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Here’s how you can fix a muddy bass:
Bass is muddy due to low-end frequencies between 0-40Hz. Other instruments can clash with bass, because even high frequency sounds contain low-end information. To fix a muddy bass, use high pass filtering to remove the 0-40Hz range from other tracks that don’t need it. This will make space and prevent frequency clashing.
Nailing your Low-End can be the toughest part of your entire mixing process. Especially for beginners, getting good bass balance, while retaining energy and thickness, can feel nearly impossible.
So how do the pro’s do it?
In this article we’re going to explain what Muddy Bass is and how you can treat it in your mixes.
1. Keep Your Bass in Mono
Music needs a center.
Musicians and producers have always been trying to make more compelling music. If your music does not have a solid backbone, the arrangement falls apart.
A good idea to improve the muddiness of your bass is making sure it’s entirely mono. The main focal points of your music should always be in the center. If you’ve tried it, you already know that putting bass in stereo rarely leads to anything good and while it’s not set in stone, you should have your bass in mono.
There are some Utility plugins, which have a bass mono option.
This is great if you have a complex bass, with information in the high-end of the frequency spectrum. Setting your bass mono around 200 Hz to 300 Hz, will make sure that the main body and core of your bass remains in the center, while leaving all the top end to fill out your stereo field.
TIP: Using a mid/side EQ on your master, to remove frequencies below 300Hz can be a great way to introduce more clarity and solidify your low frequency spectrum.
2. EQ and Filtering Muddy Bass Frequencies
When producing, you’re bound to end up with lots of instruments and sound channels. Commonly you only really want your kick and bass in the low frequency range (below 150Hz). There are some exceptions, but usually this is a pretty solid rule to stick to.
When talking about EQ and filtering on bass, this is usually done on every channel but your bass.
This is because, even though you might not be able to hear it, a lot of your channels will have low-end information, it’s just really quiet compared. And, even though you can’t hear it, with multiple tracks not filtered, this bottom end information starts to add up and clutter the mix.
So, by the end of your production/mixing session, these stray bass frequencies will combine to create a muddy mix, causing things like your kick and bass to sound muddy & weak.
Nobody wants a track that’s muddy and weak!
What we like to do is use a high pass filter on everything but the kick and bass. While some pads or piano parts might need a bit more low-end, everything below 150Hz should usually be left exclusively for the bass and kick.
In terms of EQ, there aren’t many rules set in stone.
The one thing you should keep in mind is that, boosting frequencies in your low end is usually not where you want to start.
If your bass sounds awesome on it’s own, but gets weak with other elements around it, boosting your bass frequencies isn’t always the best option. We’d recommend trying to cut bass frequencies out of other elements before grasping for that low-shelf.
If you cut, and your low-end still doesn’t sound how you want it, then start to think about boosting.
Lastly, make sure to set a high-pass filter to remove the frequency range below 20Hz. You’d be surprised how much low end can be filtered out, before losing energy.
TIP: Prioritize low-mids over other frequencies, when working with bass. This frequency range is the key to getting a full sound. Decide which is the most important element in this space and work around that.
Compression is a great tool to add energy to your bass sounds.
That being said, compression is usually the thing beginner producers struggle with the most, so we’ll try to explain it simply.
When compressing bass, you’re usually using it to make your bass sound tighter. Muddy bass can, at times, come from a bad sounding instrument, or recording. Usually, the best way to make a flappy and weak bass sound more defined and energetic is bass compression.
While compression settings will vary on a case-by-case basis, we like to start subtly, with around 2-5dB of gain reduction, with a medium attack and quick release.
The number of ways you could be compressing bass are *almost* infinite. And, to write all about it here, would lead this article off track.
Luckily for you we’ve written a full guide to better bass compression.
Bass compression is a very very deep topic that professional engineers could talk about for hours, and never reach a conclusion.
Depending on what kind of sound you’re using, this becomes an even deeper topic, whether it’s subs, bass guitar or any other bass sound. That being said, compression is something we like to use on pretty much every bass track.
