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I often struggle with mixes where I've got two very bassy sounds, usually a very 'big' kick sample and either a hip-hop-style sub bass or a rhythm sample involving low-pitched drums.

What's the best way to remove the muddiness, and get a much cleaner sound? I rarely seem to get the sort of 'open' sound I'm after while keeping the energy of both tracks.

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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

There are two paths you can go:

  • Use EQ to sculpt the two signals around each other (making room in the frequencies for each of them, so they don't 'overlap' as much).

  • Look into 'sidechain compression'. This means that you trigger a heavy compressor using another signal (in your case usually the kick drum), which in turn will duck (suppress the volume of) the other signal when the kick hits.

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Or use a combination of both—add some extra high end to the kick sample to make it stick out from the bass line while at the same time side-chaining so the kick's lower frequencies aren't drowned out. –  Andrew Arnold Dec 14 '10 at 22:55
    
In my Studio Recording I class, I remember the teacher saying you could take out 200Hz or 300Hz (can't remember which) from the kick drum with EQ, and that would make a pocket for the bass guitar, and it wouldn't sound muddy. The answer above is more specific, and overall better, but I thought I'd offer some specific numbers that were given me by someone who had a lot of experience. –  Samuel Meacham Dec 15 '10 at 4:36
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I find that the answer is often rather zen-like: You need to remove some of the bassy sound in order to get a more bassy sound.

Phase problems are more pronounced with low frequencies so if you have e.g. a bass and a kick drum that both have low frequencies, chances are you loose a lot of oomph when you combine the two in your mix. That's why EQ'ing or compressing one of the sources as Powertieke suggests will help. You will have to experiment to see whether emphasizing the bass or the kick, or whatever instruments you have works best.

Don't forget to listen to the other instruments in your mix too. Some of them might have a lot of low frequency energy too that you didn't anticipate or expect. If they don't play a crucial rule in the bass department, get rid of it too. Also, if you're recording real instruments, make sure you experiment with different micing setups before you reach for the compressor or EQ.

Another option is to arrange your instruments to accommodate each other better. For example, if you have the kick going on one and three, and a pumping bass on all four quarter notes, maybe changing the bass to slightly emphasize 2 and 4 might work. You could argue a compressor kind of does the same, but you might get a different "feeling" and richer expression when you play the instrument more dynamically.

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Be sure you're previewing the full mix, not the kicks alone. It may be that you don't need all the energy.

Often the easiest fix is to remove some of the lowest bass, so that on;y one of the drums 'owns' the sub frequencies. Try adding a high-pass to the kick drum that isn't the sine/sub-bassy one. See how high you can dial the cutoff without adversely affecting the whole mix (this will cut the bassiest part but keep the character of the kick).

Experiment with micro-timing adjustments. Zoom right in in your DAW to get a better view while you do this. Begin by checking whether the main peaks in the waves are aligned or not. See if aligning the biggest peaks (moving one kick forwards/backwards) improves things.

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