brownsville bassToday I asked my Facebook fans what they wanted me to write about. Luca asked about how to get a big bass sound in the mix, using parallel compression, etc. Great question, Luca.

If you were to keep track of how much time you spend dealing with the low end in a mix, particularly bass and kick drum, verses everything else, I bet you’d be surprised. A huge, punchy, tight bass sound can make or break a mix. Once you’ve got the low frequencies playing nicely together, the rest becomes much easier to put in its place.

But how do you get that big sound, especially out of the bass track?

First, let’s start at the beginning.

Get it Right at the Source

I think I might just have this tattooed on my forehead or something. I’ve said it hundreds of times because it’s so crucial to everything you do in your studio — Get it right at the source.

If you have dreams of a huge bass sound that makes your mom cry with pride, then you’ve to to realize that it doesn’t start with EQ and compression. It starts with the bass, the player, and the signal chain.

If you can record the bass track, play it back, and it sounds really awesome without plug-ins, you’re on the right track. If you listen back and it sounds weird, muffled, thin, boomy, etc., then don’t just hit record again. Change something. Change the mic, the bass, the amp, the cables…possibly the player? 🙂

Here are a few things that can sabotage a great bass track:

  • Old strings – bleh…
  • Crappy bass
  • Crappy amp
  • Crappy cable (This is HUGE. A great cable can make an enormous difference.)
  • Crappy direct box
  • Crappy D.I. input on your interface
  • Bad mic placement

The common theme here? Crappy. You can’t honestly expect to use a tiny little $50 bass amp and hope for amazing results…but you can certainly try.

EQ

Once you’ve recorded a great-sounding track, reach for the EQ. Before you boost around 80 Hz and revel in the low-end glory, try cutting somewhere else first.

Track sound a little muddy? Cut something in the 150 Hz range and see if that fixes it. I always cut before I boost. It’s just a good practice, and it keeps you from over-emphasizing frequencies.

Click here to learn all about EQ.

Compression

Here are some rapid-fire tips for getting a great tone with a compressor.

  • Don’t be afraid to compress. Bass can handle a LOT more compression than most instruments. Try squashing it to death…just to see what it sounds like.
  • Slow down that attack time. There’s a difference between squashing the bass and killing it. If you’re using a fairly fast attack time, you’re working against yourself. All the “punch” in a bass comes from the transients. If your attack time is fast, you’ll kill the punch before it has time to punch. I set mine between 50 and 100 ms usually. That way you can compress a bunch without killing the track.
  • Parallel compression – Try duplicating the bass track and heavily compressing ONE of them, then blending the two together. This can be a beautiful way to get the best of both worlds.

Click here to learn all about compression.

Play around with the order

I usually EQ before I compress, but sometimes it works better the other way around. Don’t be afraid to switch it up and see which one works better. It’s all about experimenting.

Your turn. How do you get a big bass sound in your mixes?

  • Russ Leach

    Unfortunately I lost all my gear and am having to rebuild my entire recording studio. I have had to sacrifice quality just to get back to work. I got a squire p bass and a small fender combo amp, and I proved to myself that you don’t need hella expensive gear to get a heavenly sound. With the right mic and placement, you can get pretty much anything to sound great!

  • Simon Lindgaard

    This says nothing… -_- common smarties found among producers.. Yes, we all know that EQ and compression saves a track…. basic stuff.

  • Jon

    I use either a ’90 through-neck fully active Warwick Streamer Stage One with all controls set flat or a ’99 through-neck Spector NS 2000-4 with all controls flat DI’d straight in with a HiFi cable, brand new strings (or freshly boiled!) and 1-2db of compression. Good instruments, good strings, good signal path.
    I break the bass line into tracks so the deep root notes are laid down first and thus can ring un-hindered and add the arpeggio’d top notes or runs on a subsequent track. I put chorus but no ‘room’ on the root notes to fatten and extend them and leave the top notes with the same reverb as the guitar/vocals ends up with…Lush…!…Yeah, I’m a bassist!

  • Pingback: Two Words You Should Never Say In the Studio | Home Studio Corner()

  • I currently use a Presonus Firestudio Project. I don’t know if you need an external preamp. It’s completely up to you. You have to realize, though, that if you’re not willing to buy decent gear, you can’t expect super-amazing results. There’s a compromise in there somewhere. I’m not saying you have to buy EXPENSIVE gear, but it needs to be decent.

  • Jamie

    The greatest trick I have in my bass recording bag of goodies is the Summit AudioTPA-200.  Set this pre to line in play with the input and output dials.  This pre is awesome as you can really drive the tubes while still being able to control the output level.  Perfect for adding a little grit to a DI recording.

  • Matt DeCamp

    Thanks for the post.  I will have to say though, old bass strings have always sounded way better than new ones.  To me, and many of my colleagues, the new sound is a little too crisp.  This is a matter of taste of course, but wanted to throw that out there anyway.

    • Great point. I sometimes feel like I can remove some of the excess “crispness” if I have to, but the other way around, it’s hard to add some high-frequency stuff back INTO the track if it wasn’t there to begin with.

  • As I suggest before, try Bass Amp Room by softube.. For me is a good plugin for having a good bass sound easy! I mixing a metal song which was recorded with it on insert and has very good low end! 😉

  • I have the Rode K2 mic. Love it! 🙂

  • Yeah good tips as always! You’re right saying that you get the sound at the start, using good mic placement, good mic, good amp.. you can use Bass Amp Room by softube that really does the job! I use an 1176 compressor to parl comp the bass (for very fat sound!) Good tips from Dave MacLeod!
    I want to add a useful tip for newbie: make the bass sound huge in the mix, not in the mastering, obviously recorded in the right what! Keep rockin!

  • Dave MacLeod

    Some great tips there. Particularly like the point of making sure the source you;re working with is as good as possible, otherwise you’re into the realm of turd polishing. Great advice about cutting before boosting. Some of the things I like to experiment with are;

    – An extension of your parallel compression – but pan the duplicated tracks one slightly left one slightly right – one with fast attack and one with slow. You get an interesting but subtle movement that can really make the bass stand out.

    – Duplicate the track – on the duplicate cut everything under 800-1khz and apply a chorus and mix that back in with the original – still keeps the tight bottom end but adds some interest to the top end.

    – And with EQ I always over-do it. What I try to do now is find the EQ I like and then reduce the cut or boost by about 50% – this seems to correct my “over enthusiasm”.