Modern Approaches: Processing Bass

February 3, 2016

The importance of bass in modern music can not be overstated. Low-end frequency content (i.e. basslines, kick drums and the like) is essential to any genre that falls under the umbrella of club music. The push and pull of a track’s low-end elements are what can drive a song’s momentum, and, when utilized correctly, a track’s bass should not just be heard, but also felt. In turn, the absence of this low-range physicality can work against you: a techno track without a pulsating kick drum is hardly a techno track at all; a hip hop beat without a substantial low-end thud can sound frail and lifeless; and a drum & bass track without the bass is, well, only half of what it could be.

Low-end frequency content is not something that is easily controlled or manipulated. Especially for beginning producers, arriving at a satisfactory bass sound during the course of a mix can be a painstaking process informed by many stages of trial and error. How does one create bass weight without overpowering the rest of the mix? How does one craft warm, full-bodied basslines without muddying up the sonic spectrum? The truth is, there are no universally accepted answers to these questions. Rather, over time each producer is left to formulate their own approaches and develop their own techniques for effectively utilizing bass and low-end in their work.

Having previously covered the more general topics of Equalization, Compression and Reverb & Delay, the Modern Approaches series now sets its aim towards more specific components of production, beginning with the art of crafting bass. As a result of taking on a more exact subject matter, many of the participant’s responses here are considerably more in-depth than in past Modern Approaches editions. Still, for those willing to dive into the deep end of low-end processing there is plenty of practical wisdom to be dug out from the wealth of tips, tricks, tools, and insight collected below.

Matias Aguayo (Berlin - Cómeme, Kompakt)

In most of the music that I do, generally the bass of a track is created in the relatively early stages. In general, the balance between bass and drums is the backbone of every dance track, and so in a way I feel that they have to come along together, so it’s rare for me that the bass and the drums are formed separately.

I’ve always been changing the way I work from project to project, to give each project its specific sound and character. In the past, my basslines have come from old computers like the Commodore Amiga or from my voice. When I did arrangements that were based on vocal recordings, sometimes to give the vocal basslines some additional low-end, I would add something like a monophonic synth and try to somehow sonically merge it with my voice.

Matias Aguayo - El Rudo del House - Round Two

I’ve also always liked to work with instruments like bass guitars (or, at this very moment, I mostly use a baritone guitar) and things like that to reach a sound that is somehow a little bit unidentifiable. I find it interesting to create my bass sounds out of different layers, for instance to have a bass guitar and a bass synth play together and then to – using equalization and other processes – shape them and merge them together to create some sound that is more something like an alien bass guitar from another planet.

Sometimes when working on music, you make sonic decisions that are very aesthetic or very artistic, and especially when you do that with basslines, it can become very risky because at some point you might notice that the bassline doesn’t really work as a bassline in the whole sonic spectrum of the track. Then, on the other hand, if you replace it with another bass sound, you can lose some of the character that you liked in the first place. In moments like this it can be interesting to not understand it as a bassline anymore, but more as a piece of kit or a guitar line. Then, you can find subsonic basslines that work in the song, more in the vein of a reggae track, a Maurizio record, or something like that. I’ve done this many times and have found it can kind of transform the bassline to have more of the sonic character of a guitar line while still giving the track low-end punch.

Aybee (Berlin - Deepblak)

It all depends on the specific track, but usually I began working on a bassline after having come up with the chord structure for a song. I have a hybrid approach to working with bass, as my process is never static, so when I’m searching for a sound, I do a lot of fiddling until something jumps out at me.

When it comes to processing the bass sound, for me the focus is on making sure the frequencies go to the sound that needs to dominate. I tend to stay away from compressors as my ears have gotten sensitive to them over the years, so I rely more on synthesis and using parametric EQ to get the bass to sound how I want. In the end, it really depends on what the bass sound is like and what is the feeling of the track – sometimes you like the sedation, sometimes you let it run wild. It varies on what it is going on sonically with the rest of the song.

