Certain processor/track setting combinations have become my “go to” starting points for recording bass with DAW software. It used to be necessary to create these settings from scratch for each project, but now most DAWs let you create and save Track Templates (also called Track Presets) that remember effects and control settings—like a “virtual effects rack.” The 10/08 Power App Alley showed how to create a guitar amp track preset in Steinberg Cubase 4; this time we’ll cover bass, using Cakewalk Sonar 8 as our DAW.
FIRST, GET IN TUNE
Insert a tuner as the first plug-in for your virtual rack—but note that some chromatic tuners are designed for guitar, and can’t deal with the bass’s low A and E strings. If so, play harmonics on those two strings, and (assuming your intonation is correct) tune to them. With Sonar, turn on “Input Echo” or the signal won’t go to the tuner. Also, note that enabling the tuner mutes the track signal.
WHY YOUR TEMPLATE NEEDS TWO TRACKS
A Sonar Track Template can contain multiple tracks. This is important for bass because you almost always want to retain the low end; applying an effect like wah in series with the bass thins out the sound—but applying it in parallel “overlays” the wah effect on top of a solid bottom. So, the secondary track is used mostly to layer effects.
When recording, record into both tracks simultaneously. If you’re processing an existing track, copy it into the second track so you have two identical, parallel audio tracks.
MULTIBAND COMPRESSION FOR BASS
On the main track, a c follows the Tuner because it serves as both a compressor and, if you adjust the various bands’ levels, an equalizer. I use lots of compression in the lowest band (under 200Hz or so), with light compression in the lower mids so that the bass doesn’t compete too much with more “midrangey” instruments like piano and guitar, and fairly heavy compression in the upper mids to bring out pick noise. (This allows more latitude when mixing the bass in relation to the kick, as pick transients make the bass “speak” better if the two instruments compete.) During mixdown, you can tweak the high and low ends easily by adjusting individual bands in the multiband compressor— you may not even need standard track EQ.
Sonar’s multiband compressor includes a limiter function. Enable this under the “Common” tab to affect all bands; this will trap strong transients (great for slap bass), and can bring up levels of individual bands to “push” the limiter for a more squashed sound—without having to vary the band’s compression controls.
THE FX TRACK
The second track contains several effects, but I rarely use them all. The first effect is a wah, because if you use envelope-followed wah, it wants to “see” a signal with maximum dynamics. Next is a compressor, which serves as an effect. While the multiband compressor in the other track provides more traditional, transparent dynamics control that preserves bass transients, the compressor can mix a heavily squashed signal in with the main track. This provides a ringing, sustained effect when used subtly.
Distortion is good for “grit,” and Sonar 8’s new TL64 Tube Leveler effect is a good choice. However, as this adds “crunch” more than heavyduty distortion, I typically follow it by a lowpass EQ to trim the distortion’s high end. Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 3, the final effect in the chain, serves as a sort of “universal” effect because no matter what I want to layer on the bass, odds are Guitar Rig 3 can do it (incidentally, Sonar 8 ships with an LE version of Guitar Rig).
The final advantage of this approach is the ability to mix the two tracks independently. Use automation to bring in the crunch track during the big chorus, and pull it back for the verse . . . tempo-sync effects parameters to the host tempo for a tight rhythm section . . . you get the idea. Best of all, because you’re starting from a template, you’ll get to the mixing stage much faster.