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Sitting a Bass Part in the Mix

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by agedhorse, Jan 7, 2017.


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  1. agedhorse

    agedhorse SUSPENDED Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 12, 2006
    Davis, CA (USA)
    Development Engineer-Mesa, Product Support-Genz Benz
    I was having dinner with a couple of (older) sound guys I used to work with and how to position a bass guitar in a mix.

    Since we all did a wide variety of music, we came to the conclusion that there has to be space for the bass within any arrangement, no matter what the music style, in order for the bass to fit. The level of the bass determines if it's a leading or following instrument within the context of the mix, and it's level relative to kick and snare help define if the song rolls along with momentum or if it's more percussive in nature.

    While country type arrangements have been dogged for being formula like (mostly because top 40 country was kind of formula based), there are some distinct advantages for a bass player since the bass often leads the rhythm section (or at least appears to).

    We listened to some sample mixes and this one really highlights the bass player with the bass forward, but in a way that really takes the simpler playing style, melodic arrangement of the part, the technique and phrasing and puts it in context of an entire mix. (I kind of like some of the turnarounds he uses, and how the part grows in complexitity as the song progresses) This is a Joan Baez track, covering a song written by an act I used to work with regularly (Kris Kristofferson)

    Maybe some of you might have other good examples of bass players sitting nicely in a mix that could add to this discussion?

     
  2. Van Morrison Brown Eyed Girl.
     
  3. Rodger Bryan

    Rodger Bryan Supporting Member

    Jun 17, 2006
    Connecticut
    David Hungate's bass part is very tight with the kick on this tune. The lowest end of the spectrum is covered by the kick and the bass covers some of the same territory, but really pokes through in the mids. The bass and kick sound like one instrument and never get clouded by any other instrument in the mix. At about 2:22, when they take it to the bridge, you can hear the two separate bass tracks overlapping a bit more. On the track with the popping, I wonder if it was eq'ed the same, or if they did something to fatten up the pops.

    Beyond the 3:30 mark, David's part becomes more active and you can hear that the popping track is pulled back to make room in the mix for other parts. Some of the tracks are a little too wet with reverb (for my taste), but it fills out the big picture nicely. This is the kind of treatment of the bass I listened to when I was a kid, so I tend to gravitate toward it.
     
    murphy, Joedog, rodl2005 and 13 others like this.
  4. I find it's most difficult in a dense mix like with hard rock or metal, where the guitar sound is thick and takes up much of the sonic space. This is compounded if the drummer uses double kick.

    This is why I tend to use a "low midrange spike" sound in Catapult the Dead (though not heard as much in the first album, sadly). The guitarists' amps are a bit scooped in the 500hz region, so I boost to an absurd degree in that area. Basically fills in the hole that exists there without me having to turn up so loud that I'd drown things out. I find overdrive actually helps quite a bit (though not full on fuzz, usually). It's a very ugly tone on its own, but sounds good in the mix.

    Here are a few denser mixes where I think the bass sounds good:











     
    Rickter, AstroSonic, Ellery and 3 others like this.
  5. guy n. cognito

    guy n. cognito Secret Agent Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    Can I guess that no one will be posting any Metallica songs to this thread? ;)
     
  6. 10cc

    10cc

    Oct 28, 2013
     
    GregC, AstroSonic, ahc and 2 others like this.
  7. popgadget

    popgadget Commercial User

    Sep 4, 2005
    Eastern, PA USA
    Authorized Greenboy Designs Builder, Scabbey Road
     
  8. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2006
    Excellent thread idea, Andy! :cool:

    In the Joan Baez example, there isn't much in the way of drums to work with, so the bass can be more forward in the mix to create the driving force to the song.

    As Sartori mentions above, lots of metal has way too much bottom end driven guitars so there isn't much sonic space to fit a bass in its traditional role as the bottom end foundation for the music so he has to slot in higher in the frequency range to make his bass work with the music.

    To me, Bass and drums should be first and foremost with all the other instruments fitted in to complement them. Hereare a couple of examples, of my own, where the bass and drums dominate but not at the expense of the other instruments.



     
    AstroSonic, ahc, jfh2112 and 2 others like this.
  9. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
     
  10. Rodger Bryan

    Rodger Bryan Supporting Member

    Jun 17, 2006
    Connecticut
    When the guitars are occupying a lot of "space" and are distorted, it would be difficult to discern what the bass is doing without a pick initiating the attack in some of those examples.
     
  11. Dean N

    Dean N

    Jul 4, 2006
    Pittsburgh, PA
    The first time I heard What Would You Say? I was floored by the bass. It's a non-rock sounding bass in a rock/pop song; the bass is up front, busy, and interesting. All these years later, it's still a great listen. Stefan Lessard is just so fun to listen to.