Bicep (London - Feel My Bicep, Aus)

We often use two types, or ranges, of bass in our tracks: super subby low-end (for which we exclusively use the Roland SH-101, which, in our opinion, is unbeatable for that deeper range) and then slightly higher frequency range bass (basically, an octave higher than the subs). For the higher range lines, we use a vast array of hardware including analog bits like the SH-101, the Oberheim Matrix 1000, our custom Eurorack Modular or the Korg Monopoly or digital synths such as the Roland Super JD or the Korg M1. Generally however, we always go analog for basslines as, firstly, we feel it allows for more control and creativity when creating original sounds, and secondly, because it just tends to have a little bit more beef.

More often than not, when working on a track we do the mid and high-range melodies first – finding the emotion and chords in the song – and then work out the drums and rhythms. After that, we will write the bass around those elements, which means we can often be a lot more sparing with our bass, slotting it only into the right bits of the sequence. We always trigger our basslines from a drum machine or sequencer so it’s very easy for us to just tap in a rhythm over the existing groove and organically find where it can best be placed. Sequencer wise, we trigger bass via CV and gate from our modular sequencers (like the amazing Intellij Metropolis and also the x0xb0x, which are both great for really sliding, squelchy liquid basslines). Every so often, we’ll use MIDI to trigger our basslines, but for us, MIDI can just really be limiting in terms of bringing the bass to life.

Bicep - Just

When it comes to processing bass, we keep things very simple as we like to get all the character from the hardware source, and then just tidy the sounds up once we’ve recorded it in. We don’t really use a lot of reverb down in the low-end, although a touch of delay can be great sometimes. We compress everything and always shave off the bottom 50hz of every single recording, and maybe then anything upwards of 400hz if it’s a sub sound. We’ve found that EQing is very important when using a lot of old analog hardware, especially with some of the noisier bits we own. Additionally, we’ve become very fond of matching analog bass with digital rack synth pads, as we find the digital stuff uses up way less space in the mix, giving the bass room to breathe (sometimes a completely analog mix can start to feel very busy).

A final, and probably the most important process when it comes to mixing our tracks, is really spending time on the side-chaining of everything, in order to make sure the kick comes through nice and clean, with plenty of space. For us, bass is really only there to complement the other elements and bring the groove to life, so we’re careful to make sure it doesn’t overpower the other elements. We’ve made the mistake in the past, and ended up with some super muddy mixes, so we’ve really worked on improving that area.

Chevel (Treviso/Berlin - Stroboscopic Artefacts, Non Series)

In the past, I used to work a lot with a Roland SH-101 for my basslines, which is one of the first pieces of kit I ever got. Now it’s boxed somewhere in my flat, but I must say I love it and will get back to it pretty soon as it always surprises me.

Lately though, I’ve been more into using a modular synth for my basslines. I’ve got a French-made digital macro-oscillator, which is phenomenal and can get pretty mad with FM synthesis too. If I need some extra punch, I’ll add an analog oscillator to the bassline (like the Intellijel Rubicon) and use a straight sine wave. From there, I’ll then EQ the two tones a bit in Logic in order to match and layer the bass tones together without losing or taking out the energy from either. At times, I’ll even rely only on virtual instruments for a bassline, usually Reaktor, which is pretty outstanding in terms of quality and strength in sound. It all depends on the track, and I must be honest and say that bass and low-end is something I’ve never been fully satisfied with when I produce. I am still searching for the right tricks.

Max Cooper (London - FIELDS, Traum Schallplatten)

I usually start my tracks with a chord progression, then I’ll add a kick and then bass parts as a starting point to work from, though they may or may not end up getting totally changed later. (As a sidenote, you should never be afraid to throw something in your track away if you eventually realize it’s crap, even if you have invested countless hours of hard work into it.) For my bass parts I often use Operator, the FM synth in Ableton Live. It’s a great, easy-to-use synth that allows you to build most sounds from scratch very quickly (this ease of use aids workflow in the early stages of a track, where I find it’s more important to get the ideas down than to spend too much time dialing in the specific sound of any one element). If I don’t end up keeping the Operator bass elements, I’ll usually turn to hardware, which recently has included the Moog Sub37, a DSI Prophet 8 or the Moog Minitaur. The little Moog Minitaur is great for bright bass hits that cut through the mix and sound huge. If I’m going for chords or more complex, pad-type bass sounds I’ll use the Prophet, or, when it needs to be nasty, I’ll turn to the Sub 37.

