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Get That Pro Sound The Ultimate Guide to Bass First Edition
Publication date: September 2013 Published by George Robinson © Copyright George Robinson, All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission from the publisher. While all attempts have been made to verify information provided in this publication, the Author does not assumes any responsibility for errors, omissions, or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein. Of course, please let me know if you find any errors and I’ll correct them! The Purchaser or Reader of this publication assumes responsibility for the use of these materials and information. Neither the Author nor its dealers or distributors, will be held liable for any damages caused either directly or indirectly by the instructions contained in this book, or by the software or hardware products described herein.

.................. 3.............. 4 Bass Is The Foundation Why Is Bass Difficult To Deal With?............................................. Testing And Mastering.......... And Fitting It Into The Mix.... 4.... 14 Mix Order: Bass............ 5 Acoustic Treatment Solutions Part 1: Getting A Bass Sound................... 6...................................................... And The Rest Distortion For Additional Punch Bass Attack Bass Compression Bass EQ Harmonic Enhancers Bass Panning Bass And Effects Part 3: Finishing................Get That Pro Sound ......... 23 2..................................... 5....... Introduction............................................. Page | 3 .................. 21 Mastering Bass Judgement Day Conclusion.........................The Ultimate Guide to Bass Contents 1......... 8 Initial Recording: Acoustic And Electric Bass Initial Synth Bass Sound Programming In 5 Steps Part 2: Refining The Sound.......

get it wrong or laving it unrefined and you’ll find almost everything else you try will be something of an uphill struggle towards getting a consistent.. mixing and mastering. But regardless of whether you make electronic music. for any type of production. pop. Particularly today with the development of ‘bass music’. get the low end component right and you have the perfect stable foundation for the rest of the production. processing. rock. to effects. Everything you’ll need to craft the perfect bass.The Ultimate Guide to Bass Introduction Bass Is The Foundation Having a tight.Get That Pro Sound . punchy low end in your tracks is a prerequisite for a professional-sounding mix. Let’s get into it. folk or any other style or genre. to fitting it into a full arrangement and grooving with the drums. We’ll examine the bass range all the way from recording or programming the ideal bass sound. powerful mix.. That’s where this guide comes in. often taking on the roles of lead sound and providing the main musical hook as well as it’s conventional function of offering low-frequency weight and support to the other instruments. bass is taking centre stage like never before. Page | 4 . and low end in general.

without either over. if the wavelength Page | 5 . but imagine that bass waves are literally larger rollers compared to higher frequency ‘choppy’ waves and ripples: there are fewer of them. supplying the low end groove and weight. But why is this? The environment in which you mix or listen to your music has a huge bearing on the perceived level of the different frequencies. In a typical home or project studio. In small rooms it’s the bass frequencies that are most affected by poor acoustics and short distances between surfaces because bass frequencies. and then getting bass guitars or synth basslines and kick drums working together. keeping everything else out of the way frequency-wise with filtering and EQ. too close to walls or corners. or apparently turn ‘acoustically invisible’ in the context of a full mix. bass is simple: once you come to the mix there shouldn’t be a huge number of different elements whose primary frequency ranges are in the low frequencies. or positioned to fire across the shortest distance to the opposite wall rather than down the longest dimension the room offers). it can be surprisingly tricky to get them working together to optimum effect.Get That Pro Sound . In a small room. so we’re mostly talking here about. bass sounds are much more prone to phase cancellation (sometimes referred to as ‘standing waves’ or ‘room modes’ in the field of acoustics).or under-emphasizing the low frequencies. we have relatively poor acoustic conditions for such ‘transparent’ reproduction of our music.The Ultimate Guide to Bass Why Is Bass Difficult To Deal With? Room Modes. and this problem is compounded if we use inappropriate (not necessarily ‘cheap’) monitor speakers. Frustration sets in. But while the bass component of your tracks is made up of relatively few and simple elements. As you’ve no doubt discovered if you’ve been making music at home. it’s trickier still for small project studio producers with less-than-ideal listening environments and speaker systems. We don’t want to get too deep into acoustics and ‘sound 101’ here. In principle. or simply design the space from the ground up with optimum acoustic quality in mind (by ‘optimum’. we generally mean a room which ‘colours’ the sound as little as possible. boxy. first. because what’s not clear is how to resolve these problems. but each one is more significant to the overall sound. This is why top studios spend houndreds of thousands on acoustic treatment. or position our monitors in the room in such a way that their otherwise flat frequency response is compromised (i. This is because with their longer wavelengths than higher frequencies. providing a ‘flat’ response across all frequencies without emphasizing or reducing particular ranges). Acoustics and Solutions Very often it’s clear that the bass elements of a mix are coming through too muddy.e.

