Great bass does not come from mastering

STORYTIME: how I learned where bass comes from

The magical bass fairy came to my studio and she told me where bass comes from, whispering in my ear while I was sleeping, then I woke up to find a brand-new giant massive subwoofer in my studio..

shutup steve we're talking about the mix process

ok.  This happened around 2012 and it was my personal audio apocalypse.

I was finally ready to do an album.

Fiery revelation descended on me as soon as I decided to send my tracks out for pro mastering, because the question became very obvious:

"WHO puts that huge low end sound in the track?  

I realized pretty quickly that I had NO F***ING IDEA what role a mastering engineer should play. 

I mean I had no idea how far I should go with my own mix before giving it to the mastering studio.

There were lots of ugly questions and the questions all brought their ugly friends.

  • Does the mastering engineer crank up the low end EQ or should I do that?  
  • Do they give me that massive cracking thump on the kick drum?
  • How much does the mastering engineer do?
  • and how much am I supposed to do? 


At that point my head exploded.  

The next day I started trying to figure it out again.

On stage it's easy, you just listen to the sound system and push up your low EQ's until it sounds right.

but in the mix...???  when you have to print it and leave it that way and that's how it's gonna be forever and you can't change it???

Committing to a final mix feels like giving yourself a haircut -- you f**K it up as soon as you start, and it only gets worse until you go all the way through and shave your whole head.

And guess what, I didn't know the right way, and there was this MASTERING MYTHOLOGY that I didn't understand.

the MYTHS are like this:

  • mastering does something mere mortals cannot achieve at home no matter what
  • mastering your own music is like doing your own dental work
  • you have to work 25 years in audio before you can even THINK about mastering
  • just curl up and die right now it's easier

Anybody heard these ones before?

Now I will get to the point: the bass comes from your mix, not from the mastering engineer.

it's not the studio acoustics,
it's not your monitors,  
it's not the expensive boutique analog gear,
and it's not the mastering.

It's your mix.

Great bass must come from your mix first because if it doesn't, you are putting your mastering studio into an emergency-surgery situation trying to fix it.  

Sending a track to get mastered when the 2mix has problems is like bringing a rotten dead fish to a Japanese restaurant and asking them to make sushi.  

You can not expect a mastering studio to make your track sound amazing if it is not already 90% there first.

I know you know this, but I'm trying to tell you how I made a solution that works for me and ALWAYS works.

I didn't do all this because I wanted to learn mastering, I did all this because I wanted to STOP doing my own home-crap-mastering!

I just wanted to make a solid 2mix to send off, get it back sounding loud and heavy, and play it at shows.  


The solution is all about a mono bus for the kick drum and bassline,

it's about connecting EQ to the key signature of the song,

it's about preserving attack transients,

it's about using a chain of several compressors and limiters,

and it's about keeping plenty of headroom in the mix,

to let the amps crank out waveforms the way they want to.

The End.

Steve Knots

Thanks for your visit! If you're new here, check out the session lessons. They're the most exciting new way to learn sound design, composition and mixdown techniques for electronic music production in Ableton Live. -Steve