Cosmic Academy's 5 Tips for Better Basslines
Electronic Music and Basslines. Can you name a more iconic duo? Basslines are a central part of the music we make, and they’re one of the most common aspects that the students who enroll in our Cosmic Academy Bootcamp tell us they’d like to work to improve.
Today, we’re dishing out our top 5 tips that can help you bring your bassline game to the next level. We hope these help!
1. Choose the Right Sound
This one is probably the most important! Instead of having to over process, or having to “fix” the sound through your processing chain to make the sound work in your mix, try to choose a great sound that fits from the start! A good sound should need minimal processing in order to work well in your mix. If you need to jump through hoops to make a sound work, it’s probably a sign that another sound would work better!
Another important point to keep in mind is that not all synths sound the same in different octaves. Have you ever noticed when you drop the octave on a certain sound, it can begin to get very muddy and lifeless? Or if you move the octave up, it sounds tinny and loses its body? Try and find the “sweet spot” for each patch you choose; don’t try to force it! When we start working with our students to help them think very critically about which parts of the octave and scale their sounds work best, we see immediate improvements.
Especially in the case of your bassline, which is often times the central “driving” element that gets people to move when they hear your track, sound quality is extremely important!
2. Your Bassline Must Work With the Kick
These two elements—the bassline and the kick—are the loudest in your song, and they fight for the same space within the frequency spectrum.
In order to solve this issue, we need to start by choosing opposites. For example, if you have a long, subby kick, it’s better to choose a shorter bassline, or one in a higher octave (so we aren’t competing frequencies in the same octave).
Or if you’re using a short kick (with a tail shorter than half a beat)? Now you have more time and physical space to work with a bassline in the same octave as your kick.
Finally, when programming busier basslines (e.g., busy 16th note or 8th note patterns), try to avoid the kick if you can!
3. Parallel FX
We jump into this topic within the first week of our bootcamp because we’re such strong believers in the difference it can make in a mix. Parallel FX are an amazing way to take your sound design to the next level. Over-processing a sound directly can weaken the integrity of the sound and ultimately, your mix. Instead, try taking advantage of parallel processing to achieve a more unique-sounding bassline through blending in the processed signal with the dry signal, which will allow you to maintain the quality of the dry bass sound. Ultimately, this process allows you to achieve the best of both worlds!
A few great parallel effects to try out: send your signal to a guitar amp, a distortion plugin, chorus, phaser, reverb, delay etc. Or, try multiple. Don’t be afraid to cook the signal a little more on these parallel chains, since all you’re doing is blending them back in.
4. Take Advantage of Layering Your Bass Sounds
Layering your bass sounds are a great way to thicken the mix. It can often be hard to find one sound that checks all the boxes and fits all of the needs you have in the mix (in terms of frequency coverage and also utilization of the full stereo field).
A great approach to make sure you have your bases covered to achieve a full mix is to have layers dedicated for the sub, mids, and highs. This structure gives you the ability to have three different timbres and you can process each separate from one another to achieve a more precise result!
5. Use Multiband Sidechain
This is one that the students in our Cosmic Academy bootcamp always find helps them get a much stronger result! Multiband sidechain can help you to get a tighter “duck” around your kick. The low part of your bass needs to duck around the corresponding low part of the kick (the tail).
But do the high frequencies of your bass sounds need to duck around that full length of the kick as well? Nope! They only need to duck around the high “click” of your kick.
You can achieve these super-precise, per-band sidechain settings with a multiband compressor, or with a plugin like Shaperbox.