your mix results will show it like this: if sounds at 100Hz are being phase cancelled or otherwise effected by the acoustics of your room. at which point the increased 100Hz component will be painfully apparent.Get That Pro Sound . The deeper the foam the more effective the traps will be. bass has the perceived tendency to ‘collect’ in the corners of a room. In a typical small project studio.e. broad-band acoustic treatment. Everything will sound great in there.The Ultimate Guide to Bass of a particular frequency divides evenly into any of the distances between opposing walls or between the floor and ceiling. and will indirectly effect how you mix the relative balance of bass with these other ranges. all the edges and corners are that much closer to the listening position that would be ideal. Page | 6 . they will appear quieter to you so you’ll naturally mix those frequencies a little higher. some general taming of the mid and high frequencies is still obviously desirable. Acoustic Treatment Solutions Before you give up any hope of ever mixing anything in any room though. the trade-off being the amount of space very thick traps and panels will take up in a small room!). Not specifcally designed to deal with bass like the traps. and consist of foam triangles (either pur- pose-built acoustic foam or homemade versions with ceiling insulation wool will actually work equally well). the thicker the trap the deeper the frequency it will work to. for example where two walls also meet the ceiling. and this is most apparent in three-point corners. both in terms of the dB amount they reduce bass frequencies and the range of frequencies they will work down to (i. so again these ‘bass enhancements’ are made more apparent. Bass traps are generally positioned in corners. until you play the track outside your studio and on other listening systems. Related to this problem. In some rooms you might experience reductions/’holes’ of up to 35dB at particular intervals along the frequency spectrum. the reflected waves will phase cancel each other as they bounce back and forth. here are the primary solutions to those acoustics problems: bass traps. Broad-band acoustic treatment would typically consist of as many ridged foam pan- els as you can fit onto the exposed walls and other large flat surfaces. Clearly this is not so great when you’re trying to judge relative levels while mixing! Even though you won’t necessarily be aware of the uneven frequency response of your room while mixing. What this means in effect is that sounds at exactly that frequency will disappear or at least significantly reduce in perceived level. speaker selection and proper speaker placement.

it would be far better to opt for ‘nearfield’ monitors. don’t use them exclusively without also testing your mixes on other systems. There’s little point getting huge Genelecs with a separate sub-bass unit to put under the desk if you’re working in a cloakroom. Usually there are suggestions from the manufacturers in the manual that it would be wise to follow.The Ultimate Guide to Bass Appropriate speakers for your studio are essentially the best monitors you can afford that are designed to provide the correct power for the size of room you are working in. More on this we’ll be looking at the various tricks and ways to make your bass sound amazing on any system throughout the guide. It’s also worth mentioning here that with an amazing monitoring system and listening environment in place. callibrated for the purpose of accurate frequency response at close quarters and comfortable levels for extended use. You’ll be sitting so close to them the majority of the time that the additional power will be wasted. Also. it’s easy to forget that your music is likely to be listened to by other people on crappy phone speakers.Get That Pro Sound . but typically they’ll tell you things like: →→Place monitors along the shortest wall so that they’re firing down the longest dimension in →→Position monitors upright (not on their sides) and with the tweeters at the same height as your ears when seated at the listening position the room (this minimizes the effect of reflections off the back wall to the listening position) →→Isolate them from stands and desks with foam pads (the Auralex ones are favourites) to minimize vibrations and keep the low frequency response as tight as possible. Proper speaker placement is simple to do and can completely change the sound →→Keep monitors a minimum distance from walls and avoid corners wherever possible you’re getting from them. Page | 7 . if you are going to use headphones to mix (not recommended. but in some situations its unavoidable). None of these will give you the kind of deep bass response you get in your studio – in some of these cases they just can’t reproduce any real bass at all! . on radio (hopefully) and ringy MP3-streamed from Youtube to tinny laptops and headphones. in cars.

So begin your journey towards a good bass by making sure the bass sound is providing plenty of energy somewhere in the 70100Hz range. or at least most musically appropriate bass sound. additional processing and EQ etc. Usually with bass guitar the best option is to DI the signal directly from the guitar output (or possibly the last box in a hardware or stompbox effects chain) into your soundcard or audio interface. (Where exactly the bass hits most will partly depend on where the kick drum sits as well. the rules are slightly different about what you can get away with when creating huge sub-bass sounds. Yes. when playing music very loud and over large systems. a real bass guitar or a synth bass patch. Page | 8 . garbage out’ syndrome by making sure you start with the very best. because a club system will be able to accurately depict very low frequencies. but it’s always time well spent. Whether it’s a sample. you’ll want to focus on enhancing the perceived level of certain bass frequencies and allow psychoacoustics to help our ears and brains fill in the sense of ‘power’. not everyone has a relatively pristine listening environment in which your bass sounds will be reproduced faithfully. First of all. Trial And Error Try to avoid the ‘garbage in.The Ultimate Guide to Bass Part 1: Getting A Bass Sound Bass Fit For Purpose As we just mentioned. so you’d still be wise to test your club mixes as much as possible on real soundsystems before locking your project studio-produced mix. If you’re making club music or anything that is specifically designed to be played over a large soundsystem. Initial Recording: Acoustic And Electric Bass We’ll start with looking at how to record ‘real’ bass instruments. or for club music that you still want to sound good elsewhere. the apparent freuqency response will change. as you want the two working together. More on that below.Get That Pro Sound . consider that even decent home hi-fis don’t reproduce frequencies lower than 40Hz.) Take Care From The Start: Take Time To Experiment. and most domestic listening systems won’t do much below 80Hz. This will ensure the fundamental bass frequency won’t be lost on the vast majority of playback systems. both acoustic or electric. and time that you might otherwise use fixing problems with the sound and how it fits at the mix stage later. For everything else that needs to sound good over a wide range of different playback systems. However. it does take some time to experiment and discover the right combination of source. do as much as you can at source to get the bass sounding great.

