PG TIPS: More control please

New Audio Pro International contributor and Bring Me The Horizon’s FOH engineer, Phil Gornell, has started a regular advice column for API readers – PG Tips.

Gornell begins by revealing how discovering a number of new tricks have allowed him to gain more control when mixing…

One thing we all strive for as engineers is control. Be it stage volumes, guitar tones, drum sounds…or talent levels.

Recently I’ve been playing with a few little techniques to help me have more control over my mix.

Bass guitar: Mixing bass is a hard one – get it right and your mix will be powerful and consistent; get it wrong and your mix will always be lacking.

Unfortunately, as I’m sure most engineers out there are aware, incredible and consistent bassists are hard to come by (I can say this, because I claim to be a bassist myself, despite being terrible). So here’s what I do to make half-assed bassists sound as full and consistent as possible.

Step 1: Almost all engineers take a clean and a dirty bass signal. Usually a Pre DI and a post mic off the cabinet. Then you can blend the two signals to create a nice solid tone.

In an ideal world, that should be the end of the chain, but I find there’s always too much spill into the bass mic from cymbals and whatnot, so unfortunately we need a few more steps.

Step 2: Take the Pre DI channel and send it out of the console via the ‘direct out’.

Step 3: Shove the direct output into a bass pre amp, such as MXR or SansAmp, and send this going back into the console on a new channel.

Having full control of the bass pre amp this way gives me way more tonal control of the instrument, and allows me to add drive, presence, alter dynamics etc.

Step 4: Here’s were I get really controlling! On the console I’m currently touring with (Midas Pro2), the direct out section has a few variables which I can change. Output level and processing order.

I switch the processing order so that the output to the sans comes after any dynamics and EQ which I may do on the pre channel.

Step 5: This now means I can alter what gets sent to the SansAmp… so naturally, i compress the hell out of it! I like to PFL the Sansamp and just play around with the processing of the PRE channel, (changing EQ, compressors etc.) until I’m happy with how the return sounds.

I find you can get away with some really heavy compression, which I wouldn’t usually like to do, but after hitting the pre amp, you can’t hear the pumping and it sounds so smooth coming back into the console.

Step 6: Feel that bass, and dance in celebration of your hard work!

The same concept works with plenty of other things which are worth trying out, such as EQ/compressing aux sends before reverbs and de-essing a send on a delay to control sibilance.

So that’s it, hopefully it’s given you some ideas which you can maybe develop in your own work.

Below is a bit more detail on the specifics of my bass-sans chain if anyone’s lazy and wants to nick my tone!

On the way in:
Ratio: 3:1
Attack: 0.5
Release: 0.1
Reduction: 10dB

This overload of compression really smooths out the bassist’s playing before hitting the pre amp.

EQ on the way in:
180Hz 10dB cut. Carve that space for the bass to sit with the kick drum.
1k 10dB cut. New bass strings sound delicious, but can be a bit wild sounding when not played consistently – tone out that pick and string sound and get a much clearer cut to blend with guitars.

Hi pass – 60Hz. Let your kick drum fill anything below that.
Lo pass – 4k. No one needs anything above that in a bass. Allow your sibilance and cymbals to have some space up there.

I tend to leave all these EQ and comp settings the same once I have a good send level, and alter the preamp daily for tonal requirements.

Happy slapping guys!

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