7 Essential Steps for Bass Programming using Midi
Basslines can be tricky for beginners to program. The bass plays a significant role in our mix because it provides energy and thickness to the track. Any track would sound thin and weak if bass frequencies are lowered beyond a point in a mix. In this article, we will explore a few techniques that can help us to come up with catchy basslines for our songs.
1. Use your Chord Progression as a Guide for your Bassline
Choosing the right notes can be confusing for our bass sounds. Everything becomes much easier if we have a chord progression in mind. If you have your chords layed out on a piano roll, then the bottom note for each chord can be a good starting point for our bassline. You can try changing the bass notes to add a different colour to the chords playing on top. It is not necessary that you stick to only the root notes.
For our project, we will be using the chords Em, Am, Esus2, Bmin; as you can see in the image above. We will use the bottom notes of these chords to create our bassline. Do not forget to try out some different combinations. You can also look at the image below to analyse the bassline we have created. Our Chord progression is in Em, so feel free to look up what notes you can try.
Glides can take your bassline from boring to lively in seconds. Look for a glide or portamento option in your bass synth. Once you activate it, adjust the glide time to your liking. Do not go overboard with the glide time as it can sound out of tune. We will be setting it around 120ms. To create glides, make sure your notes overlap, so the first note can slide up/down to the next.
If you look at the image above, you can see that we have added some glides to our initial bassline. Usually the Octaves and seven semitones up are good places to start. You can be experimental in this part to give a unique touch to your sound.
3. Choosing the Correct Kick and Bass Combination
Both the kick and the bass reside in low frequencies. This often causes clashes between the two sounds as they compete with each other for space in the mix. Sample selection and instrumentation is key here. If we select a kick and bass combo that sounds bad, then chances are even with a lot of EQing
it won't end up sounding that good. So give yourself a strong start, choose a preset or a sample that sits well with each other even without any processing. This will ensure that they both can push through the mix without a lot of effort.
Take a look at the two EQs above. Our Kickâs fundamental lies between 40-60Hz, while our bassâ fundamental is at 80-100Hz. This ensures that our kick and bass will not clash from the beginning. We are also EQing out any unwanted low frequencies to keep the low end clean.
4. Sidechaining our Bass with the Kick
Another step to make our bassline work even better with the kick is using a sidechain compressor on the bass with the sidechain input is assigned to the kick. This reduces any type of masking issues when our bass and kick are triggered at the same time. Even with our bass having a higher fundamental from the kick, the attack of the kick is often overshadowed. Provided that our bass has been side chained to our kick, these problems can be prevented.
We have also activated the EQ and turned the frequency upto 1000Hz, so that only the attack of the kick is fed into the sidechain input. This helps us to have a much better control on our attenuation envelope. If your kick has some low rumble, then it may cause an unpleasant pumping effect on our bass. Be careful with the amount of attenuation you dial in. High ratio values on your compressor can make the sidechain effect audible, which is not always desirable.
5. Add Groove to Your Bass
Human beings do not appreciate a completely robotic sound. Having our bassline adhere to the grid, takes away from its humanisation. If you are playing your bass part on a midi keyboard remember not to quantise the whole performance. Use your ears and only quantise those parts that require it. You can also play around with your quantisation settings so that the quantise percentage is reduced, as a result, the sound will be not be fully locked in with our DAWâs grid. If you are programming your bassline like we did here, you can use something like the groove pool feature in Ableton to inject a human feeling to your bass parts. Other wise, you can manually offset the notes as well if you want to be surgically precise. In that case you can turn your grid off.
If you look at the image above, you can see that some notes have been offset from the grid. You can also play around with the note lengths of each note to create variations in the groove.
6. Add Saturation and Distortion to Fatten up Your Bass
All DAWs come with their stock distortion/saturation audio effects. You can also find some free plugins on the internet that will help you. This step is important because it adds harmonics to our initial bass sound. Usually a bass sound as it is would be dominant in the lower frequencies. When played together with the rest of the track, these bass sounds tend to get lost. We have to listen quite attentively to hear them. In certain cases they become completely inaudible among all the harmonic richness in our mid and high frequencies. Adding some mids and high mids with a saturation plugin at this juncture can make our bass sound more present in the mix.
We are adding an overdrive and a saturator on our bass channel. You might be confused on whether to insert these effects pre or post EQ. Always remember to use your ears and listen to what sounds best, go with that. You are not also restricted to one EQ, you can use a pre and post EQ if you deem fit. For our project, we will use our overdrive and saturator pre-EQ, since these effects are creating some unpleasant low frequency harmonics which we are removing with our EQ.
7. Splitting up Your Bass Frequencies for Multiband Processing
Once you have the basic sound of your bass ready, remember to add some multi band processing to add depth to your mix. Multiband means we will split up our bass into two or more different frequency bands and process them independently of each other. This is useful when you want to add a modulation effect on your bass. Applying a modulation effect on the whole channel can mess up our low frequency response. We rather apply our modulation effect to mids and high mids, so that our low end is intact. Multiband processing on the bass also opens up our option for stereo imaging on the higher bass frequencies which can add a lot of presence to our bass.
We are not adding any processing on our lows other than to isolate them from the mids and high-mids. You can also make this layer mono if it makes the bass sound better.
We are then splitting the mids from 188Hz to 20KHz in High 1 chain, where we have added a flanger to create some movement in our bass sound.
We are creating another chain called High 2, where we are splitting the frequencies with a highpass at 325Hz. We are using an imager plugin to make the high mids a little wider in the mix, so that it is more audible.