Mixing Bass for Smaller Speakers
You might ask why you would ever want to learn how to mix bass for smartphone speakers? Most music lovers listen on earbuds nowadays. The next most common system for many is probably a decent home systems like a Sonos. The only person that really spends a lot of time playing their music through their iPhone or Android speaker is that person on the Bus blasting out their tunes. Why should we help them!
Well, the title is actually a little misleading. We’re not really going to look at optimising our mixes for smartphone speakers. That would be daft. It’s just a concept and tool we can employ as a benchmark to aim for, to try and make the bass in our mixes translate better over lots of different systems.
There are a few different methods to do this. Some of the most common are using harmonic generator plugins such as Waves Rbass and MaxxBass. These are great tools but sometimes you need something else to give your bass that little push over the edge. Here we’ll look at how to mix bass for smaller speakers another way.
The aim here is to add a subtle layer on top of our main bass part that carries a little more energy and projection in the Mid frequencies. The key here is to use subtlety and nuance.
One of the mixers I’ve learned a lot from is Dave Pensado who uses this comedy cooking analogy. If you’re making a nice Pasta sauce you don’t want to ruin it with 8 cloves of garlic. There’s a sweet spot where it really enhances the flavour without dominating the recipe. It’s a great image I keep coming back to when using techniques like this.
In this example I was working on an 8th note arpeggiated bass line I recorded on my OP-1 but the core technique will work on any bass sound.
Step 1 – Copy the Bass Channel
Our first step is to copy the bass channel that we want to add the effect to. To do this in Ableton or Logic Pro X hit Command – D (⌘D) to duplicate the channel. (fig 1 below)
The main thing to mention here is that we want to consider whether to add the effect the exact same bass sound (with FX) from the original or the raw bass sound without FX.
In the example here, I decided to apply the method to an exact copy of my original bass sound (with compression and saturation already). For this reason I set ‘Post FX’ in the channel chooser in Ableton.
Step 2 – EQ the Copy
Next we want to remove the low end from the copy of our bass. This is because we don’t want our copy to double the lows (phase issues) or start adding extreme effects to the low end of our mix.
The cut frequency will depend on the sound we are working with. In this example I was using a fairly bright bass sound to begin with so there was plenty of mid frequency information to add effects to. I ended up cutting below about 500Hz.
If you are using a main bass sound with less highs in the original sound, the frequency you choose here could be lower for your example to work. Use your ears to judge when you have enough to work with.
Step 3 – Add Saturation
Next we want to add the main effect that will add pop to this copy of our bass. We want a combination of saturation and possibly some compression to really add bite. Here I used Waves Maserati GTi . (fig 3 below) A guitar plugin on bass? That’s right. It might seem strange using a guitar sound on the main bass but the layer we are trying to create here could be thought to be occupying the guitar area of the mix spectrum.
You could achieve the same effect as above with any saturation and distortion and compressor plugins. In Ableton try the ‘A bit warmer’ preset on the Saturation plugin.
Step 4 – (Optional) Add some width with Chorus
A final step we can follow if we want to add extra spacial depth to our mix is putting chorus on the copy (fig 4).
I used the brilliant (free) Tal-Togu Audio Line Chorus plugin here. It models the original chorus effect found on the Roland Juno synthesiser lines. Because we are just working with the mids and highs of the bass, the chorus can be used more liberally without spreading out the stereo in the lows of the bass.
Although it might seem crazy to learn how to mix bass for smartphone speakers specifically, we can use this concept as a guiding light when mixing. A bass sound can be enhanced subtly to make it much more impactful on any system by employing techniques that help it sound good on smaller systems.
We’ve looked at how duplicating the bass channel and then applying more extreme effects to it can help it cut better through the mix. These effects would not be possible to apply on the main bass channel without ruining the sound. Once mixed in subtly, the copy can add the spark that our listeners ears find the bass in the mix. For more on mixing bass check this post.
Have fun trying the technique, use it sparingly and let me know how you get on or any questions you have in the comments below.