presence and warmth of the recording. The options are limitless with VSTi synth patches and presets. and with many style of electronic its normal to base the entire track around the Page | 9 . warmth or ambience as the situation requires – just be careful and check the phase alignment between your two bass sources. and you’re guaranteed to come with original sounds! Initial Synth Bass Sound Programming In 5 Steps Unlike with a bass guitar part in a typical rock song. it’s way more fun to record stuff in unusual spaces.Get That Pro Sound . you’ll need to mic up either the instrument itself or the amplifier. ‘Worldized’ Bass Even if your bass originates from a synth or sample. This would give the fabricated sounds a real reverb and character that can be quite different to what could be achieved with studio processing.The Ultimate Guide to Bass However. This is a trick that comes most famously from the film sound design world. so if you can get your hands on an AKG D12 or D112. like acoustic bass or bass amps! As ever. This will give you maximum flexibility in the mix to add more or less character. For a start. Of course there’s nothing stopping you having the best of both worlds and combining both a recorded mic (or even multiple mics) and a DI signal. if you have acoustic bass instruments of you want to get more ambience into the initial recording. as one or other is likely to need slight adjusting to make sure they’re hitting exactly together. away from the middle of the amp cabinet itself. Of course much of the quality of a given bass sound is purely artistic choice. Of course it’s definitely possible and wise to conisder more neutral general purpose mics as well. where sound designers would take their fantasy and sci-fi sounds and play them back over a small speaker positioned and miked up in a real world location such as a subway station or elevator shaft. Plus. but it can be difficult to figure out from amongst all the possibilites what the track actually wants. if you want a warmer and more ambient bass sound try pointing the mic further off-centre. particularly if you’re miking the amp and want to capture some nice room ambience. These mics are tailored for bass applications in their frequency response (with reduced mid-range and a slight peak in 3-4kHz to pick up the all-important attack ‘click’ for definition) and can withstand the kind of sound pressure levels generated by kick drums and other bottom-heavy sources. experiment with mic placement (taking into account the pickup/polar pattern of your particular mic) and distance as this will always have a significant effect on the quality. Here an FET condenser-type mic will be best such as the Neumann U87 and U47 or AKG C414. Just be careful not to overload and damage such relatively sensitive mics by placing them too close to high-SPL sources. There are a few mics specifically designed for recording bass instruments. Shure Beta 52A or Audix D6 you’ll have the tools optimized for the job. it’s not always very clear how a synth bass part ‘should’ sound in order to fulfil it’s role in the complete mix. you can still ‘mic it up’ to imbue it with additional real-world ambience and vibe.

and anyway as you turn a deep sine wave up loud enough to hear. Old School Waves It’s worth noting that the classic Roland TB-303 bass synth. Layer Detuned Oscillators A favourite way of achieving instant harmonic Page | 10 . while square waves contain only the odd.Get That Pro Sound . heavy bass sounds. But whether the bass takes centre stage or not. many electronic producers literally construct their bass sound as two or three separate components. harmonically rich sounds will always appear louder than pure tones. For example. Start With A Sound Or Waveform With Plenty Of Harmonics Even if you’re aiming to create a ‘sub’ bass sound that will appear to be just a deep thudding boom. Remember.The Ultimate Guide to Bass character or motif of the bass sound. If you want to remove some or even most of the resulting harmonics you can sculpt them away with a low-pass filter – but you can’t sculpt or emphasize later what isn’t there to begin with. which is a challenge in itself for low frequency sounds in a busy mix. you’ll use up far more of your available headroom than is really necessary. so start harmonically rich and refine down as necessary. integer harmonics. it still needs to hit certain technical marks in order for the entire mix to work. beloved by many dance producers. If you ever wondered what the harmonic difference is between the different wave types. Using additional saw or square waves will not only provide additional sonic character to tweak into your perfect bass sound. programming different sounds that occupy specific frequency ranges and that give the impression of a single frequency-spanning behemoth when played together. so any filtering you do on a sine wave will simply reduce its level. but these waves inherent upper harmonics will enable the sound to literally cut through the mix and register at lower listening volumes and on smaller lsitening devices. as you go. you also want it to cut through the other elements and actually be audible. In fact. So with creative and technical considerations in mind. making them a poor choice for bass sounds in most circumstances. saw waves contain all of the ‘integer harmonics’ (both odd and even). you want it to provide wieght. offered only saw and square wave options – the lack of a pure sine wave didn’t stop it from producing killer. here are some tips for the initial programming of your bass sound (or preset selection for further tweaking as you progress to the mix): 1. while sine waves have no harmonics at all. character and ‘sizzle’. Triangle waves are much less harmonically rich than saws or squares. but not so much that it unbalances the mix. This allows the sub-bass to do it’s job of adding real weight. and the ‘mid-range bass’ parts adding sonic interest. it’s a good idea to start with at least some other harmonically rich component layered over the basic sine wave: sine waves literally have no harmonics (hence the smoothness of the waveform).

