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Tips for mixing an aggressive bass guitar sound for various metal-based genres. How to use tools like EQ, compression, limiting, amp simulators and harmonic generators to make the bass cut through the mix.
– Fender Jaguar Bass
– ART MPA-2 Preamp
– ART Pro VLA Compressor
– Avid Pro Tools
– Waves MaxxBass
– Waves GTR 3
– Waves L1 Limiter
– Waves V-EQ4 Vintage Equalizer Plugin
– Waves V-Comp Vintage Compressor Plugin
– Brainworx BX Saturator
I’ve been mixing a lot of metal sub-genre tracks recently and wanted to share techniques I’ve been using for mixing bass. Whether DI or a recorded bass, a mic in front of an amp and cabinet. This was a DI bass — it wasn’t blended with a recorded bass.
Pretty aggressive bass — a lot of percussiveness and grindy. Getting a good bass sound starts with a good raw recording. I used a Fender Jaguar with a single coil pickup into an ART MPA-2 Preamp, followed by an ART Pro VLA Compressor. There was some tracking compression applied at a 3 to 1 ratio to tame peaks. It was a dynamic performance and I didn’t want to clip convertors. You can see the waveform isn’t that dynamic. I put a high pass filter at 45 Hz.
[solo bass guitar]
It has a warm sound. For processing, I start with amp simulators when working with a DI track. Here it’s the Waves GTR 3 super tube preamp model with a bass 8×10 cabinet. I have a bit of drive dialed in and some minor EQ. Pulled a bit of mids out, boosted treble and bass.
[bass guitar + Waves GTR 3 amp simulator]
I’m boosting with an Ibanez Tube Screamer emulation like this overdrive pedal from the GTR 3 Suite.
[bass guitar + Waves GTR 3 amp simulator + overdrive pedal]
Now EQ. For bass guitar and for most instruments, start by cutting — pull out frequencies before you boost to keep it sounding natural. Especially with an EQ before a compressor I definitely don’t advise boosting frequencies if you want the compressor to behave uniformly and react naturally to the track.
So now EQ. I’m putting another high pass at 47 Hz. I’m also using a low pass filter.
[bass guitar + Waves GTR 3 amp simulator + overdrive pedal + LPF EQ]
This is a parametric EQ from the Waves Gold Bundle. I advise parametric EQ’s because it helps associate a sound to a number. You don’t have the visual aspect of it like with a graphic equalizer. Teaches you what different frequencies sound like.
You tend to find a lot of boxiness around 300-500 Hz in the DI bass.
[bass guitar + Waves GTR 3 amp simulator + overdrive pedal + equalization]
Sounds a lot more real and took out some nasty midrange.
Now compression. I usually start with a low ratio and see if I can correct problems with that. This bass isn’t super problematic since I’ve tracked with compression. We’re just catching peaks. I don’t need to level anything, so a fast attack and fast release. Let’s start with the threshold low and bring it up to get gain reduction on a few peaks.
[bass + GTR 3 + overdrive + EQ + compression]
That ratio is transparent, so what I’m gonna do is match the output. Let’s check in the mix. When I mix bass guitars, or anything, I’m mixing in context of the mix. You want to see how changes affect the sound of the overall mix and help the instrument sit in the mix. It’s great if it sounds killer solo, but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna work well in your mix, so make sure you’re checking and mixing in context.
[bass in the mix]
Weak in the bottom end. We can work with the midrange. Let’s apply the next EQ. I have my cutting EQ pre-compressor, I have compression, and we’re going to apply a boosting EQ. Gonna add some bass starting at 100 Hz.
[EQ’ing bass + mix]
I don’t want to compete or mask the kick drum around 50-56, so I’m gonna let the kick dominate that area of the frequency spectrum, and keep the bass guitar above it. So that 100 Hz works.
Now harmonics I tend to use as an EQ to add grit, which can help bass sit in the mix. I’ve got a crossover frequency on the Brainworx Saturator. You can also use a stock plugin. If you use Pro Tools, Avid has the Enhancer. We’ll start with bass frequencies.
[bass playback + harmonics]
Boosted lower frequencies slightly on the harmonic plugin. The Waves MaxxBass plugin is great. It adds some upper bass frequencies and some low mids to expand the region where you’re still getting punch and body.
[bass guitar + Waves MaxxBass]
MaxxBass adds upper bass frequencies and the low mids. I love it on kick drums, love it on bass.
L1 limiter to tame peaks and maximize volume. For this genre you want bass up front and limiting does that.
[bass + limiter]
We got another 3-5 dB coming off there, and that’s gonna keep it nice and consistent.
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