Max Cooper and Tom Hodge - Remnants

In terms of processing, some subtle saturation always helps to fatten the bass, and I like to use a combination of multiband and normal side-chain compression on the bass elements as well. The bass tones that can get away with ducking around the kick completely can be normally side-chained, while with the bass sounds that still have a nice higher frequency component that is important for the track (like a warm pad type of bass), I’ll use a multiband EQ to separate out only the lower portion of the element for side-chaining to the kick. With the multiband processor, it’s just a matter of putting a heavy side-chain compression effect on there, and then playing with the crossover frequency to find the sweet spot where the kick punches down low, while the chosen sound still keeps its desired, pump-free, feel. I usually like a fast release on the compressor, so that the bass sounds duck quickly around the kick, forming more of a bass rhythm with the kick, rather than the typical “pumping style” of side-chain compression.

My friend Satirist also shared with me a great tip on this recently: to make a muted duplicate of the kick, and replace the kick sample with a rim shot. If you do this, you’ll need a much longer release on the compressor, as rim shots are much shorter sounds than kick drums, but the advantage is that rim shots have a faster attack, and that can help the kicks punch much harder in the mix, as you make the side-chained elements duck out in time to get the full punch of the kick’s attack.

Danny Daze (Miami/Berlin - Omnidisc, Ultramajic)

With bass, you want it to be centered, you want it to be tight, and you want to be able to really feel it. My main focus in a track is the low-end (basically, everything that registers from 2 kHz and down), and with that in mind, my goal is to have a proper rhythm and to make sure that the bass is audible, or in the case of a sub-bass, that it really sticks out in a subwoofer. Part of that focus is making sure that I don’t have any phasing issues in the low-end, and to do that, I will make all my bass mono.

I like to experiment when creating bass sounds, but over the last couple of years, I’ve been gravitating towards one synth: the Studio Electronics ATC-1 (people know it as the “Tone Chameleon”). It was used a lot in hip hop studios, and it’s been my go-to for a really, really long time. Occasionally, I’ll side-chain my bass sound to a kick, but if I do that, I will always have the kicks tuned; if the kicks are tuned to the bass or the note the bass is in, it won’t feel like the bass is dropping out when it ducks underneath the kick.

When writing basslines, I actually don’t think about the bass notes beforehand really, I just go in there and type notes. Usually I’ll just strike the key left and right without even thinking, and from there I’ll start looping little parts, and that is where I will start to find stuff that sounds pretty cool and then can begin moving certain notes around. I like doing that mostly because I’m not a musician – you don’t really need to be a musician to make music, you just have to know what you can do with whatever you have available to you.

Dorian Concept (Vienna - Ninja Tune)

Because I have a background as a keyboard player, I always think harmonically and start my songs with chords, and so in a way, I see the bassline as just there to support the chords. I never really treat the bass as a singular thing, it’s that’s there to underline and kind of root the chords – to give the track that gut feeling you get from hearing a sub or thicker bass.

Dorian Concept - Draft Culture

My basslines usually come from monophonic hardware synthesizers, analog synths. Recently I’ve been using a Moog Prodigy, a Korg MS-10 or a Roland SH-101 for basslines. The good thing about some of the older machines is that you can get such a good sound out of them without much work, so I don’t have to use much (if any) compression, just equalization (and not even too much EQ, just enough to get the bass to sit in the mix right).

One thing I learned from a bass player in Vienna named Manu Meyer, is that you sometimes can get really interesting kind of frequency changes when use a slightly detuned bass, especially when are using lower-range chords in your track. Depending on which chords you use, I’ve found you can kind of get an interesting energy change, a different thickness to each chord when you use a detuned bass.

