Listen to “Blackened” by Metallica from And Justice For All. From a critical listening standpoint, this works better if done using studio monitors or mixing headphones (like the OLLO S4). But if you know what to listen for, this will work anywhere.
While it’s not peaking out very obviously through a lot of the mix, during the middle breakdown (around 3 minutes into the song) you hear the bass. It’s mostly coming through in the mids because of the arrangement, as this is where Jason isn’t mirroring James’s parts so closely anymore. And even though the bass isn’t much of a feature in the mix, the midrange of the bass tone shines through here because it’s not being swallowed by the guitars. During the rest of the song, when the bass line is more closely mirroring the guitar riff, the bass is more of a contributor to the wall of sound effect and is easy to get lost in the mix.
The cool thing is, once you’re locked in to the bass tone, you start hearing it in other parts of the mix even when it’s being masked by the reduced volume and the arrangement.
The importance of arrangement. If you’re not playing the same thing, stacking frequencies on top of themselves, then your various instruments will just exist in separate spaces in the mix. Even if the drummer turns the bass down in the mix, it’s still discernible because of the arrangement.
This goes the other way too. You can intentionally mask certain frequencies to make things feel more massive. This is the typical wall of guitar sound we’re used to in rock music, where the bass follows the guitar to add weight to the guitar. It’s all important, and it’s all up to the artist to decide what’s appropriate. If the part needs to be solid, huge, and heavy, then maybe the wall of sound is the best approach. If the part needs to have some variety, then maybe some deviation in some instruments is appropriate.
But don’t be afraid to do either one. They’re both valid, and they both have their place.
(This post inspired by a video I found on youtube where this amazing bass player does a playthrough of the full Justice album. The title’s a bit misleading, as it implies it’s remixed stems with Jason playing. But ignoring that, it’s a great playthrough that will get Justice back on your radar if it’s fallen off for a while like it had for me. Here it is. Enjoy.)