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Bass EQ: 5 Simple Tips You Need To Know

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Struggling to use EQ to make your bass tracks sound clear and balanced? If so, you’re in the right place.

Hey, this Jason from Behind The Speakers, and today you’re gonna learn five simple tips you need to know to easily EQ your bass like a pro.

Now before we dive in, I also put together a bass EQ cheatsheet that summarizes everything we will be covering today, and also includes some additional tips and tricks that will take the sound of your bass tracks even further. So if you want to download this, it’s completely free. Just click the link in the description below, or up there in the video, and you’ll get instant access.

Tip number one is to boost higher.

Now, when most mixers try to add clarity to the bass, the first thing that they do is reach for the low end, so they’ll grab an EQ, boost 60 Hz, or 80 or 100 Hz, because they feel like that’s what the bass needs to make it cut through the mix. In reality, oftentimes this can cause a mushy, muddy mess of low end, competition between the kick—it just isn’t a great sound a lot of the time.

So a better approach is boosting higher up the frequency spectrum, either in the midrange, or the top end. And what happens when you do this, is you can actually trick the ear into hearing more low end than is actually there. So by having a lot of that top-end information boosted, we’ll actually feel like there’s more low end in the track, when the low end is still pretty lean and clean.

So, next I want to jump into my DAW, and show you exactly the impact this type of effect can have on a bass track in a mix.

Okay, so I have a song here by Megan Cavallari, and I want to take a look at the impact that a top-end boost had on the clarity of the bass in this mix. So let’s take a listen to the whole mix first, and then we’ll dive into the processing that I added to the bass.

So you can hear there’s a lot of stuff going on. We’ve got guitars, cymbals, all sorts of stuff, and so trying to get the bass to cut through this mix was a particular challenge. And rather than adding low end again like most people do, what I did was I added an EQ to this track, and boosted a whopping 14 dB at 852 Hz all the way up the frequency spectrum, so this is a shelf. And you might be thinking, man, that looks like it’s way too much, and the truth is it does look like it’s too much, but in context with the mix, it sounds great. So this is exactly what this track needed.

So, let’s solo the bass real quick, and I’m gonna turn it up a little bit, so we can hear it better. And I want to play you this first dry. So this is without the top-end boost.

And this is with the boost engaged.

So you might be thinking, I’m not sure if I prefer that, right? It’s really bright and edgy, and kind of harsh-sounding. And that’s true, in solo, it actually maybe sounds worse. But all that matters is how this track fits in with the rest of the mix. So rather than making this decision in solo, in soloing the vocal and adding EQ, I was listening to all these tracks in context, and in context, I found that I needed that much top end to make the bass cut through.

So let’s take a listen to this bass in context with the rest of the mix, first, without this top-end boost.

And now with the top-end boost.

So, suddenly it doesn’t sound so bright, right? You can just hear the top of the bass cutting through the mix, but it sounds balanced, it doesn’t sound like it’s too bright and aggressive. And this is really important, right? We’re making these decisions in context, because all that matters is how the bass sounds with everything else.

Tip number two is to go broad.

Now when you’re EQing the bass—specifically when you’re boosting the low end—it’s usually best to have broader curves—so wider Q’s—instead of getting super-surgical. And the reason for this is because, especially in the low end of the frequency spectrum, when you get too narrow, you start to affect the volume of individual notes in the bass part. So if you boost something with a really narrow Q, you end up just bringing out one note in the bass performance, and usually this isn’t what you’re looking for.

So instead of just isolating out one note, you want to bring up the overall character or tonality of the bass in the frequency spot that we’re trying to boost. And the way that you do this is going much broader. So instead of going with tight Q’s, try opening things up, going wider, broader Q’s, and this is usually gonna lead to a more natural sound, especially when you’re EQing bass.

Number three is to EQ in context.

This is so important, not just when you’re EQing bass, but also when you’re EQing any track in the mix. The goal of the mixing process is not to make tracks sound good on their own. It’s to make them fit together and work in harmony with each other. So, it doesn’t matter what the bass in your mix sounds like in solo. What matters is how it’s working with all the other tracks in your mix.

So when you apply EQ to the bass, instead of soloing it and making those changes in solo, listen to the way the bass is working with everything else. Listen to everything together, and then make decisions that help that bass fit in with the rest of the tracks in your mix.

So, next I want to jump into my DAW, and show you just how big an impact that context can have on the decisions that we make when we’re working on the bass, and how important it is that you consider this context when you’re working on the bass in your mixes.

Okay, so I have a session here pulled up, from a track called “Joshua” by artist Leah Capelle, and I want to use it to show you how context can help you make the right decisions in the mixing process.

So this track was recorded in a real studio, very traditionally, and we have a couple of different mics on a lot of these tracks, so I had a lot of options to choose from in the mixing process. So you can see here, like on the kick, we have a kick-in mic, and a kick-out mic, and if you scroll over to the bass, we have bass DI, and Bass Motown, which I’m assuming is some kind of amp, and then we have Bass Amp, which I’m guessing is another type of amp. So the point being, we had a lot of different options to choose from in the mixing process.

