[Guest Post from Derek Sexsmith] The title on this post is a little misleading. The “perfect mix” could mean different things to different people. But, I think most would agree the foundation for the perfect mix, when mixing a typical “rock” band (drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals) would be the kick drum and the bass guitar.
Robert Scovill, a very experienced and very talented engineer said, at the Gurus of Tech conference in Chicago in February, that “no one goes home humming the kick drum.” Very true. But, that kick drum, mixed properly with the bass guitar, is what gets people into the music. Next time you’re doing sound, try turning down the bass guitar for a chorus in a driving song, then bring it up for the next chorus and I would bet there is a noticeable change in the way the audience/congregation reacts.
When I mix the kick and the bass together there are a few important things to note.
First, is having a competent drummer and bass player. They need to work together and the bass player needs to follow the kick drum.
Secondly, EQ. I’ve seen a lot of sound people just take the kick drum and the bass and turn up the low EQ knob. Some more experienced ones will turn up the high EQ knob to get some clarity. I find just doing that ends up making them sound muddy because you are now boosting them in the same frequency range and you get no definition of which one is which.
When I am EQing them, if on a digital board with sweepable EQ’s, it’s real simple, I boost the Kick at about 50Hz with a fairly slim curve so that I can then cut that EQ by somewhere around 80 or 100Hz. Cutting that Kick drum in the 80-100 range allows us to then boost the Bass guitar in that range, and then you don’t get them overlapping each other in the low range.
I also add a Hi Pass Filter to the bass to cut anything below about 60Hz, so I don’t get any unwanted overlap there. I will also boost the bass guitar around the 1-1.5kHz range which helps add clarity to it, while boosting the Kick drum around 2-3kHz helps add a good slap to it. Those really depend on the exact sound you want from those instruments as to where and how much you boost. A good boost in the mid-hi or high frequency range really adds some clarity, making the kick and bass not just sound like a thud coming out of the subs.
One comment on the EQ. I am currently using an analog board, an Allen and Heath ML3000. I don’t have the ability to change the bandwidth or “Q” on the curve. I also have fewer options for which specific frequency I am boosting. What I tend to do is on the kick drum, I actually turn the low EQ knob down, to cut that frequency. It is commonly anywhere from 60-100Hz on an analog board. Then I boost the mid-low at 50Hz. So I am still boosting at 50, I’m just using the mid-low sweepable mids to do it.
Then I boost the bass guitar with the low EQ knob. From there I can use the Mid-Hi sweepable EQ to boost the highs. I just wanted to point this part out for sure though, so that people know that just because it’s the bass guitar or the kick drum doesn’t mean you HAVE to boost the low EQ, you can still find those low frequencies and dial it in more precisely using the Mid-Low sweepable EQ.
Gating and Compression
On the kick drum I will also add a gate as well; this again depends on the sound you want on the kick. For real punchy sounding upbeat songs, a fast attack with a 3-4:1 ratio and a slower release time. The more dynamic the sound, the slower you will want that attack. A compressor setting with a ratio again around 3-4:1 sometimes even more, with again a fast attack time and a slow release time will just add to that punchy sound on the kick. Be sure not to “over” compress it though, we don’t want to lose all the dynamic of the kick drum.
Bass players tend to hate hearing that you’ve compressed them at all, and it isn’t always necessary. If they’ve got their own compressor with a foot pedal, or they are just very controlled then you can get away without one, but I generally have one either way, I just may be very generous with it. I won’t say any settings on here for a bass compression because that all depends on the bass player and how they play. You have to listen and see if you need them to be compressed.
Driving the Music
Once you get a good EQ and comp/gate setting on the bass and kick drum, listen to them during one of the more upbeat songs and the two instruments should be able to drive the song. Notice the difference when you lower those two channels, and as I said before, I am certain that you will see a noticeable change in the audience/congregation’s response to the music.
Don’t be afraid of the low end. I was afraid of it when I first started, but if it’s EQ’d and compressed right, people will feel it and it’s often what captures them into a song. I don’t mean to lessen the effect of a great vocalist or a well tuned guitar with a great amp tone … or even just some great lyrics. All these things have the potential to be the driving force of a song, but I will say that the kick/bass combination will often be the foundation on which the best mixes are built.
Derek Sexsmith is the Director of Technical Services at Heritage Park Alliance Church in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Check out his blog all about his experience working on the technical aspects of a Church at http://www.dereksoundguy.com. You can also follow him on twitter @dereksoundguy
Question(s): How do you typically build your mix? On what instrument do you build it?
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