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Tips for Tracking Bass
Old 6th May 2012
  #1
Gear Maniac
 

Tips for Tracking Bass

Hey guys I need a couple of pointers on tracking bass. I don't play bass so I'm not accustomed to recording it.

I'm having trouble hearing the notes I'm playing while recording it. I'm used to the clarity of guitar and piano. Playing the bass alone I can discern what notes I'm playing but when tracking or playing with other instruments I sometimes cant hear it as well as I would like.

Should I setup a separate monitor mix and add more attack and EQ on it so that I can better identify the notes I'm playing etc?

Thanks.
Old 6th May 2012
  #2
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rumimusic's Avatar
 

This is a loaded topic. All the instruments you're talking about are midrange instruments. They all crossover in places. You need to keep them out of eachothers ranges through arrangement and clever use of eq, as well as keep them all audible simultaneously with a combination of great playing , dynamic processing like compression and limiting, and possibly eq as well.
The arrangement is certainly the first place of prefer to improve things but sonically you are describing a dark and dull bass sound that doesn't surface. Get the piano and gtr sounding the way you want then play the bass to that. This will allow you to know what to do to the bass to have It surface such as boosting fundamentals at 50 or 100hz, body at 400hz, attack at 800hz, and string/pick at 2.5khz. Also if
Old 6th May 2012
  #3
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rumimusic's Avatar
 

Also if the bass is overly dynamic you can use a compressor or level automation to get it to stick more to the front of the speaker throughout the piece.
Old 6th May 2012
  #4
Gear Maniac
 

Oh good insight. I wasn't even looking at it that way but it makes a lot of sense. If I can't hear it while I'm playing it the listener won't be able to hear it on playback either.
Old 6th May 2012
  #5
Lives for gear
Try using a synth patch first. Get the part memorized and then retrack it with more feel and the bass guitar.
Old 6th May 2012
  #6
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popmann's Avatar
Or just hire someone cheap and good to play for you...then you don't have to worry about it at all...if only I knew someone...
Old 6th May 2012
  #7
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popmann's Avatar
Seriously, though, tracking bass is simple. Nice bass...good player...good DI...hit record. If you're doing Death Metal or something where you need parallel amp tracks, there's a little more to it...but, for normal tracking?

I generally plug one of my Precisions (flats or rounds) into my La610, and hit record. I've been thorugh a dozen top shelf preamp/DIs...nothing "sits right" like the LA610 or a RedDI or a Great River Me1nv. It aint rocket science. There's SO much in the fingers and instrument.
Old 6th May 2012
  #8
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Arrangement is key. Aside from that try cutting out the lows from your other tracks with EQ, compress the bass, sidechain the other parts to duck when the bass hits, add saturation and distortion...all these will help. Mix and match as necessary.
Old 6th May 2012
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by popmann View Post
Seriously, though, tracking bass is simple. Nice bass...good player...good DI...hit record.
Good bass, good player, good DI - not really so simple after all. You said yourself you went through a dozen DIs, and I've been through a dozen basses. Hardest of all is becoming a good player, which the OP admitted he's not.

OP, if you can upload samples, our comments will be more helpful.
Old 6th May 2012
  #10
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popmann's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yummerz View Post
Good bass, good player, good DI - not really so simple after all. You said yourself you went through a dozen DIs, and I've been through a dozen basses. Hardest of all is becoming a good player, which the OP admitted he's not.

OP, if you can upload samples, our comments will be more helpful.
That's because I'm a bass player...it's my job to be anal retentive about the fidelity. They were all perfectly fine--all dozen. Some needed more compression than others-some deeper....some throatier...but, end of the day, flavor of good.

I've got a 62Ri P with flats...American P5 and J5...and a Carvin fretlessV. I don't want for tone. A couple passes...choose bass...record. Send track. reminds me-the Carvin preamp is fried, I need to get that fixed...
Old 6th May 2012
  #11
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Jerrick's Avatar
 

Even though its a bass, its midrange is still very important. I find myself giving most bass tracks a good lift around 300-800hz. Live, and in the studio I see a lot of bass eq with that whole area pretty much missing, and in some cases that sounds great, well hardly ever does it sound good to me live, if I can even tell what the bass is doing... Just seems like a lot of what I like in bass tone is right in there and people always resort to scooping it all away.