2. Keep things tight and controlled at this stage. Try assigning an LFO to modulate pitch. Generally. Decay and sustain will help create the character of your bass sound. Keep playing different notes and little sequences to see what a different each tweak makes – don’t just repeat a single note over and over.The Ultimate Guide to Bass interest is to use two (usually identical) oscillators pitched apart by a specific number of cents or notes. For example. try adjust the amount of pitch difference between them until you get something that feels right with the best combination of depth and definition. filters or oscillator level. Initial Envelope And Modulation Settings Ideally while playing back your bass riff. begin to shape the sound with amp and filter envelopes. another option is to pitch each oscillator either up or down by the same amount. Also try switching one or both of the oscillators to different wave types and see what works best. or alternately tuning them a whole octave apart.Get That Pro Sound . Once you have the oscillators set up. It’s important to keep the pitch change the same for each oscillator so that the combined pitch of the overall sound stays the same: if you pitch one oscillator at +7 and the other at -9 you end up with an unmusical sound (although this may be what you want in some situations!). the longer each note is in your bassline. or adjust the filter envelope settings to be slightly different for each oscillator – every situation will have it’s own optimal settings. for example. or longer and more pad-like. You could also assign velocity and even keyboard tracking to certain parameters so the notes sound different depending on how hard they are hit or how high up the keyboard register they are. making each note more plucky. A neat trick for enhancing the attack of a bass sound is to route an envelope to the filter cutoff and set it with very short attack and decay times and zero sustain. and a reasonably fast release as you don’t want the tail of each bass note flapping around uncontrolled after you’ve let go of the key. or at least playing different notes up and down the keyboard. Page | 11 . so that it very briefly opens the filter up a little at the start of each note. This can help a struggling bass sound be heard. as this won’t give a very useful impression of the sound in context. for example one +7 cents and the other -7 cents. one might be pitched an octave below the other. unless you have a creative reason not to. Layered Samples The same rules for detuning synth oscillators also apply to samples: try layering up two different bass samples and tuning one sample a few cents sharp and the other a few cents flat. You’ll almost certainly want a fast attack for helping each note audibly punch through the mix. the more movement you can and should introduce into each of those notes.

4. Quite often the best sounds are created from just one or two oscillators and maybe three envelopes modulating the filter. Of course you can always use EQ at Page | 12 . whether it’s a white noise-generating oscillator or distinct distortion or ‘warmth’ effects section. both in terms of their sonic characteristics and their respective musical patterns. fizzing with mid. and this is where you’ll want to be that much more careful about the sonic makeup of each. Configure The Bass Part To Fit With The Kick The most efficient way to put together an effective low end rhythm section for an electronic track (and for any genre really) is to figure out pretty early on how you want the bass elements to work with the kick drum. By all means experiment and particularly try taking apart presets to see how they work. Of course it’s perfectly acceptable to have bass notes and kick drums sounding at the same time. selected and/or EQ’d specifically to slot it’s fundamental frequency in at around 100Hz.Get That Pro Sound . in Drum & Bass you’ll typically have a very deep sub bass sine-wave underpinning things in the 40-80Hz range. ‘character’ part of the bassline. most synths will allow you to add some form of creative distortion. Bring The (Subtle) Noise As well as your harmonically rich waveforms.The Ultimate Guide to Bass 3. making sure from the start that each component is hitting it’s own fundamental frequency. And as before. but for effective bass programming for a track try not to overcomplicate matters by using all the oscillators and modulation options at your disposal. pitch and amplifier sections of the patch. For example. then you’ll have the kick. syncopated but consistent intensity in the low frequency range to push the track along. but it also means there is no danger of the bass and kick sounds clashing or masking each other since they never play at exactly the same time. you can always remove unwanted frequencies afterwards. It’s a good idea to add some noise at this stage to bring out even a little grit and character in your sound – a completely clean and polite bass sound is generally one that will disappear in the mix context.and even high-frequency energy to really help define and enlarge the perceived presence of the ‘bass’. each occupying a slightly wider frequency range as as such each delivering more energy and more impact. then higher above the kick you might have the distorted. so you’ll be surprised at first how much noise and harmonics you can get away with on bass without it being perceived as a ‘distorted’ sound. What this all means is that you’ve built the track with carefully defined layers. the classic template for dance music is to have the bassline playing a simple off-beat throb around the kick: not only does this keep a driving. For example. The upshot of this is that you can allow both the bass sound and the kick drum to be sonically larger.

Get That Pro Sound . 5. For example. setting a pitch envelope to bend one of the oscillators down and the other up at the attack phase. The possibilities are endless. and you’ll have an interesting sound with plenty of movement. for modulation and rhythmic movement tailored to your bass riff and sound style. As long as they’re the same amounts the tuning will remain in the right key. or even simply to give it some movement that fits the specific needs of the sound of the part that it’s playing. such as a percussion hit.The Ultimate Guide to Bass the mix to carve holes in unwieldy sounds that are masking others. work with the inherent groove of the part and keep the separation between the notes clear and distinct. either the same synth sound with different amp envelope or filter settings. it becomes part of the perceived bass sound itself. but when you begin with a clear strategy of what’s basically going where in the frequency spectrum. if appropriate – to punch through the mix. re-appraise the initial transient →→Related to the tip above. of your sound to make sure it’s providing enough attack – or a smoother fade-in. providing additional character and definition. and allows you to combine hard digital with warm analogue. but it will always depend on your approach and that particular tracks needs) you’ll want to go that extra bit further to begin developing a unique character for your bass sound. the riff or notes. guitar pluck or even a snippet of pitched or filtered white noise: layered up to trigger with each bass note. or the sounds from two completely different patches or synths. Give it that extra touch At some point during the initial sound design process (probably somewhere between the other steps mentioned. you give yourself the best possible chance of making a great track and focusing on the creative decisions. This si a great way of coming up with unique and signature sounds. One trick here is to actually use the attack part of a completely different sound. →→Nows the time to explore the many options provided by LFOs (Low Frequency Oscillators) →→Once you’ve got your bass part. figured out. but here are some ideas and typical starting points for further exploration: →→Layer multiple sounds together. without the need for purely corrective mix surgery later. a triangle wave LFO modulating the filter cut-off on a bass sound is guaranteed to change things up and spark fresh ideas. if you’re using mulitple oscillators for your synth bass sound. try Page | 13 . or sharp attack sounds with swelling pads for example. in such a way that they appear to be one complex and developing texture.

