For this exercise, you’ll once again find three tracks in Soundation from “In Your Eyes.”
The bass mix, played by the great Tony Levin, labeled ‘Bass.’
The “mix minus” track, which for this exercise is the full mix, minus the bass – everything but the bass, labeled ‘Mix-Bass.’
The ‘Mix,’ a final mix of the tune using the tracks available here. It places the bass at a level suitable for the tune, the genre, the radio, and a competitive shuffled playlist. Your mission: use the other tracks to match this reference mix.
As before, we once again don’t use the entire tune. Instead, we work with a carefully selected portion of the tune, one that represents the full variety of mix challenges presented by the full tune: the first verse, pre-chorus, and chorus.
This exercise will likely be harder than the first two Mix Balance exercises.
Bass is a tough track because headphones, loudspeakers, and ear buds all have trouble reaching down low. This is made more complex as transducer designers may try to hype the low end to help sell their product. As a result, we don’t always have an accurate reproduction of low frequencies; some pockets are under-represented, while other regions are overdone. This is made more challenging still by room acoustics. The smallish rooms we typically work in will have low frequency hot spots and cold spots (room modes) that can cloud what we hear down low if the room hasn’t been carefully designed. But you’ve got some experience balancing vocals and drums within a mix, so you are ready for the low frequency challenge.
By now you know the routine...
Balancing the Bass
Listen to the entire reference mix and acclimate yourself to the relative level of all the tracks: vocal, kick, snare, bass, piano, guitar, and the rest. Focus in particular on how the bass holds down the bottom of the mix, even as the part itself is so minimalist at times. Those hard-to-hear low frequencies must not be too loud, nor too soft. It’s a tough balance. That’s why we practice, comparing our decisions to a pro mix.
Mute the reference mix and pull up the other two tracks. Raise the ‘Mix-Bass’ track until the level in your monitors (loudspeakers or headphones) feels about the same as the reference mix was during Step One. Then raise the ‘Bass’ track to a level you like.
Keep wrestling with the ‘Bass’ level. As before, you’ll find it helpful to push the level up until it is completely obvious that it is too loud. Then pull the fader back down, slowly, until you are certain the level is too faint. Repeat, pushing the fader up and pulling it back down to define the range of fader positions that seem valid.
Mute the ‘Bass’ and ‘Mix-Bass’ tracks and unmute the ‘Mix Reference’ track. Have a listen for the whole duration of the track with renewed focus on the level of Maestro Levin’s bass compared to the rest of the track.
Iterate back through Steps Three and Four, as many times as you like, and resist the urge to toggle back and forth between the reference mix and yours. Your goal is to narrow that fader range between too loud and too soft and heighten your sensitivity to bass level.
Module 5 Exercises
- Balance Exercise 1: Lead Vocals
- Balance Exercise 2: Drum Kit
- Balance Exercise 3: Bass
- Balance Exercise 4: Stems