4 Things That Help Me Mix the Low End

Once you feel like you are starting to understand this whole mixing shtick, it almost always feels like there’s one thing that you just can’t figure out.

What am I talking about?

Mixing the low end, of course.

Now the low end could mean a million different things to a million different people but for the sake of this article I’m going to be generalizing for genres like Hip Hop, Pop, EDM and R&B.

If it’s a folk or acoustic style record, I generally don’t worry too much about the low end so these techniques often get rendered useless.  Just keep that in mind as you continue to read.

 

1. Treat Your Room to Get a Tighter Low End

I’ve harped on this before and I’ll harp on it until the day I die.  TUNE YOUR ROOM!

It’s an absolute must to be able to mix anything related to the low end of a song.

It doesn’t mean you are going to become some super star mix engineer over night but with enough practice and familiarity of a tuned room, you can get pretty damn close and a lot quicker than you think.

This is probably the most essential building block in the chain and is the reason why I decided to put it first.  The other 3 tips would fall apart without this being first.

So if you are reading this article and all of a sudden you feel deflated because your room isn’t tuned, then maybe that’s a good reality check.

Stop loafting, you can make some good broadband absorbers for maybe $500 and make a dramatic improvement to the sound of your room.  Chris Carter stressed this in the interview I did with him.

 

2. Turn Your Speakers Up

Almost every book or article on mixing tells you to mix at a conservative level (ie 85-90dB); Quiet enough that you can talk over the mix but loud enough that you can hear all the instruments.

At that level, can you actually hear the low end?

I know there is some guy out there probably thinking “Yeah man, I can”.  Well my hats off to you but I can’t.  I absolutely have to turn the speakers up otherwise the techniques in this article become void.

To be honest I’m not turning my speakers up the entire time I mix because I wouldn’t be able to get a good balance (IMO) but hearing the mix loud allows me to hear the deficiencies in the bass.  Most of the other mixing decisions have to be made at reasonable listening levels.

I’d say a good general rule for me is 75% of the time I listening at low levels and the other 25% of the time, I turn it up to check things out.

**UPDATE** As of July 2015, my listening ratio from loud to soft has changed quite a bit.  I would say I listen soft about 90-95% of the time.  I’m much more happy with the results this way.

Most people aren’t lucky enough to have a perfectly tuned room with loudspeakers that can shake the whole neighbourhood but that’s okay because it’s not an absolute must.  I mean I’m mixing with the Focal Solo6 Be’s (6.5 inch drivers) as my mains and that gives me enough to hear the low end.  They can go down to 40 Hz and effectively produce the low end for me to tweak it.

The biggest reason for turning the speakers up as I mix, is for the vibe and to hear how solid it sounds.  If it’s too thin or sounds too flabby than I know I need to do some more work on the bass.

If the volume is low I can’t always hear the problems in the bass; they usually don’t show up until the gain knob is turned up.

 

3. Let Them Breath

This is a technique that has served me fairly well over the last few years.

If you are familiar with the Solo6’s you know that they are front ported.  Now when you listen to a mix that is meant to hit hard in the low end, you can literally feel the ports pushing air on your face.

This requires a little getting used to because you need know the limits of the speakers but also your convertors.

I am using the Mytek Stereo96 DAC convertors and somewhere between 4 and 5, on the volume knob, is a comfortable place for me.  In this case the volume knob can go up to 10.

Once I get my mix limited and my Myteks up to that comfort zone and my speakers aren’t literally pushing air then I know I’m not quite done with mixing the bass.

Sometimes it’s just a little more low end EQ or a boost in the overall bass level.

 

4. If it Isn’t Slapping You in the Face, it Isn’t Finished

Lastly, the good ol’ face slapper.

Even this technique goes back to Turning up the Speakers.

So with my speakers up and ready to go and I’m in my Mytek Comfort Zone, I’m looking for those cones to be popping out of the speaker cabinets.

If they aren’t popping than they aren’t hitting and if they aren’t hitting than the bass is not done, plain and simple.  This is especially true when I’m mixing hip hop drums, R&B drums and just about any form of EDM style drums.

This technique, plus the air from the speaker ports, is all I really need to get my low end right.  All the tips and plugin tricks can’t help if you aren’t hearing (or feeling) properly.

