I always love it when I’m listening to a song and I suddenly notice when a tasty bass groove kicks in. Even though bass guitar tends to be a background instrument, every once in a while a bassist will bust into a part so awesome you have to take notice and say, “Who is that bass player??” I’d guess that a lot of people might not even realize how important the bass is–until, that is, you take it away!
A good bass line is essential to a great song, and a good bass performance is key to a great recording. When it comes time to lay down some funky grooves, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Amplified or direct?
There are some wonderful sounding bass amps out there that can help you get the exact sound you are looking for. But one of the advantages of bass is that you don’t have to play through an amp at all! Bass guitar is one of the few instruments that you can get a good sound from while plugging straight into a direct box and into your recording console. This can be very convenient, especially if you’re recording at home and your downstairs neighbors wouldn’t appreciate their kitchenware rattling with each thumping eighth note.
But sometimes you just need that certain sound that only a bass amp can provide. In this case, you’ll need to record the classic way: an amplifier and a microphone (or more than one mic). Which amp and mic you use is entirely up to you–there are many options that make for many sounds, so it all comes down to what sounds best to your ear. For some more specific miking techniques, take a look at my post on recording great-sounding guitar.
Tune it up
It might seem obvious, but be certain the bass is in tune between every take. Because it covers such low frequencies, it can sometimes be a little tough to decipher if a bass is slightly out of tune as you’re playing. You don’t want to find out during the mixing process that the D-string was slightly sharp, so it’s better to be safe than sorry when tuning. Do it all the time just to be sure!
Change the strings
Old bass strings can be dull and lifeless. Brand new ones can be bright and full of overtones. Some people love the lively sound of a fresh set of strings, but sometimes a set that’s somewhere in the middle–not too old to sound dead, but not brand new and overly bright–will get you just the right sound.
Add some effects
You probably don’t want a whole lot of crazy effects on your bass track, but some basic compression is essential to smooth out the dynamics of the performance. You also might want to add a little EQ to shape the sound to your liking and to fit in well in the mix. Once you have all the technical stuff down, it’s time to get in the zone and lay down your bass groove!