This is my analysis of the song “All About That Bass”, written, produced and mixed by Kevin Kadish. The song is now nominated for “Song of the Year” at the 57th Grammy Awards.
Whether you like it or not, the current music industry is a hit-driven environment. Album-Sales are down, and the songwriters, producers and engineers who still earn solid money in this job are the ones that attach their name to a huge worldwide hit-record.
Regardless of what genre you’re working in, I firmly believe it’s part of our profession to keep an eye on what’s moving the masses, and pay attention to what works commercially, and why.
This is something I expand on in the chapter called References and A/Bing in the new book – you need to know where RMS-levels and dynamics are at, what the frequency-curves of mixes are like, and always have current references at hand – especially when your plan is to do something opposite to the current trends.
Let’s take a look at the mixes of the two biggest worldwide hits of the year 2014: “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor (in part 1) and “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift (in part 2).
I’ll focus specifically on analysing the low end of these mixes, how well Kick and Bass are working together, and recommend you have a look at my post on Mixing Kicks.
In Mixing Kicks, I have established that a Kick Drum Sound consists of 3 different frequency components:
1. the fundamental root note in the low end (45 – 75 Hz),
2. the pressure point (an octave higher, 90 – 150 Hz)
and 3. harmonics and noise (anything above).
First let’s have a listen to Megan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”, written, produced and mixed by Nashville-based Kevin Kadish. I recommend you go buy the track on iTunes – it will be a valuable mix reference and shows some clever thinking when it comes to the planning of the low end.
Here are my observations:
1. The song is in A major, based on the chord progression
A major / b minor / E major / A major
2. Bass notes used and their frequencies
(open this page for referencing notes and their frequencies)
The lowest notes the bass plays are (from lowest to highest):
E1 – 41.2 Hz (root note of E major, the dominant chord)
G1 – 48.9 Hz (minor 3rd to E major, used as a blue note)
G#1 – 51.9 Hz (major 3rd to E major)
A1 – 55 Hz (root note to A major, the tonic chord)
B1 – 61.7 Hz (root note of b minor, the minor parallel of the subdominant chord; also 5th to E major)
C2 – 65.4 Hz (minor 3rd to A major, used as a blue note)
C#2 – 69.2 Hz (major 3rd to A major)
D2 – 73.4 Hz (minor 3rd to b minor)
E2 – 82.4 Hz (5th to A major)
F#2 – 92.4 Hz (5th to b minor)
3. The bass sound used is a double bass played pizzicato style
The frequency-spectrum of the double bass is dominated by the 2nd harmonic (octave up, see below) and 1st harmonic (the frequencies listed above). Other than a tiny and very short plugging noise that happens around 4-8KHz, there’s not much that can be boosted to bring the bass upfront in the mix. Compare that to a bass guitar, where you can feature the mids or even run a parallel track through a distortion pedal or guitar amp.
4. List of frequencies occupied by bass and kick drum
This is the complete list of frequencies the bass and kick in “All About That Bass” occupy in the mix:
41.2 Hz – E1 (fundamental frequency)
48.9 Hz – G1 (fundamental frequency)
51.9 Hz – G#1 (fundamental frequency)
54 Hz – KICK (fundamental root note)
55 Hz – A1 (fundamental frequency)
61.7 Hz – B1 (fundamental frequency)
65.4 Hz – C2 (fundamental frequency)
69.2 Hz – C#2 (fundamental frequency)
73.4 Hz – D2 (fundamental frequency)
82.4 Hz – E2 (fundamental frequency)
88.4 Hz – 2nd harmonic of E1
92.4 Hz – F#2 (fundamental frequency)
98 Hz – 2nd harmonic of G1
103.8 Hz – 2nd harmonic of G#1
108 Hz – KICK (pressure point)
110 Hz – 2nd harmonic of A1
123.4 Hz – 2nd harmonic of B1
130.8 Hz – 2nd harmonic of C2
138.6 Hz – 2nd harmonic of C#2
146.8 Hz – 2nd harmonic of D2
164.8 Hz – 2nd harmonic of E2
185 Hz – 2nd harmonic of F#2
Yeah, I know it was kind of obviously from the first listen – that bluesy bassline played by the double bass is totally dominating the low end frequency spectrum of the mix, and a purely theoretic frequency analysis confirms that.
Let’s look at some frequency curves!
This curve is made from the intro of the song and shows JUST bass and vocals (using LogicPro X’s Match EQ “learn”-feature):
There is definitely a High Pass Filter (HPF) used that cuts even into the lowest bass note. The HPF plus the notch just below 200Hz give the bass a very defined place in the frequency spectrum of the mix.
Let’s look at the Kick Drum in comparison:
The fundamental note of the Kick sits at 54Hz, just below the root note of the song key, with the pressure point an octave higher, at 108Hz.
The Kick is very compressed and sits “behind” the bass, to never dominate the low end of the track. There is another bump below 200Hz which works perfectly as the bass has a notch at the same place. The Kick is a very rich sound with lots of noises and higher harmonics, so it still sticks out, but definitely not because anything would be boosted in the low end.
Note how there is nothing notable happening below 50Hz.
Here’s what I’ve done to find out at what frequencies the Kick exactly sits, which wasn’t as easy as usual.
Next, I’m creating a very small EQ band, fully boosted (keep your speakers at low level to not blow them), then slide the frequency through the low end until I find the exact resonance frequency.
I repeat this with a second EQ band and find the next big resonance above. Obviously looking at the analyser helps.
When you do this, watch how the analyser reacts. Between 54Hz and 55Hz there was only a small difference, but clearly the resonance sits closer to 54Hz.
In my own mixes, I’m going through the same process, take a look at the song key, the frequencies and plan how to fit Kick and Bass together.
Sometimes the Kick lacks clear distinctive frequencies for fundamental note and pressure point.
In that case, I locate them, and boost a little bit.
Sometimes though, I receive Kicks that have too much of a boost on the fundamental note or pressure point. They can be easily tamed by setting a notch EQ on the frequency and then just backing off 1-2dB.
Kevin Kadish, producer and mix engineer of “All About That Bass”, has done a great job. He didn’t boost anything in the low end to not create any resonances, rolled everything off under 50Hz and made Kick and Bass sit tight in the mix by using heavy but tasteful compression. That totally fits the 50s retro-vibe of the song, and pays tribute to the age of vinyl, when engineers had to make sure to keep the low end clean.
As mix engineers, we always face situations where we have to figure out a solution for the issues discussed in this post. Obviously, there is a lot more leeway on Kicks – I am discussing how to create handles for the relevant parameters of the Kick Drum in Mixing Kicks… – check it out.