How to get Powerful Low End
Do you want to compose and produce music with a mighty and focused low-end? Do you want to learn how you can get a bold bass register, that cuts through in your mix and adds power, depth and clarity in your music?
You will Learn about
- Why Bass Rules like a King
- Create Space for the Bass
- Double the Bass in Octaves
- Remember the Sub Bass
- Make the Low-End Focused
- Clean up the Mud
My name is Mike, music composer and sound designer since 1998, old school nerd, and coffee addict. Let’s level up your skills, right now! =)
Why Bass Rules like a King
First you need to understand why exactly bass is, and should be treated, like a king in your music. Because that is the only way you will get a truly powerful, bold and mighty low-end.
Bass adds Depth and Fullness
It is the low-end instruments and sounds that give music a full, deep and powerful sound. Remove the bass register and your music will instantly sound thin and weak.
Bass has More Sound Pressure
Here’s why? Bass is the lowest register in music, which means the lowest frequencies. And these frequencies by the laws of nature, have far greater sound pressure at the same level when compared to higher frequencies.
This sound pressure in the bass frequencies is so great, that you can literally feel the sound passing through your body if you listen to music on big speakers.
Bass is the Harmonic Anchor of Music
Since bass has so much authority, it is only natural that it becomes the anchor of your music storyline. Basically this means that the bass leads the story forward by providing the harmonic root of each chord.
That is why the bass note is almost always the root note of a chord, even if you play the chord in an inversion. Bass sets the very foundation of your music storyline.
Create Space for the Bass
Bass should be treated like a king in your music. Just like you give room and space for the king when he gracefully walks down that long red carpet…you should create space for the bass in your music compositions.
I mean literally letting the bass take care of the space in the lowest octaves of your music, and keeping the distance from your other instruments.
Simply check in the piano roll on all your MIDI tracks, to make sure only the bass instruments and parts plays in the lowest octaves.
If any other instrument or sound overlaps with your bass, consider transposing it up an octave, or even removing it.
When you give space and room for your bass, your compositions will have far greater impact and power. So make sure to “create space for the bass”.
Double the Bass in Octaves
A rule of thumb for adding both more power, as well as more clarity in the low-end…is to double your bass line in octaves.
Everything you double in octaves in music will cut through really well. That’s why I personally mainly use this trick for the bass, as well as the main melodies and themes.
Double with Sound Colors
I find that using different tone colors for the sounds, when doubling in octaves, will make the part stand out even more. Just like when you have two different singers doubling the same line. The 2 different voices will sound more rich together, compared to simply double-tracking one voice.
For example: Double basses playing the lowest bass note, and cellos playing an octave above. Or an electric bass playing the main bass line, with a synth bass playing an octave above.
The Octave can be Wider
The very lowest frequencies in music should generally be more focused, with minimal or no reverb, and modest use of special effects.
However, if you have an extra octave above the fundamental bass line, you have more freedom to add effects that makes the sound wider and deeper. For example: reverb, unison, chorus etc.
Remember the Sub Bass
The human ear can pick up frequencies between around 20 to 20000Hz. However, the only instrument that have a fundamental tone in the deepest bass register, is the sub bass synth.
Not even the lowest note on a double bass in the orchestra, or the lowest open string on a bass guitar, can completely fill up the 20-60Hz domain which is the sub bass frequencies.
That is why I always use an extra sub bass layer for my bass lines. It doesn’t matter if my main bass is an electric bass guitar, an orchestral string bass section, or a synth bass sound. I make sure to have an extra track where I have a synth playing a simple pure sine wave in the very lowest octave of music, the sub bass range.
The reason a pure sine wave is often the best for sub basses, is because it will give you the most clean, focused and controlled sub bass.
Make the Low-End Focused
The reverb effect is based on what is called “room tone”. Meaning the impact of the sound of the room. Because all sounds in an acoustic space, bounces around and creates reflections.
The larger the room is, the longer it takes for the sound to fade out after it bounced around in the room. This is how we can hear the depth and space of a room.
Depth vs Focus
The bigger the room, the more depth it will add to the sounds. And the opposite is that a smaller space, with a microphone closer to the source, will give a more focused sound.
Just listen to a voice-over recording and you will hear an ultra focused and close up sound. Compare this to the sound of an instrument or vocal in an orchestral hall, which will have huge depth and space, but less focus and definition.
Bass should be More Present
A general guideline is to make the low-end and bass instruments more close, clear and present in the mix compared to the average reverb in the mix.
This means that in EDM, pop music, and beats, you will probably not use any reverb at all on the lowest instruments.
Compared to for example orchestral and cinematic music, where you will most likely add reverb to the low-end instruments. But you probably want to add less reverb with a shorter decay time compared to the rest of the instruments in your composition, to keep the low-end more focused and tight.
Presence is Authority
Sounds that are up front, close and with minimal reverb, will add more weight and authority.
Another guideline is also to keep the absolute lowest frequencies completely in mono, to maximize the power of both speakers in a stereo system, and to keep the deep low-end very focused. Because what you hear in the middle of the stereo stage, is what will have most focus.
Clean up the Mud
In the mixing stage you can also do a lot to help you get that powerful and bold low-end in your music production.
One of the best ways is to use filters and equalizers to “clean up the mud” in the mix. Meaning to get rid of unnecessary low-end frequencies in the instruments that are not dedicated to the low-end range of your music composition.
If you check a couple of tracks in your mix with a frequency analyzer you will quickly find out how much low-end noise and rumble is present in many tracks and performances.
It’s an easy fix with some careful use of filters and eq. Just don’t take out too much. You should never filter out the lows too close to the fundamental tone of the sounds.
Power Tip 1 – Harmonic Saturation
Harmonic saturation is a way to add more complex overtones in a sound, which will give it more weight in the mix.
There are many different kinds of saturation you can use, such as: a dedicated distortion unit, analog saturation plugin, amplifier, tape etc.
But the purpose is the same: to make the sounds richer, bolder and add weight.
I most often add the saturation on the low end group bus, but I also make sure to keep the deepest low-end clean, for ultimate focus and control.
Power Tip 2 – Multiple Instruments
You already learned about layering in octaves, such as double basses with cellos an octave above. Or layering a sub bass synth an octave below.
Well you can take layering even further. By stacking different low-end instruments playing the same performance, some in unison and others in octaves.
Such as including contra bassoons, perhaps a bass pad synth, tubas, or whatever you want to add. This will make the complete low-end feel a lot richer and more powerful.
Power Tip 3 – Multi-Band Compression
You may have heard about side-chain compression, which is often used to keep the kick drum or low percussion in focus.
Multi-band compression is more about taming the different frequency ranges in your final mix, with compression instead of surgical EQ’s.
The multi-band compressor is very powerful, because it is splitting the mix into several frequency bands that you then perform different compressor settings on.
There is no magic bullet setting, so you have to experiment and find a compression setting and frequency band setting that sounds good for your final master.
However, a general guideline is that you can often compress and tame the dynamics of the lower frequencies much more, compared to the mids and highs.
Now take action and learn by doing. Go ahead and practice the tips, tricks and concepts you have learned. Make your next music composition and production have a low-end that is bold, focused and powerful, with a crystal clear sound in the mix.