5 Tips For a Great Bass Tone
Reading Time: 3-4 Minutes
The bottom end information in a mix can often be challenging to navigate. Too much of it and your mix begins to lose clarity. Too little and it no longer feels grounded. It can be incredibly frustrating to nail down a great bass tone, I know that I’ve driven myself crazy on many occasions looking for it. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help you the next time you’re down in the basement of your mix.
1 - GET A GREAT PERFORMANCE
I know that this can be a redundant statement and that you don’t need me to tell you something so obvious. However, I don’t think it can be overstated how massively the player/performance impacts the tone of the Bass. Finding a player who really understands the instrument and how it fits into a recording will save you a lot of headaches and get you bobbing along a lot quicker. I know that we don’t always have access to amazing bass players for every session, just remember that even if you are working with an inexperienced player, the more you can help him or her understand the instrument and perform better, the easier your life will be down the line.
2 - USE A VU METER
Make sure you’re using a VU Meter to check out the average energy of your bass. I like to use the Klanghelm VUMT plugin. It’s easy to use, works great, and you can choose between VU, DIN, and RMS.
A great bass sound is rooted in consistency. Fluctuations in the bottom end of your mix can take your listener in and out of the song and your mix will lose impact. I’m not necessarily talking about the difference in bass volume between sections of the song, as that can be used to create excitement in the arrangement, but rather about the fluctuations in the average energy. It can be tedious, but I like to listen through the song specifically listening for energy changes and smooth out the track. We can do this by using a multiband compressor (like the Waves C4 or Izotope’s Neutron2) or volume automations.
3 - FINGERS VS PICKS
Everybody has their own opinions about this. The only brief thing that I want to say on this topic is to remember the context of what you’re recording or mixing. What serves the song better? Different styles have different tones and it’s important to remember that.
4 - DISTORTION
Even if the bass tone is “clean”, don’t be afraid to experiment with distortion. It can do wonders on how your bass cuts through the mix and can also help with the average energy. Try duplicating your bass track or using a distortion effect in parallel and then blend to your desired taste.
Some plugins I like to use for bass distortion are:
All of these are great options and just have different colours and flavours. Mess around and find what’s hitting your taste buds for a particular mix.
5 - HOW DOES IT FIT?
If we’re not careful about our bass playing nicely with our other low end elements, we can make a pretty soupy bottom pretty quick. The bass guitar can eat up a lot of room on our frequency spectrum so be conscious of how it’s interacting with the instruments around it. Try playing with the attack settings on your compressor to bring it forward or behind the kick drum until it’s sitting nicely. We can also try some bus compression with the bass and drums to make everything stick together a little better.
When you have both a DI and amp signal, try compressing just the amp signal for flavour and tone but letting the DI transients poke through. This can help give your bass more definition and colour.
There are a myriad of different techniques and tricks for getting a great bass tone. I hope some of these help point you in the right direction and assist you on your way to finding your own bass sound. As always, I would love to hear what everyone else is thinking out there in bass land! Happy Bassing!