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Achieving thick, wide-sounding synth bass?
Old 9th September 2019
  #1
Here for the gear
 

Achieving thick, wide-sounding synth bass?

Hi all!

I need help figuring out how to produce thick, wide-sounding synth basses, and I figured there’s no better community to ask than the Gearslutz community.

A common thread between the reference songs I am going to provide is that they were all mixed by Serban Ghenea, and because they were (almost) all produced by different producers, I can only assume that Serban’s mixing has a lot to do with the thick, wide bass sounds I love so much.

So, how can one achieve such massive sounding synth bass?


[Mixing and production tips are welcome.]


Reference songs (all by Taylor Swift):

“Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince”
“I Did Something Bad”
“Dress"
”End Game”


Please, don’t judge the songs; just listen to (and appreciate) how incredible the bass sounds in them. Taylor's music gets a lot of hate, but the production on her last two albums is sick.
Old 9th September 2019
  #2
Gear Maniac
 

Hi,

when i want a "thick" bass sound i saturate the low end. Waves Rbass, slate tape machine, izotope saturator gets the job done for me. this adds harmonics to the sound.

If the bass is mono and i would want it wider i would send it to a delay with some widening preset. and cut out the low end from the delay. this adds a supper short delay with a different timing to the left and right channel making it wider. you wouldnt want that on the low frequenties. hence the cut in the low end.

That being said, in most modern production's the synths are compiled from multiple synth patches. they probably would have a sepperate synth taking care of the low/sub frequenties providing the "thick sound and multiple other synths providing the wide melody.

Hope this helps!
Old 9th September 2019
  #3
Lives for gear
 

Well... I've been programming synths since the seventies and the best way to get a thick sounding synth bass is to program it that way.
Old 9th September 2019
  #4
Lives for gear
 
Sigma's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by jammiedodger666 View Post
Well... I've been programming synths since the seventies and the best way to get a thick sounding synth bass is to program it that way.
THIS!

with synth sounds it isn't the engineers manipulation as much as "the sound" the player gives you
Old 4 weeks ago
  #5
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Monk u View Post
Hi,

when i want a "thick" bass sound i saturate the low end. Waves Rbass, slate tape machine, izotope saturator gets the job done for me. this adds harmonics to the sound.

If the bass is mono and i would want it wider i would send it to a delay with some widening preset. and cut out the low end from the delay. this adds a supper short delay with a different timing to the left and right channel making it wider. you wouldnt want that on the low frequenties. hence the cut in the low end.

Hope this helps!
Thank you very much for these tips! I will give each of them a try and determine which works best for me. Many thanks!
Old 4 weeks ago
  #6
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jammiedodger666 View Post
Well... I've been programming synths since the seventies and the best way to get a thick sounding synth bass is to program it that way.
I figured that actually programming a synth bass to sound thick and wide would be more effective than anything in post-production, but as someone who doesn't know much about synth programming or synth parameters, which parameters should I be playing around with to try and get the sound I'm after?

Here's a screenshot of a Reaktor Monark bass preset I generally like, but would, of course, like to sound thicker and wider:
Attached Thumbnails
Achieving thick, wide-sounding synth bass?-screen-shot-2019-09-09-6.34.37-pm.jpg  
Old 4 weeks ago
  #7
Gear Head
 

I'm no expert but a few comments. Key message is, there's no magic bullet or special tool that will deliver what you want, it's like 100 small things all happening together.

1. If you look at those tracks on analysers you might be able to find out more. Serban's mixes have stereo width which is often pushed beyond what's considered 'good practice'. If you collapse those tracks to mono, they sound totally different. The vocal and kick are all that stand out. I guess at this point in 2019, the thinking is that making music for headphones and small stereo units is the most important thing. Depending on who you talk to, either EVERY single club system is mono, or no system has been mono since 1998. I don't know how many times your music may be played in mono, Serban really DOES NOT seem to let it worry him

2. If you listen closely, some of the sounds that you're hearing as 'one sound' are actually two, three, four sounds very carefully layered together. Ie the 'pluck' attack of one synth, maybe a quieter copy of that sound pitched an octave up, some warm mids from another sound, and some low or sub bass; maybe a high passed synth and white noise. If you process these together, your brain is sort of tricked into hearing just one sound. Especially if you say, low-pass filter some of the sounds (ie stabs).

3. Keep the signal below 150 - 200 Hz mono. Have a listen to what happens to the signal as you change from stereo to mono. The mono version should be more sort of 'obvious' and 'direct' sounding. Then try splitting the sound (all 'grouped' up) and again see what happens when you add stereo width to the signal. I find Izotope Imager to be very cool for this, but any tool will do.

