E20 - Bass
When mixing bass I tend to start with splitting the signal into at least two parts, sometimes three. The two parts I always use are the main bass sound, and then a distorted mid to high end. Occasionally I will also heavily compress a third signal then filter to only allow the low end through to beef up my bass tone, although this was not the case in Graffiti.
Starting with the main tone, I like to compress my bass before it hits any sort of saturation. Generally saturation on bass tends to be less extreme than on guitars, and as a result loud passages will distort more than quiet ones leading to an inconsistent level of distortion. This can be brilliant, but was not what I was after with this song. By compressing the DI before it hits the saturation, I am able to ensure a more consistent distortion. I use the CLA 76 due to its fast attack times, and keep a medium release to ensure we aren’t just ducking the transient peaks. As you can see we are constantly compressing but not smashing the signal to smithereens. The signal is also slightly louder than it was without the compressor. This is to help generate more saturation.
The next step is to run the bass DI into some sort of amp/saturation plugin. I switch between amps and saturation plugins quite a lot depending on what flavour I’m after, but what I love about Saturn from Fabfilter is you can split the signal into separate bands before distorting. This means I can keep the low end clean and only distort the mid and high range, helping the cab sim to deliver consistent low end. I like to under distort the main bass slightly, and mix the distortion in a bit lower as well to help retain some of the clean DI sound.
Clean Tone and Cab
The next step is to check for any resonances in the now distorted bass tone. Here we have two, and these are reduced but not removed completely. From there we move into the cab sim, where I have looked to find a well rounded tone through the use of an impulsive 8x10 cab and an orange 8x10 cab leaning on the Impulsive slightly as it seems a bit more clear and present. Your cab choice is obviously completely personal and will come down to what you want your bass to sound like. For me I wanted to make sure I have a clear pick attack, and a full low end knowing the mid range will be filled out with the distorted tone.
After the cab some more eq is used to shape the tone slightly, mainly focusing on removing resonances and hiss from the tone. There is also a bit of low end shaping going on as I felt the bass was a little too fundamental note heavy.
Finally there is a compressor at the end to gently even out the dynamics in the performance. Here we use a slightly slower attack to ensure the pick definition isn’t crushed entirely. Not a huge amount of compression is used at any stage here.
With the distorted bass the processing is similar, but looking for a more distorted hissy distortion, with a lot more aggression.The main ambition here is to get a super consistent mid heavy distortion that can sit under the main bass tone and help give the impression of a more full bass sound. As a result the sound by itself isn’t particularly pleasing, but when taken away the bass cuts through significantly less.
After this we move onto the bass bus processing. Starting with some console saturation, and a little bit of an analog eq to help the bass cut through a little. This then leads to some tape saturation from Slate’s virtual tape machines. This plugin just makes things sound better, louder as well, but better.
After that is some gentle limiting to really level out the bass tone. Having sub going wandering is a recipe for disaster, so I tend to try and keep the bass tone as static as possible dynamically.
Next up is some multi bad compression on the low low end of the bass. This helps me to keep a consistent low end no matter what is being played on the neck. Obviously higher notes/strings have less bass. Therefore the bass will seem to disappear when these are played. This is one small step you can take to help reduce the chance of this being too obvious.
Finally I check for any remaining resonances. As I have mentioned in previous videos I find resonances can reinforce each other. So checking for them on a bus is a good way to reduce the likelihood of them hitting your mix bus.
Finally there is some more gentle limiting before hitting an EQ that is only switched on during the verse to help the bass cut through. I will also adjust the balance between the main and dirty bass tone during the song to add or remove impact where necessary.
One handy little tip to keep in mind, is if you're having trouble hearing your bass you may want to use side chain compression to help duck the bass when the kick hits. Another way to deal with a kick that masks a bass, is to nudge the bass audio slightly forward or backwards. I’m only taking 20-30 ms here, but it can make a big difference if the transients aren’t EXACTLY lined up