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Please, help me sit my acoustic bass in the mix!

Discussion in 'Bass' started by Danielle, Mar 21, 2005.

  1. Danielle

    Danielle Guest

    Hello to all you acoustic gurus, I'm having a hard time finding a good, solid place for the acoustic bass in my mix. When I listen to the track alone, it sounds relatively healthy, but once it's in the mix, some parts pop out and some just get burried! :(

    Would cutting low and add some mid-high help?

    I'm still new at this, but has tons of fun searching for solutions; any advice whould point me to the right direction is greatly appreciated!!! :)

  2. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Sounds like you need to ride your faders and use a bit of compression. Should sit in there nicely...

    Also be aware that with some jazz stuff, the bass isn't meant to be heard- rather just "felt." The player may intentionally be doing that in their performance...

  3. Javier

    Javier Guest

    Danielle: As stated above by FifthCircle, compression can be the key, and I would like to add multiband compression.Remember that the bass fundamentals go way down to 37hz or so and, it is in that zone (70 to 35 hz ) in which you can "feel" more than hear the instrument. It is precisely in that range that the acoustic bass (and our ears) are naturally weak so I suggest that you put your bass through a selective band compressor, tune it to that octave (70 to 35 hz) and set a comp. ratio of about 10:1 get the threshold down until you get some gain reduction on the loudest notes and very little on the weakest ones. Once you have achieved this you will end up with a very manageable line of bass so you can adjust the make up gain to taste. You may also add 3 or 4 db around 400hz to get some more definition. It is the 100 to 200 hz (aprox) range that tends to make the mix muddy, most if the left hand of the piano has a lot of activity in that range. As usual, these recomendations are based on my own experience and I hope they work for your project.
    Sincerely, Javier
  4. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Very good advice, all of it! But let me add a few things as well....

    Firstly, acoustic bass is much harder to perform properly (moreso than electric bass), much less record, so the basics still apply:

    1. Good Artist.
    2. Good Instrument (extremely critical)
    3. Good space to record.
    4. Good mic & signal chain.

    If you don't have the first three in place, you're going to be chasing your tail and polishing the proverbial turd for the rest of the session, and #4 wont matter much. Your life will be hell, and you'll be wrongfully blaming yourself for being a lousy engineer.

    I realize this is probably after the fact for you, but for the moment, let's leave all the compression & DSP aside and talk about consistency of notes from the artist: good tone is critical all up and down the fretboard, as well as a good instrument that resonates at all frequencies. If you're not getting this at the outset, you're going to have your hands full trying to make it sound good in any kind of mix, or even solo. (We haven't even talked about standing waves, etc. in the space you're recording.) I realize too, you can't fire the bass player if they're not up to pro standards, but it's something to remember for next time.

    Assuming you're tracking (or mixing) other instruments with the bass, think about leaving enough space in the mix for the bass. Consider rolling off anything below (at least) 40-80 HZ or higher if it's not a bass instrument as such. (female vocal, wind instruments, etc.) Remember, a ballsy sounding solo instrument doesn't need all that extra "stuff" around it when it's sitting in a mix with other instruments. ("Plays well with others" is worth remembering). Only the kick drum, some male vocals and other bass-oriented sounds (boudrain, bassoon, synth bass, etc.) should be fighting for space down there...

    Your monitoring environment is critical in this regard, too. When you're down to tricky bass mixes, even a single note, or standing wave or lobe can create havoc in your mixes. Know your speakers and your room. (With or without a subwoofer, you're going to need to know EXACTLY what your speakers are telling you: true or untrue, make sure you take the mix around to other sources.) You can spend all day mixing on a system that's bass heavy and then take it out to a "Pro" system elsewhere, only to find: "what happened to the bass?" (The opposite is true, and perhaps even more painful to find out.)