But if you really want to achieve a professionalsounding mix. the most popular and strategic mix process is to start with getting a rock-solid foundation for the track with the bass. so don’t be put out if your amazing bass part needs a fair amount of tweaking as you go on – it’s all par for the course. drums and a melodic part such as guitar. Remember that how the bass sounds. EQ and balance the other instruments around it. that’s all that counts in the end. Mix Order: Bass. Bringing the bass in early also means you can can filter. this is just the beginning. Doing things this way also means you’ll have a good indication of how much high-pass filtering you can get away with on all the other instruments (it’s advisable to high-pass everything to some degree apart from the bass and kick drum.The Ultimate Guide to Bass Part 2: Refining The Sound. The programmed harmonics or light creative distortion from the initial sound creation or recording may have helped. You might be inclined to start with the lead part such as the vocal or main synth or guitar riff and mix around that. can change quite dramatically when played in the context of a full mix. Use Distortion For Additional Punch Once you’re into the mix and have a few elements playing nicely together such as bass. you’ll quickly discover whether the bass has the necessary presence in the right frequencies to make itself felt and heard. Remember. keeping the bass range clear and tight) – you’ll be able to remove more than you would think if you were filtering the part in solo. you may think that the majority of the work is done.Get That Pro Sound . and this is valid of course if it works for you. But all other things being equal. Having the bass there from the start means you don’t have to carve holes at the end to slot it in: it’s been there all along. Now it’s time to begin the real craft of mixing and production: refining the sound and bedding it properly into the mix so that it gels with the other elements to form a cohesive whole. but this is Page | 14 . or any soloed part for that matter. pre-empting the scenario where you bring up the bass into an already busy mix and find no matter how loud you turn it up it’s not being heard. as the bass will be doing it’s conventional job of providing focused low-frequency support for everything happening in the higher ranges. kick and snare drums: get these balanced and their grooves locked together and it’s difficult to mess up the rest. And The Rest One factor that might determine how much work your bass sound needs in the mix is the order in which you introduce all the parts into the mix. don’t worry if things sound ‘worse’ in solo – if it sounds right for the complete mix. And Fitting It Into The Mix Bass In The Mix With your bass part developed and recorded/sequenced into the tracks structure.

so the louder the signal the greater the effect. You want something pretty short and tight. Give Your Bass Sound An Attack That Helps It Cut Through The Mix So you’ve got a nice and loud bass sound that doesn’t get lost behind the rest of the mix. although you may need to both lengthen the attack portion of the hit to make it less obviously ‘drum-like’ and pitch the hit up or down to get it sitting in the frequency where it feels like it belongs to your complete bass sound and contributes the bite to each note that we’re looking for. simply add a completely separate additional percussive hit to the start of each bass note. Here are some fixes for sharpening the attack of your bass sound to really cut through any mix: →→If you’re using a synth bass.The Ultimate Guide to Bass the time to try out some more overt distortion effects. with their speaker or ‘cabinet’ simulating component that follows the amplifier section itself modelled on the hardware in terms of smoothing or otherwise taming the unruly and less musical high frequencies. Additionally. Another aspect of distortion which is sometimes forgotten is that the added harmonics follow the signal dynamics. But once you bring in the combination of drum hits and sustained melodic sounds such as guitars and synths. Creative distortion adds the kind of harmonics that really contribute to an increase in perceived loudness. into the source synth sound. you can set the filter with an envelope to be fully closed at the start of each note and on ‘note on’ open partially or fully as quickly as it possibly can. and a more even level that is less likely to disappear behind other instruments all in one process. not just guitars. or program a fast filter change to sweep very quickly through the existing sounds attack phase at the start of every note. This is why distorting bass sounds in particular is so effective – you get added upper harmonics for a perceived louder sound overall. have the filter then close right down again: the resulting percussive ‘thlip’ will sound familiar from many electronic records. either from something like a guitar amp simulator or distortion effect plugin. revisit your synth patch and program in either an additional oscillator with a particularly hard or higher-pitched attack sound. For example. They are also a natural choice for distorting any sort of lead instrument because. And as distortion usually involves some aspect of limiting or even hard clipping the loudest parts. as they typically offer so many ways to controll and shape the distorted sound. →→The tip above provides a clue for another technique: rather than programming a filter sweep Page | 15 .Get That Pro Sound . Guitar amp plugins are great for adding distortion to any instrument. you’re effectively getting compression on these louder parts. reshaping the structure of the waveform potentially quite radically. An this can be problematic because we get most of our psychological perception of the timbre and character of a sound from it’s initial attack. you might find that the definition of each note start is now somewhat imprecise.

