How To Mix Bass For Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop, R&B, and Electronic Music
Bass is one of the most fundamental elements of any modern production. Not only does the baseline establish the root of the song, but the tone of the instrument also sets the stage for the rest of the track.
For instance, whenever you hear a funky baseline, your first instinct probably isn’t folk music. When you hear a snarling, growling baseline dripping with distortion, you probably aren’t expecting to hear a classic jazz number. That’s why it’s crucial to nail the bass tone from the start.
In this blog, we’ll break down some of our favorite tips for mixing bass in five different genres, including pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B and electronic music.
Mixing Bass for Pop
With pop music, the bass usually goes one of two ways. It’s either a focal point that draws your attention with a catchy melody, or a simple sustained low note root of the chords. Let’s take a look at the melodic example first.
The bass in ‘Attention’ by Charlie Puth is clean, clear and extremely rhythmic. To capture this sound, start by trimming any fat in the low-end. Use a high-pass filter to roll-off any bass below 40 Hz or so. To help bring the melody to the foreground, try boosting the highs with a shelf EQ. Brightening up the bass tone helps listeners identify each note.
Use your favorite EQ to boost the fundamental frequency of the bass and carve out a little space for the kick drum. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to dial in the perfect EQ curve, BASSROOM makes genre-specific EQ target suggestions to help streamline the process.
To capture that funky, snappy bass tone, use a compressor with fast attack and release times to help accentuate the transients of each note. If possible, try to use a compressor with a side-chain filter to keep the low-end from triggering the compressor.
Mixing Bass for Rock
Flea, the bassist for Red Hot Chili Peppers famously blends elements of funk and punk music with his unique style. He combines the dynamic performance of funk bass with the gritty, grungy tones of punk.
To capture this tone in your mix, start by putting on a smiley face. No, seriously—use a shelving EQ to boost the lows and the highs. This gives the bass the power to hold down the low-end of the track, while also bringing out the snap and bite of the strings when slapping.
Clean up the low-mids between 150–400 Hz to make room for the kick drum and get rid of any muddiness. For a more punk rock kind of vibe, use a bell to boost the upper mids around 800 - 1200 Hz.
For more control over the dynamics of the bass performance, heavily compress a DI recording and blend it in with the amp channel. Since the DI channel is so clean, you can use aggressive settings without creating artifacts. Try using a ratio like 10:1 with fast attack and release times.
Finally, to capture the signature snarl of a rock bass tone, try using parallel processing to add some subtle saturation. IGNITE is the perfect plug-in for adding high-quality dynamic harmonic distortion, which can help your bass tracks cut through a busy mix without overpowering the guitars.
Mixing Bass for Hip-Hop
Hip-hop is all about the bass. In most cases, the bass is an extension of the kick drum. The kick typically handles the tight, punchy transient sound, while the bass delivers a powerful sustained note.
In order to dial in this sort of sound, you need to marry the kick and bass. Start by using an EQ to carve out space on both tracks. Use a high pass filter on the kick to open up the subs for the bass. Use a bell to cut the low-mids on the bass and make room for the kick to knock.
To enhance the sustain of the bass, use a compressor with a slow release time to squeeze the signal for a more consistent sound.
To make more space for the kick drum, add a second compressor side-chained to the kick. Use fast attack and release times so that the compressor quickly attenuates the signal whenever the kick drum hits.
Mixing Bass For R&B
When it comes to R&B, the bass is often at the forefront of the mix. Not only does the baseline supply the bottom-end of the melody, it typically introduces a lot of interesting movement in the forms of licks and fills. That’s why most R&B bass tones are clean and balanced.
Start by using an EQ to roll off any unnecessary subs and cleaning up the low mids around 200 Hz. Use a shelf EQ to boost the highs and help bring out the clarity and detail of the strings.
You can use your favorite EQ or even a subharmonic enhancement plug-in to boost the lows, but since R&B basslines often incorporate rhythm to gives tracks that signature groove, I like to use a multi-band compressor. Not only does this help me dial in the sub frequencies, but it also helps create powerful, consistent bass and bring out the percussive and rhythmic elements of the performance.
Use moderate attack and release times on the low frequencies to help increase punch and sustain. As for the high-frequencies, you can use a slow attack time to accentuate the attack or a fast attack time to tighten up the transients—it’s up to you! Best of all, you can use the multi-band compressor to apply a little compression across the board for more consistent dynamics.
It’s also not a bad idea to use side-chain compression to marry the kick and the bass. If you feel that your rhythm section still needs a little more glue, try sending the drums and bass to the same bus compressor and giving them a good squeeze.
Mixing Bass For Electronic Music
With electronic artists like Hasley, the bass is often used to create a sense of power and depth. Similar to pop music, many songs use the bass as an extension of the kick drum, playing a sustained root note every time the kick drum hits.
For this approach, you just need to focus on the low-end. Use a high-pass filter to get rid of any unwanted subs and clean up any muddiness in the low mids.
Since the bass only plays a supporting roll, there’s no need for parallel distortion to make it stick out of the mix. However, a heavy dose of compression will help keep the low-end consistent.
To create that larger-than-life sound that electronic music is known for, you might want to use a stereo enhancement plug-in like GROW to add depth and width. Use the filter to cut out the bass frequencies. By focusing on the highs you can create the illusion that the bass is huge without muddying up the mix.
Just be sure you don’t go overboard! Stereo enhancement plug-ins use phase manipulation to simulate depth. Be sure to check your track with a stereo field meter such as LEVELS to make sure your mix won’t fall apart in mono.
Didn’t see your favorite genre on the list? No worries, just use our plugin REFERENCE to check the bass tone in your mix against your top reference tracks to identify key differences. The white level lines at the bottom of REFERENCE will help you balance the volume of the bass in the context of your whole mix, which is one of the hardest but most crucial processes to getting a pro sounding mix. You can also click the low-band in the trinity display to solo those frequencies helping you better understand how the tone and power of the bass compares to your reference track.