Fracture (London - Astrophonica, Exit)

A lot of my low-end content is 808-based, coming from a mix of samples I’ve picked up along the way and then samples I’ve recorded myself over the years. I’ll quite often start with that [when working on the low-end in a track] just simply because it sounds so good off the bat, and then it always sounds even better when you overdrive it: overdriving an 808 kick can open up loads of tonal possibilities. Personally, I’ve never really liked plug-in overdrive or distortion, I’ve just never really come to grips with it, so I always try to distort in the analog domain if I can. I have a small Mackie desk which overdrives quite nicely (I can either overdrive the EQ or the preamp), but I’ll also at times use something like the input of a Korg Monotron (running a really loud 808 through there will crunch it up nicely), or I’ve also put 808s through guitar amps and mic’d them back up.

If I do use a synth to create a bassline, I will probably just sample a single note from the synth, and then use that to create the line. If I’m building a track that is not so bassline-oriented, but need more of a sub, backing sound, I’ll usually use a sine wave from the u-he DIVA. I’ve also taken sub tones from the Korg Volca Keys and the Volca Bass; they’re cheap but they can sound really good.

Fracture feat. Dawn Day Night - Get Busy

Even still today, I’ve found that mixing bass is hard. Obviously you want a lot of it, but somewhat ironically, that can often make it sound like there actually isn’t that much bass because it ends up taking up too much sonic space within the mix. Something I’ve learned over the years – and everything I’ve learned is totally from fucking stuff up the first time around – is to just go easy on the bass, and then in addition to use elements in your track that work well with the bass; don’t try to force it all together. I’ve found a few ways to find the right balance between the kick and the bass in a mix: if the bass and kick are hitting at the same time, I’ll usually use a thinnish kick, or alternately, I’ll consider the mix at the beginning of the writing stage and make it so I don’t have my kicks and subs hitting at the same time.

Maintaining some space between the kick and bass is essential. If I’m using an 808, then it’s hard to place another kick drum with a lot of punch to it over that, but if I’m using a longer, synth-pad sort of bass, then I can have the kick and the bass overlap a bit more. It sounds so simple, but you can get caught up spending a lot of time wondering why your kick and bass aren’t working well with each other and it could simply be that you just can’t use those two sounds together.

Ellie Herring (Lexington - Race Car Productions)

Bass is the toughest production element for me to finalize, and this is something I’m trying to remedy by changing my approach starting at step one. Until recently, I would start my tracks by building and layering the elements that I enjoy the most – chords, percussion, vocals, etc. – and then return and try to build the low-end later on. I’ve found that this approach can be tough to do without muddying all of the other elements up, and eventually just having to reverse engineer what I had put down in the first place. Now, I’ve started to flip that process entirely by starting with a few percussive elements (of any sort) and building my low-end from the beginning until I hit on a groove that I’m really into (even if that means the percussive elements are just a placeholder and will completely change later on).

My low-end elements usually consist of tuned kicked drums combined with a miscellaneous sampled sound that aligns in key and time with the kick, which gives the low-end more shape and character. I also do a good deal of EQing until I’ve established a good balance between the kick and the bassline, and I’ll also use some minimal side-chaining and compression as well.

Juju & Jordash (Amsterdam - Dekmantel, Rush Hour)

For Juju & Jordash’s live shows, we really heavily on the SH-101 for basslines, simply because the 101 has the most intuitive sequencer for basslines and – for the size and price – the sound is great. Really though, that little sequencer is the main reason we use the 101. It can be triggered by any drum machine with no MIDI, no bullshit. You just press record, type in the notes you want to use, and then you can trigger the rhythms from an external drum machine (we use a 606 to trigger it usually).

