Bass is the foundation of most electronic dance music, therefore, it’s important to pay special attention to your low end . Here are 15 pro tips to improve the bass in your productions. Try them on their own or mix and match them to find your own unique tone.
Arguably the most important effect used for mixing and mastering, it may sound obvious, but proper compression is a fantastic way to make your bass sound louder and bigger. Compression, of course, is a tricky thing to master, but once you have it down, you can really sculpt your dynamics. With dance music, you can feel free to compress much harder than you would mixing other genres, so don’t be afraid to slam it.
2: Tape Saturation
The subtle warmth that tape adds can give your bass a new life. There are tons of great tape emulations around, but my favorite plugins for bass right now are PSP’s Vintage Warmer 2 and Waves J37 if you are looking for a more subtle approach during mixdown.
Sometimes your sound might be close to what you want, but you just can’t quite reach it inside your synth. Try bouncing it and working with the rendered audio. With the bounced out audio, you can tweak your attack and release shapes, add more effects, or chop and slice the sound into a new dimension. Mix up different samples from your audio and create something new and grimy or alternately, cut out all the unnecessary tails and clean it up!
Pushing your bass though a VST with hard clipping enabled will sheer off the tops of the peaks, squaring off the waveform. Normally, this is bad mixing technique; but for a harder hitting bass, particularly in electronic dance music, this can give you just a bit more oomph. Be very careful with this one though, this can also make your track sound amateurish if overdone. I recommend less than 1dB of clipping at the loudest point of the bassline. Also, it is advisable to steer clear of this technique if your bass sound doesn’t have much high frequency content.
Adding a doubler or chorus insert to your bass track will make your track wider and fuller. This may be my favorite tip. Just make sure you have the effect highpassed so you don’t put your sub-bass in stereo as this can cause problems later in the mixing and mastering phase. Two great options are Waves Doubler with it’s simple interface and clean sound and D16 Syntorus for a more vintage tone. NI Massive’s Dimension Expander is also worth a mention but unfortunately, it’s only available within Massive itself.
6: Add Some Sub!
Another one of my favorite techniques for making big basses is to add a sine wave under the fundamental. This can be done with pretty much any synth or with a sub-harmonic synth like Waves LoAir. This is a surefire way to give you productions more kick. Sub is super important for electronic music.
Tight, small reverb combined with compression can sound awesome! Benny Benassi mastered this technique and created that classic “Benassi Bass” we all love, but this technique isn’t just limited to simple saw waves, try it on anything! Start with a patch you like, grab your favorite verb and slap a compressor after it. Make sure you have a very short tail, preferably >1s.
8: Guitar Amps
If you have a real amp or an amp simulator, such as the one you get with Ableton, try running your bass through it. If the distortion is too much, try mixing the amped signal with the clean one. Guitar amps offer a mix of resonance and distortion that can do wonders. If you want even more beef, try chucking some pedals into the mix.
9: Overdrive on the sub
Here’s a little mixing trick for you; create a send and add an overdrive followed by a high pass filter. Set the filter somewhere between 300-500 Hz. Send your sub-bass to the overdrive and mix them to taste. The perfect mix should add just the right amount of drive to the sub, without muddying up the low end of the track. This is also a fantastic means of getting your sub line to come through on smaller speakers and headphones, definitely add this to your list of mixing tricks!
10: Sidechain compression
If you have your kick and bass hitting at the same time, be sure to use sidechain compression when you mix. Use the kick as an external trigger so that a compressor on the bass channel ducks every time the kick hits. This is a common trick in dance music production, but it’s still worth a mention on this list.
11: It’s Just a Phase…
Throwing a phaser on a growl patch can give it that throaty vocal sound. Take the LFO off or slow the rate down to a very slow speed. Play with the frequency, the number of poles and of course the wet/dry mix.
12: EQ Like a Boss
Equalization is a highly misunderstood part of mixing. Boosting low frequencies is a surefire way to make your productions sound sloppy and muddy. Instead, try cutting the mid lows and doing a gentle roll off on the top end. Unless you are sitting behind an SSL or another outstanding mixing console, you should almost never boost more than 1-2 dB. If you find yourself having to heavily EQ a sound, take a step back and consider trying a new source. Go back to the synth if you can and tweak the timbre. A fantastic sound always starts with the source.
Try layering a few sounds to create really thick basses. To avoid making a mess of things, pick a frequency band for each sound you are layering. For example, if you are going to mix three layers pick one for 20-250Hz, one for 250-1000Hz and one for 1-20kHz. Explore the sonic space you have available.
14: Add an Octave or Two
Either with one of your layers from the tip above, or with your main bass synth, add an octave up, an octave down or both. You might even want to try a couple octaves and a 5th above your root note for that old school electro dance vibe.
15: This is the Real Bass!
A real bass will help you make your music a little more funky if you want to go that route. For some applications, a bass guitar can’t be beat. Of course, if you are working on some groovy house and you’re going for a jazzy vibe, you can even try some upright bass samples!
I hope these tricks help you improve your tracks, and give your dance music the extra level you have been working towards. Just remember, always mix with your ears; if it sounds good, do it! There are no rules in mixing, only guidelines.
Do you have any tips or ticks for making better basslines? Share them in the comments below, we would love to hear from you!
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