Bass has become increasingly important in modern music, but it is a tough nut to crack, as it’s easier to mess up, takes up more headroom than any other instrument, and requires more sophisticated monitoring equipment and environment to treat and process.
However, when treated right and balanced right, it can take your mixes to the next level and add more depth, warmth, and thump. Getting the optimal level for Bass can be contextual, so we will discuss different scenarios for balancing Bass and 808s. So let’s dive right into it.
How loud Should Bass & 808s Be in your Mix?
The Bass or the 808 must be loud enough to sit well in your Mix without taking over the kick drum and the rest of the track and should have a loudness between -18 and -12 dB LUFS for a mix peaking at -0.1 dB TP. It’s also important that the bass peak at less than -3 dB TP, as it is not a very dynamic instrument.
For a mix peaking at -0.1 dBTP, the bass/808 having a headroom of 6 dB is considered good. However, when you’re gain-staging and setting the levels, keep the 808/bass at about -18 dBFS. Let’s discuss the above answer in more detail.
There are two stages of the Mix: when you’re just setting the balances to start with the Mix and the final stage before you send the track out for mastering. Depending on your workflow, the exact levels in decibels may vary. However, for the sake of context, we will assume gain staging at -16 dB LUFS and mixes hitting -1 dBTP before mastering.
So let us first understand the terms dB TP and dB LUFS. TP means True Peak and is the amplitude of the loudest part of the Mix. On the other hand, LUFS stands for Loudness Units Full Scale, such that dB LUFS is a standard measurement for loudness used by mixing and mastering engineers. Further, LUFS ratings can be integrated (>20 seconds) or momentary (<5 seconds).
How loud Should Bass & 808s Be in a modern pop/R&B/hip-hop mix?
Bass/sub bass is usually 2-5 dB less than the kick and should have a loudness of between -15 and -12 dB in the mix for electronic, modern pop, R&B, and hip-hop songs. So when you are just starting the Mix and balancing the tracks, balance the bass/808 with the kick first and then with the rest of the track.
In these genres, the kick is generally the loudest element in the mix. So if the kick is gain staged at -16 dB, the Bass can be set between -22 and -18 dB. Further, taking an example from a mixed-mastered R&B/Pop arrangement, this is what the balance of the song looks like:
Rest of the track/arrangement (vocals, claps, synths, etc.)
How loud Should Bass & 808s Be in an EDM mix?
Bass and 808s are important elements in an EDM mix and should have a loudness of about -14 to -10 dB LUFS for a mix peaking at -1 dBTP. Drums and Bass are the bed and the foundation of all Electronic Dance Music genres, whether house, dubstep, trap, or techno.
You can balance the bass/808 with the kick, followed by synths and the rest of the arrangement. For example, the Bass is used primarily as a layer underneath the synths in House music. On the other hand, in Techno and Dubstep, Bass and 808s are used as independent instruments.
When you are gain staging the arrangement of an electronic dance song at -16 dB, you can set the balance of the bass/808 just behind at kick, at about -18 dB. However, ensure that the Bass is quiet enough to take over the rest of the arrangement, as it takes up much headroom. On the other hand, please don’t keep it so soft that the Mix lacks depth and girth.
How to balance the Bass and 808 in the Mix?
It’s recommended that you monitor the Mix at about 72-75 dB SPL for mixing the Bass, providing the optimal level for monitoring the Mix and balancing the Bass. Anything louder than that will make the monitoring boomy, and you’ll not be able to listen to the Bass in context with the Mix.
Anything softer than that will make the Bass less audible. However, it would help if you also considered factors like your room, acoustic treatment of the room, monitors, and your perception and taste. For example, untreated and small rooms create comb-filtering effects and resonance around some frequencies.
You can use bass traps or build acoustic panels like absorbers and diffusers. Absorbers, made of glass wool or Rockwool and thick enough (about 4 mm), will absorb bass frequencies and cut reflections. In comparison, diffusers will evenly and musically distribute the reflections in the room.
How loud Should the bass guitar Be in an acoustic/singer-songwriter/rock mix?
Suppose you’re mixing an acoustic track with an arrangement consisting of an acoustic guitar and a bass guitar as the main elements. In that case, the Bass must be balanced against the acoustic guitar and can be 3-8 dB less loud than the acoustic guitar.
In addition, the Bass must be warm and rounded and not boomy or too loud. It must complement the acoustic guitar. If drums are in the track, you must balance the Bass against the kick, and the drums must be at least 2 dB less loud than the kick.
The intensity and energy that kick and Bass add in a typical rock arrangement are competitive. However, these arrangements are more dynamic. Below are the loudness levels of a mixed-mastered acoustic/singer-songwriter pop record.
Other than that, there are genres like metal and punk, in which the Bass is not as important, and the overdriven and distorted electric guitars, in addition to the Bass, add warmness. Hence, the Bass is usually not as loud in those arrangements and acts as a bed.
We have discussed all scenarios and genres for mixing Bass. However, exceptions always exist. For example, we stated that pop songs should have the Bass less loud than the kick, but songs like Attention by Charlie Puth, for which the groove relies on the bassline, can have the Bass louder than the kick.
So a lot depends on the context and the sound you’re going for. Feel free to experiment, as there are no rules in music. We have stated just rules of thumb and observations from existing music. To summarize, Bass can have a loudness between -18 and -12 dB in a mix peaking at -0.1 dB TP.
Hope the article was of help. Thank you for reading.
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Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.