Bass mixing: eight pro tips for DIY mixers

Two mixing experts share some tips you can use straight away for the bass in your bass mixing process

In recent years, there has been a real fight over who can pack the densest bass in their songs. On the one hand, young mixers feel obliged to mix a particularly heavy, emphatic bass, while professional mixers prescribe a level that hobbyists can barely achieve without help. It doesn't have to be that way, say Ilja John Lappin, bass player, cellist, singer and multi-instrumentalist from The Hirsch Effect and Janosch Held, freelance sound engineer from Bremen. The two of them have some great personal tips for all those sitting in front of their DAW, unsure which way to turn their bass control.

Janosch: "Let's start with a good bass mix at the beginning of the signal chain: What settings are needed on the amplifier?"

This applies both live and during recording: If an undefined signal is already coming out of the bass player's amp, it's not easy to counteract that. In the studio on the one hand, but above all when it's live. Because the bass (or any other bassy instrument) booms from the stage into the audience, away from the PA system. Just talk to the instrumentalists and ask why, for example, both the bass and high range are turned up to max on the amplifier. Politely ask whether the instrumentalist wants to achieve a specific sound pattern. If that's the case, offer some advice. At the Lila Eule in Bremen, I've worked with bands where I didn't have to change anything on the console, the signal would go straight into the PA system - but these are the big exceptions. Good communication between the mixer and musician is crucial.

Ilja: "The role of bass in the mix determines what frequencies are important."

Of course, it all depends on the role that the bass plays in the music. If now we understand bass as a bass guitar, in some bands it only follows the guitar riffs. In some heavier metal subgenres, the drums are very prominent and the bass takes on more of a "warm tonality", and it's not a lead instrument. You can cautiously emphasise the frequencies in the equaliser by 50-200 Hz without increasing the master volume of the bass guitar. This 50–200 Hz range is something that many refer to as "fatness" or "warmth". You can lower the higher frequencies if the bass is only supposed to accompany. Beginners often think that a bass guitar only plays the low bass in terms of frequencies, but that's not true. In lots of bands, the guitar allows the bass the freedom to play in the lower and upper midranges as well.

In other genres, like funk or prog rock, the bass even sets the tone. Here, the bass plays solos, etc. The bass guitar has to be more clearly and fundamentally audible as an independent track.

Be careful when you crank up the deep bass to around 100–200 Hz. In this range, bass tracks can quickly become undifferentiated, and therefore rather less assertive.

That's why a general distortion of the entire bass signal doesn't help at all if the bass is supposed to assert itself. Although it will sound pretty heavy, it still gets lost between the drums and low-pitched guitars.

Janosch: "Use a graphic equaliser with a real-time analyzer function."

Deep percussions, synthesisers, keyboards, low regions of the guitar – all of these almost always result in overlays at the low frequencies. In most bands and productions, there are at least two competing bass elements: the bass guitar and the kick drum. If you want to start mixing and cleaning up in these frequencies, I recommend the following: take a multitrack recording, good monitors and a graphic equaliser with a real-time analyzer function. Sit down, take your time, and see what changes when you raise individual instruments and tracks (including the kick drum, snare, bass guitar) in certain frequencies. How does the sound change? How does that affect the overall mix ? This will give you a feel of how to equalise individual tracks. Because EQ is the very first thing that counts when it comes to mixing. Not the compressor , or the effects. It's best to do this on a finished mix rather than when you're sitting in front of your own recordings for the first time.

The goal should never be to make every instrument sound as meaty as possible - that just creates chaos. The overall mix has to be right.

A rule of thumb: When playing live, for the bass guitar, you can almost always consistently cut out the high range (see here under "Frequency Spectrum"). Nobody needs that. By that, I only mean the high ranges! The bass needs high midrange. But the high range? Get rid of it.

Ilja: "Don't raise other bass sources over a wide range via EQ when the kick drum has a lot of pressure."

