Kim Lajoie's blog

Balancing kick and bass

by Kim Lajoie on July 4, 2008

A kick drum can be loose, tight, deep, percussive, hollow, tubby, thick, light, etc. Do you want it to hit you in the stomach? The chest? The face? 

Likewise, a bass could be rough, smooth, deep, throaty, thick, etc. Bass often also has the potential for emphasising the higher-register sound of upper overtones. A bass could be as deep as the stomach (or even lower!), or high enough to be a low-register melodic counterpoint to the melody. 

Of course, these are just examples. Kicks and basses can be anything you imagine. 

My point is that you need to make a decision about what you’re trying to do with the kick and the bass. They should not only complement each other, but also be appropriate for the production values of the song. 

For example, if you want both the kick and the bass to be equally thick and low, the effect will be muddy and confusing if they’re playing at the same time… just as if a guitar solo and lead vocal were to sound similar to each other and be playing at the same time. No matter how you EQ or compress, you will be fighting every step of the way. 

The choices you make will determine the kind of processing you need to do. 

Personally, I usually take one of two approaches. I might want a deep strong bass, in which case I’ll make the kick weaker and more percussive. Other times I might want a higher, more melodic bass, which allows me to make the kick lower and longer. If I want a strong kick, I need to make the bass higher and/or weaker. 

Which approach I choose for a song depends on what I’m trying to do with the song as a whole. For example, if the song has a strong rhythmic element or has a lot of other melodic instruments (such as guitars or keyboards) I’ll usually emphasise the kick and push the bass back a bit. Alternatively, if the song is more sparse I might need the bass to provide much of the harmonic support, so the bass becomes high(er) and stronger, and the kick is lower and more subdued. If I want a heavier sound, I might want the bass to be quite low and deep, and emphasise the percussive nature of the kick (shorter and sharper). 

-Kim.

8 thoughts on “Balancing kick and bass

  1. Noise Maker says:

    what about 4/4 music, where the bass is off beat.

    Kick = >
    Bass = /

    >—>—>—>—
    -***-***-***-***

    so if the kick never touch the bass, does the rules still apply?

    I ask because even if it make sense not to apply those rules when the bass and the kick never touch each other, it (seperate the kick and the bass eq) still open lots of room in the mix between the kick and the bass.

    am I right?

    tho, the bass and the kick sounds really tight/powerful if they have the same EQ, but I think that it ruin the depth of the mix.

    so I really wonder what do you think…

    btw your blog is amazing!

  2. Noise Maker says:

    Edit: it doesn’t look obvious in the first post-
    the kick and the bass look like this

    Kick = (k)
    Bass = B

    (k) B B B (k) B B B (k) B B B (k) B B B

  3. Kim Lajoie says:

    Even if the kick and bass are not sounding at the same time, it can be useful to give them some tonal separation. This will give them more definition and give the mix a bit more character too.

    -Kim.

  4. Noise Maker says:

    Thanks kim.

    you remind me “Yep” (very mature engineer from reaper and sonar community), he helped me to verify so much unsure assumptions that I had with his articles. it provides me the confidence that I miss.

    Regarding this: Quote: “if the song has a strong rhythmic element or has a lot of other melodic instruments (such as guitars or keyboards) I’ll usually emphasise the kick and push the bass back a bit.”

    by emphasise the kick and push te back back, what frequencies (generally speaking)?

    for some people deep means cutting at 300 Hz, while for me deep can be from a cut from 300-1000

    maybe I need to fix my terms vs frequencies associations, do you know a good article for that?

  5. Kim Lajoie says:

    You have to use your ears to decide which frequencies to pull forward or push back. It depends entirely on the sounds you’re using – not just for the kick and bass, but for the rest of the whole mix.

    This is the reason I am usually deliberately vague when describing frequency ranges. Most of the time I only use four terms:

    Bottom: less than 100Hz
    Lower mids: 100Hz-1kHz
    Upper mids: 1kHz-10kHZ
    Top: greater than 10kHz

    -Kim.

  6. Noise Maker says:

    I understand but I think that in order to understand terms like: “tight, deep, hollow, thick, smooth” there need to be more guiding info for these terms.

    One may fall into a trap by a misunderstanding a term(different point of views about the same term).

  7. Kim Lajoie says:

    The terms you suggested describe a range of audio characteristics – not just tone. They are a function of how the audio changes over time, and how we perceive those changes. It also depends on what else is happening in the mix.

    I know it’s not very satisfying. In some ways our jobs would be much easier if we could objectively describe the sounds we work with… but for better or worse, there are some aspects of sound that are not easily measured – our perception of the sound.

    One of the interesting things about this work is that we define our own meanings to these words. This is the art of it, the personal touch. For example, if you and I were both in a studio together and we both wanted to make the kick drum ‘tighter’, we’d each do it in a different way and come up with a slightly different result. Neither is necessarily right or wrong – it’s a matter of deciding what’s appropriate for the music. And we, as producers or engineers, get to shape that.

    Artists choose to work with certain engineers and producers primarily for their personal touch. Gear and knowledge is secondary. When an artist tells me to make a kick drum tighter, she’s not telling me to use a slow-attack compressor and reduce the energy at 300Hz. She’s telling me to use my judgement, and she’s trusting me to use whatever tools I feel are appropriate.

    -Kim.

  8. Noise Maker says:

    Exactly what I needed to hear.
    thanks!

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