In the studio, we don’t use the SH-101 at all really, more often using something like the Pro-1 or the CS-30 for basslines. Jordan usually plays in the basslines, either on a keyboard or on a bass guitar. When we work on music, we do these long jams (sometimes 45 minutes to an hour), and Jordan’s left-hand will be the “bass player” and he’ll just keep grooving. Then later we’ll chop up the 10 minutes of the jam we like or just remove the places where it wasn’t tight or whatever, and we really like the feeling we get from that. The super tight stuff isn’t always that cool, it can be a bit less funky. If we do end up triggering a bassline (which we do every so often in the studio), we really like using a 909 (though we don’t have one right now) to trigger the notes. We love the groove of a 909, it’s just funky. Having Logic or Ableton trigger a bassline usually feels stiff to us, so in the end, we’d rather just play it ourselves and feel loose about it.

Another secret weapon we use is an Echolette tube preamp unit; basically, every Juju & Jordash track from the last five or so years has a number of things on it that have been run through the Echolette. It distorts very quickly, but we don’t really try to get that hardcore distorted tone – we try to use it subtly, even if we just pass the bass through there without distorting, it can give it a nice, round tubby character.

Just Blaze (New York - Roc-A-Fella Records)

I’ll do whatever needs to be done for a song. So if the song feels like it needs a tuned 808, tuned kick or a tuned fuzzy bass, then I have presets for each of those sounds that I’ve made in Logic, where I’ve taken a sine wave, modulated it with the proper amount of attack, the proper amount of distortion, and so on to really get it to cut through. You need the right amount of sub in a track, so that it doesn’t overload, but that you still feel it. The whole thing with basslines in general, is you have to be able to feel them.

I will say that typically, over the years, the role of the 808 kick has changed. It used to be used as something to fill out a track, where it wasn’t the star of the show, it was something that you just used to give your kick a little bit more oomph, so to speak, or a little bit more attack, a little bit more feeling or a little bit more growl. Then it got to where we’re at now, where the 808 bass is up front and center. The way you have to cue the 808 kicks and compress them is different now – you almost have to distort them to get them to cut through. My theory is, if you want to use 808 the way it’s being used today, you have to be able to hear it on your laptop speakers. If you don’t hear the 808 bass cut through on your laptop speakers, you’re doing something wrong. If you’re using a set of Auratone monitors or NS-10s, and you don’t hear the 808, it’s not going to cut through the way you think it probably needs to.

Just Blaze & Baauer feat. JAY Z - Higher

That was something I always used to struggle with, because I actually am an engineer, and grew up under great engineers who taught me a lot of great things. One of the things that we were always taught in that era was: distortion is bad (unless it’s a guitar), but there’s a certain harmonic presence that can also come about from using distortion the right way. If anything, I think the one common tool that I use for my basses now – whether it’s a live bass, whether it’s a programmed bass, whether it’s something that’s deriving from an 808, or some kind of manipulation of a square wave, or a sine wave, or whatever – I actually tend to use distortion a bit more on my basslines now. Not to the point where it feels like it’s distorting, but just using distortion pedals, or distortion plug-ins to amplify the harmonics at a certain frequency range, so that you can hear them on a small speaker.

Kid Smpl (Seattle - Symbols, Hush Hush)

Processing bass and low-end is always highly situational for me, but I could probably break down my way of dealing with it into three common approaches. Pretty often I want my bass to sound a little bit blown-out, slightly muddy and overwhelming. In those cases, I want all my low-end sources (subs, kicks, bass synths, etc.) to not be rolled off at all, and to have all the low-end frequencies they’re producing come through. I usually use 808s as my sub source for this approach, and then place a more thumpy kick on top. I also like to turn the release up all the way on the 808 kick hits so that they overlap a bit. This can lead to some pretty cool phasing and movement in the low-end.

The second approach I’ve developed is for when I want a more punchy and clean-sounding bass. In this case, I usually create sub frequencies with a sine wave and either make sure the sub-bass in the kick is EQed out or that the sine wave is side-chained to the kick so neither sound muddies the other up. The last approach is more for a “wall of bass” type of sound. I usually do this by creating a sine wave and then putting a bunch of reverb, overdrive and saturation on it. All of these techniques usually require a fair bit of EQing but it’s all highly dependent on the situation.

