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.
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.
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.
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?