How to get a dub bass sound in a mixed track

You might want to give “More Lost,” from last week (see previous post), another listen.  I remixed it to get the bass to sound right and it sounds a lot better.  I know you didn’t ask, but here is what I did, in case anyone else runs into the problem of changing the sound of the bass when there is no separate instrument track. Of course, the best option is to record the sound the way you want it to its own track, but that is not an option here because of rreplay’s live workflow.  So I had to try to get the sound in the mix instead of in the recording.  We were aiming for a dubby bass sound, nice and full on the low end without being boomy.  Here is the recipe, and an A/B comparison at the end.

FIrst split the track into two: a mono (sub-) bass track with a cutoff around 200 Hz and a stereo track for everything above that. I left the top the way it was originally mixed and worked only on the bass.  Remember though that all the “finger” sounds and most of the transients of the bass are up there. I read the manuals for the two main plugins I used, a transient shaper and Ohmicide multi-band distortion.  I also did side-by-side listening with “more lost” and  Sly and Robbie’s Fatigue Chic as the dubby timbre we are aiming for on the mono sub-bass track.

For the initial mix, I muted the top (stereo) channel and worked just with the bass. Unmuting for A/B comparison was not a good idea, because as my ears got accustomed to the bass, turning the top back on for brief periods sounded way more trebly than things actually were. I needed to give the piece a listen all the way through when I wanted to hear both channels, so I got the main part of the bass working with it soloed, and then tweaked the finishing touches with the full mix. Going back and forth with “Fatigue Chic” was very helpful to see if I was getting closer on the bass sound.

I could get the bass really fat in my good monitors, but then it sounded like $#!+ on anything else. When I was turning up the bass channel, it was also amplifying a bunch of low end cruft. The solution was to use a transient shaper (I used the transient shaper included in Sonar, but you can probably score a [free] [one] or a demo to try), with a fast attack and a slightly sped up release, so that the bottom is only happening when it is either Eric’s bass playing or the bass drum. The attack does not need to be instant, since the treble parts of the attack are still in the upper bands, but fast enough so that the bass is coming in at the same time as the same transients in the upper track. Set the release really short for the moment to accentuate what you are keeping.  Fiddle with the threshold until all the bass notes and the bass drum play, but nothing else.  It is ok at this point if it sounds choppy.  Raising the threshold should make notes drop, and lowering it will introduce extra stuff.  There should be empty space between the notes.  Once the threshold is set, lengthen the release time (move from “dry” to “wet” on the plugin I was using) to bring back the tails of the bass notes, but don’t set it so long that the gate stops working and the cruft seeps back in. There should sound like there is a little (not too much) space between the notes where the gate is working. the upper track will fill those in once we introduce it back in.

This tightened things up considerably. I messed with EQ a bit on the mono bass channel to push the frequency where the bass drum sat a little.  Your mileage may vary on this, depending on the bass drum sound.  It can make it ring in an unpleasant way. the boost for this was a somewhat narrow and small one at about 130 Hz, but YMMV, so use your ears.  I also gave a lesser, rounder (i.e. lower Q) boost around 80, so there was a slight sharper peak centered on 130 over a rounder peak centerred on 80, with a sharp cutoff below 50 and above 200.  I then put a little compression after the transient shaper instead of at the beginning of the chain, which further tightened things up.  It goes after so that the cruft stays quiet and the notes and bass drum loud.

At this point, I started listening to the whole track (upper and lower bands both on).  Looked at overall EQ of bass and treble channels together in Voxengo’s free SPAN meter  and solved some dips and peaks caused by splitting the channel apart, added the ohmicide distortion, set to a mild vaccum tube emulation, to the mono bass channel but turned down to 10% in the mix — all it does now is adds a little tail of midrange harmonics that “glues” the bass channel to the high channel so it does not sound like the Eric’s bass finger work is from one bass and the sub-bass from another. Could prbably do this with many other tube saturator type thingies.  The trick is to really go light on it.  I wrecked several versions until I backed it way off until I thought I could no longer hear it, then checked by bypassing it to hear if it was an audible difference at all and if it improved the sound (yes to both).

I tested the new remix on the good KRK monitors, on Cambridge Soundworks computer speakers, and on my Bose computer speakers and the bass sounds way better …no woof, gargle, or fizz while being more prominent with a better fat dubby tone, and because of the cruft removal and glue, much tighter sounding in the mix.

Here is the old version:

Compare with the current Souncloud version:

arcDev noise industries

Another plugin maker who makes cool music is Skye Klein from Australia, who plays under the moniker of Terminal Sound System along with a bunch of other projects.  His music, in TSS anyway, is dubby, minimalist, occasionally bordering on ambient but at other times moving towards industrial glitching.  His latest album is Compressor, and another, Constructing Towers, is due out soon You can hear the latest music at the TSS site.  His older stuff is all downloadable from Embryo Records.  Among my favorites from the old stuff are minimal tolerance to injected errata, deep trauma, and tomorrow will not come, though I have not really listened to the whole catalogue yet.

His plugin and software site is arcDev Noise Industries, which has a frustratingly cool web interface that evokes some alien version of DOS or the ancient gopher net protocol.  Type ‘help’ if you can’t figure it out.

I use two of his plugins a lot.  The first is the aptly named hosebeast, which you can hear in action on rreplay‘s sizzle.  Hosebeast is a “5-part fx processor for noisy, lofi, glitchy and general audio mayhem” with a filter, granulator, warper, bitcrusher, and ring modulator in any combination, including multiples of the same.  In other words a FSU device.

The other great arcDev plugin is arcDev’s entry in the 2007 KVR Developers’ Challenge plugin contest, Ellipsis.  It, along with mdsp‘s livecut, which I’ll discuss in its own post some time, are responsible for the drums in cubanecho and f it from rreplay.  Cubanecho also relies on mdsp’s entry in the 2006 KVR Developers’ Challenge, fire.  If you take a guitar and set it standing up with the strings against a tabletop, then pull it away a little and let go, then the strings will bounce on the edge of the tabletop ever more rapidly, just so: Booooooooing Booooing  Boooing Boing Bng Bn bn bnbnbnbnbn (I take no responsibility for any damage to guitars or furniture this may cause).  Mdsp has figured out how to mathematically model that warping speed change using delays in fire.

The way Ellipsis works is that you load ten samples into it, most usefully, drum loops that will more or less go together.  You have to tweak the settings a bit to make the drums play at the right (or wrong!) speed.  Then when you hit a corresponding note on your midi controller (usually a keyboard, but I use a footboard), it triggers the loop.  You can set it for any BPM and it will speed up or slow down your loop accordingly, or sync it to your plugin host.  If you only like the last half or the first quarter of the loop, you can play just that, or play it in reverse.  One useful way to set it is to put the same drum loop in several times and play different portions of it frontwards or backwards to give some variation to the drums.

So that’s it for today.  I couldn’t find any of mdsp’s music to play for you, but I hope you enjoy rreplay and Terminal Sound System.