To the discerning beatmaker, the quest for the perfect bassline is the holy grail of electronic music production. It’s the backbone of dance music and the foundation on which everything else is built. It’s also one of the hardest parts of the track to get right.
But when you’ve created your killer bassline, how do you tame the beast to control the nasties, add weight and accentuate the good stuff? We caught up with some of our favourite bass merchants and veteran sample pack producers for some bass-boosting trade secrets.
“So much of how we perceive bass is not about bass at all. Mid-range harmonics and how they interact with the rest of the mix have huge impact on the character and weight of the bass. Before anything else, make sure everything is nice and tidy down there. Make sure kick and bass aren’t fighting for space (EQ & sidechain compression are your friends), and then try some of these techniques:
- Introduce new harmonics with parallel distortion or saturation. Keep it subtle – here a little goes a long way. Try placing an EQ or filter before the distortion to generate harmonics from a certain frequency band. Try putting one afterwards to shape the additional harmonics.
- Use a psychoacoustic tool like Waves MaxxBass to help your low end translate to smaller speakers, and increase perceived weight on bigger systems.
- If you’re working with a sine wave sub-bass, try applying a very small amount of FM to your oscillator with a frequency ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. When you hit the sweet spot, you’ll have created subtle harmonics which add depth and growl.
- Apply subtle sidechain compression to sustained midrange elements in your mix, like pads & keys, triggered by your bassline. Make sure to use slow attack and release settings to avoid distortion caused by compressing low frequencies, and apply no more than 1-2dB of gain reduction. The subtle ducking effect will make your bass seem much bigger than it really is.”
James Fox // Analogue House Tools
“If you want to work fast and keep your vibe going, my advices is that once you have a kick and bassline you’re happy with, make them both mono then freeze/flatten in Ableton (i.e. render them as audio if they aren’t already). Then you can zoom in and carefully edit and apply fades to the edges of each bass note or kick, so that there’s no overlap between the end of the note and the attack of the kick drum. Once you have both edited tightly, it’s a case of spending a little time balancing them by ear.
Also consider hi passing both kick & bass around 20-30hz using a linear phase EQ. Any frequencies lurking below that range won’t be reproduced on a soundsystem and just eat up a load of headroom. Removing them make your bottom end nice and tight.”
“When it comes to treating the bass we beef it up using some saturation and boost it at 55 Hz. For the saturation we always use Soundtoy’s Decapitator. Also, we may apply some sidechain compression to avoid masking with the kick.”
“The best way to beef up any bass is layering. But that way can be a bit difficult and time consuming, and it also depends on the kind of bass you need. If your bassline is just some sub bass, then my trick is to use Ableton’s Operator, a built-in instrument. Take a sine wave on the first operator, modulate it to your taste with the SqD waveform on the second Operator, Add an Ableton Auto Filter fx to the track. Choose Lowpass mode, I like to use MS2 circuit type with 24db slope. Adjust filter frequency and resonance to your taste, I usually stop at around 120hz and 35% correspondingly. Adjust Drive to your taste as well. Finally, don’t forget to pay attention to the extra harmonics you get, they should be in tune with your track.”
Dave Rose // Mastering engineer & Samplephonics head honcho
“My opinion on beefing up or controlling bass is simple – it depends on the bass.
For example, wooly mids could be tidied up with a bit of an EQ dip at 400hz. If it lacks weight and warmth, a little boost at 250hz can do the trick. If you’re thin on harmonics and the bottom end of the track is a little hollow, do some saturation followed by a little EQ to scoop out any unwanted frequencies.
If you have a badly played/recorded live bass and there’s dynamics all over the place, try a compressor to keep the dynamic range of the track under control and the bass sounding consistent.
If your problem is a rasping Massive preset that is eating up all the mids, a big smiley curve EQ can carve some room for the rest of the track and makes it feel a bit wider.
And finally, a kick might work really well with loads of punch at 90-150HZ, but if the fundamental of the bass also sits here try a little EQ plus a sine wave playing the bass an octave lower.”
“I usually have 2 or 3 bass elements or layers interacting with one another and compressed pretty hard. Something weighty like the moog or operator and a pitched down knock (909 tom or kick for example) that’s gonna give it tempo & rhythm and a bit of top end crunch too. Classic techno, really. The emulated filters on the operator are great for adding some bite without compromising the weight and low end like some distortion plugins/pedals can do.
If I’m running some heavy distortion or tape processing on a drum bus I’ll usually route my bass in there too, depending on the vibe of the track. You get quite a nice sucking/ducking effect with a great rumble which lends itself very well to that dub and dub techno style and makes the bass stand out like a mother – Rhythm & Sound were very good at this. It’s definitely a bit too extreme in a pop scenario though.
In terms of controlling it., I’ve recently opted for anchoring it with the Waves Renaissance Compressor. Super quick attack and super quick release, 2:1 ratio (adjust accordingly). This might not be textbook, but it works for me. The bottom line is if your bass isn’t working get rid of the real low end stuff that’s just going to flab about, and achieve some lovely space.”
So, there you have it, that’s how the pros do it! Now what about you? Add your own bass mixing tips and techniques in the comments below.