In modern music the bassline is more integral then it’s ever been, so it’s important to have a solid grasp on how to create a musical and sonically pleasing bass line.
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In the simplest form sound layering is the process of stacking other sounds and tones with an original sound source. Similar to how you’ll stack a kick drum with say 3 or 4 kick drum samples, you can do the same process with bass and basically any other instrument or sound in production.
Now when we specifically look at this process when it comes to bass its a task of creating a big phat bass tone that has multiple timbres that add to the sound, being able to mix each sound so that no frequency is stepping on another, and then to be able to process it all together.
When we’re looking at what timbres to use (the aesthetics of a sound), we want to create interest in the original bass sound, so we need to add tones that compliment it yet don’t take attention away. Similar to how you would want to add vocal harmonies to not impede the main melody but enhance it. With this is mind we’ll need to have 2-4 layers for our bass, a sub bass, a mid range bass, a high layer, and lastly a percussive layer.
Sub Bass is usually in the range of 20 hz – 180 hz, and this is what rattles the club systems and allows people to “feel” your bass. With this just try layering a simple sine wave with a little saturation and a high pass anywhere below 175 hz. Also removing any frequencies below 50 hz will allow your bass sound to really open up.
Mid Range Bass is the main audible tone of your bass and where most electronic sounding basses get there grit and bite from. It generally exists in the 150 hz to 500 hz range, and can really help create warmth and movement in an otherwise stagnant bass sound.
High Range Bass is basically any frequency that isn’t low or mid, so we’re talking 500 hz to 5k. This is where you gain upper harmonic quality so that your bass can stick out in the mix better, now if you don’t want your bass tone to stick out and rather just be a low end rumble this might not be the best place. But if you’d like to create more interest and have a more audible bass line that has upper frequencies then this is your best bet. Here you can also add effects (distortion, reverb, delay, saturation) which we’ll talk about next.
Percussive Layer’s are a standard in a lot of big room house tracks, where they’d layer snares and kick drums onto their bass tracks. This gave the bass a hit like quality when it came in, and in turn created a lot more presence in the bass. Again this is helpful if you want your bass to stick out in the mix.
This is where you get to effect the various bass layers by working out the mix, fixing any tonal issues, and getting the sound to a point where its a cohesive bass sound and not 3-4 individual layers. This involves working on each layer and then putting all the layers together.
When we’re treating each layer individually with effects and processing we have more flexibility and option to alter the sound then if it was just one bass sound that had no layers. For instance we can separate all the layers by frequency range, so that no sounds step on any other sounds in the frequency spectrum. We can mono the sub-bass and have the mid range and high range layers in stereo to create more sonic interest. You can also have the high range delayed, or reverbed to create tails and generate more sonic interest in the higher frequency ranges.
The best part of layering your bass and then having it all acting as one cohesive HUGE bass sound is that you can treat it however you’d like. When you process them together you can pick what elements you want to really shine through and speak, and what parts you just want to be their to fill in the overall sound and provide warmth and thickness. Experiment with this and see what kind of crazy monstrous bass sounds you can come up with.
This last one comes directly from my experience playing bass for over (whoa just had to do the calculations in my head) 12+ Years. Please.Simplify.Your.Bass.Lines. I’ve run into so many situations where people have the bass doing all this wild stuff, but there’s a calm relaxed feel on everything else. I’ve stuck by a quote whenever I’m playing bass on gigs where the vocalist or a specific lead instrument is the focal point “If I’ve done my job well people won’t have listened to the bass once in the whole performance”. This is because they’ve been focusing and providing all of their attention on the singer or lead player.
Now I’m not saying that in the right situations bass players and programmed bass can get really crazy and out there, but I doubt that’ll be true when you’re playing for your local songwriter population. The key here is to remember to play for the situation, and then really try and strive to do that at the highest level you’re capable of.
Hope these tips and tricks were helpful, leave me a link or comment in the section below if you have any ideas on what I should cover next or questions and concerns you may have. Ciao
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