4. Sidechain and Spacing
Sidechain is usually the first thing that comes to mind when talking about making space in your mix.
And we won’t tell you otherwise, sidechaining is essential and a great tool to fix muddy mixes.
A muddy mix usually comes from different instruments taking up the same space in your frequency range. Creating space in your mix is what’s going to help you create better, and more transparent mixes.
One of the best ways to do this is the Wavesfactory Trackspacer plugin.
It takes a sidechain input, and ducks the frequencies of your audio signal, based off the input signal frequencies. To put it simply, it will cut out the exact space that an instrument needs in the frequency range. If you don’t have Trackspacer, you’ll have to make do with clever EQ’ing.
You’ll want to put two of your tracks side-by-side, choose the more important one, and cut a bit of the fundamental from the least important track.
This stops frequencies from clashing, and will create more room to breathe for your tracks, leading to more clarity in your mixing.
You can also use sidechain compression with your kick and bass to clear up the low-end.
In most articles, you’ll see that you should entirely remove the low-end from either your kick drum, or your bass, but it’s not that black & white – especially if you’re making dance music.
You’ll want to keep your kick heavy most of the time, but you’ll also wanna keep that beautiful low-end information in your sub bass.
The way to prevent clashing here is to use sidechain.
You can sidechain your bass to your kick to momentarily duck the clashing frequencies out of the way. If you wanna go in extra detail, you can sidechain using multiband compression to only sidechain the lows.
Further sidechain bass compression learning:
- What Is Sidechain Compression? + 6 Sidechain Tips For A Better Mix
- Sub Bass Mixing – 6 Tips To Get Your Mix Car Ready
5. Layering Your Bass
More often than not, you’ll want to have more than one bass in your song. When all else fails, and your recording is just not as energetic or thick as you want, layering can be a good fix.
It can be a good idea to split up your sub-bass, and main bass, into two different instruments each taking up a different frequency range. If the very low-end of your bass instrument sounds muddy, cut it entirely and replace it with a good sub.
Having your bass sound split between different channels, each taking up a different part of the frequency range gives your more flexibility when mixing.
You can also try to add an entirely different bass sound on the top, than you do at the bottom. This can lead to a very unique sounding low end. Filter out the low end with a high pass filter, leaving the low mids, and add it back in with a different sound.
For instance you could have a pluck bass filtered on top, then a sub underneath and maybe even a stab.
What Are Muddy Bass Frequencies?
First of all, before we start any of the clean-up process, we have to explain what a muddy bass is.
There are quite a few abstract terms that are regularly used to describe bass frequencies. Your bass could be “muddy”, “boomy” or boxy etc.
Muddy bass frequencies are the frequencies which most sound systems will struggle to reproduce. This is usually in the 0-20 Hz range. If your speakers go down to 35Hz, but your track has information present below that, you’ll end up with a messy, rumbly and viscous low-end.
Even if you don’t have a system that can properly reproduce these frequencies, they don’t disappear from your music.
If they’re there, your system will try to reproduce this frequency range, unsuccessfully, leading to phasing issues and other messy things, we want to avoid.
So what do the other terms mean? Boxy Boomy? Let’s explain:
Not to be confused with “boominess”, which is usually due to issues in the 60-200Hz range. Boominess is what usually makes a bass sound stand out more than necessary and overpower the rest of your mix.
Lastly, a boxy bass means that you likely have too much frequencies in the mid-range (400Hz and up).
All of these together add up to a dark and cluttered low-end, which throws your entire mix out of balance. An undefined bass will make a great mix sound floppy and weak, while a great bass mix will be the cornerstone, that makes the rest of your mix more solid.
Whether you’re recording bass guitar, or making an insane wavetable bassline in Serum, muddy bass can become your greatest enemy. That being said, as often as we hear this issue in songs, there isn’t one perfect fix for the issue.
The way to remove muddiness from your audio, is all up to you and your ears. You’ll never fix a muddy bass by doing the exact steps every time, so make sure to keep your ears on top of the task at hand.
Expand your knowledge further with our other music production articles: