Bass is a very important element for me. It is the power and foundation of any song. It can also be the most challenging element to get sounding the way you want.
Let’s dive right into it.
Depending on the song of choice, I may use one bass for the whole track or I might use multiple. Also, the concept of what is a bass seems to have been shifted over the years. It used to only be low frequency with some mids and would be used to glue the drum beat and the melody.
Over time, this has evolved with some genres making bass front and center. In these instances, you may hear more than one bass in a song, acting in the role of leads. Many of these are layers, with a core bass layer and a standard lead blending into it to create in new timbre.
With these considerations in mind, selecting the bass is influenced in part by the kick and style of song. Choose what you feel would best compliment your vibe and groove. Do you want a deep bass that covers the low end completely or a fat mid bass that will be a key instrument in your patterns?
Another factor is whether to use samples or synth bass. This can be dependent on the style, but I almost always design my bass using Sytrus or Massive. This allows a lot more creative freedom when making a bass that has character and can evolve as the song progresses. If going with a sample, it is usually best if the bass is not a main element or if the sample is just too amazing to pass up.
Settle in on your choice and begin developing its relationship to the kick. Since they both occupy limited space, you want to make sure they work well together.
A common practice these days is to apply sidechaining. When applied, the bass will drop in volume to allow the kick to hit. When the kick sound gets lower in volume, the bass comes back in.
You may notice this a lot in modern house and dance music. The sidechaining can also be applied to the leads or other elements and in turn creates a breathing pattern in the mix.
Mixing the bass and kick also needs to account for the lowest frequencies. This is where you need to think about the sub bass.
Sub Bass Selection
If you want any real power in your song, then you absolutely need to use sub bass. It will make or break a song and is more often felt instead of heard.
Sub bass can be tricky to work with because it occupies the lowest frequency range (under 80hz usually) and this is where the boom from your kick sits. In order to overcome this challenge, the above mentioned sidechaining can provide a solid solution. Another approach for some producers is to filter out some of the low end from the kick or to not apply the sub when the kick hits.
I prefer sidechaining for a couple reasons.
- You don’t have to be meticulous throughout the track when applying your sub. You always want to carefully apply it, but with sidechaining, you don’t have to be overly worried about the kick and sub once you have it setup.
- Sidechaining can be applied to multiple channels, so instead of just sidechaining the sub and bass, you can apply it to other elements to create the breathing I mentioned earlier. This can be a desired effect if applied in small amounts. Too much sidechaining will destroy your song, so be aware of how much you apply.
So where do you get the sub bass from?
- Use a sample, but this can limit your control over it.
- Design it from scratch.
- Use a preset, but you may need to make adjustments.
- Craft it out of a bass or lead by cloning and filtering the original sound.
- Build it right into your bass
I usually design my sub bass (using a preset to start off is ok too) and shape it so it fits the kick and bass. Other times when making Bass music or Dubstep, I will craft it out of existing elements to give it special character. Depending on my main bass, I might just apply sub power to that as well and have it all in one. Whichever you prefer, make sure it fits with the kick and the bass if separate. Then mix it to make sure the volumes are good.
By the way, sub volume can be tricky to get just right if not using good headphones or speakers, so referencing the EQ and other tools can come in handy to keep things in check. Later on, I share some useful tips on playback so you can find these issues before you release the song.