Zen of Recording

Go Low

When asked to sum up what this column is all about to those unfamiliar with it, I usually say something like recording tools and their applications, not just what tools to use, but when, how, and, perhaps most importantly, why.

Never in the history of audio recording have more hardware and software solutions been available to novices and professionals alike and if the bulging catalogs of streaming services are any indication, the amount of new music available to listeners has never been greater as a result.

Consumers have more options too, as the music listening experience has burst from the confines of living rooms and live venues into pool halls and shopping malls and just about everywhere in between. Recorded music permeates nearly every part of our daily existence. From crowded subways to even the most isolated mountain tops, we can listen to our favorite tunes via earbuds, constrained only by the limitations of battery life on our portable devices.

Inevitably, along with this freedom, comes a new set of sonic challenges. As the shapes and sizes of our speakers can range from gigantic to miniscule, so too can the reliability of these playback systems to reproduce the full range and balance of the intended frequencies. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the range roughly between 20 and 300 Hertz: The bass.

In the last 50 years or so, commercial recording studios have made impressive strides in the ability to capture and accurately deliver full-range audio and listeners tastes and the sound of popular music has expanded right along with it. R&B is a great example: Listen to a favorite Motown classic and you’ll no doubt hear a focused and featured bassline (often played by the incredible James Jamerson) driving the bottom end, but with a steep roll-off of the frequencies below 100Hz. Now, listen to sub-lows present in something released recently, like Billie Eilish. The difference is like watching a movie on TV, then experiencing it in a theater.

Keeping pace with this dramatic deepening depends upon one’s ability to really hone in on those lower bands in a way that many modern equalizers still don’t. They’re based upon the same vintage designs that sweeten the lows in a general way and boosting or cutting them often seems more of an approximation than a surgical fix. Consequently, a lot of the time spent mixing and mastering is devoted to getting the low end to sound consistent across a variety of playback scenarios.

Mastering the Mix (www.masteringthemix.com) has come up with a very inventive way of approaching this dilemma in the formidable form of Bassroom ($65.00, VST/AU/AAX), another well-designed product developed by Tom Frampton, a successful mastering engineer who has devoted a lot of heart and soul into helping artists and engineers create and distribute better sounding recordings through other products like Reference, Levels, Animate, and Expose.

As it is intended for use on finished mixes and masters, Bassroom should be placed on the master output buss, after any EQ and compression plugins and before the output limiter. Upon opening up the plugin’s interface you can instantly see you’re dealing with a whole new approach to equalization. Bassroom kind of looks like a chest of five drawers, each one representing a different frequency range: 320Hz at the top, then 160Hz, 80Hz, 40Hz, and 20Hz at the bottom. This inventive interface is then used to either “pull” a frequency toward you to boost it, or push it in to lower it. It’s much like a 3-Dimensional graphic EQ but that comparison pretty much stops there. This is because the top four frequency bands (or “drawers”) also have an adjustable “Q,” like a parametric equalizer. This allows you to really focus on a narrow range, without disturbing neighboring frequencies and each band can be soloed for added assurance. Perfect for solving bumps or dips that may be hiding in there without resorting to multiband compression or other “fixes” that can cause more issues than they actually solve.

To get you started, there are a large number of genre-based presets that you can select to give you settings that are in the ballpark of the style of music you’re working in, like pop, rock, R&B, electronic, and hip-hop. Several sub-genres are provided as well. For instance, rock includes alternative, classic, hard, and progressive among others. If you have a specific song in mind, you can import the file into the interface to load it and have it analyzed. Play the fullest part of your mix and Bassroom intelligently compares your low end to that of the preset and provides target lines for each band to help you fine tune from there. As adjusting the frequencies can change your overall volume, there’s an arrow showing a level-matched volume setting for accurate A/B comparison.

In my very first encounter with this plugin, I pulled up a song that had given me quite a bit of trouble in a recent mastering session. In fact, I had spent a LOT of time trying to get it right and was never 100 percent satisfied with the results. I got exactly what I was looking for in my first 20 minutes of using Bassroom, and I’m not sure I can come up with a better testimony to the merits of this product than that.

Getting the bass just right can make or break your mixes and masters with regard to overall balance, volume, and feel, as well as maximizing playability across multiple audio formats. Bassroom gives you an excellent chance to up your game significantly, at a very affordable price point.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning artist, producer, mixing and mastering engineer with several hundred recording credits. kitschandsync@hotmail.com

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