Progressive Rock Bass mixing tips ("Polarized")
Recently I have been asked on how to get a solid bass tone for progressive metal music. Here's a very good example on how to transform the home recording raw materials into something that are professionally sounding. The song is called “Polarized”, a song from Jason Kui’s “Absence of Words” album released under Prosthetic Record. I co-produced and mixed the whole album, because of the budget constraints, all the recordings were done in different home studios by many different musicians. There are probably 3 bassists that played on this album and everyone has a very different tone, it was a bit tricky to keep the bass to sound consistent from song to song in the album. Shout out to Jacky Man who played on this track and getting a good tone for this track to begin with.
I found that bass is one of the instruments that everybody got a tough time getting a good tone. Often time, engineers/bassists/producers struggled with getting the right low end, I am talking about 60hz range, most of the time I received bass recording that are lack of low end. That mostly because of their listening environment and studio monitors that doesn’t produce accurate low end response. Therefore, bassists or engineers they EQ’ed wrongly which is hard to reverse it in later stage. I always suggest bassists to record the bass flat (No EQ on the bass) if they aren’t sure about the tone, there are many ways to modify the tone later on in a more accurate listening environment. Another thing is adding pedals and distortions, a lot of bassists, who are not sure about what works with the track, often time add the wrong distortion/buzz/high end/overdrive to the bass recordings which is definitely not reversible later on. I always recommend to record the dry DI signal (straight from the bass) and the processed signal (with pedals, amp, effects etc), at least you have the DI signal as a safety. You can always re-amp the DI track later to get the right tone.
For different style of music it requires a different bass tone, a great session bassist will know what to offer to the table when it comes to that. Producers and engineers also contribute to that with their experience. Some style of music, you would want to use just the bass DI signal; some style of music, you would use a mostly a bass DI signal and a bit of the bass amp signal; and in some case you would use only the bass amp signal. For progressive rock music, I personally like the slightly overdriven bass amp tone, like the big tube Ampeg SVT, you get that tight & deep low end, with a focus & punchy low mid and soaring overdriven top end that cut through the dense wall of distorted guitars. But in reality, it is not easy & cheap to record a loud tube Ampeg bass amp at home studio.
This is the first song that I worked on for the album, I received the 2 audio files for the bass, 1 for the DI signal and 1 processed signal with Darkglass microtubes BK7 distortion pedal. The DI signal was sounding great to start with, it has a enough frequency information to start with, very usable material. The distortion signal wasn’t too useful in this case after you put it in the mix, I knew from experience it won’t the main tone of the bass, but I always kept it maybe I ll blend it in later one or for other purposes, who knows. Therefore the DI signal will be main signal for the bass. I duplicated the tracks and re-amped them differently to simulate a real amp situations that going to work in this track. I had a sound in my head from experience and understanding of this genre. I didn’t have a real amp either so I used IK multimedia Amplitude 4 to do a similar job, and it always deliver.
Original DI signal has good low end and high end, but the lack of lower mid range that give the bass size and definition. Therefore I ran it through a 1176 blackface compressor first to control the dynamics (limit it, so there won’t be any fluctuation in tube responses in the re-amp process), then re-amped it with a SVT classic. You hear the energy shifted, from loose tone to a focus and punchy tone. This is the main sound of the bass.
Original Bass DI signal:
After re-amping with a SVT classic:
I also duplicate the DI signal and ran it through another 1176 compressor then re-amped it with a SVT-4 to get some different distortion other than the Darkglass microtube BK4 distortion. Lastly, I used Eiosis AirEQ to roll off the extreme highs and lows because they are junk frequency and I preferred the focus low end from the main bass sound.
After re-amping with a SVT-4:
On the Darkglass microtube B7K distortion, I pretty much just use a 1176 to control the dynamics so the level is more even.
Darkglass microtube B7K distortion:
At the end. I summed all 3 bass track to a sub bus for processing. I used a UAD SSL channel for compression and EQ boost at 50hz, 250hz and 3khz to cut through the mix and provide low end support which distortion guitar cannot provide. After the SSL channel strip, I put a Pultec EQ and boosted 60hz for a thicker bass sound. I put a Fabfilter multiband compression at the end to control the low mid range to make sure it doesn’t go out of hand at certain notes and fight with other instrument and clouded the mix.
Final bass sound:
APS GERMANO ACOUSTIC AEON II REVIEW
I am a New York based mixer/producer that works mostly on Pop, Hip Hop, Trap, Metal & Jazz music, with major label & indie artists across the globe.
