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Make huge bass sounds with impact.
Get the most out of your low-end.
Learn where to place bass in the mix.
Getting the Most Out Of Your Bass Part
We all have that one track in our playlist with killer bass! How did they get that sound? What are the tricks to maximizing a bass part?
Never fear, we’re here to take you through some of the secrets of bass production – how to get a strong and characteristic sound that will drive a track and hold people’s attention.
The secret to bigger bass is using the right production tools with the right intention. Careful layering, balanced mixing, and strategic effects will enhance your bass sound and give your track the grounding it deserves.
The first secret to impactful bass is layering. Many of the contemporary bass sounds that stick out to your ears in your favorite releases are made up of layers.
Usually, there is a sub-oscillator, with at least another oscillator an octave above the sub, and then sometimes a third and even fourth layer on top of that.
Make sure you choose the layering option that best suits the genre and the vibe you’re going for.
You can either create your layered bass sound using the one single instrument that can layer several oscillators, like a hardware or software synth, or you might want to use separate instruments for each layer. There’s no right or wrong here, so choose the way that works best for you.
Most of the character that comes across in your bass sound actually lives in the mid-range frequencies!
When designing the color and behavior of your sound, try and give as much attention to the upper layers of your bass sound and mid-range EQ as you would to the sub-range – your adoring fans will thank you!
A bass sound that has a really wide stereo presence can sound cool at first, but it will often wreak havoc with your mix. As a rule, always set your sub-layer to mono and pan it dead center. There is a little more wiggle room on your upper layers, depending on the genre.
One of the key reasons for this is simply down to how bass works in nature. Low frequencies are less directional than high frequencies. This means if we hear a rumble or boom, it seems ubiquitous, making it hard to locate the general direction of the sound. But when the sound is coming from a mosquito or a fly, it’s easy for us to locate just by listening.
So, with this in mind, anything above 250 Hz is relatively safe for panning. For example, you might want two oscillators set one octave above the sub, playing slightly detuned from one another, panned hard left and right.
Be sure to roll off the bass frequencies of the upper layers to avoid a muddy mix. It’s easy for low-end noise to build up here, especially if you have two detuned oscillators beating against each other! So you need to make sure this doesn’t interfere with the all-important sub layer.
This trick often works well for EDM and bass flavored genres, and usually is best used when the bass is featuring without much clutter above.
Note: Be careful! Many producers will recommend that all of your bass layers just stay in the dead center, for clear mixing and accurate sound design. This is especially true for club music.
4. Sub Bass
The first key to proper, deep, and strong sub is choosing the right instrument. A lot of producers will swear by hardware analog synthesizers to generate a sub-bass layer. There’s something about real voltage generating those hard-to-reach lower frequencies that is seriously irresistible, but honestly digital synths can sound just as good if you know what to do.
All you really need here is a sine, triangle, or low passed square wave for your sub. Play with the amplitude envelope’s decay time and sustain level to get exactly the oomph and impact that you need for your bass melody.
Tip: Less is often more with sub. Once you have a nice strong sub sound, find its place in the mix by turning it right down to inaudible and gradually bringing it up to an audible level. This will help it sit at the right volume to provide support, without being overbearing.
5. A Note About Notes
The melody of your bass part is as important as your sound design. Not only must it support your other instruments, but it needs to drive the energy and direction of your track.
Your bass writing should be simple enough to cling onto, busy enough to add flourish and create movement, and contain the right notes to support the other melodic content of your track.
Before you think about the bass part that you want to make, have a think about what would work best for your track. Do you want walking, stabbing, seething, or something else entirely?
The advice from professional producers is to use compression strategically. If you’re relying on compression alone to make things sound big, you’ll only end up disappointed.
In this case, you’ll want to use your favorite compressor to add percussive attack to your bass sound. Experiment with your compressor’s threshold, attack time, and ratio to get just the right amount of punch. The bass should initially pop through unaffected, then the body of the sound will be gently compressed to just below this level. This creates a satisfying “thump” followed by a solid wall of bass.
You can either use a “transparent” compressor that doesn’t color the sound of your bass, or you might want to choose a compressor that adds more mid-range character to your sound – just don’t overdo it!
You can also use a compressor to “glue” all your different bass layers together, creating a more homogenous sound. You might also want to sidechain your compressor to your kick drum, so that every time the kick drum strikes, your bass “ducks” a little, making room for the kick in your mix.
Effects are a great way to add extra depth and movement, even if they are just used lightly. Feel free to play with distortion, chorus, sub enhancement, even delay if you think it works.
There are two important things to keep in mind here. First, be careful of how the effects shape the all-important sub layer. If you’re running everything into a single distortion plugin, this is going to change the harmonic content of the entire sound. This means all the time you spent balancing each layer is wasted!
So it’s highly recommended that you apply effects per layer, being careful to filter out any problematic frequencies that sneak their way back into the mix once further processing is applied.
The other thing to remember here is don’t overdo the effects. Think about it: you’ve spent so much time getting everything right, and at this point, your ears might be getting tired. Then boom, you add a chorus or phaser and suddenly everything is exciting again.
But this doesn’t mean it’s the right choice, it’s more likely you were just responding to change.
If you really want to have an effect-heavy bass sound then start with the effects already on. This way you can create a sound that works with the effect, rather than using effects as an afterthought.
8. Mix & EQ
Your bass level should sit about even with your kick. Trust your ears, listen carefully, and find the sweet spot.
If you’re using EQ, make sure you carve out a space for your bass layer that is separate from the kick. This way, they interplay with each other and won’t fight for space in the mix.
Likewise, pay attention to the upper frequencies of your bass sound as you may want to roll off some of the unnecessary overtones.
Professional producers will recommend that you do some of your final mixing in mono so that your brain isn’t distracted by the “magic” of panning. Put your master output in mono temporarily to try this out – it can work wonders.
If you’re still not happy with the bass mix, it may be that other instruments are at fault. Check to see if any other mid-range parts are fighting for space – you will likely want to roll off their lower frequencies to make way for your killer bass sound.
The Final Word
The perfect bass is a combination of creative expression and attention to technical detail.
Music is a craft, not a science. Experiment, be intentional, always trust your ears and you’ll be making the perfect bass sound in no time!