As always with EQ, try to cut what you don’t want rather boost what you do. The rule is especially true of bass sounds as it’s easy to overdo the boost on bass – particularly if you’re listening on modest-sized monitors or in a less than acoustically perfect room (which, let’s be honest, applies to most of us).
Generally speaking, it’s best to use EQ to carve out extra space in the mix by removing unnecessary frequencies which clash with other elements. A good starting point is usually to cut the extreme low end on the kick drum with a high-pass filter before moving on to the bass itself:
Applying a heavy notch cut to the bass at about 250-300 Hz can help separate the mid-frequency elements from the low and make it easier for the kick and bass to work together:
On top of this, EQ can be used for tweaking the tone of the bass sound. Higher harmonics that provide richness or depth might benefit from a small but wide boost around 800-1200 Hz if you’re trying to bring out the definition of the bass part:
In fact, this can give the bass more apparent level and presence without resorting to EQing its fundamental (lowest) frequencies (which usually sit in the 40-160Hz area).
If you really feel that you need to boost in order to emphasise a particular frequency of the bass, be very careful about which EQ you use – some work better than others for this purpose, so it’s best to try a range of different plugins and pick whichever gives the best results. A dedicated tool like Little Labs’ Voice Of God (or the software emulation) might be the best option.
It’s worth reiterating the fact that you can only boost content that already exists in the signal: producers sometimes get confused as to why boosting higher frequencies is having little or no effect when the truth is the signal they’re treating has nothing in that range to boost.
EQing a sine wave and expecting something magical to happen is pure folly, as this example shows:
Boosting with EQ simply changes the gain:
In these kind of instances, you’ll need to introduce higher frequency content to the mix through layering or saturation/distortion.
Finally, don’t be lured into focussing on the bass in isolation when EQing – it’s essential to consider the mix as a whole. Removing low-frequency information from other elements helps create space for the bass without actually changing it.