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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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