Bass compression is one of the most important considerations when mixing low end.
Using compression on bass to solidify the part and make it ever-present and consistent means that you can shape your low-end mix much easier and place the bass in its own defined space in the mix.
If you've mixed rock and indie music for any length of time then you’ll no doubt be familiar with the concept of compressing bass. The two telltale giveaways of an amateur mix are a bass that's too loud and muddy AND one that's not consistent. So today, I want to focus on compressing bass guitar in a typical rock or indie mix to fix these common problems.
Watch the video to see me provide several ways to use compression on bass to get it to sit solidly and provide drive and energy in a typical pop-punk mix.
If you want to learn more about low end mixing then you might want to check out my blog where I talk about mixing kick and bass for a full, yet tight, low end mix or, if you want to know more about bass compression then check out my post called "What Is Compression?"
If you mix rock and indie music, then you'll no doubt be familiar with the concept of compressing bass, the two telltale giveaways of an amateur mix is a bass that's too loud and muddy and one that's not consistent with notes that sound like they're too quiet, worse still, missing altogether. So today I want to focus on compressing bass guitar in a typical rock or indie mix to fix these common problems. Hi, I'm Sara Carter from Simply Mixing .com, where each week I bring you simple practical advice to help you get better at mixing.
So why do we love Bass? Well, I think it's because we're rhythmic beasts. It's programmed deep into our DNA to respond to rhythm and bass. We can feel them and they compel us to move either to flee from impending danger or more likely to get up and dance to a banging tune. So when we mix bass guitar and it's sounding quiet at times or lacking in energy, it massively impacts our mixes whereby they just don't sound balanced or professional.
Compressing bass is how to make sure you have a rock solid foundation that your mix needs for power, excitement and emotion. And be sure to stick around through the whole tutorial because I'll be showing both a basic method and a more advanced method of compressing bass that ensures you not only have a fat and solid low end, but will keep the bass sounding clear and defined as well. If you're new to the channel and please like and subscribe by clicking the subscribe button on the bell underneath this video.
OK, let's get on with it.
OK, so Pro tools is open and I'm going to talk to you a bit more now about compressing bass. So why use compression, what does it do to the bass? Well, thinking back to that problem about inconsistency, where we lose the rhythm or sometimes even lose notes in a performance well we can use compression to make the notes all the same volume. We use compression really for two reasons when mixing. First of all, we might want to alter the shape of the sound or we want to reduce the dynamic range.
And that's what we're talking about here, because often in bass, we've got an audio track that has got significant volume fluctuations that we really need to even out in order to get that consistency so we can create that solid foundation, that fat low end that we need in rock and indie music. We also do it so that we don't lose the rhythm. And that's the part that is just so important for the enjoyment of any style of music, let alone rock and indie.
So compression with the bass guitar is a really important part of having a mix that sounds professional and avoiding that telltale give away where the bass is just not consistent and notes are just too quiet. So, OK, let's have a look at that in action then. I've got here a pop punk session that I recently mixed for a band called Heather What? And in the description you'll find a link where you can go and find out more and listen to their music.
So the session is made up typically of drums, bass, guitars. We have some keyboards, we have some brass in this particular tune, we've got lead vocal and we've got some backing vocals. And in this particular session, I was given one track of bass. Let me just play the start for you so you can get an idea of the style of music. And for the demonstration, I've muted the vocals so you can really focus in on the bass and how it relates to the other instruments in the arrangement.
So it's OK, it's kind of OK at the start here through the intro, but into the first chorus, it's it's fine but when the bass changes register and goes higher up the neck, which you can actually see in the waveform from here, it actually loses energy. And not only can you see it, but you can hear it as well. Let me just play a short section for you so you can just listen to that transition there.
So you can just hear how it sort of loses energy at this point. So what's going to fix that for us? Well, a compressor. So it doesn't really matter which compressor you choose. There are hundreds out there so just choose one that you like working with that is easy for you to use and one that you just prefer. So in my case, I like the CLA 76 by Waves. I like any compressor of this style being an emulation of the Urei 1176 classic compressor that is just typical in rock tracks that we've been listening to for decades.
