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How to cut through without growling?

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by KingRazor, Oct 5, 2010.

  1. From what I hear/read, the best way to cut through a mix, the best way to make sure your notes are heard, is to boost your mids. One problem I've noticed though is that if I boost my mids, my bass tends to start growling. The tone gets sharp and aggressive. This works great for some genres, but a lot of the time that's not what I'm going for. What can I do to help mellow out that growl while still being able to cut through?
  2. actually i'm very interested in this as well. was just about to post a topic along these same lines.
  3. +1
  4. steve_rolfeca

    steve_rolfeca Supporting Member

    Frequencies around 500 Hz will push you to the front, without adding a lot of bite.

    If you're using a fixed mid control on your bass or amp, you might be boosting the wrong frequency range. If that's the case, buy or borrow a parametric EQ, and try sweeping it to find a frequency that boosts clarity without sounding harsh.

    Presonus makes an decent 1/2 rack parametric that often comes up cheap on eBay, and Empress offers a really juicy one in a pedal.

    Also, remember that a small push in the mids goes a long way.
  5. kalle74


    Aug 27, 2004
    This is where the people shouting "boost your mids!" seem to keep quiet. It might be that some of them don´t actually know what they´re saying, and instead repeat the "fad words" of people they admire. "Boost your mids!" seems to be a "default answer" for all things concerning bass sound problems. The saying probably generated during the era of everybody violently shaping their EQ´s to "smiley face curve". And the worst part is, ill-informed people keep cranking their mids, thus turning their sound into something very unpleasant.

    A couple of questions... Why does one need to "cut through"? What happened to "sitting in the mix"? Would it be desirable to cut through? If everybody was set on "cutting through", would it result in a pleasing sound?

    To sit in a mix (something I prefer and constantly go for), you need to have your band´s musical arrangements and register-choices in check, in a manner that as few frequencies clash with each other as possible. This is easier said than accomplished. If guitars are really heavy in the bottom range (bass and sub-bass register), bass and keys need to stay out of the way. If guitars stay in their "own slot", frequency-wise, bass has lots more to fill in the low end with. Sure, mids are important for note definition, but too much (cranked) mids will make the bass sound honky and powerless. This, of course, doesn´t mean that you should boost the bass´ low end to "woof-a-thon", but instead focus on the unwanted low end on other instruments (mainly guitars and keys) to stay out of bass´ territory.

    The one place where everything tends to collide, is the mids. Boosting here leads to problems, if not done carefully.

    What I´m saying is theres no set answer. Band sound is about compromise and adjusting.

    Try finding the spots where other instruments fill out the sound, and do small cuts around those areas. Boost in places that aren´t crowded. "Growl" (subject to interpretation) is usually definition for upper mids (roughly from 1kHz to 5 kHz). Cut there if you dislike what boosting there does to your sound. Fiddle with your EQ to find another (maybe low mids around 200 to 800 Hz) area that suits the band sound, and makes your sound more pleasing.

    And tell your guitarists to stay out of bass´range.
  6. A few things that I've noticed can help me cut through the mix are adjusting the EQ (already mentioned above), putting on new strings, using (favoring) the bridge pickup (if you have one), playing closer to the bridge, & using a pick (which I don't really ever do).

    For EQ'ing, instead of 'boosting the mids', you can also try dialing back your bass & treble. A quick Google serach will pull up lots of articles on how to set your EQ, or at least a systematic approach to adjusting it.
  7. I usually feel the same way in that the bass should "sit in the mix" as opposed to "cutting through". But what I've noticed is that all too often a bass that is "sitting" in the mix quickly becomes lost in the mix.

    I run sound at my church and I recall one day when one of the other sound guys was on the board. I was in the crowd listening during worship and a bass solo came up...I couldn't hear a single note. Nothing over the 12th fret was audible, and that solo is played between the 15th and 20th frets on the highest strings.

    I don't want that to happen to me. My philosophy is if the audience can't hear a note then there was no point in playing it. Why play any cool fills if they're just going to get lost?
  8. kalle74


    Aug 27, 2004
    I disagree. "Sitting in the mix" and "getting lost in the mix" are two completely different things.

    In addition to problems I metioned above, there are a few possible faults in your situation. 1.The source (what engineer is given to work with), 2.the engineer himself (not capable of mixing) or 3.acoustics of the venue (some places are really hard "bass definition"-wise, and/or have ridiculous decibel limits). Could also be a combination of the above.
  9. Thunderthumbs73


    May 5, 2008
    Some rooms this is both a sonic and physical impossibility for all intents and purposes. Unless your preferred method of cutting throught the mix is simply to be so overpoweringly boomy.

    Think: gymnasium.

    In your lifetime as a performing musician, you might play more rooms like this than you'd actually care to, so be practical with what you want to do and sound like, with what is possibile in such rooms.
  10. I realize this. I didn't say that sitting in the mix was the same as getting lost in the mix. But it seems very easy for a bass to get lost in the mix when it's "sitting" in it.

    A lot of people give the bass nothing but low end. So you hear it (and often feel it) when the bassist is playing the lowest notes, but as soon as they venture up the fretboard they get buried.

