Kick vs Bass
One of the biggest challenges when mixing Kick and Bass is getting them to work well together. They are competing for power in the same frequency range yet they both need to hit hard in a modern mix.
The great mix Engineer Dave Pensado, has said that the solution often lies in deciding to allow one of them to win. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one of them will take all the power and low end space. Just that perhaps we let both of them shine a little more in a particular part of the sub bass spectrum.
Deciding which one ‘wins’ in any sub frequency range can depend on the genre you are working in or on the piece of music. In a House track often the Kick takes precedence in the sub range. Whereas in Drum and Bass or Trap the bass might want to take precedence.
A common solution is side-chaining which I will look at in another post. However a more subtle technique is to carve a little space in either the kick or the bass using EQ. In this example we’ll look at using EQ to let the Kick take up a bit more of the space and power in the crucial Sub range. I’ve seen this technque used to aid mixing kick and bass by both Ralph Myerz and Marsh in their productions.
Step 1 – What’s in a Kick drum
Many different harmonics make up musical sounds and a Kick drum is no different in this regard. For a kick the most critical harmonic is the fundamental frequency of the Kick. This is the resonant frequency where the heart and power of your kick lies. It’s the frequency usually in the Sub range where the Kick is most resonant.
When people talk about tuning a Kick this is the frequency they are describing The pitch of a Sine wave used to build a synthetic Kick is another example of this fundamental. I’ve highlighted the fundamental range of a typical Kick here:
Step 2 – SPAN
To identify the Kick drum fundamental precisely we can use a visualizer or spectrum analyser. Although Ableton and Logic both have their own spectrum Analyzer, for this job I highly recommend the great and free SPAN plugin from Voxengo. Once you have downloaded the plugin add it to your Kick channel.
As a trained musician I’m fairly confident I can identify the pitch of long kick sounds (‘that’s a G etc’) with a keyboard. You can try this too if you want an extra challenge. It’s a lot easier on longer less transient kicks.
Step 3 – Identify the Fundamental
To identify the Kick drum fundamental is fairly easy using SPAN. Hit play on your track and you’ll see the spectrum analyzer respond to each kick hit. When the peaks are highest as each kick drum lands, hit the HOLD button and this will take a snapshot of the frequency graph at that point. With that picture frozen, we just need to click at the highest peak on the sub ‘Mountain’ and SPAN will give us a reading of the frequency. (fig 3 below)
As you can see in the above example, the fundamental of this kick sits at around 53-55 Hz. Incidentally, this is quite low for a Kick. I tend to find that they usually lie in the 60-70 Hz range.
Step 4 – EQ the Bass
With this frequency identified. Our final step is to add a slight EQ notch to the bass part so that the Kick has a little more room to breathe at its fundamental. In this example with 55Hz identified, I just added a Fabfilter Pro-Q2 to the bass channel and then created a subtle notch at the same frequency. Aim for a dip of around 3-4 dB with a narrow Q (bandwidth) of around 6 for best results. If you overcook this, you could end up stealing some of the bass power. (fig 4 below)
Note that I used Linear Phase as it is quite a steep cut in the important low end where phasing could cause problems. As always though trust your ears. Note I also high passed the bass to remove unwanted rumble below 25-30Hz.
Mixing kick and bass well is one of the biggest challenges in achieving a pro-sounding result in our music. Both instruments are powerful in the low-bass / sub frequency range and you can often find them fighting each other in your mix. Although techniques such as sidechaing can help, we have shown here that exploring using complimentary EQ can help give you achieve more clarity in this sub area. For more on bass and kicks check this post.
We’ve looked at how to find the fundamental tone in a kick and then how to apply a cut in the bass in that same frequency range. Let me know how you get on and if you’ve any questions in the comments below.