Bass Management: Reviving the Boom from a Mono Live Track

One of my favorite sayings is, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Sound is kind of like that—only more insidious. God is omnipotent and unchanging. Sound messes with you constantly. Just when you think your many years of sculpting audio in the studio and on stage has afforded you a sure, steady, and repeatable facility for controlling signals, you’re bedeviled by some ghastly sonic cock-up that butchers your craft and your confidence. And, somewhere, that little imp called “sound” is laughing so hard that it can’t draw breath. Nice.

One of these fabulous little challenges occurred recently when my punk-ish power-pop band, The Trouble With Monkeys, was filmed at a San Francisco club. It was just a camcorder recording manned by someone’s friend, but it was the only document of the show, and bassist (and Bass Player Art Director) Patrick Wong wanted to extract the monaural audio and post it on the band’s website. I don’t know what brand and model camcorder was used, but its onboard microphone certainly enjoyed screwing with the input signals. As we listened to the extracted audio, the vocals, keyboards, drums, and room sounds were captured quite well. But the guitar was attenuated so much that it was virtually MIA, and the bass was just a ghost. Weird. This meant that the camera “heard” some of the low end (the kick drum and toms were blasting), and some of the mids (as the keyboards and vocals were very audible), but it somehow decided to terminate the guitar and bass at the precise frequency ranges that let them live.

I liked the energy of the performances, so I agreed with Patrick that we should fix up the audio as best as we could. But I didn’t want to usurp “on the clock” time at my commercial studio just to be able to pop a CD-R into the car stereo, and get all giddy about hearing the gang and I make noise in a small club. Once again, Apple GarageBand came to the rescue.


Upon importing the tracks into GarageBand—via a CD-R made by someone who had transferred the video footage into some unknown software program to extract the audio signal—I used the Multiband Compressor to tighten the overall sound, and hopefully boost any bass content that was swimming low in the mix. I pretty much stayed with the program’s presets, only boosting the Post-Gain to 17dB. The live tracks absolutely thickened up, and the vocal balanced nicely with the band sound, but the bass remained elusive—even though the kick drum thumped along with a meaty wallop. It was time for some EQ tweaks.

I launched the 31-band Graphic EQ, and started boosting single bands in the 80Hz–250Hz range—just to get an idea where the majority of the bass lived. Apparently, the instrument had moved to another Zip Code, because the bountiful increase of low end I was expecting never happened. What was up with that camcorder mic? Did Patrick actually play the bass, or was he miming?

Somewhat flummoxed, I decided to initiate some “gang tackling,” and group my boosts. I boosted 80Hz by 3dB, 100Hz by 6dB, 125Hz by 2dB, and 200Hz by 6dB. Some of the body of the bass line finally started to rise from whatever sonic funk it had been wallowing in. Then, I was able to bring out some of Patrick’s attack by boosting 500Hz by 2dB, 630Hz by 3dB, and 1kHz by 6dB.

At this point, the bass was nicely audible, and the band tracks still sounded tight and punchy, but I was missing the exciting wallop and pop that identifies a good live bass sound. The final touch was to launch the Equalizer, and EQ the track again—this time, boosting the Bass Gain equally between Neutral and Boost, setting the Mid Frequency to Low and matching the Bass Gain boost, and cutting the Treble Gain by about 50 percent. Finally, a vibrant and badass bass line emerged. All it cost me was a few meters of my intestinal lining, a fat chunk out of my pride, and a couple of incisive EQ tweaks. Never say die!