The Biggest Mistake Music Producers Make With Their Bass End

I’ve been asked how to make fat basses by a lot or people. And I get the impression that they want a step by step guide on what synth or vst plugin to use and how to compress and EQ it.

But that would be misleading.

I’ve used as many methods to produce fat bass sounds as I’ve made tracks. What works in one situation won’t work in another.

So I’m not going to give you a step by step anything.

Instead I want you to focus on something else. If your bass isn’t working as well as you’d like, you’re almost certainly looking in the wrong place for the solution. Instead of obsessing about the bass itself, listen to what’s going on around it.

Find it and forget it

No matter what level you’re at or what gear you’re using you will already have more than enough to make an awesome bass sound.

(Hint – its hard to beat a simple sine wave.)

So play with what you’ve got and when you find a bass sound you like, leave it. You don’t have to love it, it’s not your girlfriend.

Give it room

Now listen to what else is playing.

You might have a kick drum, lo tom or some other bassy noise playing in the same frequency range. At best this will make your bass less effective. At worst it’s going to clash. So what do you do about it?

First off forget about the bass sound. You like it remember?

Twiddling allowed here

Change the kick sound. Take out that tom. Or use EQ to roll off a little bass end from each. Tweak or change whatever might interfere with your bass until it shines through.

I know it’s sometimes hard to let go of that part or sound you really love, but do you want your bass to sound amazing or not?

Make sure that the track still works when that huge fat bass sound (that you’ve lovingly done nothing to) isn’t playing. With enough time you’ll be able to find something that doesn’t interfere with the bass and still do it’s job.

When you’re happy record what you’ve done and check it on different speakers. Then and only then go and tweak your bass sound if it needs it. But I bet it doesn’t.

Learn from the master

If you don’t believe me let’s hear it from all round top banana and undisputed king of bass Justin Martin.

Here’s his awesome remix of my album track “Grace”:

So what do we learn from this badboy?

  • The kick has virtually no low bottom end on it. He makes up for that by either choosing or eq-ing a kick with enough lo-mid thwack (technical term) to do it’s job of keeping your ass wiggling.
  • Even though he uses 3 or 4 different bass-end sounds none of them play together.
  • The bass stuff isn’t constant. He brings it in and out a lot. There’s no bass at all until 1m30secs. This creates contrast and makes the bass so much more powerful when it does hit you in your trousers (pants for my North American friends).

Ok, if you insist…

I said I wasn’t going to give you a step by step anything, but I can tell you really want one.

So here’s my 3 step technique for how to make your bass sound fat:

  1. Find a bass sound you like
  2. Give it room to breath
  3. Done

Comments

  1. Kartik says

    Really enjoyed this post! Thanks for the helpful hints :). There are a lot of times it's tough to just let go of those sounds you love. Your line "So play with what you’ve got and when you find a bass sound you like, leave it. You don’t have to love it, it’s not your girlfriend." had me cracking a smile and changing my ideas. I'm going to be thinking about bass (and all of my sounds) a little differently in my productions.

    Thanks Mike!

  2. British Airwaves says

    Phillipe Zdar, when interviewed about his Cassius tracks some years back, was asked the same and he said for Cassius' tracks he took the bass under around 400hz out of everything except the kick and the bassline. IIRC he also said he let the bline sit on the kick, as the kick was the metronome.

    I tried it myself, and while it feels counterproductive on some elements – robbing pads of warmth for example – for the house track I was putting together it freed up so much space the interplay between the kick and the percussion became clearer and the push/pull between the bass and the kick was more fluid.

    Can't say it'll work on all tracks of course, but it does show the power of 'everything in it's place'.

  3. says

    Thanks for all of these tips, Mike. There are some great grains of thought in these posts. Every time I feel a stuck, there's something here to keep me going. I'm looking forward to seeing the whole hundred (perhaps, in book form).

  4. Mikael says

    Does this mean the technique of using side-chaining — to let the kick trough when it’s playing — is not in your favour Mike? I tend to like this because it can marry the bass and the kick to become more blended and tight which I like. It does require you work on the release setting for the proper tempo.
    Or do you think, like I believe, this can work as a complement in some type of tracks to what you suggest here about making room for the bass?

    • Mike Monday says

      Yes – sidechaining can actually create more “room” for the bass. And I always took the approach that the least I had to do in the mix down the better. So often, if I picked the right sound and had the right part – this even this technique (which is no doubt helpful) was often unnecessary…

  5. Jason Soditch says

    What a great, common sense tip. I see this as part of setting certain limitations on the way one produces music, which is a good thing. I was finally able to finish tracks once I said, “There. That’s the bass sound. That’s it, etc..” with each part of the song. And yes, it’s hard to beat a simple sine wave : )

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