1) I'm getting my mixes close to being done (I hope) and I'm interested in the issue of what to put on the master busses. For example, I know some people like to start mixing with an SSL compressor or whatever on the mastering bus. Some people put it at the end (which is what I did since I found out about this in the middle of mixing this project). I notice it gels the sound together so that's cool. Now what is your preference on this?
2) And second thing, this is really bugging me and I need an answer lol what do you do to enhance the bass in recordings? you know how metal and rock recordings have that big bass sound, how do you do that? I watched a video that talked about multi-band compressors to boost the low frequencies, which definitely works. I put one on the master bus, BUT is that something that is generally left to the mastering engineer? the multi-band compressing I mean. Or is it okay for me to send mixes in with that already on? I want to make sure he gets the best mix possible.
Thanks Steven, definitely looking forward to your answers.
Thanks for your inquiry, I love conversations about production and mixing. Here are my thoughts based on my rudimentary knowledge and experience with recording:
1. It's my understanding that many mix engineers use some bus compression during the mix stage, before mastering. There are two schools of thought on when to put the compressor on:
Putting Bus Compression on at the Beginning
People that favor putting it on from the get-go think it helps them mix, set levels, etc. better with all their tracks since the processing is already there, already affecting the sound. This translates into different fader moves, EQ settings, etc. than you would have without the compressor to achieve the desired sound. It saves some time and means less finagling with faders later than if you had waited to put the compressor on at the end. Plus, once you're done mixing, your mix bus compressor is already set and done, too. No more work to be done.
|BF 76 Peak Limiter|
Putting Bus Compression on at the End
People that favor putting it on at the end (once the mix is as good as it's going to get) think this is a more correct process flow and think it yields better end results, since you are "forced" to get good levels, EQ, settings, etc. without the compressor on. In other words, it makes you work a little harder to get the unprocessed tracks up to par. Then, as the theory goes, when you slap the compressor on at the end, it will enhance the mix and bring it to a higher level. Plus, you will have more freedom to adjust the settings of the compressor by putting it on at the end since your base mix was not dependent upon the compressor's settings. In example (a) above, you can't change the compressor settings too much throughout the mixing process because your fader moves, EQ, etc. were all prejudiced by the settings of the compressor at the time those moves were made. Change the comp settings too much and you have to remix everything again.
I personally favor putting the mix bus compressor (and any other mix-altering effects) on at the end for the reasons described in Method (b) above. Also, even though it might take longer to get unprocessed tracks "up to par", I think this is technically better since having the compressor on the whole time is sort of cheating, and even if your levels end up about the same, it's going to be more heavily processed, including more processing artifacts. (That said, some guys with really sweet analog gear might want those processing artifacts... but not me, and I'll save that for mastering.)
|Get those settings right!|
All in all, I think Method (a) requires more experience and better gear than Method (b), and even if you have the experience and gear, I like the practical step-by-step mentality and process flow of Method (b) better.
[PS - There is an option (c) that we haven't discussed, which is not using any bus compression and simply leaving it for the mastering engineer, since they're going to apply compression anyways. But I'd rather have my mastering engineer focus his time (and my money) on key multi-band comp enhancements at that stage, among other things, rather than correcting basic leveling and inter-mix balance problems. That said, I generally don't compress too much on my mix bus because I know the mastering engineer will have a better compressor, a better ear, a better monitoring environment, etc., and he/she should handle the majority of final compression. BUT I don't want to give him a mix with parts jumping out too loud or disappearing here and there because the levels aren't even, so a moderate amount of compression is still appropriate.]
|Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor|
2. Enhancing Bass Frequencies(Whew, there are a lot of angles and aspects to discuss here!)
|Testing Mics/Pres at Capricorn Studios|
Once you do have a decent track (or tracks) recorded and lined up without any phase cancellation problems, you need a good monitoring environment to get the bass right. If you're sitting in the corner of a box-shaped bedroom with KRK 5" monitors, which is a very common home recording situation, you aren't going to hear things properly and it will bias your fader moves and other adjustments. At least not without a thousand dollars worth of bass trapping that would likely take up all the space in a common, small home studio area.
|I trust my DT-880 Pros and so|
does Mike Senior (pro mix engineer).
When it comes to bass, getting a proper monitoring setup is all the more difficult, because even with ample 2" (dampens down to roughly 300 Hz) to 4" (dampens down to about 125 Hz) panels, you aren't controlling any bass at all. You need thick, expensive bass traps positioned in the corners of the room and along the crevices where walls meet to eliminate the reverberation and resulting room modes that are created by bass frequencies.
|The Mastering Room at Capricorn Studios|
Then there's also the fact that human hearing perceives the balance of bass / mid / treble different at different volumes. As you turn the whole mix down, the bass and treble start disappearing and the mids stick their heads out a little more. As you turn the whole mix up, the bass and treble start sounding "louder" and more even in comparison to the mids, and eventually maybe even overpowering the mids, because of this well-studied effect.
