The bass is one of the foundational instruments in a recording, so getting it right(during the recording session) is fundamental to a great recording. Here are a few tips I’ve learned during my career to ensure that you get the best out of your bass!
1. The Performance
It all starts with the performance. This is ultimately what matters the most. You want a good player who knows the songs well. Otherwise you will end up spending more money to fix things after the fact.
2. The Instrument
The next step to a great bass recording is the Instrument. You want to use a quality bass that is in good condition (no fret buzz, bad jacks or pots, well intonated, etc.) It is also important to keep the bass in tune between songs. Fresh strings can be important as well but it is recommended to change them a few days before the recording since they can be too bright and noisy when first changed. Also, planning ahead and having a backup instrument can save a recording from disaster.
3. Di or Amp?
Should you use a direct box or mic the bass amp? It is recommended to always use a direct box in most situations so you can have a bass signal free of bleed. But, if the bass amp is well isolated from the recording room(free from where you are recording drums or other non-D.I. Instruments) and you have the ability to mic it in addition to the direct box, go for it. Just be aware that if you are mixing a bass amp and direct box together, there will most likely be a slight timing difference between the two tracks. The Direct box will be very slightly ahead of the amp since it has a shorter path to travel. This can cause phase issues and cancel out the low end of the bass. You will have to phase align the two tracks in your Digital Audio Workstation after the fact. You can also always apply a bass amp plugin or send the direct recording to a bass amp and record that in post production.
4. EQ and Compression
Subtle EQ and compression can help bring out the dynamics of the performance. If not done properly however, it can also hinder the recording. If in doubt, bypass any such effects. From experience I’ve encountered bass recordings that sound very thin even though they sounded fat on stage. This could be caused by many factors. Sometimes a bassist is misled by the sound coming from the bass amp. As a result they tend to drop the low frequencies on the instrument thinking there’s enough low end from the bass amp only to realize that the recording had little to no low end. Again, If in doubt, capture the recording with no processing.
Always keep an eye on the input signal. Even if the signal was not clipping during soundcheck, there is a good chance the player will be playing harder during the performance. In the digital domain, you want to avoid clipping as it can ruin a recording. Recording too low is preferred to clipping in the DAW, so leave yourself plenty of headroom. One way to help prevent this is to make sure that the player has enough of themselves in their monitors while they are playing at a reasonable volume during soundcheck so that once the band starts they don’t struggle to hear themselves and start playing louder. The bass player could also be clipping his amp/direct box before it gets to the engineer, so use your ears as well to tell you if there is a problem. One issue often overlooked, is the proximity of the bass player to their amp. Low frequencies are heard best from a distance since they have long wavelengths. Standing too close to the amp can actually give the impression that there is not enough low end. If possible have the bass player move farther away from the amp until they can hear the true tone of the amp.
In conclusion, meters are crucial but let your ears be your ultimate guide!
Listening To The Bass
Want to Learn More About Recording and Mixing?
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