This month, we asked our expert panel how they get their bass to sound huge, organic, distinctive, or all three. Reach out to us by your favorite means with topics and names of artists you’d like us to interrogate.
- How to complement your bass with unique kick drum sounds.
- Video: Producer Josh Gabriel and author Francis Preve scope vintage synths.
(Recoil, Depeche Mode | recoil.co.uk)
I favor real bass guitar slides mixed with sequencer parts, with the electronic elements often derived from a Minimoog, Oberheim, or Novation Supernova. A combination of electronic and real can have a great effect, especially when the boundaries are blurred, hopefully giving a sense of human feel but also precision. On Recoil’s Liquid, I often sampled Dean Garcia’s fret slides and used only those going into a sequenced synth part whose root notes were doubled with the real bass. Faster notes in between the roots might be the sequenced synth only.
(Dragonette | dragonette.com)
Being a bass player, I like doubling real electric bass parts with synth bass, or vice versa. If the bass guitar ends up as the prevalent character of the part, then I rarely quantize it as much. Instead, I do takes until I get parts I like. When I double it with the synth, I’ll manually line up the synth notes with the bass performance. If it’s the other way around (the bass guitar added to an existing synth line), I’ll chop up the bass guitar part, then quantize both parts together, generally with about 90% strength. For mixing, I’m currently crushing on Waves’ Chris Lord-Alge Bass plug-in for both electric and synth bass. I like its distortion and compression options, as well as its general character.
When you think back to the bass lines that Bernard Edwards played in Chic, they not only moved the track, but were very musical hooks. To apply that approach to bass programming, I’ll sequence my bass line into my Akai MPC, standalone. I know there are MPC-style quantize templates for all DAWs, but I like the imperfect feel of the hardware. Then, I’ll fly the sequence into Logic or Pro Tools and line it up against the grid. For sound sources, I gravitate towards Spectrasonics Trilogy, my Studio Electronics SE-1X, or my Access Virus TI.
(Jaytech | jaytechmusic.com)
I usually layer a clean sounding synth, such as Logic’s ES1, with a syncopated riff in the lower midrange from Native Instruments Massive, which adds a snarly or gritty element. Keep your bass pattern relatively simple if your melodic elements are complex, and vice versa.
The simplest answer is to play the bass line on a keyboard and deal with quantization, velocity, MIDI note length, and automation afterward. This is more likely to give you an organic result than hours of trial and error on a computer— even if you can’t play very well. As with melodies, there’s something more organic when you sing or play compared to moving “Lego bricks” around on your million-dollar flat screen.