It makes sense for the kick drum to have a high pressure at a certain frequency: that's how it's tuned. If you raise the bass guitar in the same frequency range, you get precisely the overload you want to prevent. You can also see this visually if you follow Janosch's tip regarding the analyzer. It's better to raise the bass in the lower range. Or hook up an equaliser to the kick drum and lower it to a frequency range where it doesn't get in the way of the bass guitar. First thing to decide on is who's going to be the boss in the ring, the bass guitar or the kick drum? In which range can or should one make room for the other? In general, you should always have complementary EQing between the kick and the bass guitar. Generally speaking, many beginners don't experiment enough. Use the digital resources available and duplicate your bass track multiple times! Uses various methods for multiple duplicated bass tracks! Use, for example, a clean, only slightly compressed track and then another track that's distorted in the mid and upper range.

But the upper midrange is also important for bass guitars. If I want to hear a crisp bass, the high midranges have to be stronger – the main thing is that the bass guitar leaves the kick drum some scope within its frequency range.

Janosch: "The first step in bass equalisation is never to raise the frequencies."

"Stronger midranges", as Ilja says, is one thing, but the first thing you need to do on the EQ is attenuation. The EQ is first and foremost a tool to purge and clean up. This applies to the beginning of the bass mixing in particular, but actually to all mixing steps across the board process. Work on the EQ with cuts rather than with boosts. Otherwise you push the kick drum up 6 dB at one point, then the bass a few dB, and you're already pushing the whole mix into undefined "fatness". Basses also need disciplined gain staging. Alternatively, use a multi-band compressor to emphasise specific sound regions.


Especially with the bass in the studio, the EQ always comes before(!) the compressor

Otherwise you'll also compress the background noise in your track, which makes it denser and therefore more audible. Bass guitars in particular often cause a lot of fret noise. As Ilja already mentioned, you have unlimited effect slots in the digital world. Use an EQ to tweak the track, then move to the compressor, [###] . After that comes the fine tuning with another equaliser [###Link to:]. And only then do you apply any other effects. The cross-check you can apply here is to simply bypass the EQ, i.e. route the signal past it and listen to the compressed signal without EQ – it's usually unpleasant.


A general rule: Kick drums often sound a little wooden at 400-500 Hz, so you can lower them and make room for the bass guitar. You generate presence when you raise the kick drum at 3,000 Hz.

Ilja: “Distort the midrange and high range in the bass while keeping the subwoofer range clean – that can work wonders if you want the bass guitar to assert itself."

But don't get confused: Distortion isn't always overdrive or heavy distortion. What I'm talking about here is more just some slight distortion. Certain pre-amps or harmonic boosters also produce distortion that you should definitely experiment with. There are also effects that can raise the deeper bass sounds in a controlled way and distort higher frequencies. With these effects, you can determine exactly how much distortion or compression occurs from which frequency. This gives you maximum control over the bass mix! I use Darkglass effects here. These are also available as digital plug-ins, directly for the DI signal. I especially like to use Parallax by Neural DSP.

Distorting the higher ranges of the bass, keeping the lower ranges clean and with hefty compression, that's my method of obtaining a powerful bass.

A general rule: Depending on how the bass guitar is played, you should raise different frequencies. Slap bass? Increase the high midranges. Bass player uses a plectrum? Increase the high midranges. Bass player uses fingers? Increase the low and high midranges. Lots of background noise? They're mostly in the high ranges, so reduce them!

Janosch: "Not everything that produces bass frequencies needs to be compressed."

I often start on the compressor at a ratio of 1:8. It's important to get away from the mindset of compressing everything. Compressing a bass guitar is absolutely not a must. Just because we have unlimited compressors available today doesn't mean that every tom-tom, every bass, every kick has to be compressed. There's only one general rule: experiment. DAWs like Cubase or Logic offer several signature compressors that you should simply try out.

To fully understand the compressor and its possibilities – that was one of the lengthiest process on my path to becoming a sound engineer. But it was worth it.

Ilja: "Use the blend control on the compressor."

I always try to compress the bass unobtrusively because I don't want the compressor to cut off my "groove level" too much. However, I almost always compress the bass a little to obtain a certain presence in the mix. But I think most mixers go too far with the bass compressor. My tip: For the nuances, I recommend a bass compressor with a blend control. Using that blend control, you can fine-tune the proportion of the compressed and uncompressed part of the bass track.

One more tip: start with low threshold values and work your way up. The bass compression follows the compression of the kick drum. Test out the two signals against each other.

If you're in the mood for some more mixing know-how, take a look at our Mixing Basics for home recordings or read about our five classic mixing and recording no-gos .

Picture Ilja © Christoph Eisenmenger