5 Quick & Easy Bass Sounds

Experimentation is essential in the home studio. You have to commit to bending and shaping signals until they bow to your will, and produce just the right sound for the creative opus you’re crafting. That’s the drill sergeant, “take no prisoners” line, and it’s mostly right and true and holy. But you won’t always have the time or available brain matter (hey, we’re human — we get tired) to refine every signal until it’s perfectly formed, and unique to your vision. Sometimes, ya just wanna crank a knob or two, and get on with it. So, for those times when you’re fatigued, frustrated, or cranky, here’s a menu of bass recipes that will deliver good, foundational tones with minimal hassle.

The Stranglers Snap

Jean Jacques Burnel’s spikey, aggro bass lines — along with Dave Greenfield’s Ray Manzarek-inspired organ washes — have propelled the Stranglers’ punk bombast since 1974. (Listen to 1977’s “Heroes,” or 2006’s “The Spectre of Love” for a taste of Burnel’s low-end violence.) Set compression at a ratio of 10:1, and a threshold of –15dB with relatively fast attack and release times to produce a vicious squash. You really want the bass in your face. Then, cut 100Hz by 3dB (to toughen the lows), boost 800Hz by 3dB (to pump up the pluck), and boost 3kHz by 6dB (to crank up pick attack).

Rubber Soul-Era McCartney

For the warm, blossoming punch of songs such as “The Word,” “You Won’t See Me,” and “Wait,” set a relatively light compression ratio of 4:1 and a threshold of –10dB. You want to ensure the bass line is front and center, but a little dynamic interest is cool. Then, go for that gloriously fat McCartney tone by boosting 100Hz by 3dB or more (for a bit more boom, also try boosting around 60Hz to 80Hz by 3dB), sneak in a slight boost of 2dB at 1.5kHz for some thud-y pluck, and diminish highs from 10kHz on to evoke some vintage warmth.

Motor City Groove

Capture the silky, muted pulse of Motown tracks such as the Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love” by boosting 100Hz by 2dB, boosting 250Hz by 3dB, cutting 80Hz by 6dB, and cutting around 1kHz and 3kHz by 6dB. Compression should be solid, but not oppressive — try a 2:1 ratio and a –10dB threshold.

Hip-Hop Boom-Boom

Emulate the car-door-rattlin’ low end of rap and dance tracks — which often utilize keyboard bass and/or machine kick drums for the wallop — by boosting 40Hz by 3dB, 80Hz by 6dB, and 100Hz by 6dB. Then, add a slight attack by boosting 2kHz by 3dB, and cut highs by dumping every frequency above 8kHz by 6dB or more. This sound works better on minimalist, accent-oriented parts. Now, use some light limiting, and rock the house!

Buzz Bomb

Guitar players aren’t the only cats who can deploy distortion. If your song could benefit from a little punch and sizzle, plug your bass into a fuzz or overdrive pedal. Compress heavily to help accentuate the distortion — try a 10:1 ratio at a threshold of –10dB. Tweak the EQ to push the overdriven midrange attack — a 6dB boost at 3kHz should help — and control any low-end mud by cutting 100Hz by 6dB.

3 Tips for Fighting A Bass-Lite Mix

It’s simply not fair. You’ve done everything right during the tracking phase, and your bass tone is tight, punchy, and fat. But here you are at the mixdown session, and your band mates are dropping your track so low in the mix that you’re fearing for your job. (And all those comments about how cool the White Stripes sound without a bass player aren’t helping!) Well, keep your cool. Here are a few ways to overturn three common reasons why engineers tend to bury the bass.

Argument 1: The bass is fighting with the kick drum.
Response: Don’t get into a brawl over which instrument is more important, simply reach over and pan the bass track slightly to the left (say, around two o’clock), and pan the kick drum track slightly to the right. Voilà! Changing the mix positions should not only clarify both tracks, but also add some dimension to the low-end thud. Musicians tend to freak out when you move kick drums off center, but listeners seldom notice such slight adjustments, and your bass will be slammin’. If you’re really brave, suggest that the kick provide the snap (cut 80Hz to 100Hz by 6dB, and boost 1kHz by 3dB), and the bass deliver the wallop (don’t change a thing on the bass EQ). There’s no need to have two or more mix elements throwing identical body punches to the listener.

Argument 2: The bass is muddying up the guitars.
Response: It’s more likely that your guitarist, in the pursuit of a ballsy tone, added some unnecessary low end to the guitar tracks. Snip the boom out of the guitars by cutting 3dB to 6dB at around 200Hz, and again at around 500Hz. Let the bass handle the lows and low-mids, and let the guitars address the mids, and no listener will be the wiser. The mix should still sound tough, propulsive, and ballsy as all hell. You can also try the kick drum trick, and move the bass and guitars slightly off center to further differentiate the tones.

Argument 3: There’s too much low-end content already.
We have to thin out the bass.
Response: What madness is this? It’s so easy to scapegoat the bass track, but, let’s face it, there’s probably too much low end pumping on everything else. Solo common muddy-low-end offenders such as the kick drum, toms, guitars, and keyboards, but also ensure that the vocals aren’t slaughtered by plosives that add undesirable booms and pops to the overall mix. Don’t forget to solo effects tracks, as well. Rampant bass frequencies can compromise, say, a room reverb or a delay as much as anything else. Then, cut low end from every mix element that doesn’t absolutely have to live in the bass track’s sonic space.