So it makes sense to use it on this particular song. I'm going solo the bass for you and let me bypass so you can just hear the bass all on its own. OK, doesn't sound too bad in isolation, but when you've got in the mix, you can definitely hear it dropping off in volume. Let me give you a longer run up to that point there.
OK, so let's add a compressor and see what that does. Yeah, I can hear that it is lifting the level from here so that the changeover is much more consistent and much more even, effectively making the notes all the same volume which is exactly what we want. So what am I doing on this compressor? Well, I've tried my best to set it up so that it's not level that you're hearing and giving you a false impression, what you're actually hearing is what the compressor is doing to the signal.
So if I bypass on and off from this section here, then you can hopefully hear that the level isn't really changing. Start with it bypassed.
OK, I was bypassing it there, and I think the level was pretty consistent. Let's try that same experiment from this point where we can significantly hear a drop in level.
So it's much more noticeable there. So you can see how compression is going to instantly help us in our rock mix. So with that compression engaged then, let's take another listen across that transition there. First of all, with the compressor off and then I'll switch the compressor on. And again. OK, now, I appreciate that some of you might not hear that, depending on how you're listening to this, if you listen to it on full studio monitors, you will probably hear a little bit better.
So what I'll do is I'll just increase the volume slightly. Here. To help you hear the difference, so let's do that transition again without the bass. OK, so that's definitely giving us a helping hand in our mix. Now I wonder what it's like on this section here, this is more a more dynamic section. Let's hear what it sounds like without compression.
Now with. Again, it's definitely helping us, you can see in the waveform how dynamic this bass part is. So it's quite a lot of work for just one compressor to do so another really common technique is to split the load across two compressors. So two compresses in series, one after the other on the same signal to even up the signal without one compressor having to do all the work. So if you look if you look here, you'll sort of notice that the way I've set up the compressor with the threshold or the input control on this particular compressor is that it's given us around about seven to 10 dBs of compression, check it out.
And here. OK, so it's about seven dBs of compression. An alternative way then to approach this is to use two compressors. Now, it's very common for studios to have 1176's and LA 2A compressors, to hand to be able to patch up in series across signals and use in this kind of split fashion.
But instead of using an LA 2A I'm going to use an LA 3A, which looks like this from Waves. The LA 2A and the LA 3A were very similar compressors and both optical compressors. But the LA3A is faster when there are higher spikes in volume, it will act a little bit faster than the LA2A and for guitar I find that works rather well. So that's what I'm going to go with today. OK, so if you remember from the first CLA 76, I was getting about minus seven.
So if I'm using two compressors to split the load, then I'm going to use less compression on this particular CLA 76 so I'm going for about minus five dBs of gain reduction on here. And then the remaining two or three I'll pick up here with CLA 3A. So let me demonstrate them for you. So you could see them getting about minus five on the CLA 76 and minus three on the CLA 3A. So what do they sound like together?
So you can hear that sounds much more solid and you can hear all the articulation from the performance. So let me go back to this section here which we've been listening to previously and let me switch those off so you can remind yourself what it was like before, and then I will switch the two back in again. So that sounds great, and you can see in the meter there the level drop, it drops down from minus seven to minus three when we get into this lower level section here.
Yet with the compression in and we can still hear it pretty clearly in the mix. So let's have a listen to this section here. Again, without compression. So these two sort of stabs, hits here are getting lost when we don't use compression, and that's exactly why we do use compression on bass to even out the performance and to give us that drive and that solid foundation which we're looking for.
OK, so what if you haven't got any of these 1176 emulations? Well, you can do it very successfully with your stock plugin that comes with your DAW. And in Pro tools case, that's this compressor here, which is the Dyn 3 compressor limiter. So let's bypass that and listen across this familiar section now to us where the level drops here.
OK, so you can hear that it does a great job and there's no reason to go out and buy an 1176 emulation to do this, you can use what you've got, which, out of clarity's sake is what I had, the 1176's set at 4:1 here, 8:1, 4:1.
