Q: “How do I keep the kick from burying the bass (or bass burying the kick) in my mix?”
A: The most prevalent sonic signature of popular music is the blending of kick drum and bass. Since much of the power in a mix comes from the bass frequencies, the way kick and bass are handled is crucial from a mix perspective as well as a stylistic viewpoint. Generally the objective is to have them work together as a unit, and yet still hear them individually. A typical problem is that the kick drum seems to get lost in the mix while the overall bottom sounds muddy. Assuming a good performance on each instrument, the perfect marriage of kick and bass rests mainly in equalization (or EQ as it is called). The frequency range of the bass and drums overlaps in the low frequency range through the low midrange. The attack of the bass is heard between 700 – 1000Hz, while the attack of the kick drum presents information at 3000 to 4000Hz.
A common trick to getting a unified sound between kick and bass while retaining clarity is to boost the lows on the kick (60-80Hz) cut the low mids anywhere from 150Hz to 400Hz (sometimes called the mudrange) and boost the highs at around 3000Hz. This will provide a solid low end, remove some of the mud in the midrange and accentuate the attack of the kick pedal on the drum. For the bass, we do pretty much the opposite; cut the lows where you boosted them on the kick (60-80Hz) boost the bass at around 120 – 150Hz which will provide a full bass sound (while occupying the frequency space we made by cutting the kick drum in this range), and boost the highs at around 900Hz since bass also provides information in that range as well. In short, we are emphasizing the frequencies that are important to the sound of each, while cutting the frequencies where they can conflict. Try this technique. You’ll get a full bottom with a clear thump with a defined attack in the kick and a clear, full bass.
Another important thing to keep in mind is what we said earlier about the most power in the mix coming from the low end; EQ is frequency dependent amplification, which means that we are boosting the power of a particular frequency. Too much boost can result in either distortion or less headroom in the mix for other instruments, so use it sparingly. If you’re boosting a frequency in one instrument, you should cut that frequency in another instrument, as our kick and bass technique describes. Overall, EQ is most effective as a subtractive device, not additive.