So, let’s go ahead and take a look at the bass here. So again, you can see we have a couple different tracks on the bass—bass DI, Motown, and amp, and then I have all of these routed out bus three, and going into an aux track here, labeled bass, so I can control all of these with one fader.

So, I’m gonna solo the bass track, and let’s take a listen to these mics, one at a time. So first let’s start with this bass amp track.

Cool. So that sounds great to me. It’s got a really thick low end. It really sounds nice and balanced.

Okay, let’s take a listen to the bass Motown.

Okay, so that one had a woodsier tone. It doesn’t have the same kind of body and thickness on the bottom. It’s got more of a midrange, kind of upper-midrange presence.

And now let’s take a listen to this bass DI track.

Cool. So that sounds, it’s got a little bit more bottom than maybe the Motown track, but it sounds very similar. It’s got a similar tonality.

Now, listening to these three tracks on their own, my favorite is the bass amp track. It feels like it just has a lot of power and low end. It sounds really thick and full, but if you notice, the balance that I used in the mix, I actually favored the Motown mic, and I have the bass amp turned down a little bit.

So let’s listen to these all together.

So you can hear that the bass doesn’t actually have that much low end, right? It feels a little bit more midrangey. It has more of that tonality than that kind of low power that we heard from the bass-amp track. And so you might be asking, why did I make this choice in the mix? Why not favor the mic that sounded the best?

Normally, if we were listening to this in solo, we would favor the bass amp track, because it sounded best. But the reason why I favored the Motown track was because when I was making this balance decision, I listened to this track in context with the rest of the mix. So, what I was really listening for was—how does this bass fit in with the kick?

And so let’s go ahead and take a listen to this kick track over here. And first of all, let’s un-solo the bass, and I just want to listen to this kick track by itself.

Cool. So you can hear there’s a lot of low end on that kick. I really wanted the kick to dominate the low end of the frequency spectrum. I wanted to give it that power, so we could really hear that punch on the bottom of the mix. But I knew that if I did that, there wouldn’t be a lot of room for the bass to sit down there too. So going back to my decision to favor the Motown mic on the bass—the one that had a little bit more midrange—I was really thinking about context, and I was trying to make these two fit together. And so when I was listening to everything together, without soloing the bass, I found that with the bass Motown mic favored, the bass and the kick just fit together much better.

So let’s take a listen to these two together, with the final balance that I chose, and you can take a listen to how they sound.

So you can hear, there’s not a lot of competition between them, they’re actually fitting together pretty well. And we don’t miss the low end on the bass, because we have it on the kick. So we defined separate spots in the frequency spectrum for these two tracks to sit.

Now, the important thing that I want to communicate here is that if I were to solo the bass track and decide which mic I like the best, I would have never made this choice. I would have favored the bass amp track, because that sounded the best on its own. But in context, I had to choose the one that fit better with the kick. And so, by avoiding the solo button and making these decisions in context, you’re gonna be led towards decisions that help tracks fit together. And that’s what mixing is all about. So, by avoiding the solo button and listening to tracks in context with the rest of the mix playing, you’re gonna be led towards better mixing decisions.

Number four is to make space.

So if you feel like the bass isn’t cutting through your mix, rather than going directly to the bass track and trying to add something with EQ to make it cut through, instead, listen to the other tracks in your mix, and try to figure what you can take away to make more room for the bass to live in the frequency spectrum. So oftentimes, you can cut some of the low end, for example, on other tracks in your mix—maybe a guitar track that’s getting in the way of the bass—and that’ll free up more room for the bass to be heard.

So this is more of a subtractive mindset than an additive mindset. In my experience, it’s a much better way to work, and if you can think more in line with this kind of workflow when you’re going through the mixing process—instead of thinking what can I add, think about what can I take away?—oftentimes, it’s gonna result in a much better-sounding mix.

Number five is to use distortion.

Now in tip number one, we talked about the idea of adding top end to a bass to make it cut through. And this is great, but a lot of the times you’ll find that if you boost top end on a bass that doesn’t really have any top end to begin with, you’re not gonna get very far. So, EQ won’t allow you to bring out something that didn’t exist in the track to begin with.

Now when you’re dealing with a track like this, oftentimes a great approach is to add some distortion. And what distortion will do is actually create some harmonics higher up the frequency spectrum. So it’ll create information up there that can be used to add clarity and intelligibility to the bass. In my experience, this is one of the best ways to make the bass cut through the mix. I use this all the time, and it can really have a massive impact.

So next, I want to jump into my DAW and show you exactly how I used this technique on a recent mix.

Okay, so I have a song here called “Docs” by Leah Capelle, and I want to show you the impact that distortion is making on the clarity of the bass in this mix. So let’s take a listen first. Now, this is with the distortion on the bass, and then we’ll dive into the processing that I used in more detail.

♪ Going through my closet ♪

♪ Trying on my clothes ♪

♪ Thinking if I can find something stylish ♪

♪ I’ll feel better ♪

♪ I think I’ll get a haircut ♪

♪ And find a fresh new look ♪

Cool. So let’s take a look at this bass. So you can see, there are three tracks that basically make up this bass part. We have just bass, which is basically just the original bass track. Then we have the distortion track. Now this is actually an aux track, so I’m sending out the original track, and routing that into this track, and that’s where I’m having my distortion. And then we have this subgroup track, and that’s actually another aux track, where both of these tracks are being sent into. And that way, I can basically control the level of both of these in the mix, with one fader.

So let’s take a listen first to the original bass track. I’m gonna bump it up a little bit, so you can hear it.

So you can hear, it’s pretty plain-jane. Nothing too exciting about it. And we don’t have a ton going on here, other than a little bit of harmonic distortion. We just have a little bit of compression going on—just a couple of dB to level things out.

So again, then we have a piece of this being sent into this aux track—this bass distortion track. And then this is really where the magic is happening. So let’s take a listen to this distortion track.

I love the sound of that. It just sounds so awesome.

So, let’s take a listen to them both together.

So the distortion just adds so much character to the bass. It just makes it sound amazing, I love it.

So there’s really only two plugins on this distortion track. The first is actually a gate. And you might be wondering—why are we using a gate? Well, when you add a lot of distortion to a bass, oftentimes it can bring up a lot of the junk in between the notes. So noise, and the fingers sliding across the fretboard, and a lot of that stuff just muddies up your track and makes it sound kind of messy. So I like having a gate just close in between the bass notes, that we can get rid of that information.

So, to demonstrate this, let me solo this. I’m gonna turn up this distortion track. And let’s take a listen first with the gate bypassed.

So, see how between the notes, the bass isn’t really clean? It doesn’t cut off. It kind of blurs into the next note or phrase.

Now listen with the gate engaged.

So we’re getting a much cleaner separation between the notes. And in this case, it just makes the bass part sound cleaner and just gives it a little bit more structure. And so, that’s what I’m looking for in this case. And the next plugin we have is Decapitator, and I have it on the A setting, which I find just sounds great on bass. It’s got the punish mode on, so we’re adding quite a bit of distortion. And other than that, I just kind of added distortion to taste. So, I don’t really have any rules for this process. You’re just kind of tweaking knobs until it sounds good for the most part.

So let’s take a listen to what this doing in context with the rest of the mix. So first, I want to play you this track without our distortion. So take a listen to the bass in context with the mix, with no distortion.

♪ Going through my closet ♪

♪ Trying on my clothes ♪

♪ Thinking if can find something stylish ♪

♪ I’ll feel better ♪

So we don’t really hear the bass. It sounds fine, the track’s okay, but, I don’t know, it just lacks that kind of low-end oomph and excitement. So take a listen with the distortion now added.

♪ Going through my closet ♪

♪ Trying on my clothes ♪

♪ Thinking if can find something stylish ♪

♪ I’ll feel better ♪

So that distortion adds those upper harmonics, right? And it allows our ear to find the bass much more easily in the mix. It’s similar to adding a top-end boost, but oftentimes with that top-end boost, if there isn’t the frequency content there to begin with, you can’t really bring it out with EQ. And so a better approach often is using distortion to actually create those harmonics and add information to the bass that isn’t actually there in the first place.

So the distortion is making the bass sound so much richer, it’s just adding clarity and intelligibility to the part, and in this case, it makes it cut through and just sound a whole lot thicker and better in the mix.

So take a listen one more time—first without the distortion, and then I’ll flip it in and out. So just watch this mute button right here, and you’ll see whether it’s in or an out.

♪ Going through my closet ♪

♪ Trying on my clothes ♪

♪ Thinking if I can find something stylish ♪

♪ I’ll feel better ♪

♪ I think I’ll get a haircut ♪

♪ And find a fresh new look ♪

♪ Maybe if I just chop all my hair off ♪

♪ I’ll feel better ♪

So we’re getting a little bit of a level increase, certainly the bass sounds louder, but it’s more than that, it just sounds thicker, and certainly more intelligible, so we can hear it a lot more clearly.

So I hope you enjoyed that, and if you’re looking to dive deeper, I also put together that free bass EQ cheatsheet that summarizes everything we covered today, and also includes some additional tips and tricks that will take the sound of your bass tracks to the next level. So, if you want to download this, just click the link in the description below, or up there in the video. Again, it’s completely free. And if you click that link, you’ll get instant access right now.

Now, before you go, leave a comment below and let me know—do you prefer the sound of synth bass, or electric bass played by a musician? I read every comment, and reply to as many as I can, so I would love to hear from you.

Thanks so much for watching. You can check out more mixing tips like these on my YouTube channel, or at BehindTheSpeakers.com. Take care.

Video features music by Megan Cavallari and Leah Capelle.