and of course.The Ultimate Guide to Bass →→Also try the above trick but with a sample of white noise: extend. Bass Compression If you’re working with a bass guitar performance or any samples of acoustic bass instruments that are not as apparently malleable as the synth patches we’ve been discussing so far.Get That Pro Sound . but if your sound at this point uses any compression (some synths like the brilliant z3ta+ have a compressor module built in. particularly when pushed to relatively extreme settings. →→One trick used by many rock producers is to subgroup the drums and bass together and ap- Page | 16 . The Kick Drum Most of the tips we’ve discussed so far for creating and sculpting ultimate bass sounds apply equally to kick drums as well. limiting and distortion are your best friends when it comes to drum processing too. it’s specifically for their saturation characteristics when driven hard with loud source signals. Why are they often considered to be head and shoulders above the rest? Apart from the intuitive controls. They can imbue sounds with nice and smooth ‘distortion’ or extra grit (particularly useful for rock. For compressing bass instruments (and most other things as well). two of the most iconic compressors are the Teletronix LA-2A. you’ll be relieved to hear that compressors can be used to similarly transform the dynamics of any sound source you choose to feed them. Compression can be used to turn a fairly limp bass guitar recording into a breathing. compression. chop and pitch to taste for a particularly sharp attack noise to add to your bass. →→Consider that compressor models have different characteristics and can sound quite differ- ent to each other. →→We’ll cover bass compression below. growling monster. make sure that the compressor is set with an appropriately long Attack setting to allow the initial transient of the bass notes through unsquashed. metal and dubstep). or bring up the detail of timbre and recording artifacts that give the part (and potentially the whole track) a sense of character and uniqueness. and there are now plenty of compressor plugins modelled on these original hardware designs such as the Waves CLA2A and CLA-76 and the Universal Audio officially licensed emulations. for example). Urei 1176 and Empirical Labs Distressor. Layering electronic or sub kick samples with higher-frequency acoustic ones can provide with a desirable combination of character and punch.

so the idea is that by using a compressor followed by a limiter. compression can be only part of the solution to processing the bass sound for maximum punch and loudness.The Ultimate Guide to Bass ply compression to the group. which can make all the difference. However. and you start getting distorted lower frequencies – definitely not a desirable side-affect for bass processing! The answer can be to use a compressor together with a limiter. This is then just the sort of ‘raw-but-optimized’ audio a limiter likes – it simply has more signal to work it’s soft clipping magic on. in series. Page | 17 . and the nice ‘soft clipping’ type of harmonic distortion generated by valve designs (and valve-emulating plugins) rounds rather than hard clips the peaks – which conveniently increases perceived loudness. but essentially you’re compressing the bass every time the kick drum sounds. which is doubly important for the ‘track foundation’ role of basslines and sounds. A limiter will only introduce soft clipping on high-level signals. as any that do spill through will be reined in by the limiter that’s next in the signal chain).Get That Pro Sound . also try the classic processor chain of a compressor/limiter combination: →→You can usually get away with far heavier and more aggressive compression on bass than Use A Compressor And Limiter In Combination For Maximum Power One of the main reasons to compress the bass sound will be to enable a significant increase in its overall level: we squash the peaks and bringing the average signal level up. I’ve discussed this in much more detail in the GTPS Ultimate Guide to Compression. The compressor evens out the overall level of the signal. →→Taking the ‘bass and drums compression’ idea to an extreme in a sense leads to sidechain compression. Ironing out the peaks also of course makes the sound more consistent in level. This will help further ‘glue’ the bass and percussion elements into a cohesive groove. One of the significant characteristics of compression is that it works optimally over periods of at least tens of milliseconds: If you try to make a compressor respond faster than this by using very short attack and release times (in an attempt to capture the initial transient hit of the bass note). which both ensures the two are adequately separated and also contributes to the cool dynamic ‘breathing’ effect found in most modern dance and electronic music. for achieving maximum overall ‘loudness’ gains without unwanted compression artefacts. Limiters work in microseconds. other sounds and parts. not clipping the peaks but bringing them to a more uniform level (you don’t have to worry about compressing the peaks anyway. the compressor begins to respond to individual waveform cycles rather than the greater overall shape of the signal. you can allow each of them to play to their time-based and amplitude strengths. With this in mind.

