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How Billie Eilish gets away with that insane low end. #3026818 01/30/20 09:59 PM
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Ronan C Murphy Offline OP
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Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Billie Eilish and her brother/producer Finneas completely dominated the GRAMMYs® this year. Personally, I am really happy to see extremely creative new music having both industry recognition and fantastic commercial success. I think it is also inspiring that, even though it was mixed and mastered by experienced pros, the recording and production was done by rather inexperienced people in a bedroom with modest equipment.

If you listen to the album, there is one thing you cannot help but notice… The low end on some of the songs is INSANE!! I do not say that as a bad thing, but good golly, that low end is huge on some of the stuff!

If anyone has seen me lecture about recording or mixing, you have heard me talk about what a beast low end is, and how much we have to focus on keeping it in check, so how can we have such a cool sounding and successful album with insane amounts of low end? The answer is, giving the low end its own real estate.

Sounds with big low end do not play well with others!!

The thing about sounds with big low end is… they do not play well with others!! In situations where low end has to share space with other low end elements, things usually do not work well. In our minds it might seem cool to have multiple sounds with massive low end in a mix, but the reality is that most times they just turn into mud, and the end result is that mixes actually end up sounding smaller rather than bigger.

The Billie Eilish songs work because when they have big low end, the arrangements are sparse and there is only one element in the mix that gets to have low frequency energy. If you take a listen to the massive hit “Bad Guy”, you will notice that most of the song has:

Synth bass (big low end)
Kick drum (midrange-y and short)
Snaps (no low end)
Shaker (no low end)
Vocals or melody synth (midrange but no low end)

That is it for most of the song!! Super sparse and arranged really well. The low end synth has plenty of room to move around and no other element in the mix is encroaching on the synth’s low end real estate. This is done expertly on the Billie Eilish album, but it is not unique. You see this same technique used on lots of Reggae, Drum n Bass, Trap, Hip Hop and several other styles of electronic music.

The secret to big low end is to keep the arrangement sparse and only let one element in the mix be huge.


Ronan Chris Murphy - Producer-Engineer
(King Crimson, GWAR, Ulver, Mafia III)
ronanchrismurphy.com
Re: How Billie Eilish gets away with that insane low end. [Re: Ronan C Murphy] #3026847 01/31/20 12:34 AM
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Dave Bryce Offline
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How much of the big low end thing is choosing and using the right kind of speakers? idk

dB

Re: How Billie Eilish gets away with that insane low end. [Re: Ronan C Murphy] #3026856 01/31/20 01:41 AM
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Mike Rivers Offline
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This is one of the reasons why the recordings that have an arranger on the production team sound good. They write out the parts so they don't have two instruments playing in the same range at the same time - just like you'd want to hear it when everyone's playing at once and you're standing in front of the band. But all too often in pop music, the players just play what they want and figure that the mix engineers will sort it out. That's how you make the big bucks, isn't it? wink

What makes life interesting is when you have something like an Irish ceilidh band with a fiddle, according, flute, and banjo all playing the same melody all the time, and pretty much in the same range. There you need to start picking out the overtones that are most characteristic of each instrument's sound (fortunately they're different) and carve out space around them to make room for the other instruments. But it can get complicated because these players all want to sit knee-to-knee. That's why that sort of music doesn't sound "huge" until they add the bass, drums, and bagpipes.

Re: How Billie Eilish gets away with that insane low end. [Re: Ronan C Murphy] #3027039 02/01/20 06:20 AM
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Anderton Offline
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So about that bass...agreed, the arrangement is huge. It's the dominant factor. BUT...

Lately I've been experimenting with sub-octave synthesizers. Basically, they take over the real estate that isn't claimed by conventional bass. It gives more bass, without taking away from the other instruments. The other issue is that I can boost the "thwak" on the kick, and it brings out the kick without messing with the sub-octave bass.

Then...there's the question of whether you WANT a whole lot of bass. I want enough bass to be "currently acceptable," but I'm still stubborn about vocals being most important. I realize you can have heavy bass and voice at the same time, but I always want the bass to be an undercurrent. I don't want anyone saying "wow, listen to that bass!" while the vocal is happening.

Gotta hand it to Eilish, though, I LOVE people who shake things up. All musicians think they're adventurous...not that many are.

Re: How Billie Eilish gets away with that insane low end. [Re: Ronan C Murphy] #3027176 02/01/20 11:26 PM
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I had my PA outside for testing with a DJ and some other live sound guys. I have BassBoss PA subs that are flat down to 27Hz, and are putting out solid sound even below that. (Dual long-throw 18" boxes with 4kW amps each will do that). It is very evident who is putting sub-bass into their tracks and who isn't. A band like Muse does. A lot of metal doesn't and sounds thin after hearing the fuller sound of a band that does. Much pop music very carefully crafts it, or doesn't use it at all. The more one gets toward EDM, the more it is assured to be there.

I think Craig makes a great point in observing that what is done with the sub-bass offers another "range" for an instrument to stand alone.

It does make big demands on the reproduction system. Few have the ability to get balanced levels of sub-bass out of speaker systems given how the Fletcher-Munson loudness curves work.... But when you have enough subwoofer support for the job, it's a pretty neat effect.


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