By Michael Cooper
A huge-sounding bass track can take an otherwise thin, weak mix and transform it into a big, fat bully. Here are some bad-ass tips to bolster your bottom line.
Super-Size My Room
If you plan to mike up a bass amp and cabinet, stick your rig in the biggest room you’ve got (as long as it’s not too reverberant). Bass frequencies have very long wavelengths that need lots of room to develop. In contrast, small rooms inherently have very uneven bass response that can make a bass track alternately swell and dip on different notes; that makes it very difficult to set the track consistently at the right level during mixdown.
Stick the cabinet in a carpeted room or one filled with lots of absorbent acoustical products, such as studio foam or compressed-fiberglass wall panels. This will reduce any reverb that would otherwise make your bass sound like it’s playing inside a culvert.
Move the Amp and Mic
Don’t have a big room to record in? Move the cabinet around your smaller room until you find the spot with the strongest and most even bass response. Sit the cabinet on the floor to coax super-low bass frequencies. Then move the mic progressively farther away from the cabinet until you find the perfect balance between bass response and minimal room ambience; a distance of two feet is usually about right. And don’t bother miking the speaker cone that is positioned the highest in a stack. Place the mic closer to the floor for deeper bass.
Plug your bass into a direct-injection (DI) box that has both high- and low-impedance outputs. Route the high-impedance output to your bass amp and record that signal with your mic to one track. Patch the lowimpedance output of the DI box to a mic input on your mixer or DAW’s I/O box, and record that signal to a second track. At mixdown, you’ll have two bass tracks to choose from (playing exactly the same part).
If you use both tracks at once, slap a very short delay (set to 100% wet output) on the DI’d bass track to shift its phase to match that for the mic signal. For every foot your mic is placed away from the cabinet, delay the DI’d track 0.9 milliseconds. You’ll be amazed at how much more bottom end the combined tracks produce after making this phase adjustment.
If at mixdown you decide you don’t like the sound of either track (miked or DI’d), send the recorded DI signal back out to your amp and record it again with different amp settings or mic placement to taste. You’ll want to run the track through a reamp box such as the Millennia Twin Direct TD-1 enroute to your amp. A reamp box conditions the signal so that it loads your bass amp like it would if it were coming directly from your bass guitar.
Don’t have a reamp box handy? Send the DI’d track through one of the guitar-amp-simulation plugins that offer bass-guitar patches. AmpliTube Fender and Waves GTR3 excel here.
Kill the Clack
Bass guitars produce very little musically useful sound in the highest audible frequencies. Unless you’re particularly fond of pick and fret noise, lash a low-pass filter (LPF) to your bass track and set it to around 7kHz to filter out all the clackety-clack. Your mix will have a tighter groove.
Take It to the Limit
Cudgel your bass track with a brick-wall limiter to even out the dynamics and add some size-enhancing grit. The Waves L1 Maximizer plug-in is my fave for this tack. Lower the threshold until the bass sounds even on most every note. Then, with the track soloed, squash it a little further ’til you hear a tiny bit of distortion. You’ll never hear the dirt as such once the track is placed in the mix, but the bass will growl like a barnyard dog. If you don’t own a brick-wall limiter, crank the bass track’s fader so that the signal clips. The digital distortion will sound harsh unless it’s filtered. But roll off all the highs post-fader with an LPF, set to around 3kHz, and you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.