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February 2009
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Creating Sonic Space Between Instruments Before Mixdown

Bill and Frank work out parts in the practice room.

Bill and Frank work out parts in the practice room.

  How many times have you spent a lot of time recording your new masterpiece only to come to the mixdown and finding that there are way too many low frequencies? It sucks when you get to mixdown and you have to filter out frequencies on the bass guitar just so it will have some presence in the mix. Having too many low frequencies in the mix is something that you will struggle with at your live shows as well. The biggest cause of too many low frequencies that I have found over the course of my live and recording career is the simple fact that the players in the band are playing in the same frequency range as each other at the same time. I’m not talking about lovely unison lines but when two or more instruments are playing different parts at the same time in the same frequency range.

   Let’s think about how the frequencies overlap each other for a minute. Let’s take the bass and guitar for example. The way a guitar is tuned overlaps the bass guitar all the way down to the E on the second string of the bass. So that’s almost two entire strings of overlap on the bass and the guitar. If you play your guitar tuned down to D then the overlap is even greater. This results in a lot of the same frequencies being doubled between the two instruments. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re going for that low frequency heavy sound but you will lose a lot of definition between the bass and the guitar if you’re not aware of what each other is doing. Another thing to think about is the way keyboards fit in the mix. Keyboards can play frequencies below the bass and above the guitar but most of the time they’re playing right in the same range as the bass and guitar. Again, this can steal definition from the low frequencies. The drums have the most sonic frequency range of any instrument in the band but again the bass drum competes directly with the bass guitar. As you can see, it’s very easy for things in the low octave to get out of control.

   What can we do to help contain this low frequency soup that gets created by all the instruments playing in the same note range? The first and most important thing you can do is listen to each other. People get caught up in the “fixing the EQ” or “fixing compression” when really it’s most important to listen to how the instruments are working together. You may have a killer bass guitar part all worked out but if the keyboard player is holding down a low note in the exact same range as your bass, then your part is going to get lost. I’m not saying that the keyboard player should never play in the low range. It’s essential to have the keyboard player playing some low frequencies to give the song more depth than the bass alone can give it. I am saying that the keyboard player should be paying attention to what the bass player is playing and make sure the parts are complimentary. The same thing goes for the bass player. The bass player has to ask the question “what is best for the song here, the keyboard part or the bass part?”. Believe me it’s not as easy as it sounds once egos get involved along with differences in vision as to how the song should go. But the essential point is, if you want to have a great sound you have to compliment each others parts. A great player isn’t afraid to back off and let someone else take the spotlight for a minute. It should go both ways when players are competing in the same frequency range with each player giving up the room when the song calls for it.

   The same thing goes for every other player in the band. The drummer needs to listen and decide if the double-bass drum 1/8th notes are stomping out the killer guitar part that’s being played. The players need to take time to coordinate such bass heavy happenings. One thing that sounds great is when everyone plays those double bass 1/8th notes together. As I said before, it all comes down to being aware of what each other are playing. Be prepared to make compromises because that’s what it takes to really control all the things happening down in the low frequency range.

   The second thing you need to be aware of is the need for proper EQ’ing. I’ve already written a couple of articles about about getting proper EQ on your guitar as well as an article detailing how to watch for and mix key EQ frequencies. Those are good basic things to be in control of when you’re initially setting up your instruments. On bass frequencies the biggest problems usually happen between the bass drum and the bass guitar down in the 150HZ and below range. On the mixer it’s a good idea to put a bass frequency cut from 150HZ down on the bass guitar and letting the kick drum dwell in that range. Another device you can employ is a multi-band compressor that will let you tame down specific frequencies that are popping out of the mix. A multi-band compressor is one of the handiest tools I’ve found for controlling bass frequencies.

Tube-Tech SMC 2B Stereo Multi-Band Compressor Tube-Tech SMC 2B Stereo Multi-Band CompressorThe rackmount Tube-Tech SMC 2B Stereo Multiband Compressor is an all tube-based compressor that adds the warmth of vintage quality masters to your mix. If you’ve heard records by Beck, Offspring, Rufus Wainright, and All American Rejects, you’ll find a Tube-Tech SMC 2B Multi-band compressor in the hands of Joe Chiccarelli strapped across the stereo bus.Tube-Tech SCM 2B Stereo Multi-band Compressor, First Take: Multi-bandband compression and variable crossover points let you craft your overall mix Three independent stereo optocompressors Flat frequency response across all three bands Balanced I/O and floating transformersVariable Crossover the Tube-Tech SCM 2B’s variable crossover points ensure precise control with all three bands of optocompression. Independent band specific Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release & Gain parameters make the SMC 2B as flexible as it is accurate. For example, a stereo compressor can squash and muddy the midrangeof rock records. With the SMC 2B, you can add just the slightest compression to the midrange where the guitars live to keep them vibrant and lively. The adjustable crossover points allows you to set the low-frequency range so that the bass on dance tracks won’t get over-compressed. 


 

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