How to Record and Enhance a Bass Line Through Your Audio Interface
Having access to a studio and a selection of mics to use on a bass amp is great but not always possible for home producers or musicians new to electronic production. Luckily, there are tons of tools out there to turn a simple clear recording into something amazing.
In this tutorial, we’ll talk about recording levels, cleanup and EQ, compression, and sweeteners. We’ll also cover how to combat confusion in your mix and how to make your bass slam (pun intended!).
Using your audio interface to record digitally means you don’t have to worry about your recording environment/space like you would with a mic. Sitting in front of your computer at home also makes it easier to re-record or type in anything that isn’t entirely perfect.
Additionally, there are a number of amp/cabin/pedal emulator plug-ins available today that make it easier than ever to get the sound you desire without the expense. How old to live, huh?
Step 1: Every DAW has recording capability, so once you’ve loaded a record-ready track, use the Input Control knob to first check that your bass sounds good. How it sounds there is exactly how it will sound in your recording.
2nd step: Check the gain level on your audio interface to make sure your signal is not distorted. Do a quick recording test to make sure the recording isn’t too quiet and doesn’t get too hot. You just want a clean sound for your recording. You can add all your effects afterwards.
Step 3: Then you are ready to put your performance and your recording. You’ll probably want to get a few takes so you have options. You’ll see the waveforms while you’re recording, and afterwards, to identify if there were any issues with the recordings.
Step 4: Once you’ve gotten all the takes you want to work with, you can make choices about your different favorite sections or compose together if there were particular strengths in each. Spend some time editing, blurring where you’ve made cuts, removing errors, and balancing the waveform if there are any particularly loud or quiet parts.
Step 5: EQ the edited bass audio. The regions you will focus on are the bass (around 60-250Hz) and, depending on your bass guitar tone, possibly the lower mids (250-500Hz). The adjustments you make will depend on your style of music. A player as complex as Thundercat, for example, will have spent time tweaking the lower mids as much as the bass.
Step 6: If I was recording in a studio, I would record a clean digital input jack from an amp as well as my microphone amp. Even in my home studio I like to double tracks and work specifically on the low mid tone with a copy of the bass audio. So my equalizer here would eliminate low frequencies.
Step 7: Once the bass sound sounds clean and properly equalized against other instruments, you can search for the perfect amp sound emulation. I use Logic, which has its own bass/guitar amp emulation. But as a single product, I highly recommend Guitar Rig 6 from Komplete.
Step 8: Once you have a bass amp sound/style that matches your track, you can always modify it. Logic, for example, acts like a real amplifier, letting you tweak dials, effects pedals, and even the (figurative) position of the microphone relative to the emulated amp. That’s a great amount of detail to make your bass really pop.
Step 9: Next, create a rough balance for all the instruments in your track. The bass is a fundamental part of your rhythm section, but it’s important not to overpower the other instruments. In many cases this won’t be the main instrument but an enhancement, so use this as a guide when considering volume level.
Step 10: When the bass is roughly in a good space, use a compressor on the signal to smooth out the dynamic range of the signal. This consistency is important. In my video tutorial, you’ll see that I use a lot of attack to make sure the bass comes in strongly, responding to the lead piano instrument.
Step 11: I always use saturation in my bass mix. It thickens the sound, giving each note played a bit more weight and warmth. Give it a try – many DAWs have them built in now, but I recommend FabFilter’s Saturn. See my tips section above for more on this tool.
Step 12: You are now ready to spend precious hours on your complete mix! A little hack I use, just to make sure the drums and bass aren’t fighting for space, is to set the pan to 5% just for the bass. It’s not something that most ears will pick up too much, but it helps.