Tips & Techniques

Mike Cave's mixing tips - Pt 1

Better bass in a mix

Russ Hello and welcome to the masterclass tips. We are at Loft Studios in Liverpool with Mike Cave. Mike is an experienced mastering and mixing engineer and today we are going to ask about how he gets the most from the bottom end of a mix. For credits and information follow this link.

Mike, how do you go about controlling low end in the mix?

Mike Hi Russ. Starting from the begining and as a matter of course, I'd put a high pass filter on to every single channel. Starting at 30Hz I'd even do this with the bass stuff as well. Then, as I'm going through everythin, I just raise the high pass frequency until I start hearing a difference.

Even with high frequency things such as a triangle or a tambourine, you might not think there's low end in there but a cumulative effect across a hundred tracks it does make a difference - and you need to get rid of that stuff. I just take that low frequency out as a matter of course up to a point where its not going to effect the actual signal. Also, it would be worth looking at doing this on the mix bus as well just in case anything sneaks through only at 20/30 Hz!

All of this is going to create a lot more space at the bottom end for the things that actually are bass elements such as kick and bass. Now that area is freed up for bass and kick we need to look at phase relationships between all those elements.

In many cases there will be at least two kick drum mics and a few basses. We need to make sure they are working in harmony together and not fighting for space and phase. For instance, with the two kick dums mics we may have for one offering a lot of bottom end punch with one of the other kick mics for top end, so it might be worth taking the bottom end of the clickier one so they're not fighting and just play each element to its strengths.

It's the same with the bass instruments. For instance, if you've got a bass guitar and a synth bass make sure they're not fighting for the same space. Check the phase correlation between the bass instruments and the kicks. If you've got several bass elements there already it's worth experimenting with phase and make sure what works best.

Another tip is to make sure your bottom end works on small speakers (obviously its pretty easy to get bass to sound great on big speakers). I tend to look at the higher frequency stuff, say for instance on a kit you've got the click of a kick drum and make sure thats cutting through. Sometimes if the elements aren't there in the top end, say for instance a bass guitar hasn't really got any mid in it, I'd think about adding a distortion channel of that bass - and maybe even take the bottom end out of that distortion channel so then thats not fighting it, so you'd have your dry bass and then maybe a bit of a gritty mid.

Russ Almost like a horn kind of vibe?

Mike Yeah, blend those two but when you are listening to the returns you need to be able to hear the bass line and the notes in that bass. Sometimes if they're not there to be had maybe add a bit of distortion or something like that. We could go on and on and on but there's just a couple of ideas to start with!

Russ Great tips on making the most of a bass in your mix!


Use High Pass Filters on every track to reduce unwanted low end that can muddy the mix thus creating more space for bass instruments. This gives bass instruments more power and makes this mix sound larger.

Also, if low end instruments aren't coming through on small speakers look to create a distorted version and blend in - removing the low end elements.

mike cave - recording engineer and mix engineer

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