Bass-heavy or Bass-light Mixes: Which is easier to master?

Robert Katz Leave a Comment

From: John Campoli

Hi Bob,

I’ll simplify my question regarding my mixes. Regarding bottom end uncertainty, which is easier to deal with on your end, bass heavy or bass light, if I were to err one way or the other? Which will yield better results, other than having it correct that is?

Thank you,

John

Dear John:

The answer is that neither too much nor too little bass is your best solution. The best way to deal with any uncertainty is to send me a mix of yours in-the-making for a listen/eval and I’ll try to make a determination of the best solution for you.

Otherwise, if you work in a vacuum of uncertainty, The results in mastering can be quite inferior either way. In general we’re talking about the bass instrument and to a lesser extent the bass drum, though often both are involved. I’ve gotten mixes from clients using too small loudspeakers in a bad room where the bass in the mix was offendingly loud and boomy. Finding exactly the frequencies that are problematic and dealing just with them without causing the bass drum to be lost or suffer or much worse the keyboards, guitars or midrange instruments to suffer can be an exhausting, time-consuming and costly venture to avoid in a mastering session. It’s much better to get it as right as possible before mastering. If the bass is too light then the sound can suffer by sounding thin, harsh, lose punch or be uninvolving. And sometimes I can help that situation in the mastering easier than the “too heavy”.  But I would never Recommend either way to you or any client. I recommend that you try to get it as right as possible, neither too light nor too hot. And also pay attention to the dynamics, clarity, tone and impact of the bass instrument and ensure that all (or most) of its notes are heard and that it works well (collaborates) with the bass drum.

It’s true that “bass is the last frontier” and can be extremely frustrating to mix. One excellent solution is to send me 3 or 4 stereo stems: vocals, “melody” instruments, bass, bass drum. With those stems I can take a mix of yours that might have been a B minus because of boomy bass and lumpy kick, and turn it into an A plus. With far less effort on your part and far less effort on my part than any other solution. And with far less compromise on the result. You should still strive to be as correct and consistent as possible in your levels before sending me a stems mix because the mastering engineer’s job is not to mix, and I’m stepping over the line here to help a mix engineer who’s having problems. So the more consistent your work then the less time I have to spend finding a different solution for each song. The more time I can spend making the best master for you and not “fixing a mix.” In situations like this I might spend an extra hour or more because of the stems but save a half hour or more that I would have spent trying to fix a full mix with bass problems. And as I said. The result of having stems like this can be fantastic.

Hope this clarifies the situation.

Best wishes,

Bob

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