Sofia Kourtesis (Berlin - Duchess Box Records)

When I’m working on a track, I usually come up with the chords and the general idea for the song before I start to work on the bassline. I might have a snippet or an idea for the bass to begin with, but at the beginning I am usually jamming on the MPC, so I work that out first before moving the track to Cubase, where I can work on the bass and everything else. Still, I do think the bassline is very important to a song; in my music I want it to be the hook that gets people dancing.

Sofia Kourtesis - Fresia

When I’m working on a track, I usually come up with the chords and the general idea for the song before I start to work on the bassline. I might have a snippet or an idea for the bass to begin with, but at the beginning I am usually jamming on the MPC, so I work that out first before moving the track to Cubase, where I can work on the bass and everything else. Still, I do think the bassline is very important to a song; in my music I want it to be the hook that gets people dancing.

For the album I’m working on right now, I’ve been using the Roland MKS-50 and the MFB Dominion 1 synthesizer, and combining them together. I like the contrast, where one can be more of the high-end while the other can provide a lot of the low-end, so I’ve been using the two together on a lot of basslines recently. I also have used the Roland Juno 60 in this way as well. In the past, I used to approach basslines a bit more simply, but I’ve been trying more things recently to help make my sound grow, become more mature, and combining a lot of bass sounds to make one overall bassline has definitely been a part of that.

Lorca (Brighton - Naked Naked, 20/20 Vision)

In most cases my tracks will have around two or three different bass sounds that work together – usually a sub, and a couple of mid-range bass sounds. Still, I don’t have a set formula for creating the low-end content in my music. Sometimes the bass will be a sample I have found, other times I will turn to my Prophet 08 synth or a soft-synth like the Albino 3.

Lorca - Forgive Me Love

In my track “Forgive Me Love,” I used a sample of a double bass from vinyl for the main sub in the track, but I’ve found that samples often won’t have the desired sub frequencies I want, so I’ve developed a few ways of making them sound “bigger” and to help them fill out that essential bottom end. With bass sounds I have sampled, I’ll firstly make them mono, and then add a few plug-ins. A filter like Cubase’s Dual Filter will go on as an insert, and I’ll use it to cut out all the high-end on the sample. Then, I’ll add Waves’ L3 LL Multimaximizer to the chain and cut out all the high-end on that plug-in and pull down the threshold. This basically allows me to limit the bass frequencies in my chosen sample and add some volume to the bass frequencies independently.

If I am going for a bass sound that is a little more “stabby” (something more for rhythmic purposes), I’ll sometimes set up a reverb buss and set the reverb’s pre-delay milliseconds to match the tempo of the track. I’ll then add some of that reverb to my bass sound and side-chain the reverb channel to my kick drum. I’ve found this can be a really good technique for adding some movement and pump to any bass.

Phil Moffa (New York - Butcha Sound Systems)

The bass should be the foundation of the track. In music that is so bass drum-heavy, you really have to spend a lot of time on your kick/bass relationship and making sure that they don’t get in each other’s way in terms of both EQ and rhythm. Making sure they are not always occurring at the same time, that can be one of the most important techniques: sometimes you have kicks that don’t have a very long release (more punchy kicks), and so the bassline has more room to be present; and then there are situations when you have a kick with a very long release on it, which leaves less room for the bass to do its thing. Using EQ and a touch of side-chaining (but not obvious side-chaining) and writing with the kick/bass relationship in mind can really help give these individual elements [in the low-end spectrum] their own space.

And then when it comes to bass levels (levels always being the most important thing in mixing) you have to listen back to your mix on various monitors at various levels and make sure that – again, in this bass drum-prominent music (coming from the house and techno world, at these tempos where rhythmically a kick occurs every quarter note at least) – that each bass drum is present and pronounced, and that it comes through the bassline. Using high-pass filters, you can make a decision as to which one (the bassline or the kick) sits lower, frequency-wise; you can decide which one acts as the real anchor and which one is placed slightly above the other. That is something you have to analyze on a per track basis. Sometimes you’re dealing with songs that have two basslines: there’s a sub, and then there’s the kick, and then comes a high line (a 303 or something like that), and each one has to have its own space. It’s okay to high-pass these things, even though they are the low-end elements, because if you use a [frequency] analyzer and you check out what’s going on in the low-end, a lot of times what you are not hearing could actually be very loud and using a lot of energy and headroom and ultimately taking up a lot of space in the mix with frequencies that can not be heard in the studio (except maybe on a very low sub), but may only be heard in the club. You may see things on an analyzer that go down to 25 Hz and use a great deal of headroom, yet they are nothing that you can even hear, so high-pass filters are all good, and in fact, encouraged.

