Distort That Bass!!

Kenny's Tip of the Day - Distort That Bass!!

This is one of those tricks I discovered many many years ago and I’ve used it on almost every record I have produced or mixed since. Whether it be metal, rock, pop, pop/rock or even some lighter adult contemporary music.

Why? Because it works. Tremendously. A word I don’t often get to use. :)

One of the battles producers and mixers face is getting clarity in the bass. Especially the bass guitar. Almost every other instrument focuses their frequencies in the mid-range.

Whether it be the vocal, electric guitar, piano, snare drum or the attack of the kick drum. This is where the “top end” of the bass guitar sits. So it’s a very crowded area in our mix.

The usual solution is to boost the mid-range on the bass guitar until you can hear those strings being plucked thru a very dense production. But most times, it either doesn’t cut thru enough, it makes the bass sound thin or anemic or it isn’t the kind of bass sound we’re going for.

Unless it’s Ska or Punk, you probably don’t need to hear those plucking dirty strings. You just want more clarity. So you can not only “feel” the bass but you can also hear the bass part. Especially if it’s doing something interesting. Like NOT following the chords or the guitar part. (That’s another topic)

So in walks distortion. Adding distortion to the bass or more specifically to the bass guitar does something very different. It ADDS frequencies that don’t exist. And if it’s set just right, it will add those frequencies in the area that brings out the clarity in the bass part. You can now hear what’s being played without making the bass sound thin and brittle. It adds just the frequencies we need.

Now. It’s very important that you do this in the correct way. If you just slap a distortion plugin on the bass, you will probably lose all of that great low end that you worked so hard to attain. So I would definitely avoid using it in a serial wiring system.

What I would recommend instead is to use it in parallel. In other words, duplicate your bass track, treat one of those tracks with a nice amount of distortion that brings out those nice mid-range notes, then bring the other track back in and mix them together.

I usually wind up blending them in a 70/30 split. 70% direct bass sound and 30% distortion. But this is going to depend heavily on the distortion plugin and the preset sound chosen.

But adding distortion to the bass is one of the quickest and most seamless ways of bringing out the notes being played while still keeping your thunderous bass, in tact.

You can learn more by watching my wonderful tutorial on Tracking Rock Bass over at www.groove3.com


I hope this message finds you well. Kenny Gioia.