Supposedly it's an evolutionary thing that we hear mids better because it just so happens to match up exactly to the pitch of a baby's cry/scream (See Mixing Audio by Roey Izhaki [first edition], Pgs. 12-13). According to Roey, "[The Fletcher-Munson Curves] teach us that our frequency perception has a bump around 3.5 kHz - this is due to the resonant frequency of our ear canal. Interestingly, the center frequency of a baby's cry falls within this bump."
Thus, you want to make sure you're varying the volume at which you mix, because if you mix really quiet, you'll tend to mix in too much bass/treble, whereas if you mix really loud, you'll tend not to put in enough. Then it just won't translate well when the average end-user puts the CD in their car, or when it's coming through whatever crappy sound system most people use to listen to music. Find a good balance, mix at different volumes, and make good use of reference material to get around this.
One final note on monitoring -- especially given all of these issues, many mix engineers and super-nerd home studio guys like me will use frequency/spectrum analyzers to visually "see" the bass (and other frequencies) for mixing purposes. After you do this enough while listening and mixing, you'll start knowing how to visually judge these regions of your tracks and mixes, and even in poor monitoring environments, etc., you can do a decent job of getting levels right.
|This is a great free Frequency Analyzer from Blue Cat.|
Lo-cut on other interfering instruments
Okay, so you have your recording done and you've figured out a way to decently monitor your mix. Now you need to apply a lo-cut filter (EQ) in varying degrees to your guitars, vocals, drums (except perhaps the kick, maybe toms), and basically anything/everything that could possibly be producing bass frequencies. For certain instruments an EQ shelf might work better, in other cases a 6-12 dB rolloff might be best... you just need to experiment and see where it needs to be for each track.
|Using a higher high-pass filter on my Haas Guitar Delay.|
Now that you've cleared or reduced the bass frequencies of your other tracks, you can boost the EQ a bit in the bass region on your actual bass guitar (and kick). We'll talk more about this in a minute when we discuss EQ / Kick balancing techniques, but the concept is pretty easy. Start with a decently wide Q and boost at least a few dB or more in the 30-125 Hz range.
Sub-Bass Enhancers / Harmonics Processing
|Waves LoAir Plugin|
Mike Senior (pro mix engineer) recommends Waves LoAir and Apple Logic's bundled SubBass plugins.
EQ / Kick balance techniques
There is one instrument that necessarily competes with your Bass for room in the bass region of your mix, all the time: the Kick drum! The kick gets more deep and boomy around 40-60 Hz, whereas it has more "punch" and thump in the 100-125 Hz range. One technique I particularly like is to decide which area I want the kick to dominate, then do the opposite with the bass. So if my kick is going to be punchy, I boost the kick around 115 Hz or so, while I boost the bass guitar around 50 Hz. The Q's can be pretty wide as long as these target frequencies are a good deal apart, such as in this example. And on the other hand, you could boost the bass around 115 Hz while boosting the kick around 60 Hz instead.
|Kick Drum and Bass|
must jive together.
Another approach to getting a really solid bass and kick rhythm is using your good ole' frequency analyzer to look at where the fundamentals are peaking for each instrument. This is easiest with the kick, because you'll see where most of the frequency energy happens. You'll have the most "natural" sounding boost, and perhaps the fullest sounding kick, if you can boost the EQ on the kick at this exact frequency. Then you can build your bass guitar sound around it (above and below it, even), but notch your bass EQ a little bit at that kick area. And of course, all of these techniques can be combined if you really want to go crazy.
|The exact EQ settings used on the kick drum when mixing my song, "Economy".|
Compression / Multi-Band Compression
|The exact Bass Compression settings I used on Economy.|
Maybe you absolutely crush the uber-low end to keep the sub-bass really tight, use similarly high compression on the bass fundamentals in the 40-80 Hz range, and then perhaps you leave the low mids and high mids alone, leaving 100% of the picking dynamics and rising/falling harmonics. Kind of a best-of-both-worlds situation, actually. But this is just one approach -- the point is that multi-band comp can be very effective. You just have to be careful because you'll typically wind up with phase issues at the crossover frequencies, which can be major or minor depending on your plugin and how much compression you're applying. Depending on the tuning the bass player is playing in, you might want to set the crossover frequencies at the boundaries of where he plays, or where he usually isn't playing, so the affected frequencies don't really get heard anyways.
That's all for today, but please feel free to send in more questions for next time. Thanks!