4. There are a number of psychological tricks to increase perceived width, have a look for them (research on google)

5. There are also other techniques/ tricks related to mid/ side processing which can help

6. Finally the mastering process can also increase and adjust stereo width, across various bands (ie. maybe just across the tops/ mids)

7. Keep listening hard and see what happens when you pan/ move/ modulate sounds either together; try being subtle, try being obvious. Try recording two copies and seeing what happens if you pan it; try chorus, delays, try fx sends, try automation; try splitting the signal up into bands and effect only each band seperately, then recombine and try more processing

8. I'm no expert at all - like i said at the start, analyze some tracks (I own Izotope Insight 2 - it's very um insightful), and experiment/ read/ learn/ how to make your signal behave the same way

Some of the above will either sound terrible, or will sound terrible at first - you need to work through all available options and decide what works for you. Take time to listen hard. I find for example, mono sounds just lovely to me: strong and powerful, but you have no width; balancing the focus with the power is the key, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc

Or hire Serban
Old 4 weeks ago
  #8
Quote:
but as someone who doesn't know much about synth programming or synth parameters, which parameters should I be playing around with to try and get the sound I'm after?
The parameters depend on the sound/patch you selected. We cannot hear anything in a picture. No one can tell you what knobs you need to turn, form a picture. you cant hear it.

What you need to do is to start with the sound that is thick and wide and then go from there. You cannot add what is not there. You do not get that sound in mixing or mastering. You need to start with a good source sound that sounds like that and go from there
Old 3 weeks ago
  #9
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack101 View Post
I'm no expert but a few comments. Key message is, there's no magic bullet or special tool that will deliver what you want, it's like 100 small things all happening together.
Thanks so much, Jack! All of these tips are wonderful. I cannot wait to try everything you suggested! Thank you greatly for your time in typing out this response. Much appreciated.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #10
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by CJ Mastering View Post
What you need to do is to start with the sound that is thick and wide and then go from there. You cannot add what is not there. You do not get that sound in mixing or mastering. You need to start with a good source sound that sounds like that and go from there
Thank you for your reply. I'm sure I've got synth bass presets somewhere that sounds close to how I want them to sound. I'm going to find them, then learn how to fine-tune them to get them sounding just how I want them to sound. Thanks for the advice. I agree that starting with a sound that already sounds close to what I want is probably the best way to achieve a desires sound.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #11
Hi nnelg. Welcome to Gearslutz

For a thick bass I'd use a high-pass filter and low-pass filter - the idea is to remove anything which stops the bass sounding thick e.g. uneeded low-end which is eating up bandwidth and headroom without helping the thickness, or too much treble or mids. A lot of popular synths for bass-dependent music e.g. house, garage, pop, etc. had low-pass and high-pass filters (Roland for sure) whereas some synths e.g. Moog had just the low-pass filter, which means a fuller low-end but not necessarily thick.

For widening I'd treat it like electric guitar panning: original panned to left and a slightly delayed signal to the right (or even duplicate the bass channel and delay/pan); I might make some EQ changes to each L and R channel to differentiate them further (which emphasizes the widening more).

A third option is to keep a mono bass channel (full thick bass) with 2 aux sends to left/right with one delayed slightly, and I would high-pass filter these so only the mid-range of the bass is present.

Another similar option is to set-up mid-side (as above).

Most days I just use U-he Bazille synth which does epic thick bass
Old 3 weeks ago
  #12
Gear Head
 
booger1000's Avatar
 

Pan the voices if you have multiple voices. I use unison wide on my Analog keys for some fat bass

If it’s a mono synth use a chorus effect like the MXR, or a Juno clone or Eventide.

Roland Dimension D of some kind.

Oh, and if you have UAD, use the Ampex ATR tape machine “chorus” effect very subtly.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #13
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arthur Stone View Post
Hi nnelg. Welcome to Gearslutz

For a thick bass I'd use a high-pass filter and low-pass filter - the idea is to remove anything which stops the bass sounding thick e.g. uneeded low-end which is eating up bandwidth and headroom without helping the thickness, or too much treble or mids. A lot of popular synths for bass-dependent music e.g. house, garage, pop, etc. had low-pass and high-pass filters (Roland for sure) whereas some synths e.g. Moog had just the low-pass filter, which means a fuller low-end but not necessarily thick.

For widening I'd treat it like electric guitar panning: original panned to left and a slightly delayed signal to the right (or even duplicate the bass channel and delay/pan); I might make some EQ changes to each L and R channel to differentiate them further (which emphasizes the widening more).

A third option is to keep a mono bass channel (full thick bass) with 2 aux sends to left/right with one delayed slightly, and I would high-pass filter these so only the mid-range of the bass is present.

Another similar option is to set-up mid-side (as above).

Most days I just use U-he Bazille synth which does epic thick bass
I mean they're not bad tips but from the links in your sig, 'wide thick bass' means something very different to you than it does to the OP, to Serban, and to me

It's a bit like you're painting pretty watercolours and the OP's asking about how to make a spraycanned mural and you're like 'well take these watercolours and...'

Not meant to be a criticism really - the stuff you linked sounds really decent and open and really nicely captured and so on - and I'm sure U-He Bazille is a cool synth but it's not going to make Calvin Harris style -4 LUFS pop without being treated

It's a bit like someone saying 'how do i make heavy metal' and someone saying 'you need a guitar' and you're like, well obviously you need a guitar but I have a guitar and it sounds nothing like Iron Maiden style guitars...

