Why is bass often so low in the mix?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by glocke1, Oct 15, 2021.

  1. glocke1

    glocke1 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2002
    I really never understood the rationale behind having bass buried so low in the mix. My ears aren't the best ears, but they aren't bad and with some effort I can figure most tunes out to maybe 75% accuracy without having to resort to "cheating" (looking up transcriptions ;) )

    For example, have to learn Back in the U.S.S.R for a gig tomorrow, and working from the mono version of the tune (I bought the box set back in 2009), I really have a hard time picking the bass out at all as it seems so buried in the mix. Listening to the stereo version is a little better but still not great.

    Any ideas if there was a particular reason for this ? Did people back than just not think bass should sit more up front in the mix? Inquiring minds and frustrated ears want to know.
  2. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    there are a million great ways to mix a tune. but let's face it: not every tune is conceived, written, arranged, played, produced, mixed, mastered, distributed, and sold in order to feature a bass part. and "back then" there were more 'trade-offs' given the equipment/media of the period.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2021
  3. glocke1

    glocke1 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2002

    Oh Im not saying all tunes should be focused on or centered on bass, but I listen to some tunes, like the Beatles tune in my original post and Im just like "there's a bass in there ?" Im sure if I had hours to sit down and play with the EQ I could hear it better, but as the tune stands now Im just not hearing it hardly at all. Maybe it was some kind of trade off like you say, but there are still plenty of modern tunes where its almost non-existent in the mix.
  4. Any Billy Joel recording is going to feature our arch enemy: keys. He also has a big band behind him with horns and several guitars. Anytime you have that situation you have to carve out room for the other instruments and that leaves the bass with limited room. It is what it is.
  5. glocke1

    glocke1 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2002

    ok...a logical explanation like this is what I was looking for. makes sense in this case.
  6. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    what @SoCal80s said.
    Reedt2000 likes this.
  7. Jefenator

    Jefenator Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2008
    There seems to be that school of thought where bass should be felt more than heard. That may stem partly from back in the day when there were big bands with horn sections and just one unamplified upright bass. (I remember once playing through a mixing board with a bunch of old-timers and I could barely hear myself. One of the guys went up to the mixer and pushed my fader down!)
    I am partial to the 1970s, where electric bass always seemed to be super warm and way up in your face in the mix.
    But I am also getting used to the, shall we say subtler approach. I'm in a Tom Petty cover project and it's not always easy to tell exactly what the original bass parts were. You'd notice and miss them if they were removed completely, but they're definitely not out front. I like the overall recordings, though - they're like a tasty soup of restrained but highly interwoven performances.
    I've come to like operating in this fashion. But I'm a shy, back row kind of guy...
  8. MCS4

    MCS4 Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    It is definitely fair to say that a great many people back then (as well as today) did not "think bass should sit more up front in the mix."
  9. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Back when records were your only realistic option, too much bass would cause needles to jump out of the grooves.
    BroDon, timplog, isaac42 and 46 others like this.
  10. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Columbia, MD Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    Wasn't this one of the reasons for tic-tac bass? Doubling it an octave up on guitar? Keep in mind that these were recorded in an era where TV Yellow was created as a color for instruments to stand out on a B&W TV screen. Stereos of the time were really mediocre wether in your car or that little transistor radio on the shelf. Now we can get bass cheap and easy so bass is far more prominent in the mix. And people go around playing music on their tiny iPhone speakers, so it probably comes full circle.
  11. Well, if we are going to critique George Martin’s engineering technique, I’m sure you could find other Beatle tunes where the bass is much more prevalent. Call it artistic license.

    But to your point, it’s,,agreed there are plenty of songs where I can’t pick it out as well. I call the price of admission being a bassist. I just do the best job with it I can with it.

    Funny, haven’t had too many complaints about it either, mainly because if I can’t hear it, who else is going to pick it apart? The drummer or lead singer?? LOL!!!
  12. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    Hence the invention of limiting/compression. The best story about this is when the Beatles recorded Paperback Writer to be released as a single. Two mixes were rendered, one with compression on the bass and one without. After auditioning both, George Martin approved the compressed version, along with the flip side Rain, and the rest is history. So actually, even if Back in the USSR doesn't have quite as much bass presence as the OP may prefer, it has more than it would have otherwise with the limited (pun intended) (compared to today's digital studios) studio equipment available to the Beatles in the 1960's.
    leftybass54, Engle, The Owl and 8 others like this.
  13. rashrader


    Mar 4, 2004
    Baltimore, MD
    Rain…. Such a fantastic tune.
    HRS, leftybass54, Zbudah and 9 others like this.
  14. Root 5

    Root 5

    Nov 25, 2001
    I used to complain about this in 80s metal. Did Judas Priest even have a bassist?? ;-) I have come around to appreciate subtle bass now - you might not know you hear him but if Ian Hill played the wrong note you’ll definitely know it!
  15. Element Zero

    Element Zero Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2016
    Depends what you’re listening to. Most music recorded 50+ years ago? Not surprising. Give Katy Perry’s Chained to the Rhythm a spin. Bass is super pronounced. Or H. by Tool. Very thick with Justin’s low end. 311 Too Much to think. P-Nut is ALMOST dominating the instruments.

