Top Tips For Better Bass Lines

Getting the perfect bass sound can seem like a daunting task when you’re approaching your mix. It’s a particularly crucial element as it anchors both the key of your track and works alongside the drums to create a groove that gets your listener moving.

While it might be hard to pin down exactly what makes a great bass part, it’s not hard to describe a bassline that has been neglected by a producer.

Whether it’s too muddy, not punching through the mix or so deep that it starts to make your track feel bottom-heavy, there are steps that producers of all experience levels can take to make sure you don’t have a sub-par sub-bass.

Top Tips For Better Bass Lines Prime Loops

Common Mistakes To Avoid

For a lot of genres, like EDM and drum and bass, it’s easy to get carried away thinking that a heavy bassline is going to be the most killer element of your track. It’s more important to think about how the bass fits in with the rest of your instruments.

A kick drum or pounding low toms can sit in the same frequency range as your bassline, so don’t let any of these parts get lost in the mix. Apply EQ to remove some of the lower frequencies on your bass and push the higher levels on your drums. Think about the timing of your bass and kicks too, making sure they don’t overlap and your bass will start to punch through the mix better.

Many EDM tracks use sub-bass frequencies, which with their low-pitch sit around 60Hz, and are often there to be felt rather than heard. So don’t neglect your referencing and make sure you’re mixing on speakers which can handle the lower frequencies with ease at a volume level that you can tolerate for long periods of time.

8 Key Tips For Better Bass Lines

Like with every part of mixing, getting a good bassline takes practice, trial and error and a good ear. You probably won’t have a top of the range studio to experiment in but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get good results from your home studio.

Here are 8 tips for better bass lines that you can start using today...

1. Add oscillation

By using an effect such as oscillation you can help to make your bass parts more obvious where they might not be as audible with some speakers. By using a tremolo, phaser or low frequency oscillator you can create a low, rumbling effect which can make a decent set of headphones work overtime to give you that club night feel.

2. Compression

While it might be overlooked on basslines, compression is a crucial tool to help make sure your bass doesn’t get lost in the mix, especially if there’s a lot of dynamic variance. A good starting point is to use your compressor plugin and set the ratio to 4:1, with a moderate attack and a fast release. Then, tweak the ratio until all of the notes sound even and consistent throughout. To give your bass more of a punchy and percussive sound that cuts through, slow the attack right down. However, if you’re after more of a softer bass, speed up the attack. Lastly, time the release so it follows the rest of the parts in your mix. Or if you prefer more depth, try setting your release o be as fast as possible. Too much compression can turn your punchy, dynamic bassline into a flat and lifeless one so just make sure you don’t overdo it.

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3. Sidechain compression

When used correctly, sidechain can help to carve out space in your mix by reducing the level of your bass notes when the kick hits. This requires you to get the attack and release just right. The attack needs to be as quick as possible and the release balancing with the decay of your kick and the tempo of your track as a whole. Many DAWs will have their own plugins to help you configure sidechain compression easily and it can help you tidy up the bottom end significantly and stop your kick and bass overpowering your mix.

4. Layering

Make your sound more complex by layering your bassline an octave apart. Use the full melodic range of your bass parts, don’t just rely on root notes in the same part of the mix. Alternatively, doubling the bass line with another instrument, such as a guitar line or a sine wave synth, can give it more prominence, especially for sub-bass lines.

5. Filters

Use low-pass, high cut filters to remove unwanted higher frequencies on your bass and use high-pass filters to get rid of any excessive lower frequencies that could cause your mix to become muddy. Anything under 30Hz is likely to just cause rumble, instead of sounds so consider cutting steeply around this point.

6. ‘Real’ bass

If you predominantly just use synthesised bass, consider using a ‘real’ instrument to add more depth. The easiest way of getting consistent results is to DI the bass straight into your audio interface and process it with a plugin, giving you more flexibility for tweaking the sound. Layering real and synth bass parts is a tricky art to master, with a huge reliance on timing, but the technique can add tons of character.

7. Add distortion

You don’t have to go full fuzz, but a small amount of distortion can add interest to your bass part and make it more audible in the mix. A great tip is to use distortion as a send effect so you can mix the distorted signal back in at a more subtle, lower level.

8. Go down the gadget route

If you really want to try something outside of the box, take a look at The SubPac - a wearable audio system which replicates sound through membranes, electronics and textiles. With a frequency response of 5Hz-125Hz the SubPac emulates low frequencies from your audio source into a physical dimension of sound to allow you to feel your sub bass as well as hear it through your headphones or speakers.

Summary

Getting the perfect bass sound doesn’t have to be a chore, and using the tips above should get you on your way to producing a decent mix.

It’s important to bear in mind your audience though. Not everyone will have access to a huge speaker system and most of your listeners will be using their phones, earbuds or cheaper headphones so make sure you reference on a range of devices to get the best sound across the board.

Above all, be creative. The best thing about mixing is that there are no hard and fast rules about what works and what doesn’t, provided you can make it sound good in the context of your mix.

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