    I am not trying to say that the bassist should be on top of every body or that the high notes on a bass are some how more important than the lows. I just want to be able to hear EVERY note played by every instrument. If I can't, then why bother playing those notes? If you can't hear it when the bass player plays above the 5th fret then why should they ever play that high?

    I'm a sound guy and if you listen to my mixes you won't hear the bass on top of everything. I know where it's supposed to be. But if there's a solo being played, I like it to be heard, and I try my best to make sure that it is.

    I understand there are limitations with both gear and rooms (and especially people) but that's the whole point in me asking the question in my initial post. I'm trying to overcome these limitations to the best of my ability.
  11. 4StringTheorist

    4StringTheorist Supporting Member

    Favoring one pickup (if you're playing a two pickup bass) over the other helps bring out a bit more midrange character since it reduces comb filtering effects caused by mixing pickups.

    Basically, the real key is to make all EQ adjustments in the context of the mix. Practices (not gigs) are a great time to fiddle like crazy with your EQ in the context of your band.

    More than just gear though... never forget dynamics. Don't play every note all out, because then you have no room to pop up higher in volume on something you want to accent. If you can get yourself "sitting in the mix" well while playing the instrument moderately, then when you want to accent a certain note of phrase, you can "jump out of the mix" for a second by attacking it harder.

    This is one thing (among many) that I look to Tony Levin's playing as an inspirational example of. He can be sitting within the mix perfectly and then jump out front with a little melodic phrase that complements the vocals, and just as quickly as he was up front, he's back in the band's engine room chugging along. The dynamics really do it.
  12. 4StringTheorist

    4StringTheorist Supporting Member

    There have been times I've played with a FOH setup and a sound guy where I wondered if the bass guitar channel had the TREBLE and MID knobs turned all the way down and the BASS knob cranked. :crying:
  13. skywalkersurfs


    Sep 11, 2008
    I have a crazy opinion here. When I hear music on a quality stereo system, or go to a professional concert, the bass and kick drum are king! That is where the "energy" in the music comes from. It seems to me, most local bands have guitarists and drummers (aside from their kick drum) who play at a ridiculous volume and overwhelm the mix. Just watch a db or wattage meter on a nice stereo, it spikes whenever the bass and kick drum hit. A 20 watt tube amp is more than enough(for a guitarist) for a bar gig. Any more wattage than that is not what is represented in the "professional world". My point is that guitar players need to turn way down and drummers need to play softer and with more dynamics. No need to turn up the mids.
  14. wideyes


    May 9, 2007
    Eugene, OR
    I would agree that 'cutting through' usually implies that you're being buried to begin with. If your genre is all about that 'wall of sound' approach, then I would agree that, as a bassist, you shouldn't probably be trying to cut through in the first place. I think a lot of musicians feel a 'frequency arms race' to be heard, which probably has as much to do with composition as anything else. If you're playing lots of roots and being a 'rhythm' bassist, you're probably doing just fine by blending in. If your genre calls for more clarity in the bass, then I think it follows that the composition should ideally support that from the outset. If you can get everything all layered up nice-like then that's peachy, but I think many folks take an apples approach to a carrots problem.
  15. While I agree with the general sentiment expressed above
    I have to laugh because in my experience a lot of other instrument players don't have much of a clue about EQ'ing themselves into a mix, heck most guitarists I've played with don't even know that the way they setup their amps should be dependent on the room and the mix.
    One guy I played with who strangely had a good bit of time in the studio and recorded a lot at home used to set his tone at home and just kept the knobs in the same position regardless of where and in what kind of a situation he was playing:(
    I think that outside of very seasoned and pro musicians it's hard to get people to play with dynamics and EQ for a good mix.
    IMO it's all about good communication with your bandmates but it sure ain't easy sometimes.
  16. you're right about all that! as bass players, i think we have the toughest time getting a workable, quality sound in general. we need to be more intimately aware of the finer points of EQ'ing or else we're going to get crap tone. i have invariably been the most EQ-conscious person in all my bands, simply out of necessity. if i wasn't constantly fussing with it, i'd sound like crap every time we played at a different place. guitar frequencies are more naturally audible to humans, which makes finding the right EQ or "band sound" much easier.
  17. 4StringTheorist

    4StringTheorist Supporting Member


    I think I realized this about 1 year into playing with my first band, and expressed it to one of the guys as "EQ is the bass player's effects pedal."
  18. TrevorOfDoom


    Jun 17, 2007
    Austin, TX
    couple questions:

    what kinda bass are you playing? what kinda amp? any effects?

    i agree that 500Hz is a great place to boost to gain clarity.
  19. Sure, that's the ideal situation. Unfortunately, some people just don't get it sometimes.

    I'll refer back to mixing at my church. I often have to fight for volume control with guitars and drums because the guitar players have their own amps with their own volume control and of course drums are just loud. We got a drum cage which has helped, but sometimes I can mute the drums and they'll still be too loud for some parts.
  20. This isn't really concerning my own bass and amp set up, as 99% of the time I'm playing at home and I can hear fine.
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