presence that will allow the bass to come through on smaller speakers and to make it feel more smooth and warm. you can boost a little at around 3kHz. To really make the bass sound poke out. and around 700Hz to bring out any aggressive bite inherent in the bass sound. sweep it up and down the frequency range a little as you listen back to the mix. there are odd bits of pluck noise. Try starting with a low-pass filter at 10kHz. and while it’s difficult to offer universal rules for EQing any sound – every situation will have its own problems and solutions – there are a few bass-specific EQ tips that are always worth bearing in mind: →→When selecting and setting up an EQ plugin for bass. →→For specific frequency ranges to boost. This is the primary role of EQ. Always think of any mix change in the context of the full mix – this is the only way anyone else is going to hear it. You might be surprised to find just how much relatively inaudible ‘stuff’ is going on in the mid and high frequencies of your bass sound. bass parts as you go through the stages of processing.The Ultimate Guide to Bass Bass EQ With a suitably loud and consistent bass sound playing back in your mix. This is because it’s very easy to start boosting or dropping particular frequencies that will make individual notes stick our or disappear – undoing the work of your compression processing to keep things nice and even. string squeak or almost unnoticeable fizz or vibe in the higher frequencies of a bass track that you don’t want to necessarily lose completely. be careful not to overdo the filtering: sometimes. it’s probably better to rethink the new change than potentially be undoing the interaction you’ve created so far. after all. there are decisions to be made about the order in which you apply processing and EQ to your bass sound. try starting at 300Hz or 400Hz for added low-mid →→It’s generally a good idea to cut high frequencies on any instrument above their particular or →→It’s a good idea to pay particular attention to the evolving relationship between the kick and EQ & Compression: Which First? As mentioned in the Ultimate Guides to Compression and EQ. the next step will naturally be to refine the way it slots into the frequency spectrum under and around the other instruments. If you have a good spread of higher-frequency instruments playing with the bass. There are several Page | 18 .Get That Pro Sound . EQing and sculpting. this should add a little extra clarity. characterising ranges: this applies equally to bass. it’s generally better to start with shelv- ing EQ rather than introducing bell-shaped EQ curves. Each change you make you want to be strengthening the way the two work together: if you find that a significant change to one hurts the way it interacts with the other. and by cutting these away with EQ or a low-pass filter you can free up this space for the instruments that actually sit primarily in those ranges. Shelving EQ will keep any boosts you add suitably broad and non-‘lumpy’. However. and check it’s not ‘boxing in’ the bass sound in any way.

distorted.Get That Pro Sound . What these processors do is read the incoming material and generate new harmonic content from it. Bass Mix Trick: An Alternative To EQ Sometimes you’ll find that no matter how much EQ tweaking and adjustment you make. Harmonic Enhancers Once you’ve created. Here you’ll simply get more gain to play with and avoid the scenario of pushing a single tracks fader dangerously into the red. so it does make sense to place an EQ before the compressor in order to shape the sound that you actually want to emphasise. Particularly if you’re using a relatively clean or smooth bass sound. An harmonic enhancer plugin here can be more effective than EQ at this point for increasing the clarity and perceived level of the bass sound in the mix. Page | 19 . What’s more. But you could also use EQ after compression if the situation calls for it: this post-compression EQ can be used more to further sculpt the sound into the context of the complete mix.The Ultimate Guide to Bass options and it can seem confusing at first whether to EQ or compress sounds first. you’re also ready to process the two tracks either identically or differently. This parallel processing provides you with yet more flexibility and opportunities to sculpt and ‘scale up’ the bass sound as big as you need it in the mix. the bass is not cutting through just as much as you want. with EQ. There are enhancers designed specifically for bass. such as Maxx Bass and Renaissance Bass from Waves. you might very well still find that with all the sculpting. the bass just won’t cut through the mix like you want. And of course from here. a very simple but effective trick is to just duplicate the bass track and have it playing back on two identical tracks. such as radio or headphones. In these cases. compressed and EQ’d your bass sound into the mix. This is particularly useful for getting your mixes to sound full and bassy even when played on systems with no actual bass response. they allow you to adjust the balance between the fundamental frequency or root note and these new harmonics (even as far as removing the fundamental frequency completely). you might be missing some of the vital upper harmonics we discussed earlier that give the bass that extra presence. The key thing is to remember exactly what effect you’re having on the sound at each stage: Compression will naturally tend to emphasise the stringest tones of the source material. not to mention the processing on the other parts in the mix. compression and distortion. This works because the way our brains naturally interpret sounds and harmonics means they tend to ‘hear’ any missing fundamental if the upper harmonics are present – so the processor essentially creates an illusion of more bass while actually potentially reducing the level of the lowest bass frequencies.

First is that this shares the high-level bass energy equally between the two stereo speakers. and you’re working in a genre where the bass is a key melodic or hook feature of the track. phasers. This is one technique to help create a really big. are those that incorporate some kind of sweep or modulation effect: flangers. This way you’ll get to keep the tight low end of the original untreated bass in place. In a sense. Another reason is that it maximizes the chances that listeners will always be able to hear the bass properly. consider using separate panning and effects treatments on the layers that don’t occupy the lowest frequency regions. frequency they get. This can be used to add extra weight and sub-bass frequencies that just weren’t present in the original sound. Whichever effects you end up using on your bass sound. so you maintain maximum impact overall. However. but here you’re adding lower frequency harmonics rather than higher. for example). Therefore. for example – could be panned progressively wider the higher in Related to the above trick. or a bit of pre-delay (and short or non-existent decay time) from a slapback-style reverb can help place the bass in a characterful ‘space’. Typically bass and delay or reverb are a tricky combination to make work: these effects easily mask and obscure the original sound with their washes of extra sound. you’ll want to keep sub-bass and any deep layers central.The Ultimate Guide to Bass Subharmonic Synths/Generators These work in a similar way to harmonic enhancers. pitching a copy of the bass part (and often kick drum too) down by an octave and mixing this with the original.or higher-frequency elements of the bass sound – some fizzy distortion or filter ‘swooshes’ on a Dubstep sound. low frequencies of your bass sound clean and powerful. Page | 20 . For example. epic-sounding synth bass that still keeps the fundamental bass energy front and centre. which is usually the opposite to what we want when working to create a punchy bass sound. and any of the new breed of auto-filters and LFO-shaper plugins are worth a try. However. the best sorts of effects for bass.Get That Pro Sound . be sure to set up a filter after the effect to filter out all the low-frequency return. it’s best to leave the primary. even when they’re not positioned directly between the two speakers (moving around or sitting to one side of a large room. but with the higher layers or frequencies additional effects processing can bring movement and variation to the sound. Some producers also use pitch shifters at this stage for similar effect. particularly from a delay or reverb. this works in the same way as layering different components for the ultimate bass sound that we discussed in Section 1. but any mid. Bass & Effects Bass Panning It’s generally accepted that the main bass and kick drum parts should always be kept panned to the centre. for a couple of reasons. remember that if you’re building your bass sound from multiple layers at different frequencies. there are times when a whole-note delay line could be used to create a sort of arpeggiated variation on your original bass riff. apart from the now familiar distortion.

