One of the oldest EDM production moves in the business is to alternate four-to-the-floor kick hits with off-beat bass notes, the concept being that both kick and bass can therefore come through more powerfully because they’re never competing with each other. What’s interesting about this production, though, is that Harris has decided not to take full advantage of that mix space, in that the bass is really quite understated at the low end. Furthermore, this mix bucks the trend amongst commercial releases in our age of loudness normalisation by featuring very little information below the 50Hz fundamental of the main kick drum – a spectral region that’s very ‘cheap’ in terms of loudness penalty because of most loudness-matching algorithms' built-in 80Hz detector rolloff. Neither do I get the sense that he’s traded off sub-bass for super-loud kick-drum transition in traditional peak-normalised playback conditions, because I have plenty of reference tracks that deliver a much more forceful kick under those circumstances.
Could it be (gasp!) that Harris has just decided that he doesn’t want the loudest, edgiest kick and most subby bass, because he prefers the way a smoother kick and nimbler bass sound here? Whoever heard of such an idea?! :) Honestly, I can see why he might feel that way. A slightly softer-sounding kick drum perhaps better suits the ethereal quality of Goulding’s voice and the gentle nature of the lyrical sentiment. And I reckon adding in too much sub to the kick or bass could easily have bogged down the beat’s sense of ‘skip’ at such a comparatively high tempo. Have a listen and decide for yourself: here’s a section of Harris’s mix. play_arrow | get_app And now the same section where I’ve used a bit of frequency-shifting to add sub to the kick. play_arrow | get_app (In case you’re wondering, yes, I have loudness-normalised those examples for a fair comparison, even though all that extra sub only actually dings the loudness rating by 0.2dB anyway.)
Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away with the idea that your production always has to be ‘bigger’ or ‘more’ in every way than its commercial peers – especially when you’re deep in the mix-referencing process. So this song is a nice reminder of the importance of still serving the needs of your specific musical material, notwithstanding the inherently competitive nature of the industry.