7 Ways To Enhance Your Mix’s Low End
A strong low end is very important in all sorts of music, not just techno. Working mostly with rock bands I try to create a solid low end that is very tight, yet not so round that it sounds like you're in a warehouse dance party. However I don't often receive mixes that have paid enough attention to the low end, maybe because many studio monitors can't accurately reproduce below 100hz. I've spent a bit of an afternoon coming up with a few idea that may help, listed below. And remember, its about 125hz where sound transitions from being something you hear to something you feel. And its where I'm going to focus here.
1. Clean up the low end of non-bass instruments. What I usually do is add high pass filters on everything that doesn't have important low frequency information- pretty much anything that doesn't thump. A guide I use is that if I can hear the HPF engage then its set too high. The cutoff frequency totally depends on your source but ideally you'd like to filter below 125hz whenever possible. And when that becomes audible, maybe in the case of electric guitars or melodic synth lines, then I shift the filter down to 90hz. The idea here is to reduce the instruments allowed below 125hz to only contain deliberate sounds that you can feel.
2. Experiment with a HPF even on bass / kick tracks. Low frequency information takes up a lot of headroom in your mix, and the lower the frequency the more gain it takes to be heard / felt. On some bass instruments I've had great results filtering at about 40hz, and maybe around 60hz for your kick mic depending on the sound you're after. by cutting some of that unnecessary bass out you increase headroom and can gain up.
3. Single-band compression and multiband compression, Done to Death. Across every inch of the Internet you can find a blog on multiband compression. But I have to mention it cause it definitely works wonders. But first- whenever possible opt for single-band compression over multiband. Two reasons stick out in my mind, and I'm sure there are many more. First, by compressing all frequencies together you introduce less phase shifting and thus retain more source integrity. And second, because experience has taught me that the less you fuck with the better the results. unless you're very careful, multiband is more trouble than its worth and can give you some very unnatural results.
So starting with single band then- in a typical rock mix, sometimes its nice to buss the kick and bass guitar together and apply a single compressor. This can glue the two instruments together and create a very strong and consistent low end. Multiband comes into play when you have to correct for abnormalities in the signal. Examples are when you have a bass guitar set up wrong or the mic positioned incorrectly and one note sticks far out. Every single engineer will tell you that you'll get better results from re-recording with a working instrument and repositioned mic, but hey sometimes you're stuck. In my opinion, multiband compression is better suited for mastering, and its always better to get the recording right than try to mangle it digitally. Check out this video on my favorite multiband (FabFilter Pro-MB) if you're curious- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNkaGACWuhs
4. Equalization has a bigger roll than you think. Try to think of what your bass track is actually missing before reaching for your EQ. Is it lacking punch? If so is it low frequency punch? Or are you actually missing much higher frequencies like the kick beater hit which in turn makes the kick sound dull? EQing without purpose is stupid. Think of what change you want to hear and then adjust, and always cut before boosting (especially in digital). Maybe your lack of punch is cause the bass guitar has a resonance at 300hz making it sound really 'full' and killing all your clarity and strength.
5. Harmonic saturation and distortion. I don't often use deliberate distortion in mastering other than phase shifts from my hardware. By deliberate distortion I should really clarify- I don't much care for distortion plugins. But yeah, sign me up for tubes and transformers. To me digital exciters are terrible. They create an edge that is rather unpleasant unless used very carefully, and its one of those tools that's misleadingly addictive and will then ruin your mix.
But, when used very carefully, a multiband exciter can sometimes add weight to the lowest frequencies of a track. I try to keep it as a last resort after filtering, eq and compression have let me down, but that doesn't necessarily have to be your method. Maybe the reason I keep it for the end is because that edgy sound can get old pretty fast. And because its a nice final option- if your workflow begins with excitation you might be chasing your tail reaching for your compressor / eq afterwards.
6. Parallel compress like you should be doing everywhere in digital mixing. Yep, I love parallel compression. Not exactly a new opinion but in the digital world of dbFS its a true fucking savior. Same is true when trying to add RMS to your bass tracks- add a digging compressor at something like 8% and experiment with attack / release settings. I'll be doing a full article on parallel compression and will eventually link that here.
7. And when all else fails, try Mid / Side processing. Now I'd hope you don't have too much important low frequencies panned in your mixes- it reduces bass focus and punch, and can introduce some mechanical issues in record cutting. But to be sure try converting everything below 125hz to mono. I either use the Avenson Mid / Side to adjust overall stereo width, or Ozone to narrow bass frequencies when necessary. Also experiment with compressing or EQing just the mid channel. It can be very interesting, but be all sorts of careful cause this processing can ruin your recording. Much like multiband compression, its a tool most necessary in mastering when you can't address individual channels which should always be your first instinct.
Anyways, thats about the end of this one. There are a lot of options here, but hell I'll say it again- the less processing you do the better your results. Try to find an option or two from the above that helps and then use it sparingly. Or use several of the options very lightly. Unless you're going for an effect, the idea is to make the smallest footprint on your audio possible.
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