About 95% of the time I prefer the amp sound, and my favorite setup is with a 4x10 and 1x15 cab. Some type of mic like a D6 on the 15, 57/i5 on one of the 10s, and a room mic back about 6-10'. All 3 sound fantastic by themselves or combined, so I can keep it as basic or complicated as I want with that setup.

Besides the mids, a sparse mix really helps leave room for the bass to shine through, but one of my favorite things to do is to use some saturation on it. Really helps it poke through in a dense mix and can still sound clean. Adding in a really distorted version is really fun too.
Old 6th May 2012
  #12
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Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by REX View Post
I'm having trouble hearing the notes I'm playing while recording it. I'm used to the clarity of guitar and piano. Playing the bass alone I can discern what notes I'm playing but when tracking or playing with other instruments I sometimes cant hear it as well as I would like.
In that situation I would mess with my headphone/monitor mix so that I can hear more of what I am playing and less of the mix.

Messing with tone and compression will be easier if you can hear what you are playing in a slightly exaggerated way. It will also help you get your technique down a little better.
Old 6th May 2012
  #13
Gear Nut
 

I too am a bassist as well as an engineer. I have a couple of thoughts. First off, I think for people who do not play bass as a primary instrument, it can seem like simple work to pick up a bass and bang out a bass track. But in fact, a bass is a sensitive instrument and it's tone can vary great deal to how it's being played. I fervently believe that the transient attack of a bass note is the most important element to how a bass line reads in a track. This seems counterintuitive because we think so much of bass tone being the sustained "note" part of the tone but in fact, if the front end of the note doesn't cut through the track in the right way, your mind doesn't read it as a note. You can have the biggest, fattest tone sustaining after the initial attack, but if that initial attack is not happening then it wont read in the mix. And that initial attack comes from you, the player! I might suggest, if you have a little time ,that you take a track that you want to lay bass on and, before adding eq and compression, spend some time really trying to get as good a sound as possible with your hands. Try playing with your fingers or your thumb. Try a pick. Playing softly and gain it up. Play harder and turn it down. Play with a pick. Try different gauges of picks. There are so many varieties of tones you can get out of your hands and much of this is really about getting the attack/initial transient in the sweet spot. Once you get it in the ballpark, then you can use the compressor to tailor that attack even a bit more to really sit in the track.

Gearwise, if you haven't tried it, I second the recommendation to try flatwound strings. I am a late convert to them and I find that they just track really well. Further, I am a fan of passive basses, especially PBasses. I find preamps more often than not overly complicate the sound and can wreak havoc on that initial attack I was talking about before. If you are using a bass with a preamp, start flat and add as little as you need to get the tone where you want it. Lastly, part of the appeal of the Pbass (or a MusicMan Stingray) to me is the single pickup. Something to keep in mind is that any time you use an instrument with two pickups and they are both dialed in full, you are introducing a phase issue similar to having two mics on one source. I am not saying that is an inherently bad thing and in fact some of my favorite bass tones of all time are due to this somewhat out phase tone (say Marcus Miller Jazz bass slap tone) but, the phase incoherency of two pickups wide open can work against you sometimes. If you are using a bass with two pickups I might suggest starting with just the neck pickup and then dial in some of the bridge pick up. I own a couple of P/J configure basses just for this application. I actually hate how the two pickups sound both dialed in fully but having the P pickup up full and then being able to add a little of the J pickup is incredibly useful!

Good luck, I'm curious to hear what you come up with!
Old 6th May 2012
  #14
Sounds like you have a monitoring issue, or perhaps you can't hear lower notes as well?

