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My orchestral composition has a bass lead line composed of a cello and a bass played in pizzicato. No matter how I mix my ensemble, the bass line does not stand out as I want. I tried:

  • Double tracking the cello and the bass, but in doing this I saturate the bass frequencies, and
  • Increasing the volume of the bass section, while decreasing the volume of the upper strings, but this creates a feeling of "frequency starvation" wherein my instruments seem to be competing with each other instead of playing harmoniously.

How do I correctly mix a bass line that has lead elements, while a full ensemble of violas and violins are playing together?

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Sometimes when a mixing problem seems impossible to fix, it's because it's an arrangement/orchestration problem.

If you have bass and cello pizz that you want to "stand out", you'll have to make everything else hang back. That's because bass and cello pizzicato is inherently very quiet. They won't be producing a lot of upper harmonics, they won't have a high intensity, and the duration is short. All three of those lead to a decreased perception of loudness of the line. So either it's a very quiet passage where no brass are playing at all and everyone else is pianissimo, or you have to add something else to help.

Staccatissimo bassoon or french horn or trombone doubling the line would add some overtones to the line without sounding too "high". Another thing that might help is to have the cellos play divisi and have half the cellos play an octave higher. Not enough to make it sound like a higher part, just to add some higher frequencies to the arrangement. You might also consider some or all of the celli and basses playing scattissimo arco, again to add some upper harmonics to the sound.

  • You make some excellent points. Thank you for your input. – Klangen Nov 15 '18 at 9:53
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Very quickly & very broadly - anything that needs to "carry the tune" needs to be mixed "thin".

Don't emphasise the bass frequencies, use the bow attack & main harmonics to make it cut through your mix.

You can - though gently - dip those same frequencies out of your 'pad' strings at that point to let your melody shine though better.

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