The following post recommending Unison, again, it's not bad advice but there's just a lot more to it. I only know because i've a/b'ed against some of Serban's stuff and tried all sorts, and there's a reason why he's known as one of the best in the business and it's not because he uses Unison or pans voices - though I'm fairly sure he does do that!
Old 3 weeks ago
  #14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack101 View Post
I mean they're not bad tips but from the links in your sig, 'wide thick bass' means something very different to you than it does to the OP, to Serban, and to me...
How do you know what the OP thinks? Why should my sig links have anything to do with my tips? I make a range of music.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack101 View Post
...It's a bit like you're painting pretty watercolours and the OP's asking about how to make a spraycanned mural and you're like 'well take these watercolours and...'
Lol.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack101 View Post
Not meant to be a criticism really - the stuff you linked sounds really decent and open and really nicely captured and so on - and...
The sig links are there on every post whether I'm discussing: folk, jazz, acid, rock, techno, reggae, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack101 View Post
...I'm sure U-He Bazille is a cool synth but it's not going to make Calvin Harris style -4 LUFS pop without being treated
You've never used Bazille?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack101 View Post
It's a bit like someone saying 'how do i make heavy metal' and someone saying 'you need a guitar' and you're like, well obviously you need a guitar but I have a guitar and it sounds nothing like Iron Maiden style guitars...
Old 3 weeks ago
  #15
Another thing Jack101; seeing as this is the Newbie thread, several posters have given the best advice and if you read the thread carefully you'll realise that people are being constructive advising to begin from first principles i.e. learn the basics of sound design using synthesizers. Experiment and discover how different waveforms and filters affect the bass. Copying stuff is BS in the long run; start with the basics and develop an original sound from scratch...much more fun.

I recommend the Gordon Reid synth series in Sound-On-Sound.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #16
Gear Head
 

Lol I seem to have the knack of coming up with unpopular takes on things

A while ago it was because I sort of disagreed with the maxim 'if it sounds right, it is right' - I'm of the opinion that just because YOU think it's sounding right, you might compare it to something else and suddenly realise you're wrong, or at least, not quite right. I make a snare drum and i'm thinking hot dog that sounds AGGRESSIVE and TIGHT! and then i compare it to some other track and i'm left inconsolable, and i start another new project and i try to do it better

I'm guessing most of you didn't click on the links to hear the Taylor Swift tracks which the OP referenced, which are indeed deceptively ridiculously well produced. There's an 'open' stereo quality to them.

I don't know how many of you have ever tried to make a track which a/b's to say, a Calvin Harris Serban mixed track. If you ever have, you'll totally appreciate why it's not simple to make. He can mix to make a kick drum sound bold, defined, smooth, heavy, floaty, rich, clean, crisp, rounded, punchy, soft, controlled, powerful etc etc etc, all at -4 LUFS. There's a lot to it. Everything is balanced and pushed but even and full and smooth. And of course, as with the best 'art', it has this effortless quality, as though it was nothing, as though he took a kick from a drum machine sample pack and a synth from a stock Logic soft synth preset lol

Then the synths; it's like the iron maiden analogy i mentioned. The sounds are of synthesizers yes - but if you take a regular synth and a preset and a/b to a commercially successful track - it will sound pi$$ weak, wooly, undefined. There's more to it - though it's not rocket science, just a thousand accurately applied paper cuts.

I have nothing new to really add, and the only real advice I have is 'never give up', keep working and working and experimenting and listening and learning and working
Old 3 weeks ago
  #17
It's not a zero-sum game!

If you wish to argue against the good advice that myself and others have posted to the OP (i.e. learn about sound design and bake your own cookies) you've presented some rote logic; you learnt where?

For reference, do you have a link to music to which you have applied the techniques you recommend? Thanks.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #18
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arthur Stone View Post
It's not a zero-sum game!

If you wish to argue against the good advice that myself and others have posted to the OP (i.e. learn about sound design and bake your own cookies) you've presented some rote logic; you learnt where?

For reference, do you have a link to music to which you have applied the techniques you recommend? Thanks.
I'm not arguing anything really! I agree with every suggestion, everyone's point of view. Just talking.

I don't really like to get into the specifics of my own work/ achievements - mostly because i have this habit of coming off like a bit of a twat (I mean, I am a bit of a twat), and I don't want people to be like, 'oh he's ok at production but he's a twat' but also because despite doing 'ok', and releasing music for the last 15 years or so, i'm still not happy with my engineering and production.

My attempts to deliver mixes like Serban are invariably a bit flatter sounding, a bit less dense and less bright, less energy, less control, less dynamics. But we all keep on trying. And of course, making polished professional radio-ready -4 LUFS EDM/ pop isn't the only thing in the world

A good analogy for me is: I'm not bad with compression, I'm pretty poor with multiband compression, I'm ok with multiband distortion. I'm guessing Serban is really good at all three. I 'get' mid-side techniques and understand why signals sound stereo, but - for example - had some mastering done on some tracks and I was really impressed with some of the m/s trickery used, to push the vocals down the centre and draw the drums back a little.

A thousand paper cuts.
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