And you can play around with these ratios and find a setting that works best for you. It's really common to use a compression ratio of eight, for example, on bass guitar. So just have a play and see what works for you because it's different for every track. So that's using compressors on a bass but you don't have to use compressors you can always use a limiter. Now, a limiter is just like a compressor at the end of the day, except it functions with a higher ratio.
You saw that we were using 4:1 ratio on the 1176. Well, technically, a limiter is any compressor that operates with a ratio of 10:1 or more. And what that means is, whereas a compressor lets some of the signal past its threshold, a limiter doesn't, in effect, it's "brick walled" it. And that's a term you'll often hear, brick wall limiter. So what does that sound like on a bass guitar? Well, let's have a look here.
So this is the L1 limiter by Waves and this is a very common limiter. So let's have a listen, see what that does to this section of the song that we've been listening to so far.
Yeah, it's much quicker to set up, but the downside is you don't get the extra sonic characteristics that you can get with compression, compression typically brings more body and you've got the attack and release controls that you can use to shape the sound, whereas a limiter, you get the release, but you just get much more control when using a compressor. So that's how you'd start to approach compressing the bass guitar. You can see it's very effective. It does what we need it to do.
It certainly evens out those differences in level that we get and helps the bass to sit more solidly in the mix and give that that foundation, that solid foundation for the guitars. But what if you want a little bit more control? Well, next, I'm going to show you a more advanced method for compressing bass, where not only do you get that solid foundation for the guitars and all the other instruments and vocals in the track, but you get to control the articulation more and keep the bass sounding clear and present throughout the whole mix.
OK, so I've just done a quick scene change for you and brought up the tracks that I actually used while mixing this song. And instead of just the one bass track, now you'll see that I've got three. And what I did was I took the original and duplicated it twice to give me three bass tracks. And the idea behind that is that I can split the signal of the bass into three parts. So the first track, which is the DI, that I've split using this EQ where I've used a low pass filter to filter off everything, above 200 hertz.
OK, and so that results in this sound.
OK, so that's quite low.
Obviously all the lows, no high frequencies at all. And so I can control the lower section of the bass independently of everything else. So then the next track, track number two is what I've just called bass amp, because when I'm actually supplied with a bass and a bass amp, I treat the DI with this low pass filter here and the bass amp I treat with an opposite high pass filter at 200 hertz. So that sounds like this.
That's where you can really hear the string noise, you can hear the fret noise, you can hear the pick attack. So this is how you're able to create the definition and clarity in your bass tracks to make sure that the bass is heard throughout the track in its entirety, in all the busy sections, in the choruses as well as the verses. So the two together sound like this.
OK, so the final track is this bass distortion track here, and that sounds like this. So it's really gnarly, gritty sounding bass that I've used the CLA Bass plugin here to get that sound, but you can use any distortion plugin really. And and I do I try various different distortion plug ins from Fabfilter Saturn to the PSA 1, even the Scheps Omnichannel. So I just try different ones and see which ones are bringing the best distortion characteristic to the sound.
For the particular track that I'm mixing and today I settled on CLA Bass, so CLA Bass, the high and then the low bass tracks all together sound like this and that high fuzz that you can hear is, again, another technique that's used to ensure that you get the definition and the clarity and the cut that you need when you've got rock guitars and keyboards and vocals and everything else going on in a typical rock and indie track. Now, what's also different is that the auxiliary that all the three bass tracks are going through here has got some different plugins on it. This is where I'm doing the compression because I've created my sound here with these three individual tracks and I'm funneling them all through one stereo track here to give me my complete bass sound and then I'm treating them all as one.
I've got a SSL 4000 E console here with some EQ.
I've got the shadow hills compressor that I'm using on this particular song, and with this plugin, I'm using this bass two stage preset here to control the bass signal. And I'm getting about three dBs of gain reduction on this meter here on this particular song. I've used the MV2 compressor, which allows you to compress both ends of the spectrum independently so you can compress just the low level or just the highs or both together. And I'm doing them here quite aggressively and dropping the output to keep the level in the right kind of ballpark for the mix.
