Follow these expert tips and take your productions to the next level
Coming up with a great tune is only half the battle - if you want other DJs to play it, you've also got to make sure your tune sounds good on a big soundsystem, and getting the bottom end right is half the battle.
With that in mind, we asked veteran studio bod Chris Lyth to share some of his low-end know-how, and he came back with these 10 gems of wisdom...
1. The old maxim of "garbage in, garbage out" is paramount, so don't make life difficult for yourself by starting with a poor sound: when great-sounding bass is your goal, no shortcuts are allowed. Make sure your weapon of choice is in tip-top condition and fits the bill. Classic synths such as the Roland SH101 and TB303, Yamaha's DX7, TX81Z and DX100 and Moog's Minimoog, Prodigy and Source have long provided low frequency tumescence among electronic music producers.
2. If a live bass guitar is what's required and you're looking for a warm, organic vibe, then mic'ing up your amp will often get the best results. When mic'ing your amp, first listen to all the speakers in your cabinet (if appropriate) and choose the one that sounds the best. Place your mic of choice (often a large diaphragm condenser or ribbon) about two to three inches away from the speaker and experiment with the position of the mic until you find the sweet spot. Moving the mic from the centre to the edge of the cone will produce some very different tones. If a quality bass amp is still on your to-get list, then record your bass through a good active DI box or an amp simulator.
3. Synths and bass amps work well together. Recording your synths through a bass amp can pay off in a big way by producing a huge low end if done correctly. Mic as you would for a bass guitar. It also has the added advantage of helping to personalise your tone as few people will have the same combination of room, mic and amp together. For the best of both worlds, run a mic'ed and DI'ed version together in your sequencer and balance to taste. Pay close attention to phase, however: play around with reversing phase polarity and check all is sounding well in mono.
4. To have a great-sounding bassline it needs to fit hand-in-glove with the kickdrum and each has to have its own space in the mix. A simple rule of thumb is if you have a deep bassline, opt for a higher-sounding kick and vice versa. Gentle sidechaining and creating frequency holes with EQ can also help. For instance, if you boost 80Hz on the kick, then cut a little 80Hz on the bass. A spectrum analyser can be a useful tool as you will be able to visualise the dominant frequencies of each part.
5. Try stacking your sounds, it can help thicken up your bass and add power. For example, use a pure sine wave for the really low frequencies and on top use a sound with lots of midrange to cut through the mix.
COMPRESSION AND BEYOND
6. Compression in its most basic function will help to smooth any wild dynamics and generally raise the volume. It can also be useful in shaping the tone and adding punch. Bass parts can vary dramatically and there is no single compression setting to suit all, but a few points to bear in mind are:
* The faster and denser the bass notes are, the faster the release time will need to be to allow the compressor to recover quickly for the next note.
* Try to avoid really fast release times as distortion can rear its head in an unpleasant way.
* Use the attack to change the tone of the compression. To tame hard transients, opt for a fairly quick attack, and to allow them through use a slower attack.
Compressor models vary wildly, but for any budget it's always worth having a couple of different compressor pedals in your armoury. They are cheap and do a great job on bass and lots of other applications.
7. Way back when I was a lad, Chuck D of Public Enemy asked the question "Bass, how low can you go?". I'm not sure if that was a rhetorical question, but Chuck, if you want to get numerical that would be about 31Hz before you are in danger of eating up valuable headroom in your mix. Low bass in excess will make your entire track sound muggy and quiet. It makes sense to cut below 31Hz using a high-pass filter to get rid of any rumble, especially if your monitors are of the more modest variety size-wise.
8. If your bass sound is a little on the polite side tonally, make it growl like a famished dog by creating a copy in your sequencer and using some distortion to bring extra harmonics into play. Then mix in a little of the distorted copy to add some edge to the proceedings. Try a generous boost at 800Hz on bass guitar to make it really cut through in the mix.
9. Make sure that there is no unnecessary overlap with either the kick or bassline ringing out longer than needed. Experiment by shortening the decay on kickdrums and bass notes to see how it can create space in your mix and make your bottom end sound far tighter.
10. A subtle touch of delay can give a bassline extra movement if the part is fairly simple. If you already have a busy bassline, think carefully about what you are trying to achieve as you could muddy up the low end. Carefully used, delay - like The Force - can be a powerful ally.
Words: Chris Lyth