How to Produce Bass (Part 4)

Last week we dug deep into producing guitar. This week we’re going to move into the groovetastic world of how to produce bass. As producers, we’re listening to the songs as a whole and simultaneously breaking down the individual performances of each instrument. We know how important the drums are on a record, and seeing that the bass completes the rhythm section, we have to view it as equally significant. So let’s start reviewing.

Follow the Beater

First and foremost we need to understand that the drums and bass are like peanut butter and jelly. They’re best friends – not meant to be separated from one another. Drums and bass should “lock in”. The bassist should make a conscious note of where the kick drums hit and he should be matching his fingering pattern accordingly. If the kicks are hitting on 2’s and 4’s and the bass is hitting on 1’s and 3’s, we’ve got a problem. Make it match and your songs will sound much smoother.

Don’t Play Lead Bass

I’ve seen it far too often… the bass player in a band is not a bass player. He’s a “lead bass player”. A converted guitarist who hasn’t studied his craft well enough. The bassist is a supporting role – not a main character. It’s meant to pad the songs, not to take over (unless your name is Flea… or Victor Wooten). Have the bass player avoid overplaying and definitely don’t let him solo at inappropriate times. This leads perfectly to the next tip…

Keep it Simple

Although it may sound boring, 99% of the time keeping it simple is key. Bassists may fiddle around for hours trying to find the perfect lick, only to find it muddles the mix in the end. It’s amazing how following the root notes can actually make a song pop. Avoiding too many passing tones is also essential for bassists as they tend to muddy the mix. Chromatic notes on a bass don’t always translate as well as the same line that may be played on a lead guitar. The low end messes with your ears.

Watch The Fills

Fills are terrific. Listen for the drums and try to follow them when you can. Match the toms, hit a harmonic on a cymbal ping, and highlight those embellishments. But don’t overdo it. Fills lose their appeal if they’re played too often, so don’t throw them in after every single chord rotation.

So next time you start tracking some bass, take all of this advice into account. It’ll help save you a headache once you start mixing. Low end is always a problem and you’re always better off tracking things correctly in the first place. What tricks do you like to use when you’re tracking bass? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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