How to Fix Muddy Bass
Ever wondered why the songs you hear from the professionals sound so clean, fat and have powerful low end at the same time? While when you hear your songs, they sound clogged and cluttered and have everything choked up in the low end!
Its the muddiness! Often the bass or the low end gets muddy due to various reasons.
Muddy bass can suck the life off of your track. It covers other instruments and sounds dull, undefined and does not contain enough punchiness! In a way, it puts a blanket over the whole track.. and you know that’s bad!
So, how do you fix muddy bass?
Well here are a bunch of steps helpful in solving the problem of clearing the muddy bass –
- Know the muddy frequencies
- Make space for the bass frequencies
- Almost all the instruments have a little low end information
- Avoid stuffing up the same octave
- Plan ahead – the instrumentation
- Boost or cut in the 200 Hz to 400 Hz region?
- Establish a good kick and bass relationship
- Keep the bass mono
- Pay attention to the effects
As far as my experience tells me, and from what I have learned from more experienced people, these fixes are the only ones that you will need.
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So let’s look at them in detail and let’s jump in..
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1. Know the muddy frequencies
Muddy frequencies are the frequency range roughly between the range of 200 Hz to 400 Hz. Although they are not muddy on their own but if they get overpowered, they shadow the whole song.
They in a sense have enough power and enough presence to be felt and heard as well and therefore take up a significant space of the whole frequency spectrum to draw attention to.
If this frequency range is not balanced accurately with the whole spectrum, you face the problem of a dull and fluffy mix.
Often time the bass does contain this range for its presence. It can therefore easily get in the way due the poor instrumentation or poor mixing or at certain regions in a song.
So to sum this up, the frequency range from 200 Hz to 400 Hz is categorized as muddy frequencies only when it takes over the entire spectrum.
The rest of the times, each and every frequency range is equally important!
Now it’s time to see other aspects to solve this issue.
2. Make space for the bass frequencies
Now, this is imperative! The bass is an important element of the track. It in fact is the foundation of the whole track frequency-wise.
When there is too much going on in a track, it certainly comes in the way of the bass and masks it. You respond by increasing the gain of the bass.
Also Read – How To Bass Saturation – The Easy Way!
This brings up the level of the muddy frequency range even more!
When you now hear everything in context, you find the mix sounds boomy and suddenly the clarity of the instruments is lost!
To get rid of this problem, pay special attention to the frequency upto where the bass extends. I can tell you it can easily got upto 500 Hz and even 1 kHz!
You need to make a decision here based on the instrumentation of your mix and the type of bass you have used.
If its a bass guitar, you need the pluck to come through which will be around 1 kHz. But you can carve out the unnecessary frequencies below that if there are sounds there, surely there must be.
Make a balance between the bass and the other instruments in that region. If the frequency of an acoustic guitar is required in 200 – 400 Hz range, keep that and carve the bass a little. Likewise, try to fit the bass with any other instrument you used.
3. Almost all the instruments have a little low end information
Important tip! Almost all the instruments have low end.
If you pull up a spectrum analyzer and check the frequencies in the instruments, you will find that even the instruments which are serving the mid to upper range do carry low end information as well.
The best tip is to always cut the low end from each and every instrument other than the bass and the kick!
Always use a high pass filter on every sound! Cut the frequency below what is required. Even on the bass and the kick, you should ideally cut below 30 Hz.
The frequency below 30 Hz is not musical.
The low end region is extra sensitive and can ideally have only one instrument playing at a time. That’s why so many people struggle fitting the kick and bass!
4. Avoid stuffing up the same octave
The region between 200 Hz to 400 Hz is a pretty dominant one I tell you. Most of the instruments have their body in this region.
If you consider snares, acoustic guitars, keys and what not, all have their meat and potatoes in this region. Don’t forget the star of the song – “the vocal”, has its body in the same region.
Stuffing multiple instruments in the octave that occupies this frequency range is a recipe to clutter your mix! This octave ranges from G3 to G4.
Now in such situation, you wouldn’t be able to store just all the instruments you “wish” in a region that is so delicate that any imbalance has a potential to ruin the whole track!
You wanna be careful there!
Keep these mischievous frequencies of only that instrument which is really driving your track and whose loss in that region is making the track hollow. The rest of the instruments will be fine without them by changing their octaves. Transpose them an octave above.
Now the next step is to adjust this instrument with the presence or upper range of the bass. If both play notes at the same time, prioritize any one of them.