Of course there is a little juggling act that needs to take place.  You need to balance the hard hitting bass when you turn it up with a nice well balanced mix when you turn it down.

You need to figure out the balance between those two, but when you do your low end can become MASSIVE.

 

End Thoughts

In the case of this article it’s more about using your environment to get the “Feel” of the record.  That’s why it’s so important to get your room sounding right or you can’t use these techniques.  I mean you could probably still try them out but at the end of the day if your room is out of whack than so will the outcome of your mix.

Leave a comment and let me know some obscure tricks you use for the low end.

And don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know some obscure tricks you use for the low end.

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  • Allen Jones

    I tend to start eqing my drums, namely my kick drums, on my head phones. I then go to my actual bass, I tend to use tuned 808’s, & make sure that they compliment each other & ddon’t grossly over power eachother. After that is fine then I am will test it out on my studio monitors. it doesn’t hurt after that to even go to the car stereo and see how it sounds in there with the speaker box.this technique never does me wrong!

  • Stefan

    Do you really think is good for your ears to always have your speakers cranked to 90dB?? Young engineers should know that mixing at very loud levels can lead to hearing loss and tinnitus – which can be your worst nightmare. I like to crank things up myself… but don’t mix regularly at 90dB… that’s a lot. You can easily damage your high-frequency inner ear cells at that level. Take care of your ears!

    • Hey Stefan, to be fair I said 85-90dB with most sources quoting 85 dB as an average listening level. The OSHA says that exposure to noise at 85dB for a period of 8 hours a day is perfectly acceptable, (click here for source)
      Regards

  • Rodney Bunkley

    Actually the best way to mix low end is to reference your mix with professional mixed tracks. Pick at least 3 commercially mixed songs that sound somewhat similar to the vibe of your song, match the volume levels with your song, and reference your low end with their low end and make adjustments to your low end that way. If you do this you will never go wrong…even if you don’t have a tuned room.

  • Don Piper

    awesome great work always somethin new to learn

  • Roscoe

    You can never express enough how important the room is! Loved the article.

    • Justin Smith

      You got it Roscoe!

  • Thank you very much for your input dude..and dope tips..and like the first guy says..grain of salt..im not fortunate enough to have monitor speakers as yet and I’m a bedroom producer..BUT I managed to connect a surround sound Sony home theater system 7.1 I think..and I can feel sound Everywer in my room..but my mixes used to sound shit..now they are better because I usually reference my sound by walking around my room,around my house and go outside sometimes..and even in my wardrobe!!just so I can check if my sound is proper…like if you were walking to a party and you wer a block away..can you still feel the bass hittin??if not..go back in yo mix and fux wit it..after I’m done I usually take my productions to the studio wer i work (in a radio station) and test it ther comparing industry standard tracks..and I’ve become better with each beat produced.
    Happy to have a forum like this
    I’m a Trap / hip hop producer
    #TurnUpGeneration

  • Adam

    Take these directions with a grain of salt. That is, these techniques work for this mixer on those particular speakers in his room. If you have different speakers, an untreated room, etc… these tips don’t really apply directly to you. Instead, take the spirit of the tips and go from there. If you are mixing on speakers with 15″ woofer, you may not need to see your cones jump out of cabinets, but you should feel your pants vibrating. If you don’t have ports in the front of your speakers, don’t expect to feel a burst of air from the low end – unless you really push your speakers! And if you use small speakers, like Yamaha NS-10s, it takes a certain Jedi feeling to balance the subs against the mids, simply due to the frequency response of the speakers. Remember also that your hearing and the room and the speakers react differently at very high volumes so when you start mixing loud, also make sure you reference outside of your room to make sure you are not exciting things in the room that are actually taking away from what your speakers are trying to do (or vice-versa). Use the force!

  • papazapp

    Thanks Justin.. You are one of those guys i ve been looking n searching for years.. Thanks for all these great lessons.. God bless u

  • alex

    This is very interesting. I was curious how comes some mixers nail it. Thank you for sharing these tips.

  • DJ Leviani

    Thank you for these and every article you share, they’re very enlighten.

  • abc1mce2

    One question, how and what does your recording (listening) chain consist of? I mean from the computer to your speakers.

    • Justin Smith

      I go digitally out to the Mytek 96DAC which does all my D/A conversion, then out to the Focals. I have one NS-10 which I sometimes reference for mono but not much.

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