Sound treatment is not as exciting or fun as buying a synth or a drum machine, but the reality is that the way your room sounds directly affects the way your mixes sound.

Phil Moffa

You also have to consider that most of this music’s final destination could be a club, and you have to keep in mind that at those club-level volumes – coming out of a bunch of large 18” or 21” subwoofers – these lower frequencies are going to be very present, and that making them very loud in a controlled studio environment is only going lead to them being overwhelming later on. We want it to sound like a club in our studio, but then when you actually take the track out to a club, the bass is going to take over if it’s not mixed at the right level. At loud levels, bass is over pronounced to the human ear. That’s why you need to monitor at different levels at different times in the studio. When you are cranking it and having fun, you are working with hyped bass (and your room is probably hyping the bass too, if you don’t have bass traps in your studio) and you then start making all your midrange and high-end elements louder so that they fit with this hyped bass, and as a result, in other listening environments you may find the bass is too quiet because you were blasting it while you were mixing.

In many, if not most all home studios, people overlook the importance of buying and investing in acoustic sound treatment. Sound treatment is not as exciting or fun as buying a synth or a drum machine, but the reality is that the way your room sounds directly affects the way your mixes sound. If you are in an apartment, or not in a professional environment and you’re basically working in a square, then you probably have a lot of bass building up in the corners of that room, and therefore you are always going to be dealing with hyped bass.

Project Pablo (Montreal - 1080p, Hybridity)

Before, I used bass mostly as a way to reinforce the chords in my songs. But on my last LP, I Want to Believe, I wanted to experiment and play around with having the bass lead some of the tracks on the record, to make it more melodic and have the basslines move around a lot more. For a few songs on the record, I wrote the basslines with a synthesizer, then I would have a friend re-record the basslines I had wrote using just a regular bass guitar through a DI set-up (he tossed in a few of his own ideas as well). On a few other tracks, I would just sample a single note of a bass tone, and then would write the basslines using the Simpler in Ableton.

Project Pablo "Follow It Up" - Boiler Room Debuts

When I first started producing, I didn’t roll off too much with EQ, I would just compress the bass and that was it. But more recently, I’ve been experimenting with cutting most all the high frequencies out of a bass, down until even 90 Hz, so it’s just sub. I’ll do that on something that is a more funky bassline – something that wouldn’t usually be a sub line – and then after I roll the high frequencies off, I’ll compress and saturate it up a bunch to bring out the overtones and the higher frequencies. That’s something I’ve been playing with a lot recently and something I’ve been doing just using Ableton plug-ins.

I also used to side-chain my basslines a ton, but I’ve started to lean away from doing that recently. I used to be way too picky about making sure the kick and bass weren’t smashing into each other too much, but then I would go and play out in a club and realize that wasn’t really the case, that they actually sounded fine together. So I stopped side-chaining so much, and now the bass sounds a bit more looser and live, and just not as overproduced. I’ve especially found that tuning the kick to match the key of the bassline and the overall track helps a lot with this too.

Rabit (Houston - Tri Angle, Glacial Sound)

A lot of my Communion album really doesn’t have what typically would be referred to as “bass” or a “bassline.” I don’t really use bass melodically. I use low-end to ground the track, or I can use it as tool in a somewhat violent way where I distort the bass and just have a really long tone.

There are a couple of tracks on Communion where the kick drum is a sub-kick, so that can kind of act as the bass. Other times, I might use something really simple to create an initial bass tone – something that makes a sine wave – and then all the FX that I put on that first tone are what give it a distinct sound. But it’s usually something really simple that is actually the root of the sound. I use a lot of freeware and free VSTs, and some of them have a really cheap sound that I like, and then it’s really the FX and the treatment put on it that gives the tone I started with its sound.

