Pre-Production Bass Guitar Processing
Recording any type of live instrument can be a huge undertaking for home recording musicians. You’re often limited on space and time, and for the purposes of pre-production where you know you’re going to re-record in a better environment later, the whole thing can feel like a bit too much.
Let’s face it – the tone you’re going to get from your pre-production recordings aren’t going to be as great as the ones in the final mix; they don’t need to be.
That’s not me saying you should completely disregard your tone either though… You just need to get a solid take with a few additional processing steps to tighten everything up. Here’s what I mean:
Leave The Amp Alone
Look, I get it. Recording real amps with microphones and outboard gear is fun, but for the purposes of pre-production it’s not worth the time or effort. Instead, shift your focus to getting adequate levels into your DAW with a direct injection (DI) box or the instrument inputs built right into your interface. Either way you go, you’ll have an instantly usable sound that can be manipulated and processed easier than the one you’d capture from your amp.
If you need something more in-the-box than a straightforward, clean bass tone, use the power of virtual bass rigs like Bassforge Hellraiser and Bassforge Rex Brown to your advantage. Both rigs offer start-to-finish bass tones including the amp, effects, and even some post-processing elements that you can see in Todd Golder’s walkthrough:
There are some of you out there groaning at this idea already, but hear me out. Yes – editing your bass guitar and other instruments is time consuming. Yes – we just discussed saving time during tracking. And yes – you still need to edit your bass.
Pre-production is not an excuse for sloppy work. If the timing of your bass performance isn’t pocketed correctly, it will make a difference.
Spending some time cleaning up your audio track will make a huge difference to your pre-production session – especially if that session is going to be used for reference later on. Let me give you a couple of scenarios where this rings especially true.
For Your Band’s Sake
Let’s say you’re responsible for recording all of the parts for your band and you’ve decided to lay the groundwork with some programmed drums and bass guitar. If those aren’t locked tightly together and you go to track guitars, you’ve skewed the playing field against your guitar player. Even if there’s a click track, they’re not hearing what they’re supposed to if your bass isn’t perfectly aligned. As a result, they may try to compensate for those slight variances, throwing the whole thing even further out of whack.
Even if everyone has tracked his or her parts independently, you may be hurting yourself by not cleaning up your bass guitar track.
For Your Own Sake
How many times do you think you’ll play through that session as you work on it? Dozens of times? Hundreds? If you keep listening to something that many times with mistakes in the performance, you should be cautious or those mistakes will start to sound right.
Ear fatigue is a real thing for many studio professionals who spend all of their time in front of their DAW mixing. After a certain point, you need to step away and reset to get a fresh perspective. When it comes to musical repetition, you might not always be so lucky. Hearing the same thing over and over has a bit of a brainwashing effect – you get used to what you hear. You might even start playing it that way on your own without even thinking twice about it.
Save yourself the hassle and spend a little time after tracking to clean up the performance. The right pocketing in pre-production has plenty of benefits to you and your band when it comes time to track the real thing.
Building a Better Bass Sound
Bass is such a tricky instrument to master because of its dynamics and frequency structure. Much of what we look to get from bass comes from super low frequencies that require massive amounts of dynamic control, but the parts that cut through the mix are competing in the midrange with guitars, vocals, and all kinds of other instrumentation. It’s a battlefield for bass guitars.
With our latest eBook, Basscrusher: An Unholy Guide to Bass Tone, we demystify many of the aspects of bass that engineers and producers feel like are out of their control. I’ll give you production tips and tricks to help reinforce your bass, as well as many of my signal chain secrets for getting bass to sit perfectly in any mix.