    Although I’m sure anyone could pinpoint numerous examples of more modern stuff where the bass is buried. Most of the contemporary Christian worship music I listen to is well, vocal and guitar dominating so I get your frustration.
  16. darwin-bass

    darwin-bass Supporting Member

    Mar 29, 2013
    Salem OR
    I find there is a subtle tradeoff between having bass and hearing instruments. If I bring up the bass in my live mixes too much it produces a great warm sound but it starts to mask the piano and other instruments. When I turn it down, the other instruments start to pop a bit more. Mandolin, a-gtr, e-gtr, piano and backing vocs all start to become more prominent. So I'm usually trying to go as high with the bass as I can without making other stuff disappear. Complementary EQ provides icing on the cake.

    Mixing bass is HARD. The room messes up the mix big time. Stage bleed is a problem.

    I also think a big part of the trend of marshmallow bass (all lows, no clarity - felt, not heard) is due to the wide practice of DI straight from the bass. The DI sound is naturally very heavy in lows and light in clarity and if the sound tech isn't brave enough to cut lows on the bass you'll end with marshmallow.
  17. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    This is why with my 10-piece party band I don't use an amp, just an active bass that I can cut as well as boost, a direct box, and let the sound man deal with it, including a hot spot style monitor for vocals and keys. Generally, I run everything flat and let the sound man tailor it down - no boom, no bleed.

    I do know what you mean: at the last gig, the EXB control on my bass shot craps midway through the last set. The treble disappeared and all that came out of the bass was, well, bass. Fortunately, my sound man and I heard it go with a big crackle at the same time, looked at each other, and he adjusted accordingly to finish the set: he dropped the bass at the board, and I rolled more to the bridge pickup to retain what articulation I could.

    I do respectfully disagree that mud is because of D.I. At least in my experience, where artificial humps that cause mud at anywhere between 75 to 250 Hz can be woefully exacerbated by bad amplification and room resonances, the good quality Behringer DI I use feeding our Behringer digital board removes all but the clean signal from my EMG setup (-100dB noise floor), making it much easier on my sound man to slot me into the mix. For a DI, clean and neutral are the keys.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2021
    SoCal80s likes this.
  18. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    FYI, I don't have any problem hearing the bass line on "Back in the USSR." I think I could learn the song reasonably well using my laptop. Perhaps it's your hearing or perhaps it's whatever you are using to listen.

    Bass can seem really low if you listen on speakers with limited low frequency response. It really depends on how the bass is EQ'ed. If the bass has lot's of deep, subby bass with scooped low mids it does not translate well to small speakers, because they do not have any significant output where most of the energy is focused.

    Also the bass is traditionally mixed pretty low in some styles of music. If you typically listen to music that is mixed with heavy bass, it can seem very odd because it does not meet your expectations.
  19. LHbassist

    LHbassist Supporting Member

    Apr 4, 2003
    Reno, Nevada
    The answer is, technology killed sensible live music mixing. I've seen many of rocks greatest bands. At The Fillmore East, Town Hall, and The Beacon in N.Y. City, along with plenty of smaller venues. Before the advent and obscene use of subwoofers, live music sounded amazing! Our society embraces sub bass heavy over amped hip hop and rap, and that, has bled into all live mixing, where sound persons seem to believe that the kick drum actually produces frequencies of 20 hz. that should be amplified to at least 120 db. I've seen Rocco Prestia BURIED under Garibaldi's kick to the point of head shaking bewilderment. And it was THEIR sound guy that did it! I saw Three Dog Night- and the kick drum, masked all the VOCALS. Yes, that's the kind of fecal material going on right now in this business. In a band I no longer work with, the leader doesn't like the bass loud. Unless it's a keyboard player kicking bass at double the usual bass volume, then, it's perfectly fine. I have stacks of big bass cabinets no one uses anymore. I bring small amps, and sometimes no amp- the result is much the same. You're at the mercy of the sound guy, and if you say the slightest thing- even politely, about your inaudibility, he'll turn the kick up even louder on your side of the stage. Peeing against the tide all night, is no fun. Yes, I've had that happen.
    I'm glad I'm old- this business, after 50 years playing bass professionally, and all the nonsense in trying to just play music, be as proficient and professional as you can be, seems to be for naught. Even so... I still go out and do it, because, I'm a bass player.
  20. Phaidrus


    Oct 25, 2009
    This is part of the reason I'm almost exclusively listening to musical genres where the bass is driving the song and therefore has to be heard loud and clear. Don't care so much for bass-discriminating tunes.:meh: That said, every now and then I come across reggae-dub tracks where the bass, though obviously very prominent, is so pillowy, diffuse and dubby that it's not so easy to figure out the bassline.:laugh:
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2021
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