AEON 2 has been my secret weapon on all my chart topping successes in the states & internationally since it was released earlier this year. APS Trinity, Klasik & Aeon were my go-to monitors for couple of years that offered me 3 different perspectives (mid field to near field and different tonal perspectived.) I am going to explain why AEON 2 is my new fav..
I am a full time mixer, I mixed around 20-30 songs a month and produced a couple per month on the side. I constantly travel between Asia and New York working on projects with Aeon 2. Size does matters, Aeon has a reasonable small footprint for a self powered nearfield, weighing 34lb each, it is possible to put the pair in a good road case and travel with it by air or in a car. I was able to bring it with me, mixing from studio to studio and listened to it in many different rooms.
First thing that Aeon 2 has impressed me was how consistent it sounds from room to room, it still shows fluctuation in sound due to the room acoustic but it was minimal (e.g. low end and top end changes a bit) and manageable. You just need to play couple of references to learn the room and then get to mix immediately, that’s how much I trusted Aeon 2 after all the traveling. A lot of 3 way speakers or 2 way speakers with heavy low end, their tone tends to change drastically from room to room because they are very room dependent (acoustically dependent). They could sound amazing in 1 room and perform terribly in another room, that makes you wonder what to trust sometimes. That’s not the case with AEON 2, I go straight to work with the default settings and the mixes always translate well, I wasted no time with AEON 2 and deliver great mixes, that’s the advantages of having a pair AEON 2. Hats off to the engineers at APS, they got it all figure out.
Secondly, AEON 2 has something that I found to be very unique. AEON 2 has a very consistent tonal and low end response at any volume. For AEON 2, even at super quiet volume, the clarity and the low end response is unreal (you can dial the perfect 808 sound at bedroom level easily, trust me), that allows you to make the same mixing decision at any level without hesitation. It also allows you to work for an extensive period of time without ear fatigue. With a lot of speakers, at a low volume, you can barely hear the low end. When the overall volume is being raised, the overall tonal response changes and the low end response improved drastically. This makes you wonder what to trust again and finding the sweet spot of those speakers are like hit or miss. The only thing that I would say about AEON 2, is that in an ideal world AEON 2 could be louder, because client likes it…
AEON 2 also has a sound that probably you and I are both familiar. I was trained on yamaha ns-10 and I worked on that for years. The mid range on those was praised after by many. When you compare them side by side with Aeon 2, you will realize they have a lot in common, to me, the over tonal experience is similar especially if it’s set in passive mode for the bass. However, the AEON 2 has improved from it, to me it’s like the 2017 version of NS10. It has extended high and low end, while maintaining a relatively clear and tight midrange. A good midrange response always helps to create a clean mix that translates well on across different system. It has a smoother upper mid range thanks to the higher crossover, therefore it won’t hurt your ears even when you turn it up. The low end is second to none, it has the same DNA that APS are famous for & proud of on their monitor line. It’s tight and clear, and you won’t ever need a subwoofer unless you have low end information that goes to 20hz. I found myself tackling trap music with that low 808 bass easily on them. For a nearfield with this performance, it’s a steal. It might not be that exciting low end that you expect from KRK or old Adams, it’s more the refining & accurate low end like you expect on an ATC. The depth and width on those speakers also reminds me of a great mid range speakers, to me NS10 is a 2D sounding monitors, that gives you a decent frequency response range and decent width. AEON 2 is more of a 3D sounding monitors, not only it has wider frequency response range, and wider sound field, it has more depth to the sound. You can hear the tiniest reverb tail fading or subtle delay repeats, it is a joyful experience to hear that much subtle details in the back. Great for working on subtle effects in the background of your mix. You might worried if Aeon 2 makes everything sounds too good, it doesn’t. It is not tolerant to bad mixes. It is so responsive that it reveals any subtle issues with accuracy within 1db in your mix, it makes you work harder to refine those frequency details in your mixes, you get a better result overall. The transient response is great as well on Aeon 2, not too hyped but not slow. It gives you certain excitement but also an honest representation of your transient. I found myself getting the right compression amount quicker.
Lastly, there are plenty of settings you can modify in the back of AEON 2. I found myself using the factory default most of the time with bass set to active (it goes to 38hz) to cope with modern music with heavy bass. I really appreciate the design and the engineering of AEON 2, that was created from a user (engineers/producers) standpoint which goes hand in hand with the music we listened to on the radio in 2017 and beyond.
