We’ve spent the last few weeks talking drums and I’ve stressed the importance of getting the drums right off the hop – because they are the bedding of your track. This week I plan to spend just a few minutes talking about the process of recording and adding bass guitar to the track. There’s not nearly as much to consider when tracking bass as there is drums – BUT once again, it’s very important to spend the time necessary to getting it right. Some say that bass and drums together should act as one instrument or unit and I would tend to agree with that. If both are recorded properly, they will give you an incredibly solid foundation to build the rest of the instrumentation on.
Get Yer Bass On!
A great bass tone doesn’t actually have much to do with how incredibly complex the bass player’s chops are, quite the opposite. 9 out of 10 times, simplicity and consistency are what make a killer bass track. You can always tell a confident bass player because they rarely put up a fuss when asked to rock some quarter notes or eighth notes. If you can get your bass player to agree with the “less is more” philosophy, then you’re half way to getting a great bass track.
As we start adding more instrumentation to the arrangement, you’ll notice that performance and musicianship are just as important as the technical side of recording/engineering. That might not come as a surprise to a lot of you, but some guys are just so excited to get behind the desk and start ‘fiddling with knobs’, that they don’t take the proper time to work with the musicians, which is ultimately one of the most important roles of a producer when trying to attain professional recording. You can have a studio full of the greatest and most expensive gear in the industry, but if you’re just using that gear to record a mediocre band and their incoherent arrangement, well … I think the outcome will be obvious. In the same way (and fortunately for the majority of us on a budget) – you can have a limited arsenal of gear, but have a great band with a solid arrangement, and the outcome can stand up to anything that you hear on the radio today.
Ok, so now that I’ve officially gone way of course, let’s bring this back to da bass.
Once you’ve convinced your bass player to simplify, the next thing is to make sure he’s locked in with the kick drum. This will not only make your track sound tighter, but it will also help reinforce the bottom and punchiness of the overall track.
Here’s another little tip to keep in mind while we’re talking about the “arrangement” side of things. Bass players, like most musicians, want to have at least a few moments within the song to “shake their tail feathers” and showcase their true abilities – and since you’ve asked them to stick with basic quarter and eighth notes, when can they do this? A: Have them play bass fills at the same time the drummer is doing his fills. Now obviously they still need to be ‘locked in’ together to keep things tight – AND you don’t necessarily want them ALWAYS playing fills together, but for the most part – this is a great way to have your bass player “let lose” without getting too much in the way of the overall arrangement.
To Amp Or Not To Amp?
So now let’s move on to more of the technical side of things. Bass amp or DI? If you can, I say do both. The majority of time you’ll find that the Direct Input (DI) is what you end up actually using – because it’s generally a cleaner signal. Not only that, but once you’ve tracked the bass with a DI, you’ll then be able to emulate some of the most sought after bass amps in the word by using some available plug-ins. So if you only have one input allotted for bass or you simply don’t have a bass amp in your studio – go with a DI. If you DO have an amp and you’re set up to track both simultaneously, it’s always worth doing, as you never know what incredible tone you may stumble upon when blending the two together.
Believe it or not, that’s pretty much it when it comes to capturing a great bass tone. Performance and a good clean signal. The more competent the bass player, the more likely a chance you’ll have at attaining that killer bass track. It’s not entirely out of your hands however, and there are definitely some things you can do to ‘help’ along an average bass player. Things like compression can really go along way in helping to “even” out a performance. EQ is another powerful tool that can take a somewhat ‘weak’ tone and help it sound much ‘bigger’ than it really is. In saying all of that … let me close with this last point
Compression & EQ.
If you’re new at this (and I’m assuming you are if you’re reading these blogs) – make sure when adding compression and eq, to do so sparingly when tracking into DAW. You can always add more later, but once you’ve committed to something and then you’ve tracked it, you can’t change it back. This isn’t to freak you out, it’s simply to caution you so that you don’t waste a great performance on a bad engineering call. The more and more confident you get with recording, you’ll soon be able to to commit to outboard gear settings and feel confident that you’re making the right decision, but for all you newbies out there, it’s best to error on the side of caution.
Leave a comment below if you agree, disagree or just wanna talk shop. Cheers guys and have a great weekend!