You should always trust your ears when you check your kick and bass level. However a visual tool can help you get another perspective on what is happening in the low end. Smart Electronix produce a really great Scope plugin which you can download for free from KVR audio here.
I first came across this idea from Anjunadeep producer Marsh. The technique below shows you how to use s(M)exoscope as a visual aid to help you ‘see’ as well as hear what your kick and bass are doing. I’ve demonstrated this tip in Logic Pro but it should be easily transferable to Ableton or any other DAW.
How to use s(M)exoscope to check your bass and kick level
Step 1 – Send your kick and bass to the same channel
To see how the bass and kick are interacting in the plugin display we need to send them to the same audio channel. In Logic Pro X you can either send the kick and bass to a Bus or just select both tracks and create a track stack which sums the audio together. Summing the Kick and Bass also gives you the option to lightly compress them together which can also help your mix feel more solid. To create the summing stack, select both tracks (hold SHIFT) and then left click and ‘Create Track Stack’. You can see how this should look in the image below (fig 1).
Step 2 – Download and install s(M)exoscope
If you haven’t already, go to KVR audio and download and install s(M)exoscope. It’s a free plugin and a really useful VST to add to your plugin toolbox. Now we need to load the plugin into our summed ‘Kick and Bass’ track (track 1 in the above picture). The s(M)exoscope interface looks like this:
Step 3 – Play your track and check the Kick and Bass level through the scope
We can now check the Kick and Bass using the scope when we play our track. As I said, it’s essential to always trust you ears when balancing, but you can gain some additional perspectives with this visual tool. Your Kicks should be fairly easy to spot in the waveform. If they are sampled they will almost look identical. The Bass will probably show more variation. I’ve taken a snapshot of the tune I was working on with the Kick soloed, Bass soloed and finally the Kick and Bass together. (fig 3a, 3b and 3c below)
These are more than just pretty waveforms. You can see how the Bass has more level variation than the Kick as well as being slightly lower in average level. Big differences in Bass note volumes are pretty easy to spot here if you missed them while dancing hard to the banger you’re creating. You can also see the effects of different compression in real time which is pretty cool.
Step 4 – Take it further with EQ
We can take the ability to check your kick and bass level a step further with EQ. When I studied mixing at Berklee with Geoff Baust, one of the main concepts he talked about creating a stable bottom end in the mix. With a Low Pass Filter you can focus on the Sub and visually check your Sub frequencies in s(M)exoscope. To do this, insert an EQ before the s(M)exoscope plugin and Low Pass the bass and kick mix at about 100Hz. This should look like this (fig 4) in Logic Pro X.
With this in place we can really see if the Sub frequencies of our Bass part and Sub Bass properly fill in the Sub space in the mix between each Kick hit. It can be really helpful to see a visual representation of this in action.
As always in music creation, ‘there are no rules, only rulers’. Also it’s important to keep stressing that you should always trust your ears first. However, it can be a helpful additional tool to check how things ‘look’ visually in your kick and bass area. Good luck and let me know of any other ways you found to employ s(M)exoscope in the comments below.