     
  12. beans-on-toast

    beans-on-toast Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2008
    Mixing an active bass is not always easy.

    It is important that sounds in the sonic landscape do not stomp on each other. Active basses with a wider tonal range make it more difficult relative to a passive bass to fit into the mix. As you said, overdrive adds additional bass content in the higher frequencies which aids in cutting through. But it has to support and not detract from shared guitar space

    ______________________________

    The bass in this song weaves in and out of time in the song and the drums, sometimes reinforcing, other times coming forward and leading, all in support of the song.

    Vanilla Fudge - You Keep Me Hanging On (Vinyl)

    ______________________________

    This one makes the song.

    Ain't No Mountain High Enough - James Jammerson
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2017
  13. It's not a matter of the guitars having too much bottom end (I like the guitar tone of my guitarists and all of those on the examples I posted), it's just that overdriven/distorted guitars simply take up more space in a mix and so it's easier to slot everything in. Cult of Luna has at times as many as three (I think in one video I saw four guitars) going, and so each individual one, at least in their live stuff, isn't actually that overdriven.

    Of the examples I posted, Primordial's and Cult of Luna's bassists play with picks. Yob's bassist at the time of Catharsis was a fingers player, as is their bassist now. Chrch's bassist is a fingers player, and in recent years Dave from Neurosis has played primarily finger style. No idea what right hand technique Julie Christmas's bassist is using on that track.
     
    Ellery likes this.
  14. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    The old adage about the bass being a bridge between the drums and the guitar applies sonically, or at least used to, as well as rhythmically. In older recordings it was very easy for the bass to sit comfortably in a space around 100-400hz and be more or less left alone. Even with the high tube gain that became popular during the 70s, it was possible for the bass to be upfront, not by being loud, but by having a place to live all on its own.
    Sadly, there are a lot of impediments getting in the way of good bass tone these days. Real instruments, including the bass, have become passe in pop music. Hearing the bass becomes secondary to hearing the drums, samples, and they annoyingly all-to-present vocals. I've always found the bass somewhat lacking in country. Jazz's tone is somewhat frozen in amber (and some would argue so is the style) and it has always been very friendly to bass since big crunchy guitars aren't common.
    For rock and metal players things have become extremely complicated. Guitars have reached such a level of saturation that they can eat up a ton of the mix. Because of listener market trends, the mixes have become absurdly busy and "loud," squeezing out space that a dynamic instrument like the bass needs. In the genres @Sartori and I listen to, you have two guitars with the saturation dialed to 11, super heavy hitting drums, and the tuning drops to anywhere from C to F#. A bass at F# has trouble making audible noise (although Jeroen Paul Thesseling did make it work with a 7 string Thumb) but is nearly impossible to hear once a distorted guitar comes in.
    My personal experience has been that the "smiley face" EQ is nothing but trouble for bassists in these genres. Your mids are your friend because it is the only place you will find a place to poke through. I've also found that playing in the opposite register from the guitar allows you to poke through. Playing low when they play low only enforces the guitar and gets the bass lost. If you play an octave up when they go low, you can be heard. If they go up the register, try to find the matching harmonic notes lower. Unfortunately, I have also found that the tone that pokes through, sounds like complete butthole by its self. That nice tone you found while playing by yourself vanishes in the mix. I suppose this may have always been true, as the P bass is very popular because of how it sits in the mix, but is a total pig by its self.
     
  15. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    Stefan Lessard does get great tones. However, DMB is far from a difficult mix, or even a rock band. There's no electric guitar for him to compete for space with. That dry jazz tone works great when no one else is in your space.
     
    JCooper, GregC, Rickter and 2 others like this.
  16. Dean N

    Dean N

    Jul 4, 2006
    Pittsburgh, PA
    I hadn't thought of that. I assumed they'd be a challenging mix due to the sax and fiddle. And frequent busy playing. But really, I'm clueless. I just always thought of them as a band that always sounded great and not overmanipulated in the studio.

    Of course, having a crazy deluxe collection of rig like he has doesn't hurt.
     
  17. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    Some modern bass tones I like. They all have their own place in the mix.








     
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  18. This one comes to mind:
     
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  19. BogeyBass

    BogeyBass

    Sep 14, 2010
    mellow deep nice overtones
    Regardless of Genre it just sounds like bass should. Fits in well pulls along well with snare and not competition tonal wise with other instruments

     
    sowilson, murphy, btmpancake and 6 others like this.
  20. jklymak

    jklymak

    Oct 4, 2016
    Your instrument sounding good in the mix versus solo applies to more than just bass players. That throb Marshall stack equipped guitarists like could be dialed back in the interest of a good band mix 9 times out of 10.
     

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