Recording Bass

6th February 2019

Sonic Scoop posted this article about Recording and Mixing Bass – one of the most challenging frequency ranges to get right in a mix.

While it provides an Interesting range of genre dependent tips – I liked #4 (copied below) as a way of presenting the challenge – but the fix is after the fact. As a recording engineer, you really wanna fix problems before capture because it opens up a world of opportunities. For example, if you can get all the player in the room at once – and can minimize leakage so it adds rather than detracts, then end result will have more soul – musically and acoustically.

BOOM CHALLENGE

1.) Think about how muddy live bass typically is in pretty much ANY venue. This is often because the bassist wants a deep warm tone where they are are standing. The tone will only get more muddy with distance. (Bassists should go wireless so they can travel into the house to see just how muddy and then learn to live with the on-stage bass tone so that the audience gets what the bassist wants them to hear. PS: Very few bassists and house engineers have the type of relationship and mutual respect that allows this to happen.

BOOM FIXES

It is better that have a smaller cab – like a 1×10 or 2×10 (studio) or multiple 4x10s (live) – off the ground / stage because boundaries – wall / floors / ceilings – add bottom. The desired bass tone doesn’t happen without working at it. In a large venue, bass frequencies evolve over long distances, the energy of the upper harmonics gets filtered by the crowd and the fundamental.

An open-E on bass is 41.2Hz and has a wavelength of 26 feet. (Czech out this online frequency to wavelength converter.)

DIMENSION CHALLENGE

Let’s face it, most recording studios do NOT have 26 feet for the bass wave to develop, nor do they have the low-frequency acoustic trapping to absorb bass before it bounces off the walls!!!

In the studio, a smaller cab lifted off the floor, by milk crates, a chair, piano bench or table, will help keep the bass from coupling to the floor and bleeding into everything. (Each boundary has the potential to increase the cabinet’s bass coupling by as much as 3dB – in a corner, that’s 9 dB total. Yeah, it sounds great, in the same way that porn triggers hormones! (It’s not real love, sorry…)

And, while I generally pull mics away from cabs – or use OMNI mics (on guitar cabs when space is not an option), I want the bass amp mic right up on the grill, to take full advantage of proximity effect. I then compensate by reducing the bass at the amp (keeping in mind that ‘tone’ is very amp / instrument / sting type / pickup / player dependent). Adjust for the bass tone you’re looking for AT THE AMP, by listening in the control room. You’ll end up turning down the bass knob to compensate for the mic’s proximity effect and compensating by raising the bass amp level – which is good because it provides more upper bass / low mid growl <— this translates better in your mix than DI most of the time.

A recent bass rig setup. This is an open-backed Matchless cab with 2-12-inch speakers, not your typical bass cab. The mic is a precursor to the Shure SM-58

Downsize (this is from the sonic scoup article)
Unlike on the stage, bigger amps don’t always mean a bigger sound in the studio. In fact, it’s common practice for engineers to cut out some of the lowest bass frequencies for a more focused sound that doesn’t overlap with kick drums, synthesizers, and other low-end elements in the mix.

By using a smaller amp / cab with a limited frequency range, you can bake this right into your sound and avoid excessive EQ later. You might be surprised at the fatness of your sound once you eliminate some of the excess low-end.

The suggestion above (from the sonic scoup article) is an after the fact fix Whenever possible, the recording engineer should try to convince the bassist to try the alternative, adjust and then listen in the control room, gong back and forth until it works.