DI boxes are some of the most common recording tools found in studios, and more than any other instrument, bass guitars seem to be the heaviest users of these great devices. It makes sense – bass guitars have theheaviest low-end frequency content, which is an area that can muddy up quickly in small rooms, and tends tobleed over into other mics when tracking more than one instrument at a time.
For those that are new to DIs, there are a few things you should know:
DI stands for Direct Injection (fitting since they allow you to “inject” your electric instruments “directly” into your console or interface)
Their primary purpose is to match your impedance between the pickups and the recording interface
Dedicated DIs tend to have a cleaner, isolated sound than recording directly using “onboard” DIs in your interface
DI boxes provide the clearest source audio for use with in-the-box processors such as amp emulators
Otherwise, let’s talk about what you do to dirty up your freshly recorded bass once it’s made its way into your DAW.
Starting With Compression
At the risk of stating the obvious, your DI bass signal has never hit an amp/speaker combo. Naturally, these two things would apply a bit of compression, which isn’t present in the DI signal (unless you tracked through a compressor). Starting your chain with a good compressor that can achieve a fat, clean tone isa great first step toward beefing up your DI.
A compressor likeJoel Wanasek’s BG-Bass gives you control over two distinct bands,Top & Bottom. By adjusting the two independently, you can maintain a clean sounding low-end while simultaneously adding someGrit to the top end for more clarity and cut in the mix.
A lot of how you configure your compressor’s settings will come down to taste. If you prefer a slightlymore compressed tone, you’ll want to set a low threshold and level match your output. If a less compressed, more organic sound is more your style, you might only have a few dB of gain reduction, add less grit, but focus more on setting your mix percentage to blend in some of the unprocessed dynamics.
Punch It In The Gut
Those amp emulators we were just talking about? You’re going to want to throw one of those in the too. A good amp sim can achieve the sameclanky, low-mid bite that a real amp can if you spend some time dialing it in.
A meatier mid-range doesn’t always have to come in the form of a bass amp though. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you might recallthe time we sent a bass through a guitar amp. While it may have sounded shocking at the time, this practice is becoming all too common as producers look toadd the punch to their bass that they already use on guitars.
Tools likeToneforge Jason Richardson, which are already optimized for extended range and baritone guitars, find themselves right at home on a bass channel. The key to using a guitar amp sim with bass is to dial back the gain. A high gain bass tone can sound fizzy and harsh, but at lower levels gains just a bit more bite. Once you’ve got your gain set where you want it, focus on dialing in a complimentary EQ, and set your output levelto the spot you want it in the mix.
Check out Forrester Savell’s approach to achieving MASSIVE bass tones here:
Protect Your Chin
The last thing you need when crafting a huge bass tone is unwanted digital clipping.Keep an eye on your meters throughout the process and maintain as much dynamic control as possible. That control is what will help you achieve insane bass in even the densest mixes.