Mixing Bass And Kick: 3 Simple Strategies To Eliminate Competition

Listening to your favorite records drives you crazy.

The kicks always sound tight and punchy. But the bass lines are thick and solid too.

In your tracks, that seems impossible to achieve.

You’ve watched all the YouTube videos.

You’ve bought all the plugins.

But regardless of what you try, you can’t get the bass and kick to fit together.

Sound familiar?

Don’t worry! There is a solution…

In this article, you’ll learn 3 simple strategies to eliminate competition when mixing bass and kick. You’ll discover how to make these tracks fit together perfectly—which will help you craft a low end that’s clear, balanced, and punchy.

But First…Why Do The Bass And Kick Compete?

Imagine it’s laundry day.

You’ve got a pile of clean clothes, and an empty dresser with 4 or 5 drawers to store them in.

But you also HATE folding.

So you hastily stuff everything—shirts, pants, God knows how many socks—into the top drawer.

What happens?

That drawer fills up. Before long, socks are spilling out the sides. And you’re out of room.

But you’ve still got more clothes…

So you try again. This time, you distribute the clothes evenly among the different drawers. Socks in the top drawer, shorts in the bottom, and shirts in the middle.

Now, all your clothes fit easily. Problem solved.

The frequency spectrum is like a dresser. You can divide it up into different drawers. For example, 80 Hz down could be one drawer. 80 – 200 Hz could be another. And so on…

If you try to stuff too many tracks into one part of the frequency spectrum, you’ll run out of room. It’s like trying to stuff too many clothes into one drawer.

When this happens, masking occurs. Some tracks end up obscuring others.

If your bass and kick are competing, this is probably what’s going on. Since both tracks have lots of low end, they often sit in the same drawer.

The solution?

Put them in separate drawers. They’ll no longer compete for space, and you’ll be able to hear both clearly.

How do you do that? These 3 strategies will help…

1. Start At The Source: How To Play Parts That Mix Themselves

Instead of trying to eliminate competition, why not avoid it altogether?

If you choose the right sounds and play the right parts, you won’t need fancy EQ or mixing techniques.

Why?

Because tracks like these will often mix themselves.

For starters, choose a bass and kick that sit in separate areas of the frequency spectrum. Have a sub-heavy kick? Find a bass with the majority of its energy above 80 Hz.

When choosing sounds, always listen to the bass and kick together. This will force you to make decisions that work in context.

The parts you play matter too. If you have a sub-heavy kick, you may want to avoid playing lower notes on the bass.

If you’re working in a less-than-ideal listening environment, a spectrum analyzer can help. By looking for overlapping frequencies between the bass and kick, you can identify potential problems.

Using the spectrum analyzer in FabFilter's Pro-Q2 to compare the bass and kick

Using the spectrum analyzer in FabFilter’s Pro-Q2 to compare the bass and kick

Consider timing as well. Masking will only occur if two tracks play simultaneously. If you can create timing differences between the bass and kick, the ear will separate them. If the kick hits on beats 1 and 3, program the bass to play on 2 and 4. This won’t always work musically, but it’s an easy way to eliminate competition before you start mixing.

2. Moving Forward: This Simple EQ Technique Will Crush Competition

You’ve done your best in the production process. Or you’re working for a client and have no control over the sounds they chose.

Either way, the bass and kick are competing.

What do you do?

Try spectral slotting.

Spectral slotting uses EQ to carve a space in the frequency spectrum for each track to sit. Going back to my dresser analogy—it’s like taking a track out of one drawer and putting it in another.

Here’s how to pull it off:

  1. Listen to the bass and kick together. Ask yourself—which is more important? Which carries the groove, or anchors the song?
  2. Add an EQ to the least important track.
  3. Sweep a hefty boost up the spectrum while listening to both tracks together. Find a spot where the other track becomes hard to hear. This is the frequency you want to cut.
  4. Dip the frequency out slowly while listening to the other track. Stop when you can hear both tracks clearly.

Cut as little as possible—a few dB can make a massive difference.

Sweeping a boost up the spectrum to find competing frequencies

Sweeping a boost up the spectrum to find competing frequencies

3. Last Resort: What To Do When All Else Fails

You’ve tried spectral slotting, but your low end is still a mess.

What now?

Try sidechain compression.

You can use this technique to turn the bass down whenever the kick hits. This will help eliminate competition between them.

Sidechain compression can also create a pumping effect when used aggressively. This is a hallmark sound in EDM, which makes it a great choice for this genre. But in most circumstances, this technique should be your last resort.

Why?

Because sidechain compression can destroy the natural dynamics of a performance. This can leave the low end feeling unsteady or inconsistent.

Nonetheless, it can still work well when used properly. Here’s how to get started with sidechain compression:

  1. Add a compressor to the bass.
  2. Route the kick into the compressor’s sidechain input.
  3. Set the attack to fast and release to medium.
  4. Pull the threshold down until the compressor triggers when the kick hits.
  5. Adjust the ratio, threshold, and makeup gain in tandem until you can hear the kick clearly.
  6. Adjust the release so the bass recovers transparently after each kick hit.
Using Waves' C1 to apply sidechain compression while mixing bass and kick

Using Waves’ C1 to apply sidechain compression while mixing bass and kick

You can take this technique further using multiband compression or TrackSpacer. These plugins will apply selective compression to certain areas of the frequency spectrum, which can often produce more transparent results.

The End Of Competition When Mixing Bass And Kick

Mixing bass and kick should now be a whole lot easier.

Cheers to a low end that’s clear, balanced, and punchy!

Do you have any strategies for mixing bass and kick? If so, share them by leaving a comment below.

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