Low End Theory
Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite: Bottom end! No, not big booties, I mean bass, sorry. It can be deceptively impressive when playing mixes with a lot of low end on big speakers. However, would you be surprised if I told you, your low end may be the very thing that is killing your mix? Through this article, I hope to leave you with an interesting new perspective on approaching your low end.
Music is all about the push and the pull. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the synergy that creates the bounce in a record; the feeling that leaves you wanting to dance. Without it, your audience is left static, motionless and uninterested. As a mix engineer, let us examine how we can help emphasize this bounce.
I recently had the unique opportunity to listen to the same song, mixed by two iconic mix engineers on a big hip-hop artist’s new single. One had more low end than the other – which in the realm of hip-hop seemed like a great quality. What surprised me was that the mix with more low end, lost. Why was that?
Among many things, the answer was simple. But before we understand why that is, we have to understand the relationship of the bass, to the record as a whole. Ever heard of the saying, “The bass drives the bus.” If you haven’t, you should absolutely live by this statement if you want your records to groove. The secret? It isn’t the notes that the bass plays that makes the song groove. It’s the space! The space is what creates the push and pull effect, and that is what causes a record to have a strong groove. Ultimately, leaving your audience banging their heads and rocking their bodies.
So let’s come back to why the low end was killing the mix. Simply put, it took away the space. More specifically, the sustain from the bass was taking up the space in between the notes. The song was in theory, fatter. However, it lacked a certain bounce, and didn’t groove as hard as the one with less low end. A subtle difference sonically, but what a difference it made musically.
I talked about this in my last blog post, but I can’t repeat it enough. As mix engineers, we have to make decisions based on what the song demands. Don’t make the kick fatter, and the bass heavier, just because that is the impressive thing to do. Let’s service the song in ways beyond making it more sonically impactful, and creatively think about how can I make the song more emotionally impactful. This is how you win over clients. After all, your clients listen artistically, not technically.