How to Mix Kick and Bass

How to Mix Kick and Bass

When mixing kick and bass, separating the 2 instruments while keeping their respective timbres is a great way to find balance in the low end.  EQ is the easiest way to separate their frequencies, but you can also use different types of saturation, creating harmonics on each that don’t overlap.

Simple EQ Separation

For these first 6 chapters, let’s talk about how to mix kick and bass.  I want to focus on separating the kick and bass so that they blend where needed, but still have their distinct space in the mix.

We can use a regular EQ to first observe the frequencies of the kick – where we can take note of the fundamental frequency.  Once we know that, we can go to our bass track, and attenuate that same frequency, ensuring that the kick’s fundamental isn’t being masked by the bass.

It’s a super simple trick, but effective nonetheless. Let’s listen and notice how there’s room for both.

Dynamic EQ Separation

Let’s do the same thing we just did in chapter one, but this time, use a dynamic band on the bass track to attenuate that frequency only when the bass plays.  This way the attenuation only occurs when the bass is present, and also during the transient of the bass.

Let’s listen and notice that the transient of the kick comes through unaffected, but the sustain of the bass and kick blends.

Inverse EQ Separation

If you want pinpoint separation of the kick and bass and you have the Pro-Q3, try this.  Place the EQ on your bass, set the kick drum as the external side-chain, then match the bass to the kick by using the match function, with the sidechain as reference.

Use the full 26 bands, delete the extreme ones, and then highlight them all.  Lastly, use the gain dial to invert the bands, making what made them match, cause them to be separate.

Let’s listen and notice how the 2 sound clearer.

External Side-Chain Inverse EQ

Let’s try the same trick we used in the last chapter, but introduce 2 important variables.  

First, I’m going to highlight all bands, right-click and then make them all dynamic; then, I’m going to set the external side chain as the kick, and on each dynamic band, I’ll set the trigger for the dynamic band as the external side-chain, in this case, the kick.

So whenever the kick hits, the dynamic bands on the bass will be triggered.  Since we matched and then inverted them in the last chapter, this effect will cause complex dynamic saturation between the 2.

Let’s listen and notice how this effect differs from typical inverse equalization.

Split EQ on Kick and Bass

Split EQ is an interesting plugin that splits the processing into Transients and Sustain, allowing us to control the EQ of the signal in a time-based manner.  With that in mind, let’s take the fundamental of the kick, and dip that frequency on the bass, using a transient band.

This way, when the kick hits, its fundamental will cut through, but the sustain of the 2 will blend.

Let’s try this and notice if this has a similar effect to our dynamic EQ from chapter 2.

Benefits of Making Kick and Bass Mono

With an EQ we can make our kick and bass mono by taking a high-pass filter, placing it on the side image, and cutting out low frequencies.  The benefits to this include making the low frequencies much more mono-compatible and reducing muddiness caused by phase cancellation.

It’s not always needed or the best sounding depending on the genre, but let’s listen to our kick and bass being made mono.

Combining Harmonic Formations

For the next 3 chapters, let’s look at how we can use saturation when mixing kick and bass.

Each saturator and distortion plugin causes unique harmonic formations – if we know these formations we can ensure that the kick and bass receive harmonics that don’t overlap.  For example, I’m going to cause even ordered harmonic saturation on my bass so it stays in key, and odd for the kick.

This way, both are saturated but amplified differently.

Let’s listen and notice if the 2 become more distinct.

Modulated Transient and Sustain Saturation

Next, I’m going to try saturating the kick’s transient, while saturating the bass’s sustain, so that each one is saturated and made more prevalent, but at different points.  I’ll insert a saturator on my kick and on my bass, then create envelope followers that are linked to the drive dial. 

By adjusting these followers, I can affect the ADSR of what triggers the distortion – so I’ll use a quick attack on my kick, a slow kick, and longer sustain and release on my bass.

Let’s take a listen, and see if it improves the balance between our 2 instruments.

External Side-Chain Saturation

Let’s use the Saturn 2 again, but this time only on the kick, and with the bass as our external side chain.  Once again we’ll create an envelope follower, but this time, set the trigger for it to be the external side chain – or the bass track in this case.

Once we link it to a parameter, the amount of distortion and its timing will be dependent on both the envelope follower and whether or not the bass is present.  In other words, the drive or other parameter is only triggered when the bass is present.

Let’s listen and notice how this helps separate the 2.

In-time Bass Ducking

For our last 2 chapters, let’s use compression to separate our kick and bass.

Let’s do some simple kick-bass ducking, but time the compression to a 1/16th note so that we get the bass to return to unity quick and in time with the track.  I’ll place the compressor on the bass, and then side-chain the kick.

Then I’ll divide 60000/BPM to get a quarter note, and then by another 4 for a 1/16th note, and set this time as the compressor’s release.

Let’s listen and notice how quickly compressing the bass when the kick hits, gives the kick’s transient more room.

Transient and Sustain Compression

Last up, let’s compress the kick and bass differently to affect their timings and in turn separate them a little.  I’ll use an optical compressor on the bass, which will give us a really smooth and dense sound – then I’ll use an aggressive hard-knee compressor on the kick.

The DBX-160 and 1176 are good options for this, but I like the punch algorithm of the FF-Pro C 2.

Let’s take a listen and notice how the smooth bass and punchy kick compliment each other.

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