it’s almost pointless creating a monster sub-bass whose fundamental frequency at 50Hz will just disappear on a small speaker system. at the end of the production process. Judgment Day: Accurate Monitoring & Referencing On Different Systems Is Crucial Here. However. particularly because the equipment required to do mastering is now much more available in plugin form.Get That Pro Sound . Is your music destined for radio play. a final mix is taken to a dedicated studio with a very experienced engineer who tweaks the frequency balance. your best bet is to just make sure. if you aren’t already. Here you might want to use an Page | 21 . you’ll want to come back to the question of what kind of listening environment you’re primarily catering for. These days many aspiring producers undergo this process themselves. if you still want to master yourself. for example. that your mix sounds great on as many different systems as possible.The Ultimate Guide to Bass Part 3: Finishing. Getting the best results will probably be a matter of trial and error at first. or are you mainly interested in making club bangers that are optimized for a large and powerful soundsystem? These choices have big implications for the bass element of your mixes: for radio and home listening. which is of course paramount when you’re dealing with a complete mix. These will enable you to select and treat frequency ranges independently from the others. And finally. Some tools to get familiar with are multi-band compressors. through trial and error if necessary. decent mastering depends at least as much on the highly controlled mastering room and the know-how and experience of the engineer as it does on access to the finest EQs and compressors. compression and overall level so that the mix is in its most optimized form for mass reproduction and distribution. especially in the low frequencies. Testing And Mastering Mastering Bass Mastering is the stage at which. if you don’t’ have the budget for professional mastering. filter and reduce excessive levels and bass frequencies than it is to introduce something that wasn’t there to begin with. One more thing on mastering: it’s generally better to go into mastering a track with slightly too much bass present than too little: it’s a lot easier to sculpt. traditionally. tread carefully – but there is still a lot you can do to further tighten your ‘finished’ mix. dynamic EQ and enhancers. EQ. With that in mind.

The Ultimate Guide to Bass enhancer to give the illusion of bigger bass through mid-range harmonics. This is usually because of the psychoacoustic effect of listening level: we perceive extreme low frequencies and high frequencies as being quieter than the mid-range at low playback levels. Page | 22 . So although it’s preferable to work and mix at generally very low levels. On the other hand. try and build in some test listening sessions (or if you DJ. your perfectly-crafted studio mix might sound quite small and boxy when played over a massive club system if you haven’t ever tested how it’s sounding outside your bedroom. incorporate a work-in-progress mix into your next set) before you get to the finishing and mastering stages. and it’s only when hearing things at an overall much greater level that the perceived frequency balance is ‘flat’.Get That Pro Sound . If producing for the club. try and crank things up – ideally on a variety of different systems – as you progress towards the final mix.

but the bottom line is that you must be able to hear accurately what you’re doing . and don’t forget to check out the GetThatProSound blog regularly for new posts. I hope this ebook will be helpful in your next sonic adventures .in order to make bass work well for you. You might find that having worked your way through the different sections. to applying the full gamut of mix tricks.let me know how you get on at george@getthatprosound. to fitting them into full mixes. processing and effects to make the bass component deliver exactly what you want in the context of your own music productions. more tips and more ebooks coming Ultimate Guide to Bass Conclusion Throughout this guide we’ve covered everything from sourcing and shaping your initial raw bass sounds. you’ll have a better understanding of the importance of the discussion at the very beginning: the idea that you can know all the production techniques and have decent equipment. George Robinson Get That Pro Sound Page | 23 . techniques. Best of luck. once you get to the final part about mastering and testing your particular tracks. In this sense.or at least what is going on down in the low frequencies .Get That Pro Sound . Most of all.. don’t worry if your bass doesn’t come up to scratch on initial testing on different systems as mentioned: just return to the earlier pages and see if there are any acoustic treatment tips or sound-shaping techniques that you can apply to solve the problem.

Each guide follows a clear structure: →→Quickly get a solid understanding of the principles behind the tools and processes →→Apply the techniques and processes in a mix context. and finishing with a list of additional Pro Tips BUY NOW! .Check out the other ebooks in the Ultimate Guides Series: These ebooks are designed to be definitive resources on some of the most fundamental principles and practices in modern music and audio production. with a clear overall strategy – save time and ‘mix tail-chasing’ →→More advanced Pro techniques.