Producing bass remotely
Exposing my process for producing effective bass tracks for the New York-based band Antiquity.
Table of contents
The following analysis is based on my work for Antiquity, and their recent single The Far Side Of The Sun. They are based in New York. At the time of the collaboration I had been living in the UK.
Stage 1: Assessment
Regardless if I have an established working relationship with the client, I start with a proper assessment of the material. I listen to the song and have a chat with them. It’s useful to ask for the kind of mood they’re after; or if they have creative ideas about the bass line.
Ultimately, this preliminary work is all about finding out the best way to deliver what the client needs. When I first listen to the audio, I tend to form an idea in my mind. It’s not a defined bass part yet, but sketches who often end up in the final bass track.
The Source Material
The more technical aspect of the assessment is obtaining the source material. Sometimes clients send just a rough mix of the track in a single audio file. In this case, I need to have some information:
- The BPM of the song.
- The SMPTE and
fpssettings in their DAW project. I need to import the rough mix in my session and avoid audio drifting because of synchronisation issues.
Depending on the client’s level of expertise, I might need to point out a few best practices. I email them a how-to in PDF format, highlighting the fastest and best way to get their project to me.
Since I’ve been working with Gerald for a while, we’ve already established a routine. He sends a Logic Pro session, with the following:
- Markers. Although optional, it’s a great visual help to quickly scan the song structure.
- MIDI virtual instruments bounced to audio.
- Audio rendered with all his plug-ins processing already applied.
If the client has a test track for the bass, it’s sufficient a rough mix with and without it. However, the possibility of taking the volume of groups of instruments up or down is a great help. Typically, I might want to increase the level of drums and percussions, to help with my recording.
When I receive a session, I can decide whether to keep the original format or move it to Pro Tools. Sometimes I work in Logic for the sake of speed.
Stage 2: Recording
I don’t have a standard on how many takes I record. My rule is: as many takes as I need. Even if I feel a take is good from start to end, I keep going for a couple more. I might come up with different or more interesting riffs or variations.
Whenever I’m sure about a good take, I write down its number. I might refer to it as the default later in the comping phase. I occasionally might want to take breaks or even stop working on the track altogether until the day after. The advantage of this approach is fresh ears and a more open vision.
I record the bass through a SansAmp BassDriver DI v2, rarely applying a software pre-amp or amp simulators.
Stage 3: Comping
I’m an exception to the rule the first take is always the best. I tend to see the early attempts as rehearsals. I rarely do punch-ins. If I make an unrecoverable mistake, unless there’s something I really want to keep, I stop and delete. I always start with a default good take. I use:
In Pro Tools I can select a section and quickly swap between takes in loop mode using a keyboard shortcut. The comp is done on the whole track, moving forward from start to end. I check each section of the song, following the markers. I always remember where I played interesting riffs, so I tend to primarily focus on those. When needed, I record a punch-in to fix minor problems.
The final step is listening to the track in context with the mix. If I’m happy with the result I commit to audio, hiding and deactivating the source in case I want to go back and tweak something.
Stage 4: Editing
After enabling elastic audio in Pro Tools (monophonic, real-time processing), I go in and adjust the transient sensitivity. I want to get to a point where only the correct hits are detected. It’s the best way to avoid irritating artifacts. This is especially useful with a fretless bass.
After switching the track view to
Analysis, excessive transients that might have slipped through the previous step are removed, then in
Warp view I check if there are obvious mistakes in the timing. Working in grid mode makes it easy to see which notes are off. I tend to only adjust what’s obviously out of place, rather than generically quantize. In case I decide to go for an automated process, I never go beyond an 82% clean-up. I prefer to retain the human factor with my playing. In the video below, you can see a single automatic audio quantize to a specific small selection played as triplets, and a couple of notes adjusted.
Finally, I switch elastic audio to
X-Form. As a high-quality process, it is a rendering-only mode. The result is always satisfying to my ears. Once again, I commit the audio to a new track, and hide/disable the source.
Stage 5: Mix
- I focus on the relationship between kick and bass. After working out the fundamental of the kick I try to scoop out that same frequency from the bass, usually in sidechain.
- Since I use a 4-string instrument, I remove the deepest sub-bass with a high-pass filter.
- Adding harmonic enhancing is usually the most efficient way for the bass guitar to be heard on smaller speakers such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops. I mostly use Waves’s RBass for the task.
Not a fan of compressing the source channel, except for when there are extreme peaks or dips. In some cases, Pro Tools’
clip gain gets the job done. I prefer compression as a parallel process, oftentimes adopting multiple parallel processes through several busses. After applying different flavours of gentle to more drastic compression, I blend all the signals together. My plug-in staples are:
- 1176 (black)
- A third of my choice depending on the sound and the interpretation I want to convey:
- H-comp or LA-3A by Waves.
- Distressor, emulated by McDSP.
- Decapitator by Soundtoys. As a matter of fact, saturation is a process I pretty much always apply, mildly and in parallel, unless the song requires a properly distorted bass.
Once I’m happy with compression, I add a Pultec to the final bass track.
Although I’ve applied both reverb and delay to the bass on a song contained in my recent album After 1989, I usually never do. I prefer to add spacing effects only if the instrument is performing an important melodic function. In the aforementioned song, there’s a synth bass audible in the second half. It’s my Warwick played with a pick, passed through a stutter effect, a phaser, a panner and a delay.
Stage 6: Delivery
When it comes to delivery, it all depends on what the client had sent to me. If I received a simple stereo audio file, I reciprocate by sending a mono track with my bass. The true peak is between
–6 dB with an RMS of about
–12 dB. No matter when my part starts, I always export the audio from the very beginning of the session.
With Antiquity I bounce the bass from Pro Tools and import in the original Logic song. I give it a final listen: if it sounds good, I copy the session to Dropbox. In the video example below, I’ve found the track to be too hot (but not clipping), so I proceeded to reduce the gain directly in Logic.
Optimising is paramount. To deliver a clean session I export a new copy cleaning up any unused or deactivated tracks. I never deliver a session with my takes, comp or edits: only the mixdown.
Stage 7: Feedback from the client
Unless I’m working on a larger project, for which I use my Trello system, I have a practical way for the client to give feedback on my mixes. If they have a Dropbox account I send a direct link: they can listen and add comments that would be attached to the correct position in the song timeline. It’s the same behaviour as in SoundCloud’s comment system.
I’ve worked with Simone on both my projects and his and the professionalism and quality of his work is world class. I have rarely had to give direction and he takes direction like an interested pro. I’m very partial to his style and tone. I hope to be still playing with him in the years to come. If you want a bass track that stands out and makes people sit up and listen, Simone is your man. — Gerald Duchene, Antiquity