As you probably already know, it’s all about that bass. In today’s popular electronic genres, your mix largely depends on how you control the low-end of the frequency spectrum. Mixing and affecting low-end is a rather complex skill that requires time, practice, and an understanding of the techniques involved.
Therefore, in this tutorial, we will walk you through the production of a bass-dominant Psy-Trance track in the SoundBridge: DAW – step-by-step.
STEP 1 – CHOOSE A GREAT KICK DRUM SAMPLE
It is important to remember that your initial choice of kick-drum is crucial. Therefore, select one that feels right to you. Make sure it has a good “punch” and a clean, low “oomph.” It should be dry (no echo, reverb, or modulation). A spectrum analyzer can be useful to see these dominant peaks, but it is just as important to use your ears. Once you’re confident with the sample, leave it for now.
STEP 2 – SET UP YOUR BASS
It seems to me that the most commonly used waveform for bass in Psy-Trance is the sawtooth wave. It is a fat, sharp timbre, containing all harmonics in the harmonic series – making it ideal for filtering. For this example, I will load a sawtooth waveform into oscillator 1 of an instance of Native Instrument’s Massive – a suitable tool for this type of bass.
Let’s open the piano roll and write some 16th notes on the F2 octave to get a basic rhythmic idea down. However, you don’t have to use this exact rhythm, but something static and simple is the best.
In Massive’s oscillator drop-down menu, select the “Square – Saw 1” waveform (Massive’s oscillator will default to this waveform upon opening).
- Move the “Wt-position” to the right so that the oscillator is generating a true sawtooth wave (12 o’clock is a 50/50 hybrid of a square and saw wave. 7 o’clock is a perfect square wave…)
- Tune the oscillator to -24 (two octaves down) in the pitch box.
- For the type of oscillator, select “Formant” (see blog: USING FORMANTS TO SYNTHESIZE VOWEL SOUNDS). When a formant oscillator is used in Massive, the positions of the formants are determined by the intensity knob. Moving this will transpose the characteristic resonances of the sound rather than the fundamental pitch. The idea is to emulate an instrument with a body. Try nudging intensity 5-10% – notice the formants shift, but remain in their position as you play different notes. Find a sweet spot for intensity and leave it there.
- Lastly, for this oscillator, send it all to filter one by moving the filter mix faders to up. I will go over the filter functionality later.
STEP 3 – LAYER THAT BASS
Let’s move on to oscillator 2. This layer will add richness and dimension to the sound.
For oscillator 2…
- Leave the pitch a 0
- Pick a different waveform (I chose “Arctic”)
- Use the “formant” mode again
- Leave the intensity knob to the left
- Send all the signal to F1 again by pushing the filter mix faders all the way up
STEP 4 – HAVE YOUR OSCILLATORS “RESTART”
Let’s move to the Oscillator menu. You will find this menu in the middle section of Massive under the “OSC” tab. Within this tab, you’ll see the “oscillator phases” matrix. Here, you should enable “restart via gate” so that each oscillator will start at the phase position determined by the matrix each time it is re-triggered. Experiment with the start positions of Osc 1 & 2 until you find a set-up to your liking.
STEP 5 – ENVELOPE THAT BASS
Moving forward, let’s determine the ADSR amplitude contour (attack, decay, sustain, release) of the sound. These settings are in the central menu of Massive as well but only appear when an envelope is selected (blue tabs).
- Make the decay and release relatively short for both oscillators, slightly lengthen the attack, and drop the sustain (level) to 0. This creates that tight, edgy pluck you hear in trance bass.
- Control the amplitude of oscillator 1 with the envelope by dragging and dropping the envelope’s cross-hair icon onto the first open square under the amp knob.
- Then, click and drag on that square to determine the range that the envelope will control (shown below).
STEP 6 – FILTER THAT BASS
Select any type of low-pass filter in the drop-down menu of filer 1 and bring the cutoff knob all the way to left (completely closed). I will then use an envelope to open the filter.
Select a new envelope tab in the enveloping section.
- Drag and drop its cross-hair icon from the env tab to the left-most box under the cutoff.
- Click and drag that box to allow a broad range of envelope control (about ¾ full range).
- Adjust the ADSR settings in this envelope to your liking.
Now we can say we’ve made a solid bass to work with. Here is what it sounds like (no processing yet).
STEP 7 – TUNE THE KICK AND MIX
If the kick sample has a prominent pitch, there is a potential for that pitch to conflict with the harmonies of the production as a whole. Also, harmonic clashing causes the kick not to sit as well as it should in the mix.
One solution is to change the pitch of the kick altogether with any pitch algorithm. Another is to use a pitch envelope. To use this technique, you’ll need to import the sound file into a sampler that features a pitch envelope function (I used Battery 4 by Native Instruments).
Gently experiment with the amount/decay knobs of the pitch envelope. Listen to the kick & bass mix and set the parameters such that the two elements play nicely in harmony.
STEP 8 – PROCESS
EQ the kick drum. Cut some frequencies that interfere with the bass like the (often in the 100 – 500 Hz range). Our kick sounds like this now:
Our bass will need some EQ-ing as well to attenuate some undesired frequencies. Try attenuating around 600 Hz & 2000 kHz. These areas tend to interfere with the kick. Try boosting the 150 Hz range a little and experiment with bandwidth.
Introduce side-chain (ducking) by keying a compressor on the output of the bass with the kick track or using a volume-envelope tool. Listen carefully for the right pulse and adjust attack/release until you find it. On the whole, volume-envelopes are better because they don’t compress the sound. Instead, they automate the volume. Doing so, you preserve the dynamic-range and keep the punch of the sound intact. Here’s what the mix should sound like at this point…
After mixing and processing, our Kick & Bass sound like this: