 80-100Hz to make room for the sine wave. You can high pass the main bass more if needed, but this is a good place to start. 

If you find that adding a sine wave is too complicated for you, you can layer your bass in another, simpler way too. Simply duplicate your main bassline and pitch the notes down an octave. 

The most common waveform for this sub-bass is a sine wave, but you can also experiment with other waveforms like square, sawtooth, or triangle to give your bass more character.

7. Use A Parallel Bus To Duplicate The Highs

There is another great way to bring more attention to the mids of your bass to help it cut through the mix better. It is a more advanced method but it works like a dream. The method includes using a parallel bus to duplicate the highs.

To get started, duplicate your bass track as a parallel bus to your main bass. Add an EQ to the parallel bus, taking down the low-end and boosting in the mid to high-frequency range until it sounds good to you.

This technique adds a lot of life to a bass track, boosting it through the mix and giving it a lot more depth. You can also add a bit of saturation to your parallel bus for even more color.   

8. Try a Stereo Bass Effect

Phase cancellation can cause a lot of problems and dampen the power of your bass. As a general rule of thumb, your bass track should always be in mono to avoid these kinds of problems and give your bass much more emphasis by making it more direct.

Along with this rule, ideally, if the lowest frequencies are in mono, as the frequency gets higher it can equally get wider as well. The question is if bass is meant to be in mono, how do you apply a stereo effect to it to get a more well-rounded bass?

Well, there is a way and the method is simple, separate the bass frequency into two, the lower part is left in mono and the higher part can be widened, allowing for a stereo effect without issues with phasing in the lower bass.

  • Start by creating an audio track next to the MIDI track containing your bass VST.
  • On this new audio track, choose your bass VST in “audio from” and you now have your bass playing in two channels!
  • Now you can high pass the new audio track and experiment with effects to widen it. 

This effect allows you to get some pretty interesting results, giving your bass that emphasis that you were looking for. You can liven things up with a bit of distortion or saturation on the high-end of your bass and don’t be shy with the width either.

Conclusion

Bass is such an important part of any mix and thankfully there are so many ways to make it sound better. Hopefully, after reading this you now have a few more tools in your producer toolbox to get started on that punchy bassline you’ve been working on.

Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the sweet spot of your bass high-end and the rich low-end. Start with one new method to see how it goes, or try a few together! Every track will be different so get creative and use your ear. Best of luck!

FAQ

How do I make my bass sit in a mix?

To get your bass to sit well in your mix, make sure there are no frequencies or instruments within a similar range competing with it. This will cause muddiness and make your bass disappear in the mix.

You can also help your bass cut through the mix better with distortion and saturation, or you can bring the volume of your bass up by adding a limiter on your bass or using a high pass filter to remove the inaudible bass frequencies so you can turn the volume up. 

How loud should bass be in the mix?

When you are mixing your bass, you want it to be loud and punchy enough to cut through the mix but not too loud that it overpowers your kick drum.

How do I make bass sound fuller?

You can make bass sound fuller by layering your bassline. You can do this by duplicating your bass track and then taking the duplicate down an octave to give your bass more depth, or you can simply add a sine wave of the same note of your main bassline. 

You can also use a stereo effect to widen your bass by duplicating your bass track and then high passing the duplicate so that you can widen the high range without affecting the low-range of your bassline, avoiding phase issues.

How can I make my sub-bass sound better?

Using a sine wave for your sub-bass is generally very effective, just make sure you put it in the right octave to match your main bass better. 

To make your sub-bass sound better on any speaker, try adding more harmonics to the sub-bass. You can do this by experimenting with different waveforms like a triangle wave for example, and trying it at a higher octave.

How do you get a funky bass tone?

A great way to get a funky sound from your bass guitar to get a good funky bass tone is by using an envelope filter. It is a type of pedal much like a wah pedal that responds to your playing attack. Play around with the knobs until you get what you’re looking for. 

How to make DI bass sound good

Recording bass guitar through a DI (Direct Input) can give you a clean signal to work with, but often it lacks the energy and warmth that you get when miking up a bass cabinet. To get more attack in your bass tone, a subtle boost in the mid range frequencies around the 700-800hz range will give it more bite and attack. To bring more definition out of the strings, try boosting around 2.5khz.

For warmth and smoothness you can run the signal through an amp emulator and add a subtle increase in gain around 80hz.

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