How Loud Should Bass Be In A Mix?

So you’ve done it; had an idea, composed and arranged a track. The times when this process just flows naturally leaves you feeling on top of the world. But very often you reach a point in the production where you hit some kind of wall. That could be at any stage for different people, and it can often vary from track to track.

Sometimes the composing and arranging stage goes fine, and then when you get to mixing you find yourself slumped by all the decisions that you have to make. With time, however, you can train yourself, much like muscle memory, to get your mix just the right way that supports your artistic vision for your track.

However, depending on the variety of music you like to produce, the ‘correct,’ mix may vary from track to track. It could also change depending on the kind of mood you want to set.

Why The Mix Is Important?

The mix is the part of your production where, simply put, you ensure that all the different elements of your track can be heard. What is considered the right level for a different instrument will vary from producer to producer, from genre to genre, and from track to track?

It will be dictated by the kind of musical story you want to tell, and what kind of musical journey you want to take listeners on with this particular piece of music.

No matter how good you are at composing and arranging if your mix is unclear, no one will be able to appreciate the musical message you’re trying to put across. A badly mixed track can sound muddy, with all the different elements merging and melting into one another, forming an unpleasant sonic sludge.

Two elements that people are often unclear about how to mix when beginning their producing journey are kick drum and bass. Let’s take a look at some tips on how loud you could think about putting your bass in your mix.

Mixing Bass

Ultimately, what you feel like the correct volume for the bass is in your mix is an artistic decision that you’ll make and can be decided by a whole host of factors. The unsatisfying answer, is that your bass should be the volume that sounds best in your mix. A rule of thumb is that your bass track should be as loud as your other loudest tracks. This often ends up around 0dB.

Related: How Loud Should Snare Be In a Mix?

What we’ll cover here in detail, are some general tips that you can follow to ensure that your bass mix sounds clear.

Whether you want the bass to be heavier and harder-hitting, or to be more prominent than, say your guitars or your kick, well, that’s down to you. For example, if you’re producing dance music, often you’ll find that the kick is the most prominent feature in the mix. For drum N bass, as the name implies, the bass is often at a very similar level to the kick drum.

The bass and the kick drum, in many genres, are constantly vying for the listener’s attention, and getting the balance right can be tricky. In the end, they’re both complementary to each other and are ‘on the same side,’ although it often may feel like they’re competing with one another.

Tricks For Mixing Bass

Giving out exact numbers for how loud your bass should be in a mix can be problematic and potentially misleading. A mix is a cohesive whole; the interaction of all its parts. Instead of exact figures as to how loud your bass should be, let’s instead take a look at some tips for mixing bass to give it the prominence you want.

Remember that these are just guidelines and will vary from person to person, genre to genre, and track to track.

You can’t mix by just looking at meters. However, they do give you a good insight into how specific elements blend and work together as a whole. Let’s look at some tips to help you get the bass levels you want each time, without paying too much attention to figures.

Related: How to Remove White Noise from Audio

Compressing Bass

More often than not, you’ll be after a stable low end in your mix. Using a multi-band compressor and locking all the pieces under 150hz with medium attack and release is a good place to start.

As an experiment, start with a medium gain reduction, attack, and release relative to the line of the compressor. Starting here is a good point to begin messing around to discover the balance you’re after. Try moving the compressor lines to the extremes of high and low. As it’s balance we’re after, at some point your ear should tell you where to right point is.

Use A Limiter

The main difference between a compressor and a limiter has to do with ratios. Whilst a compressor turns down some volume that goes above a certain threshold, a limiter will block all the volume that goes above this threshold.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, using a limiter for your bass allows it to cut through the mix better. It also tends to heighten the upper bass frequencies which often tend to get misplaced somewhere in the post-production.

A medium ratio of between 1:4 and 1:6 is a good place to start. Remember to compensate for the gain reduction loss.

Use whichever built-in limiter you already have on your DAW. You’ll likely find that the ceiling is set at -1dB to begin with. Aim for a 6dB reduction out of your limiter. Less is often more in here! This should allow it to cut through the mix without missing out on those important higher bass frequencies.

As well as getting more definition and volume from your bass, you should also find it gives you more sound across all frequencies.

Should I Use A Limiter Or Compressor?

Some people claim a limiter will work better on a digital bass, with a compressor being better suited for an acoustic bass. But as always, this depends on what kind of sound you’re after and the way and what idea you want to put across.

Frequencies To Consider Boosting or Reducing.

  • 60hz-200hz – This is where you’ll find the majority of bass guitar sits. Enhance too much around this frequency can leave you with problems later on when you come to mastering your track.
  • 200hz- 500hz – This area is where your bass can start to sound muddy. If you choose to cut-off at around this range, you’ll likely end up with a very clean sounding bass track, what’s referred to as a ‘scooped,’ sound.
  • 500hz-1000hz – At this range your bass can end up sounding nasally. Enhancing around this range can leave you with a metallic sound.
  • 1000hz-5000hz – If you use a pick with your bass, this is the frequency where your pick attack will sit. Boosting or reducing around these frequencies will give you either a tighter or looser sounding bass respectively.

Bear in mind that alterations of more than 5dB can often leave your bass sounding rather artificial and should be avoided (unless that’s what you’re looking for!)

The Bottom Line

How loud you choose to have your bass in your mix will be decided by a whole set of factors. One of the most crucial is, quite simply how you want your bass to sound in your final track. Giving specific advice can be counterproductive when dealing with artistic endeavors. Once you have an idea of the kind of sound you want, then it may be possible to take action in that direction.

Getting the bass to sound the right way in the mix is a bit like a muscle you have to train. There are certain things you have to learn to do (and not to do) but once you’ve learned it becomes muscle memory.

Become well-acquainted with your built-in compressors and limiters on your DAW. Learning what effects reducing or enhancing different bass frequencies can have on your sound is a useful skill to have tucked away in your producer toolbox when it comes to how loud to have the bass in your mix.

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