    Low bass (20-40hz) is omnidirectional for the most part, so make sure you've got the bass in the center. It used to be necessary for vinyl records, but it's also a good idea, at least the lower frequencies. If your mastering software allows it, simply sum EVERYTHING below 150 HZ to mono (it's an old mastering trick; try it, you may like it). This does several things to the bass in your mix: It puts ALL your low frequencies in the same zone, so to speak, you wont have (Bass) phasing issues, and you'll be dealing with all of them mixed together without any ugly stereo/mono surprises later. It really does smooth out your low end, and you can build a much tighter, coherent mix on it from there.

    If you really do want the bass put somewhere in the L-R panorama, sure, do that, but keep it summed to mono below 150Hz. (You'll hear the slap, thump and other hand-noises in the stereo soundfield where it belongs, but as Ben suggested, you'll "Feel" it where it counts: all throughout the mix.

    And by now, if you've found there's no way to tame the bass notes on their own (with good playing and a smoothly resonant instrument, that is), then it is indeed time to get out the multiband comps., and start helping out an inconsistent part. Unlink the bands in your multiband comp (if you can do that) and let the low band work by itself without affecting the upper frequencies of your bass. Work on the other bands as necessary, dial in to taste, and then see how it drops in you mix. Keep toggling back and forth between soloing the bass and hearing it in the mix. Hopefully, you'll have cleaned it all up by then to make a better fit.

    FWIW: I really hate ANY processing (other than a little limiting) on (Jazz) acoustic bass, and I try to take a DI (if there's a contact mic) as well as an LDC mic on it, sometimes blending the two as necessary. (Depends on the artists wishes, too, of course.)

    When you've got it nailed, take a break, and then come back once more for a final reality check. Then take it out to some other speakers and see how you did.
  5. Danielle

    Danielle Guest

    Thanks to all; these are great knowledge that you guys are willing to share. :cool:

    Javier, do you have a preference on which multiband compressor to use?

    I have also read about a technique of daisy chain two compressors together, set the first one to maintain the level, and the second one act as a very light limiter, just to catch any escaped peaks. What are your thoughts on this method?

    Thanks you!!

  6. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    I'm not a huge fan of multiband compression... It can certainly have its advantages, but I prefer a good analog compressor or limiter. My favorite for bass (acoustic- mic'd) is the Vac-Rac/Inward Connections limiter. For electric bass, probably the old UA1076 limiter (a piece that isn't seen very often around). The 1176 is pretty good too, but I prefer the tubes in the 1076.

    It is all in the ability to have a good attack where you allow the first transient through, but then clamps down relatively quickly. Then the issue is getting that to work and not have it pump... It takes some practice (or the use of a limiter where the time domain is pre-configured), but you'll get a great sound.

  7. Javier

    Javier Guest

    I use the Sony multiband compressor plugin for Sound Forge 7. It comes with four compressors/bands that you can engage or bypass at will, so you can do your experiment on cascadeing 2 compressors.(I think one compressor should be enough). By the way, I`ve never heard of that technique.
    As FifthCircle said, it is most important to avoid the "pumping" effect. Too late an attack , too soon a release and to radical a compression ratio can yield a very noticeable side effect. It is a matter of taste and careful listening and it depends heavily on the music itself. Wether it is a slow tune or up tempo etc. One advantage I see in multiband comp. is that works only at a selected range (in your case would be from 70 to 35 hz) so the rest of the program remains untouched thus greatly reducing the risk of "pumping". Again best regards to you and all in this great forum.
  8. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    one more thought occured to me. This may be obvious to some seasoned mixers, but don't forget to try this as well:

    Turn OFF your bass track during mixing temporarily, and see what you've got. Sometimes, that will clear up a few mysteries as to what's going on down there. You may need to do some tweaks and further EQ of the non-bass tracks to make some room. If your bass has bled into other things (usually the drum mics), you'll hear it that way and can compensate as such.
  9. dpd

    dpd Active Member

    The biggest problem I have in my room is keeping everything else out of the bass mic - it seems like the bass just absorbs and re-radiates every instrument in the room. And, then, I can't really isolate the bass enough with all the other signals the mic hears. It doesn't sound as good, but the DI on the bass really cleans up the clutter.

    I EQ a bit, but I don't dig the idea of lots of processing on acoustic music.... Just my 0.02

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