Mixing Bass the Friend For A Foe Way


FFaF Guitarist/Producer
Oct 2, 2009
Washington DC
A few folks have asked about our bass tone used on our EP (It’s free! http://friendforafoe.bandcamp.com/) and more recently on our very, very, VERY short clip called “SISO” (which FYI stands for 5150 which is the amp the tone is based off of on the Axe-FX Ultra http://dl.dropbox.com/u/2360666/SISO.mp3 ). The clip itself is nothing to brag about as it was just a quick test to ensure our new M-Audio Profire 2626 was up and running correctly, but it received props based on the mix so I figured I would write up a basic tutorial so you can create your own bass tone that sits well in recordings.

Most people discuss guitar mixing or drum mixing or even overall mastering, but bass tutorials aren’t as available so I thought I would start with that. I’ll eventually write more tutorials on guitar, drums, and vocals and even get around to making PDF files with screenshots, but for now, this will have to do. I’ll be specific on some things and generic in others. What works for me may not work for you so use this a guideline to create your own sound, experiment, and practice.

The bass we used to record is a 5-string Schecter Custom Stiletto plugged into an Axe-FX ULTRA (tone is bypassed for the most part ... I just use a compression block and the Tube Pre preamp to give it sustain/fuller notes and for some coloration to the sound). Any bass with fresh strings, good intonation, minimal fret buzz, fresh batteries and decent active pickups should work. I also have all the tone/EQ knobs turned down to half-way and the volume at 100% so it’s not overly low or high in the bass’s natural EQ areas. Try to get the source as good sounding as you can because crap going in will sound like crap coming out … you can polish a turd, but it’s still a turd for nitpicky folks like myself.

The first step is to duplicate the recorded/edited bass track onto two separate tracks.

One track is Waves CLA Bass ( http://www.waves.com/content.aspx?id=10344 ) > DMG Audio Compassion ( http://dmgaudio.com/products_compassion.php ) > DMG Audio EQuality ( http://dmgaudio.com/products_equality.php ) In that order. CLA Bass is used just to give the tone some color, but nothing more with no drastic settings … I do an ever so slight tube-like distortion, but it’s barely noticeable (just to make the notes cut a wee bit). Generic settings: Bass on at around 0-1db with Sub selected, Treble on at around 0-3db with Honk selected, Compress on at around 0-1db with Push selected, Sub turned off, Distortion on at about -10db (VERY low) with Growl selected, pitch is turned off. EQuality is a phenomenal EQ plugin in that it does analogue simulation very well, but I use it’s Linear Phase function which is basically a completely non-colored sound (eats a bit of resources though) so I usually EQ after compression since I can mold the sound I want. I do a low pass with a 12db slope around 3500kHz or lower (since you don’t need all that high end) and a high pass with a 12db slope at 30-40Hz. I also do a wide scoop around 500Hz minus a few dbs. Compression is more or less me squishing the crap out of the bass (i.e. low threshold [between -15 to -25db, 4:1 -10:1 ratio depending on taste, slow attack, fast release … almost an in-between your kick drum compression settings and your guitar compression settings).

The second track is DMG Audio Compassion > Mokafix NoAmp! ( http://www.mokafix.com/en/noamp.html ) > DMG Audio EQuality. I do similar compression settings as above, but the key here is I add distortion AFTER compression which I’ll go into more details in a bit. NoAmp! Is a free VST plugin resembling a Sansamp Bass Driver that I use to give the bass tone some nasty sounding distortion … this track isn’t supposed to be pretty and is more noise to allow notes to pop through. Generic settings to give you guys for a similar, but not exact copy of our tone is volume between 10-11 o’clock, highs and lows between 12-1 o’clock, drive between 9 and 12 o’clock (this purely based on your own taste), Classic, Clean, then British switch settings and then I enable 4x oversampling. I EQ with high pass with a 6 or 12db slope around 500Hz (with an additional wide-ish scoop at around 450Hz a few slight decibels down) and a low pass with 12db slope at around 4500kHz or so to allow some highs to come through. Now why do I add the distortion after compression? There’s no reason at all. For me it makes the notes jump out a bit more and the distorted notes comes through, but it can be a bit much so you just move the NoAmp before the compression in your chain if you want the distorted tone a bit more in the background.

