Low End Mixing Tutorial – How to Get it Right Every Time

The low end of your mix is the anchor. If this isn’t right, the entire mix will feel adrift. Low end mixing is arguably the hardest part of the mix to perfect, as well.

The kick or bass can camouflage the other. The entire low end can sound boomy, muddy and messy, or too weak.

With that in mind, I’ve put together this complete tutorial on how to get your low end mixing to sound great every time.

low end mixing

How to Listen to Low End

Lower frequencies are as much about feel as they are about sound.

Without a proper space, equipment for monitoring, and good reference tracks it can be difficult to know what you’re listening for.

Room

A mid sized room which is more of a rectangular shape with the desk/monitors facing the further wall is the ideal spot to mix. This is in comparison to having a wall close to where the speakers are facing to reflect sound.

Ideally you can treat the walls with sound absorbing materials to minimize reflections which can give you a misleading impression of how the mix sounds.

I went into greater detail on the best conditions and space to mix with in my overview on where to mix music:

where to mix music

Equipment

Earbuds or the speakers that came with your computer aren’t going to get it done, especially with low end mixing.

The biggest issue with cheaper speakers is that they don’t have the capacity to give an accurate bass response. This typically means that you turn up the low end until you can hear it. This will make your mix sound like an earthquake of low end when played on a sound system with a bass response.

A very good affordable pair of studio monitors are the PreSonus Eris 3.5 monitors. They’re the best bang for your buck for proper mixing monitors and boast a decent bass response.

Of course not all of us live in environments where we can turn up the volume enough to be able to hear the subtleties of the mix.

Even if you do have a decent set of monitors to listen on, odds are the frequency response still won’t be as good as a decent pair of mixing headphones or working a subwoofer into your setup.

I recently covered the differences of speakers vs headphones for mixing, and while I generally recommend mixing with speakers for better results, it’s headphones are actually better for monitoring your low end.

mixing with headphones

More than that, mixing headphones can be preferable when you don’t have a good space to mix in. An added bonus with headphones is that you don’t have to worry about room reflections.

Again, earbuds aren’t going to get it done; you need a dedicated pair of headphones with a full frequency response.

For mixing headphones, I myself have used the Audio Technica MX-50s for nearly a decade and can attest to their solid bass response.

Now let’s roll up our sleeves and get into low end mixing properly.

Low End Mixing Tutorial

References

The best advice for low end mixing is to have a reference track to guide you and mix from. Reference tracks are important to use in general as I covered in my guide on how to use reference tracks in your mix.

Whatever you choose to mix on, make sure you know what the music you want your mixes to sound like sounds like.

So not only are references helpful for A/B testing while mixing, but they remind you of what music SHOULD sound like in the speakers or headphones you’re using.

But just like with any other aspect of your mix, references are essential for low end mixing as a reminder if you need more or less.

To specifically check the low end of your reference, drop a utility plugin on your reference and set it to mono. Make sure the output volume matches your mix bus, which likely means you’ll have to bring down the volume of your reference, assuming you’re using gain staging and leaving headroom in your mix.

Also place a low pass filter on the reference with a steep slope of 48dB/oct or more around 120Hz. Lastly, make sure the output of that reference is set to external in your mix so that it’s not being affected by your master bus and its effects.

Now repeat the same process on your master bus, dropping a mono plugin and the same low pass filter.

A/B split test between the two to hear how the kick is leveled relative to the bass in the reference compared to your mix. This can help you determine whether your kick and or bass needs to come up or down, relative to the other.

You can also analyze the frequencies themselves using the EQ or a spectral analyzer, but there’s no substitute for listening (again ideally with a decent pair of headphones or a subwoofer).

How to Balance Kick and Bass

A lot of the key in low end mixing is getting your kick and bass to work together.

While there’s no perfect equation (i.e. the kick should be X dB louder than the bass), you can use the reference to hear how a good volume relation between the kick and bass sounds on a pro mix.

It’s also important to cut out some space in the bass for the kick; this is one of the keys to a clear and clean kick.

The kick is your anchor and backbone of the mix; we need it to take priority over everything else. Part of this means sacrificing a bit of the bass in order to accommodate the kick.

You have multiple options to accomplish this. This includes using sidechain compression or even better using sidechain EQ to duck (lower the volume of) the bass when the kick triggers it.

The bass is the more constantly playing instrument of the two with the kick just triggering every note, half note, or quarter note typically.

Sidechain EQ is typically my go-to way to most transparently and dynamically create more room for the kick in the bass:

sidechain eq

You simply find the fundamental of the kick (which is especially easy to do if you’re using the sine wave kick drum trick), create a dynamic EQ cut on the bass at that frequency and sidechain that band to the kick, setting the threshold to trigger so that when the kick plays, that frequency gets temporarily dropped in the bass for a split second.

This gives the kick near sole possession of its most important frequency whenever it triggers while leaving the bass nearly untouched.

This is the best way to get your kick and bass to work together in your low end mixing.

High Pass Everything

Arguably the most important rule of low end mixing is that you give dominion of everything below 100Hz to your kick and bass.

Every track in your mix falls into one of two categories of problems which can be corrected using a high pass filter:

1 – There’s noise, whether ambient (think air conditioning/computer fan/cars outside) or electrical based below 100Hz on a track which you don’t want.

2 – There’s actual musical frequencies there, but the important frequencies for that instrument/track are higher up and can be sacrificed to create a cleaner mix. Electric guitar is a great example of this where cutting well above 100Hz turns it into a cleaner, cohesive unit with the bass guitar to where the bass represents the low end and electric guitar represents the mids and high end.

Low passing everything starting at roughly 100Hz will remove a ton of mix mud and add several dB of headroom. It’s so important it’s one of my evergreen mixing tips:

high pass every track

I cover the specific frequency to high pass at in my EQ cheat sheet which tackles every practical instrument in your mix, so refer to that for specifics.

Low End Mixing Tips

  • Low end mixing is all about balancing the elements in your mix which are low frequency rich with one another and creating space otherwise.
  • Make sure you can accurately hear the low end of your mix with either a subwoofer or mixing headphones.
  • Use references to help balance your kick and bass and find the right level in general. Mono and low pass the reference to better isolate and get a better idea of how commercial mixes are treating this area.
  • Use dynamic EQ to duck your bass at the specific frequency fundamental of your kick to keep the bass relatively transparent and preserved.
  • Pan your bass, sub bass, and kick dead center to keep them consistent across the stereo field.
  • High pass every other instrument in your mix starting around 100Hz and sweeping up to remove non-musical and unwanted frequencies, creating a clean and otherwise open low end for the bass and kick.

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