Experiment a little and see what is working best.
5. Plan ahead – the instrumentation
It’s best to make a blueprint of your track while doing the arrangement. This will save you from the muddying issue before it even occurs!
A mindful instrumentation and layering of them is the key to a cleaner, fuller and punchier mix! Even it helps your mix to compete with the other tracks which are commercially released.
Always follow this secrete principle which you have never heard in your life, which no producer knows and now I am sharing it with you – “Less is more.”
(Sorry for that lame ass “secrete principle” joke though)
Every experienced producer follows the less is more technique! It’s only the novices that make the silly mistake of showing off how much they can stuff inside their roasted chicken recipe! Only to hurt themselves up while mixing!
It’s better to keep only two instruments (if you are making it wider) or even one is better in this range! Already your vocals and the upper bass will strengthen this region.
This will create space for the bass to be heard clearly and won’t clog that up!
Using more instruments here will mask the punch of your bass. Which will further result in a muddy bass which is less defined and won’t cut through the mix!
6. Boost or cut in the 200 Hz – 400 Hz range?
When you want to emphasize the frequency of any instrument in this range, it’s better to follow the cutting move than boosting.
When you hear two instruments fighting for space in the 200 Hz – 400 Hz region, cut one of the two which is less important among them.
If you boost the frequency of the one you want, you are only emphasizing the mud by adding excess frequency weight in that region, which disturbs the overall balance. Simply make a narrow cut right where you want the other instrument to fit.
This will also take the excess weight off and create more breathing space in the mix.
This technique serves well for the whole frequency spectrum. Whenever there is a clash between two similar ranged instruments, cut the less important one instead of boosting the important one.
This saves you from continuous adding up of the frequencies which could be better off taken down. This saves the dynamic plugins from working harder and thus avoid the artifacts they introduce under pressure.
7. The kick and bass relationship
Establishing a solid kick and bass relationship is the most crucial task while mixing. Since both fall in the same region and the region being the most sensitive in the whole spectrum, it takes a lot of attention and effort.
It also requires multiple iterations till the foundation is working perfectly. Any imperfection may make the whole track fall apart. This happens because the low end acts like a pedestal on which the track stands firm.
Talking about the clarity and power, consistent bass notes with a clear cut through punch makes the low end sound as it’s supposed to be. The whole low end is defined by its punch and consistency.
When mixing both, since the kick will always hit on the same frequency spot, it’s better to carve out its space from the bass that keeps changing the frequency due to note change.
Make a really narrow bell cut in the bass frequency where the kick is hitting. This will give the kick its space. Sidechain compression is another way of doing this.
Everytime the kick hits, the bass will duck allowing the kick to have its space.
Sound selection is also the key for a good bass and kick relationship. Choose a kick that has a good body (sustain) and a good amount of punch. The bass needs to have a good presence and has a nice amount of body as well. The notes should sound consistent in terms of their level.
Both the sounds should be clear, consistent and punchy which will make our jobs easier and the low end clear.
8. Keep the bass mono
A simple sounding tip to keep the bass mono always!
The region below 120 Hz is supposed to sound mono. This is because our ears are not able to detect the direction of bass frequency hence no point in widening it.
This doesn’t directly relate to solving the issue of muddy bass, but it saves the low end from other issues.
Bass frequencies are very powerful and they tend to get affected by the phase issues very much.
If the bass is made wider, the extremely minute time difference of the waveforms coming out of the left and right speakers at the same time may cancel each other.
This may make the bass frequencies disappear.
If the bass is kept mono, there will be a single output from the speakers having no two waveforms separated by time difference. Thus no phase cancelation will occur.
9. Pay attention to the effects
A lot of producers take all the precautions to keep the bass clear, but they may ignore what’s going on with the effects.
The idea is to check whether the effects like reverbs and delays are not coming in the way of the bass.
It often happens that the reverbs and delays are left alone without any EQ. As a result the information carried in them also has frequencies that masks the bass.
Always low cut the effects to make space for the bass and also use high cut on them to add clarity for high frequency instruments.
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Low end or bass can make or break the track. In this article I have given the reasons and the useful tips on how you can get the best sounding bass.
I have also advised on how you can avoid the onset of the muddy bass issue altogether.
Follow this guide and see the results for yourself and along with these, I suggest you to experiment with them to find more solutions to solve your problems and become better at mixing and production.