3 Tips to Improve the DIY Mixers’ Low End

 In TSM Studio Blog

As the barriers to entry for producing and mixing music become lower and lower, there is more misinformation being spread on the internet than ever. Although there are a ton of incredible online learning resources for the all-in-one, DIY artist/producer/engineer aficionados, there are also an exorbitant amount of “one size fits all” methods being preached that lead to “rules” being planted into the mind of novice mixers. During a time when the music industry is more diverse and expansive than ever, it can feel like the Wild, Wild West, and that’s an incredible thing! However, when online resources implement rules and restrictions that hinder creativity, stagnation occurs and holds back creatives from being the best version of themselves.

Within this article, we’ll be providing three tips that can help your low-end compete with industry-standard mixes without instantiating set-in-stone rules. This article will sway from mentioning any “go-to” frequencies or specific bass-processing effect chains as we’ll seek to provide more practical advice on the subject matter.

 

  1. Understand When to Leave Source Files Alone!
    • More often than not, in the world of programmed music you’ll find that incredible sounding instrument samples have never been more accessible. With high-quality, prepackaged processing being implemented into the construction of VST patches and sample packs, most of the audio samples used in a production have already been EQ’ed, compressed, limited, and colored in more ways than one. Prior to the producer leveling or affecting the tonality of a given synth patch or audio sample, it’s likely that their audio files’ sound quality is already incredible and only needs to be adapted to fit into the context of the music’s arrangement. This is specifically relevant to 808 and synth basses. As a mixer, it’s our role to bring the best parts of a production to the surface and improve upon the foundation of the rough mix to the best of our ability. It’s also our role to understand that it’s not our place to apply unnecessary processing that will do more harm than good. As bass becomes more and more of an integral part of hip-hop, electronic, and pop music, we need to understand when to apply our “less is more” mentality in order to just let it be.

 

  1. Understand Your Monitoring Environment
    • Perhaps the most important takeaway from mixing low-end is to understand that you can’t mix what you can’t properly hear. Too often are a room’s acoustic properties ignored, resulting in monitoring decisions that cause us to make skewed mix decisions. Whether it’s monstrous full-range monitors outputting too much wattage for a small room, a subwoofer being placed in an 8×8 spare bedroom that leads to an abundance of standing waves, or simply placing rear-ported, unmounted monitors too closely to the wall, a lot can go wrong before it can go right. If you’re a bedroom producer that finds themselves working in a less-than-ideal monitoring situation without the budget for an Acoustician, the quick fix can be to mix from a pair of trusted headphones. Although referencing mixes on multiple sources is crucial, understanding what monitoring environments to avoid will save you a ton of time in the process. A poor monitoring environment can quickly cause you to work against your own better judgment and lead you to compensate for smeared reflections induced by an improper monitoring setup. Being able to wholeheartedly trust what you hear can help maintain morale and allow you to meet deadlines more efficiently.

 

  1. Unmask the Necessary Elements
    • As the sub-header suggests, creating space for your low end to exist requires you to only unmask the necessary Far too often are records mixed too open and clean when their intention was to sound rich, full, and organic. Part of achieving the proper sonic outcome is to take the production into account before mindlessly applying high pass filters that result in overt phase shift and over-processing. Shaping the sound of your bass should be done with the track’s best interest in mind, not the sole interest of the bass! For example, if you’re mixing a densely arranged rock song, you may want the bass guitar to meld with the low end of the rhythm guitars in order to create a “wall of sound”. This mix would likely result in less separation, but a more rounded body, preserving the vibe of the original track. Conversely, the track may call for a more open sounding mix where each instrument occupies its own space unaccompanied by other instrumentation. The latter would result in applying more subtractive EQ and focus on isolating the midrange and treble frequencies in order to allow for the low end to exist more freely. Regardless of the intention, your goals should be to service the music to the best of your ability. Whether that means to “clean up” the record or take its characteristics at face value will come down to the artist and producers’ intentions.

 

In Closing…

Low end is commonly referred to as the most difficult aspect of a mix to nail. Our natural inability to process low frequency information as accurately as midrange frequencies calls for workarounds that if improperly applied, can work to the music’s detriment. Knowing and trusting your monitoring environment, applying the right philosophical approach, and understanding when to leave your mix alone will undoubtedly result in better low end across your mixes.