I put more FX on a sound than I can fit in one sitting. I might put 10 plug-ins on a track, then export it and put on 10 more. I feel like adding a lot of FX in an artistic way can give my sounds a direction that I would not have come across if I was trying to shape it intentionally. It’s all experimentation that gets me to my sounds, and I think when working with the bass and lower frequency material it is no different.

Matthias Reiling of Session Victim (Hamburg - Giegling, Delusions of Grandeur)

More often than not, we start a track from a certain sample (a loop or a few chops) and then we’ll fit the bassline on top of it. One of the main difficulties in working with samples the way we do is making sure everything is in tune with each other. I find it generally easier to detune my bass or a synth than detuning a sample – both can be the right thing to do, but more often it’s the instruments following the samples.

Since I am a bass player, we use my electric four-string (an ESP precision bass from the early ‘80s that definitely has a specific sound) in a lot of our songs. In addition to playing a bassline, I will sometimes also play the bass fingerstyle on the high frets and with a pick, which will serve more as kind of a background rhythm guitar in the tracks. If we use a synth for a bassline, we mostly end up using either an old Prodigy Moog or the Novation Bass Station II (which looks bad but sounds great). The one other piece of gear that is a big part of our sound is the Moog MF-101 Moogerfooger low-pass filter; it’s a great machine that sounds good on a lot of things. For bass, we just add a little bit of drive using the MF-101 to it to get it a bit gritty and somewhat alive. In addition, we’ve found that side-chaining the bass with the kick can make the whole track sound much more powerful, especially if it’s used very discreetly.

Shenoda (London - Aus, ManMakeMusic)

It depends on the track, but I usually begin building the drums and bass first when working on a track. It helps to nail those key elements in the beginning and it’s good to tackle the low-end early on so that you can sculpt the rest of your track around it.

Shenoda - If I Could

As a starting point, my bass sounds usually begin on an analog synth that produces great low-end tones, something like a Moog or a Korg synth (the Moog Minitaur packs a real punch for something so small and affordable). I’ll run all my outboard synths through a TL Audio Fat Track to give it some tube warmth, and then occasionally double up the sound with a sample to give some clarity between the top-end and low-end of the bass sound.

In terms of bass compression and EQ, I’m always a fan of the Waves CLA-2A and the PSP Vintage Warmer. In addition, I use subtle saturation on most of my bass sounds, just to tame some of the low-end whilst bringing out some of the more audible harmonics. I do use some side-chaining too, but I’m careful with it; if you make your side-chained bass too pumping, it’ll sound like an EDM record.

Henry Wu (London - Eglo, 22a)

I tend to approach the bass in a track (and really every instrument) more from a musician’s perspective. For my productions, I don’t tend to start with the bass sound, but I usually bring it in after laying down the drums or the chords. Bass plays a big role in my music – the bass, the drums and the keys are the core three elements when I’m making a song. Once I have those pillars in place, everything just slips in between them.

Right now, I’m using lots of these new software synths and plug-ins, like some Moog simulators, for basslines. It’s funny, people who make music on analog gear will come to me and ask if a particular bassline is a Juno or something, but it’s usually a plug-in. I think they just sound great. I play all my basslines in on a controller as I’m actually really bad with writing notes in. I can see how it helps, and I have friends who can edit stuff after they play it in, but me personally, I’m not very confident with looking at a piano roll like that. I also have a friend who plays bass on some of my stuff, and I’ll just let the track run, even when he doesn’t know it’s recording, because that can be when the best stuff comes out.

When I’m processing bass, I’ll usually put some compression on it to give the bass that punch and that crispy kind of sound – that Herbie Hancock Head Hunters sound, where you can hear the top end of the bass coming through, so it’s not as subby as a lot of stuff I hear nowadays. I’m not as technical as others with it, but I’ll usually have a bass sound in mind and then just mess around until I can find it.

On a different note