Extreme metal comes in all shapes and sizes. With various styles of hardcore and speed metal blazing through riff after riff, it’s important that there’s still room for the bass to cut through. That’s where our roles as producers, engineers, and mixers come in.
Bassists regularly fight this battle, whether it’s on stage or in the studio. They look for ways to get their bass tones to sit just right in the mix, locking everything down in the low end and driving the song forward. But in genres where lower tunings and extended range guitars are common, they sometimes need to push their bass rigs to the extreme for their tone to cut through.
What are you supposed to do to make sure your bass sits just right?
Practice Makes Perfect
The first thing that needs to happen is practice. If you’re working with a bassist in the studio that doesn’t know their part like the back of their hand, you’re going to have a hard time getting it to sit right in the mix. Massive tones are about so much more than just the gear being used – they’re about the player’s confidence in their performance.
Just like when tracking guitars, a well-rehearsed bassist will have cleaner performances with less fret noise, fewer missed notes, and perfectly pocketed timing. These three characteristics will do more for your bass tones than any amount of EQ or compression.
As a studio professional, level setting with these expectations is paramount if you want a good tone.
How Things Interact
The next major leap with your bass tone comes from thinking about how it’s going to interact with other instruments well before it ever does. Visualize your mix laid out in front of you. How many guitars are there? How wide are your vocals? How far forward are you planning to bring your drums?
These are all going to drive the way in which you prepare your bass tone. Many engineers choose to track through a DI because of the flexibility and clarity it gives them later on. Rather than committing to an amp tone upfront, they can use a virtual bass rig in the box. This comes with the major advantage of being able to set the amp’s EQ all the way through the mix without having to apply any post-processing to an already EQ’d tone.
As you think about how your bass tone is going to be interacting with the rest of the mix, focus on two key areas: the kick drum and the guitars. Your kick drum will often hit in parallel with your bass notes, so getting them to play nice with each other will be essential if you want a truly powerful metal bass tone. Use the kick to reinforce your sound and consider carving out some space for the kick from your bass track to give them some separation.
The same goes for your guitars – you’ll want them to work together, but side-by-side, not one on top of the other. Consider high-pass filtering your guitars to make room for your bass in the low end, especially when playing in dropped tunings.
By the time you’re done, bass tones like this can fit perfectly in your mix:
Yes – amp settings are clearly important, as is the gear you use. But it all pales in comparison for structuring your production and mix in a way that supports an extreme metal bass tone.
Going Deeper With Bass Tone
If you’re struggling to get a good bass tone even after following these steps, don’t worry. Great tone takes experimentation and practice. There are tons of resources out there to help with playing techniques, arrangements, and much, much more.
One of my favorite resources that we’ve developed recently has been the Basscrusher eBook. This guide goes step-by-step from tracking through mixing for anyone looking to get fuller, heavier bass guitar in their songs.