The quick and easy guide to bass processing

9th May 2008 | 14:50

The quick and easy guide to bass processing

Sort out your low-end sound today

Regardless of the type of music it is you’re recording, a good bass sound is usually essential. You could spend weeks, even months learning about bass processing, but for the benefit of those who want to take a an extreme shortcut (or just get a quick idea of the basics) MusicRadar has put together this simple overview.

Dynamics

Compression is arguably the key to getting a good bass sound, achieving two different things at the same time. First, it can even out a dynamically sloppy performance, and second, it can pack a whole lot more punch into the sound. Here are some typical settings:

Ratio: This is usually set between 2:1 and 4:1, but if the compressor is an ‘over-easy’ type, it wouldn’t be unusual to see the ratio set as high as 6:1.

Threshold: To even things out, the threshold level should be set so that the quietest note in the part just starts the compressor working. Any higher than this, and quiet notes may drop out of the mix. Setting it lower, however, can help exaggerate ‘punch’ when done in conjunction with the attack control.

Attack: When setting up the compressor to smooth the performance, set the attack to minimum. After that, lengthen the attack time and lower the threshold to add more punch.

Release: This should be set entirely by ear. If it’s too long, you’ll lose the punchiness gained via the settings above; if it’s too short, the bass sound will be modulated in an unpleasant ‘rippling’ fashion.

Equalisation

EQ can seem like more of a black art with bass than any other instrument, as it often appears to have almost no effect. A common mistake is to pile on lots of low frequency boost in the hope that this will make the bass cut through the mix, but ironically, this usually has precisely the opposite effect: the character of a bass is determined by its harmonics, and these are boosted by cutting the low frequencies and turning up the overall level of the bass in the mix.

Assuming you have a reasonably rich sound to begin with, boosting the 3-4kHz range will highlight the detail and punch of the bass. Frequencies above this can often be rolled off to reduce hiss from a noisy synth or bass preamp, with little or no adverse side effects.

“A common mistake is to pile on lots of low frequency boost in the hope that this will make the bass cut through the mix, but ironically, this usually has precisely the opposite effect.”

Boosting frequencies lower than 75Hz can help with dance music – but this will also eat into your mix headroom. If there’s a lot of very deep bass in the mix, you may find that you need to use a multiband compressor at the mastering stage to get your mix sounding as loud as other songs.

Effects

Whenever two notes are played at the same time (on any instrument), a lot of complex things start to happen. With most instruments, the results are extremely musical, but with bass, they’re often quite unpleasant.

It's therefore advisable to be careful when using reverb or delay on bass instruments, since these cause the previous notes to overlap with the current one. It’s certainly not impossible –a short reverb helps give bass a bit of space in a mix -  it’s often a good idea to roll off the very low frequencies on reverb or delay return channels (most good reverb plug-ins have a built-in high-pass filter for this).

Rich bass sounds lend themselves well to chorus and flanging; chorus can give bass synths a powerful stereo presence, while flanging on bass guitar is a classic effect that creates a ‘fretless' sound. Resonant low-pass filter sweeps on all types of bass sounds are a staple among dance music producers.

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