How to Mix Kick and Bass
A well-balanced, crystal clear low-end is one of the keys to a good mix. When it’s right, everything else falls into place easily, but when it’s wrong, it can totally disrupt the listening experience. Kick and bass relationship plays a big part in this and can be challenging to navigate, so in this post I want to share a handful of essential tips for mixing them.
You can’t mix what you can’t hear and low-end is the hardest part of the frequency spectrum to listen to accurately. Even the most glamorous mastering suites have quirks in the bottom end that engineers have to adapt to, so if you’re in an untreated room or on monitors that aren’t full range, I’d recommend sticking to headphones for critical listening on the lower frequencies in your mix. If you still find you’re struggling to get the bass sounding balanced, use professionally mixed reference material, similar to your own music, to guide you.
What’s going to sit where?
Before anything, you should decide where in the frequency spectrum you want your kick and bass to be. Should your kick fill out the sub frequencies with the bass sitting above it? Or, should the bass be what’s filling out the lowest lows, while the kick punches from above? The answer will depend on the genre of music you’re making and the end goal you’re shooting for. Just make sure you’ve considered this in the production phase, before you start mixing. You should always aim for the best sound at the source and this will affect your sample choice, amp tones, mic placement, etc. Record like there is no mixing and mix like there is no mastering.
EQ them to fit around each other
If you’ve been thoughtful in the recording/production phase, your kick and bass should already be sitting quite nicely together, with one above the other for the most part, but there’s more you can do. Pull up an EQ on each and start to figure out which frequencies they’re filling out. Once you know this, you can begin to sculpt one, the other, or both in a way that makes them fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. I can’t give any exact settings here as it’ll totally depend on the song and instruments used, but for an example, your kick might have a lot of beefiness around 100hz, but your bass might also be resonating a lot here and covering that clarity in the kick. So, you could make a cut on your bass EQ, with a bell curve and fairly narrow Q setting, to expose that area in the kick drum. Play around with cuts in different places and see what you can do!
Sometimes, you need a little more than static EQ to separate your kick and bass. This is where sidechain compression can be super helpful! What this will do, is duck the volume on the bass every time the kick is struck, which can result in a super clear, punchy low end. For dance and pop genres, this will often be used quite heavy-handedly, whereas in guitar based music or softer styles, it will be more subtle. Setting it up works a little differently in every DAW, so have a look on YouTube if you’re not sure how to do it, but basically you’ll be sending the signal from your kick channel, to a compressor on your bass channel. The compressor will then react to the kick to apply gain reduction to the bass. Settings-wise, I normally use a pretty high ratio (something like 10:1), a fast attack and a fast release. This allows the initial “smack” of the kick through and then brings the bass back up immediately after. If you’re being more obvious with it in a dance or pop track, you might consider paying more attention to the release setting and timing it to the beat. Here’s an awesome tool for calculating the amount of ms you should use based on the note value you need and tempo of your track. (This is great for setting reverbs and delays too)
Sidechain multiband compression
If EQ hasn’t solved your issues, but sidechain compression is too much, a multiband compressor might be the answer. With this, you can use sidechaining to duck the bass whenever the kick is struck, but restrict the effect to certain frequencies. This is something I use all the time with the FabFilter Pro-MB and it opens up a world of possibilities! For example, you can clean up the sub frequencies by having them dip on the bass whenever the kick hits, but leave the rest of the signal intact. Or, you could do the reverse, and move the higher frequencies in your bass out of the way to make sure the percussive smack of your kick drum is never masked.
Don’t forget the other elements of your mix.
Remember, everything affects everything in mixing. If your guitars or synths have lots of excess low end, they’re going to mask your bass and kick. Use high pass filters to make sure your low end is only made up of what needs to be there. Similarly, your kick drum and your bass aren’t only made up of low frequencies - there’s some mid range stuff in there too that will need your attention. For example, if your kick isn’t punchy enough, the answer is often boosting some mid-range, rather than messing with the low end.
I hope this helps you out with mixing those all important low-end instruments! If you’re still having doubts and want another set of ears to help you out, just drop me an email on email@example.com and I’ll happily take a listen to your mix and get back to you with some feedback.