Audiothing Outer Space REVIEW
As a mixer myself I truly love having a collection of plugins and analog gears at my disposal. They are like colorful paint palettes to my work. Sometimes I will run out of mixing ideas and will blindly try out different tools looking for inspiration. Audiothing Outer Space is definitely one of those tools that will inspire you with ideas in your creative process. Outer Space looks like a Roland RE-201 when you first opens it, the interface is very user friendly and clear. I personally have never used a real Roland RE-201 before, and I don’t think it is reasonable to compare it to the hardware because each hardware has a different tone. Let’s approach it like a brand new plugin that do stuff. First off, it has very simple parameters but they can all be used at the same time! It generates infinite possibilities on how you can approach it. It consists of a saturation box, spring reverb and tape echoes. It sounds warm, colorful, lo-fi and lush. Exactly what you looking for from a tape echo and spring reverb. It has a great old-school vibe straight out of the box. Wait...forgot to tell you it costs only $49 and you don’t need an ilok for it, it is a bang for the buck! Usually when I approach a brand new plugins I will try their presets first and see what it does. Not too many presets are included but they are all highlights of this unit, nothing too complicated that beyond useful.
I love the instant mono and stereo switching (add 15ms different between left and right signal) on the Outer space, it really speed up the process by flipping a switch, but I wish they have a ping pong function!!
Here is a tip to use it in a cool/weird way. Put the delay in sync mode, long intensity (feedback) and automate the repeat rate to get some kind of DJ scratching/pitching shifting effects, it could be cool in production or mixing.
They should add Undo and Redo function that prevents pressing the randomize function by accident. The on/off button on the upper right corner is reductant when I have the bypass plugin function in Pro tools, it sometimes confused me on whether the plugin is activated. Lastly I couldn’t find the Pre-Emphasis function on the interface while it appears on the manual.
LEVELS plugin REview
Recently just received a copy of the LEVELS plugin made by Mastering the Mix. As a mixing engineer, I like all my tools to be simple and intuitive, so I can stay focused on the music. The first impression of LEVELS was the user interface is very user friendly and looks really good. It looks like a cool IOS app, very simple to use and self explanatory.
In the “Headroom”, I particularly like the fact this plugin is well designed from an user standpoint. It incorporates a few essential loudness units like LUFS, dBTP & dB. They are all 1 click away from each other, which makes it very easy to make sure your mixes or masters are following the loudness protocol.
“Stereo Field” is always essential to me in mixing, I used the “Mono”, “Left” or “Right” a lot to check how my mixes translate in a mono situation. The vector scope is really responsive which I like. It helps me to check if my mix or any of the tracks are out of phase and the width of it. The low pass function comes in handy to check my low end elements, e.g. kick and bass or synth, are focused in the center.
“Dynamic Range” is a very new concept to me and I don’t think I have come across any plugins that has this in it. I think it’s a great idea and it’s a highlight of this plugin.
LEVELS comes with a few well designed mastering and mixing presets to be used it different situations.
All in all, LEVELS is a great handy tool that includes all the basic metering you will need. Visually, it looks cooler than any metering plugins I have, and I can double check all the parameters almost instantly. It is going to be on my master bus as a safety net before I send my mix out. Clients in the session with me are going to like this plugin because they can finally read it, it is that simple!
Aria Mastering REview
Great mastering is a necessity for producing quality music. However, the reality is that outstanding mastering services usually come at a high price, and, conversely, a high price doesn’t guarantee great mastering. As a mixing engineer for major labels and indie artists, most projects I work on are cost and time sensitive, with no or little funds allocated for mastering. Often, I accommodate these clients by either lowering my mixing fees in order to engage a great mastering engineer, or I just take over mastering duties to prevent the mix from being sent to subpar mastering engineers.
Here’s where Aria Mastering makes sense to me. Aria will help me get through situations like these by allowing me to quickly deliver genuine and great quality mastering that will rival the top mastering engineers in the market. The four types of mastering options provide flexibility and a vast range sonic possibilities, perfect for versatile mixing engineers like myself. Aria Mastering is a high-quality, value-for-money product that will get the job done for audio professionals, allowing you and your clients to reap highly satisfying results.”