Now that you have your separate tracks ready, create a new bus for your bass, then set the bass track outputs to it 100%. Adjust your volume levels on the tracks (I usually keep the non-distorted track at 0db and the distorted track around -15db). Now that you have both tracks with their output set for your new bass bus, you’re ready to start “gluing” things together. I normally have additional compression to tie the two tracks together … I usually keep the settings similar as the other two tracks just less extreme thresholds (i.e. -5db). Compressing the shit out of the bass is key to keeping the bass line consistent with minimal peaking or volume drops. EQ as usual, with an additional high pass around 40-50Hz with a gradual slope to tame the lows, another low pass to tame more highs, and then I do the 12db boost with a high Q “sweep” trick to find my problem areas and do cuts until a get rid of harmonic resonance, problem areas, or do wide scoops in frequency areas where the drums, guitars, and vocals should sit. If you want some more sub-level bass, feel free to boost the frequencies just above or below where the main sub-peak frequencies of your kick lies, again it’s more of personal preference. Be sure to do a cut in the area where the kick’s “thump” lies so you don’t cloud up the bass levels!

Afterwards I add BBE’s D82 Sonic Maximizer (http://www.bbesound.com/products/sonic-maximizers/sonic-sweet.aspx) to add additional clarity and depth to the bass … lo contour around 2-4, process around 1-3, and I leave the output at zero. After all that is done I throw on a bit of multiband parametric compression with Waves C4 … I won’t give my settings here but a good starting point is to take a gander at the fabled Andy Sneap C4 settings for guitar ( http://members.cox.net/sahmusic/SneapC4.gif ... keep in mind, this is what works for Andy, and will likely not work for you on guitar … I hate presets, but they’re a great tool to learn from). Now that you’ve seen those, almost do the complete opposite settings, but gently … I can’t give away all my secrets so you’ll have to deal with the vague/cryptic suggestion on C4 settings for now. After that, I add a limiter … I use Waves L2 ( http://www.waves.com/Content.aspx?id=211 ), but most limiters should do the trick.

I usually keep the threshold around -12 to -14db to squash the bass even further and to keep it consistent. Your output is completely dependent on your mix … I keep mine at -8 or -9 and the release usually set to automatic since it works for me. I keep the quantize at 24-bits, I have the Dither set to none but again, it’s entirely up to you (type 1 gives no nonlinear distortion, type 2 exhibits a lower dither level, and none, well, none doesn’t give anything), then the shaping is set to Ultra. Noise shaping is also dependent on what you’re going for (In basic, albeit extended terms, noise-shaping shifts the energy of the noise to the frequency ranges where we hear it the least. The three options provided in L2’s IDR section push more of the noise energy to higher frequencies above 15 kHz, where our ears are least sensitive, and reducing the noise energy of lower frequencies. The options differ in the amount of this ‘shifting action’. Moderate is the lightest noise-shaping curve. Normal is the recommended option for use under most conditions for all bit-depths. Ultra is a very high-quality setting, suitable only for use at the very last stage of mastering high-resolution files (16-bit and higher) targeted for high-quality digital media). I just choose Ultra because it sounds better to me, but as mentioned, do what you will for what you need it for.

The last step is the bass bus volume needs to be set. I normally opt for about 1db less than I have the guitars set to, but you can adjust how you see fit. Of note, since my threshold on the bass limiter is set higher than I have my guitar limiter set, the signal is a bit hotter sounding so there’s more perceived loudness. Don’t rely on numbers, use your ears … a trick to set levels for anything is to turn the volume down on your main output so it’s very low, but audible and adjust levels to taste. When you turn the master volume back up, you levels sound a bit better and more evenly placed.

That’s it for the bass! Keep in mind, it all plays into how the bass plays with the guitar tone and kick/snare. On its own, it may not sound like much, but when mixed correctly with the other pieces of your mix, it really shines and allows the bass to not be so in the background is usually the case in most modern metal mixes.

Hopefully this helps a bit! Let me know what you think! Thanks for reading :D
Nice tutorial Chris. I have your "myspace tutorial" one which was on FFaF myspace forums. It's still really useful :)
So can you write new tutorial for vocals?