Beware of frequency masking and your input monitoring options.
Old 8th May 2012
  #15
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rumimusic's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Larry Heinemann View Post
I too am a bassist as well as an engineer. I have a couple of thoughts. First off, I think for people who do not play bass as a primary instrument, it can seem like simple work to pick up a bass and bang out a bass track. But in fact, a bass is a sensitive instrument and it's tone can vary great deal to how it's being played. I fervently believe that the transient attack of a bass note is the most important element to how a bass line reads in a track. This seems counterintuitive because we think so much of bass tone being the sustained "note" part of the tone but in fact, if the front end of the note doesn't cut through the track in the right way, your mind doesn't read it as a note. You can have the biggest, fattest tone sustaining after the initial attack, but if that initial attack is not happening then it wont read in the mix. And that initial attack comes from you, the player! I might suggest, if you have a little time ,that you take a track that you want to lay bass on and, before adding eq and compression, spend some time really trying to get as good a sound as possible with your hands. Try playing with your fingers or your thumb. Try a pick. Playing softly and gain it up. Play harder and turn it down. Play with a pick. Try different gauges of picks. There are so many varieties of tones you can get out of your hands and much of this is really about getting the attack/initial transient in the sweet spot. Once you get it in the ballpark, then you can use the compressor to tailor that attack even a bit more to really sit in the track.

Gearwise, if you haven't tried it, I second the recommendation to try flatwound strings. I am a late convert to them and I find that they just track really well. Further, I am a fan of passive basses, especially PBasses. I find preamps more often than not overly complicate the sound and can wreak havoc on that initial attack I was talking about before. If you are using a bass with a preamp, start flat and add as little as you need to get the tone where you want it. Lastly, part of the appeal of the Pbass (or a MusicMan Stingray) to me is the single pickup. Something to keep in mind is that any time you use an instrument with two pickups and they are both dialed in full, you are introducing a phase issue similar to having two mics on one source. I am not saying that is an inherently bad thing and in fact some of my favorite bass tones of all time are due to this somewhat out phase tone (say Marcus Miller Jazz bass slap tone) but, the phase incoherency of two pickups wide open can work against you sometimes. If you are using a bass with two pickups I might suggest starting with just the neck pickup and then dial in some of the bridge pick up. I own a couple of P/J configure basses just for this application. I actually hate how the two pickups sound both dialed in fully but having the P pickup up full and then being able to add a little of the J pickup is incredibly useful!

Good luck, I'm curious to hear what you come up with!
Good advice.
This and everything that's been said about monitoring.
Old 8th May 2012
  #16
Lives for gear
 

If the other instruments bury it so you can't clearly hear it when you're tracking...they're also going to bury it at mix time. So yeah, this is a big one to fix.

Usually the answer is arrangement and playing style.

Don't overlook any aspect of it. The most recent song I recorded we were having an awful time getting the bass to fit in. It just fought and fought and fought... Then as I was twiddling knobs trying to get it to work, it suddenly started working for a few measures (no thanks to any knob I fiddled with). I turned to the bass player and asked what he did just a few seconds ago.

He was plucking the strings about an inch farther away from the bridge than he had been before.

That's all it took. Now, that most likely is not the answer to most questions about why bass part X is not working. But it is an example of the type of tiny detail you have to take into account.
Old 8th May 2012
  #17
Registered User
Quote:
Originally Posted by REX View Post
Hey guys I need a couple of pointers on tracking bass. I don't play bass so I'm not accustomed to recording it.

I'm having trouble hearing the notes I'm playing while recording it. I'm used to the clarity of guitar and piano. Playing the bass alone I can discern what notes I'm playing but when tracking or playing with other instruments I sometimes cant hear it as well as I would like.

Should I setup a separate monitor mix and add more attack and EQ on it so that I can better identify the notes I'm playing etc?

Thanks.
Yes. Set up a monitor mix that pleases you. Track the full range signal with your DI, but use whatever you like to be able to hear yourself and be comfortable. This, imo, is the real value of a bass amp in a studio - it's your monitoring system for bass. An active DI with a buffered output sent to your amp. Or - a method I quite like is a passive DI such as JDI into a preamp such as a Neve or API, and then use a spare line output into a Reamp to drive an amp while you track the full clean DI/Preamp signal. This way avoids using the loop out on the passive pedal, to avoid impedance issues and loading up passive pups.

I find that distortion, which adds harmonics, really helps with pitch. That can give better 'clarity' than just boosting highs which boosts hiss and rattle. But whatever you need to hear, give it to yourself - it's not affecting what you are tracking (other than to make your performance better).
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