Matthew Sim is a New York-based mixing engineer & music producer from Hong Kong. Besides working as a freelance mixing engineer/producer, he is currently a staff engineer at the legendary Germano Studios NY. He has already worked with (Mixed, Engineered or Assisted) a long list of award-winning artists, including Desiigner, Pusha T, Usher, Frank Ocean, J Cole, Bon Jovi, Kai, Jennifer Lopez, Pentatonix, Lewis Hamilton, Craig David, Elle King, Post Malone, Theo Croker, YG, Timeflies, Lauryn Hill, Steve Jordan, Mike Posner, Keith Richards, The Kin, Malay Ho etc…
I have been using Antelope interfaces for over 4 years and am thoroughly impressed by the quality of the converters and the flexibility of usage.
My first Antelope purchase was the Orion 32, back in 2012. I used the Orion with my Dangerous summing box and a couple of other outboard compressors as hardware inserts. We have all experienced the interface that is like a laptop taser gun when you plug it in. The Orion has never crashed my Hackintosh when I connect it via USB 2.0 to use with Pro Tools. It is incredibly stable, quiet and compact. Utilizing its incredibly flexible internal patch bay, I stored 3 distinct presets for different mixing scenarios, which is really all I need. DSP plugins are not required with the Orion, simply plug it in, check the digital clock and you are ready to go. Some of the notable mixes I did with Orion 32, were the entire Theo Croker’s “Dvrkfunk” EP & “Escape Velocity” album.
Sometimes the job of an audio engineer requires me to take on responsibilities outside mixing. I acquired the Zen Studio in 2014 to replace my previous mobile recording rig that contained 2 different interfaces with 12 preamps in total. My old setup was bulky and heavy. I had to wheel a 4U rack case, in addition to microphones, cables and accessories, to be able to record outside a studio. Zen Studio put an end to all the hassle, collapsing 12 preamps into less than a 1U size, making it small enough to fit cables and interface right in my backpack! Hands free! On top of that, it also has 4 DI inputs, which is just so convenient for recording your standard rhythm section – bass, guitars and keyboard – and leaves you with another 8 mic preamps for multi-track drums and vocals! Zen Studio makes a wonderful mobile rig that covers all of my audio-related gigs. For example, I can have it with me in the morning for some mixing/editing with headphone and speakers. Later, I can bring it with me to the studio to record/overdub some instruments and synths for a writing session. Then I can use the Zen Studio as a 2nd rig in the studio using the D sub line in/out for printing stems or sending it out to the console for analog summing etc. Lastly, late at night, I can go to a live venue and multi track a live performance from the FOH console easily. Zen Studio has really brought convenience into my day-to-day without noticeably compromising on audio quality.
When the Zen Tour was launched, I knew I had to get it! It’s even smaller than the Zen Studio and includes some really thoughtful new features including USB and thunderbolt ports, 2 monitors outputs and 2 reamp outputs. Frankly, if I could keep only one interface with me, it would definitely be the Zen Tour. The USB & Thunderbolt ports really makes it so easy to work in any set up. I frequently switch between my old desktop at my apartment that has no thunderbolt and my Macbook Pro that allows me to benefit from the stability and minimized latency of the thunderbolt connection. The 2 monitor outputs and 2 headphone outputs eliminate the need for an extra monitor selector hardware.
Lastly, the 2 reamp outputs make working with modern day productions so much more efficient. If you want to send some of your tracks to an guitar/bass amplifier you don’t need an extra reamp box anymore. The Zen Tour opens up creative possibilities that you cannot find in any similar product. It is just perfect for modern-day productions, with more than enough preamps for all your drum machines, synths, instruments and vocals, on board FPGA plugins, flexible patchbay and all kinds of I/O options. Plus, it stands out in a room full of gear with it’s Sci-Fi-ish touch screen and brushed metallic case! With no compromise on audio quality and all the features I can imagine in a cool little box, the Zen Tour is certainly my dream workhorse!
SAMPLE MAGIC-MAGIC A B PLUGIN REVIEW
Referencing plays an important role in modern music production. When I produce or mix, I rely heavily on the monitor section on consoles (before the existence of Magic AB) to switch back and forth between a track's rough mix, commercial references, and previous versions of the mix. The design of Magic AB captures the essential elements of professionals workflow and improves it by adding great features such as timeline sync, cue, different playback modes and sum to mono. Magic AB is the last missing piece of my setup to keep everything in the box, which enables me to work faster and virtually anywhere. Thumbs up for this game changing tool!