And that is followed by a multiband compressor. Now probably get into using multiband compressors on bass in another video, just know that this is on my bass bus and it's acting on those low frequencies, 250 hertz and below, just compressing them slightly to really keep the lows solid and consistent throughout the mix. So the higher frequencies of the bass that I've got going on here and with the bass distortion aren't being compressed by this compressor it's just the low end.
And you can hear that it just keeps it thick and fat. And finally, I've got Maxx bass just to help me with laptop speakers here using the multimedia setting and just creeping a little bit in just so the bass doesn't get lost on smaller speakers. So what does all that lot sound like?
Let's play it through and you can have a listen. OK, so that familiar section you could hear continue to hear the bass tight and articulate during that quieter section, it didn't die off. It didn't fall away. It stayed consistent. And if ever you want to check that you've got enough bass in your track, just listen to it without the bass and then you'll be able to find the level of your bass much easier when you take it away and bring it back again.
Let me show you what I mean. OK, helps you gain perspective and you're able to set your bass balance and know that it's about right. So let me demonstrate what these bass auxiliary plugins are doing just so that you get an idea of what each one is bringing to the sound. We might get some level changes here, but I will take these off. So you can hear what each one is doing individually and we will just sort of cycle through that section.
What I like about this plugin, apart from the level difference that you're getting, try to ignore that if you can, what I like is the different tonality that it imparts. You've got these different settings here, nickel, iron and steel and they all have this different flavor to bring to the compression. So I had it on iron, which sounds like this.
So when I switched to steel the sound got a lot darker and it's slightly more recessed in the higher frequencies, nickle, that's really got a lovely high end sheen to it if you need it, think like acoustic instruments and vocals, that sounds really nice, but iron here, I think works really well on bass guitar, and that's what I decided to stick with. So that's the Shadow Hills compressor for Bass. You heard that it gave us a bit of a gain bump
And let's see what the MV2 is doing to our sound. OK, it's quite subtle, the level difference is matched, so it's not bringing me any more level, but what I am hearing is slightly more top end, some slight, very high frequencies that it's bringing to the signal and it's going to help that cut through the choruses. Let me play that again for you. It's very subtle, but see if you can hear it.
OK. Then we have the C4 that is the multiband that's really compressing just 250 and below to give us that solid base foundation. Let me start it bypassed, first of all, and see if you can hear it when I bring it in. Again, it's pretty subtle and it depends what you're listening to, how low your headphones go or how low your studio monitors go. I can definitely hear it. It just gives us that solidity that is otherwise missing.
And then finally, I've got Maxx bass for the laptops and phone users. Let's see what this is doing. Bypassed. Yeah, that's going a long way to bring in that thickness into the bass sound for us. Maxx bass, it's really great for doing that, it's set at a frequency here of 120 so there's no chance of our bass guitar getting lost on laptops or smaller speakers. OK, that's the round up of the bass guitar for this pop punk mix. I've given you the very basic one track method using a single compressor, a limiter or two compressors in series.
And finally, I've shown you how to split the signal into three definite parts a low, a high and a distorted and then blending all three together and running them through two compressors and a multiband compressor to give us our complete bass sound. And then finally, some harmonic enhancement from Maxx bass to help it translate on smaller speakers and laptops. And finally, for your listening pleasure. Let's hear this section again.
When a bass guitar is mixed well, it's blended seamlessly with the electric guitars to produce a solid, energetic wall of sound without losing the articulation and rhythm of the original performance.
By compressing the bass how I've shown you, you'll have that solid, thick foundation that's typical in a professional rock or indie mix that never loses momentum or has missing notes or dead spots.
If you like this video. Subscribe and turn on notifications so you don't miss more videos that help you mix professional sounding music in your own home studio. And check out the video on screen now for my Top Tips for mixing kick and bass. Thanks for watching and I'll see you in the next video.
Enter your email address to join my mailing list and get this free bonus guidebook PDF as a gift