Electronic music moved the bass from being a supporting part of most musical genres to being forefront, taking centre stage alongside the drums. That’s why the focus on sub content has never been greater. Every track needs to hit like a freight train to the chest, and that requires a consistent sub.
In this Weekend Workshop, we’re going to show you a couple of techniques to keep your low-end in check. We’ll be using four utilities from MeldaProduction’s free FX bundle to make sure your bass sounds fat, not flabby.
Based in Prague, MeldaProduction was founded in 2009 and has been adding to their massive collection of plug-in offerings ever since. They offer a variety of paid plug-in bundles to choose from, but today we’ll be using their MFreeFXBundle. The free bundle includes 37 utility and effects plug-ins which cover most production needs, with a heavy focus on analysis and distortion. There are a few restrictions with the free bundle – the biggest being the lack of preset management – but nothing that will hinder us right now. The FX bundle is available for Windows and macOS in VST, VST3, and AU formats.
Here are the sounds were going to be working with:
You can download them here so you can work along with the workshop in your own DAW.
What you’ll need:
- A DAW
- MeldaProduction’s MFreeFXBundle, which you can find here
1. Layering for Maximum Impact
Bass design in Dubstep, Glitch Hop, DnB, and other genres that typically fall under the Bass Music category, focuses on creating changes in the timbre and frequency content of the sound over its duration. This movement naturally creates a muddy and unfocused low-end. Processing these sounds usually involves filter sweeps, distortion, and other processes that add undesired harmonic content to the sub region, take away from the fundamental, or both. To combat this, it’s a good idea to cut the low-end from you characterful sound and layer a clean sub instead. We’ll load up MeldaProductions MEqualizer and see what the sub frequencies look like on our first two sounds in our original two-bar bassline. One way to make these characterful bass sounds is to experiment with a modular system or any other synth, and just record the output. Then edit together the sections you like. That’s how we made this sound.
If we examine the area below 100Hz for our original, characterful Eurorack bass sample, we have a peak that starts at around 60Hz and which then moves down below the range of most playback systems. We want that sub-frequency tone to be present for the duration of the sound to provide the most impact. We will achieve this by layering a solid sine based sub underneath our original sound.
Let’s start by taking two slices of audio from our sub sample, and placing them to roughly match our first two sounds, one next to the other. We are using Ableton, but you can do this in your DAW of choice.
Right now the sub sounds like one chunk of audio, but we will use fades to try and match the dynamics of the original sound. We want our sub to sound natural; for that, we’ll need it to fade in and out to match the volume envelope of our top (character) layer. When dealing with audio slices, you should always add very short fades to the start and end of your slices; this will eliminate any annoying pops or clicks.
We aren’t going to get the fades perfect, and they don’t have to be. We just need to copy the general shape of the original volume envelope, and we’ll end up with two distinct sub sounds.
2. Tuning the layers
Now we want to ensure that the fundamental pitch of our sub matches that of our top layer. For that, we are going to load an instance of MTuner on both the top layer and sub channels. Let’s hit play a few times to get the pitch of the first sound in our top layer.
We are just shy of a perfect A note; Let’s do the same thing for our sub.
We are sitting somewhere between G# and A; we’ll bring our first sub slice up one semitone to better match our top layer. Our second top layer sound is going to be impossible to match since it is made up of a pretty wide pitch drop. Go through different tunings and listen carefully to find the pitch where the sub sounds best to you; in this case, our G# sub already sits well with the top layer. Let’s check out how they sound together.
3. EQ to bring the sounds together
Our sound has a lot more weight behind it, but there’s more to do. We don’t want the messy sub frequencies from our top layer sound to interfere with our clean sub layer. We need to create a crossover point using the MEqualizer plug-in. Let’s load an instance on both of our tracks and get started.
On our top layer, we’ll want to start our cut around 125Hz; we’ll want a pretty steep high-pass filter. Double-click the first band to enable it, and then right-click it to open the band properties window. From here we can change the EQ curve to ‘High-pass (12 dB/oct)’. We want something steeper than that, so we will increase the slope using the multiplier under the general pane. Choosing ‘2’ gives us a 24 dB/oct slope which is perfect for removing the sub from our top layer. Now we can either use the controls in the band properties window or drag the node in the main window, to set our cutoff point to around 125Hz.
Now if we solo our top layer and listen to the sound with the EQ bypassed and then enabled, we notice that almost all of the low-end weight has gone, but we retain all the important character of the top layer. If you’re listening on headphones and struggling to hear the difference, try playing this back on some larger speakers.
Let’s turn our attention back to our sub bass. We will need to create an inverted version of our first EQ to make sure our sub doesn’t interfere with the mid-range of our top layer. We’ll open our second instance of MEqualizer, but before we start editing, we are going to put the plug-in into mid-side mode; more on that later. Expand the toolbar and then click on ‘L+R’ to bring up the different operating modes. Choose ‘Mid + Side’, which will allow us to process the mono and stereo information separately.
Enable the sixth band and configure it as a low-pass filter with a 24 dB/oct slope. We can set the cutoff frequency to around 125Hz just like our top layer EQ.
If we take a look at our sub in MEqualizer, we can see that we’ve removed any unwanted frequencies in the mid-range, and are left with just the fundamental.
4. Maximize headroom and focus
Finally, we can return to why we’ve set our sub EQ to operate in mid-side mode. While it’s not nearly as important to keep the low-end mono as it used to be, there are some advantages to doing so. Lots of club sound systems still output a mono sound. While your low-end might sound great in stereo, as soon as your mix is collapsed to mono, any phase issues will become apparent; this can cause phase cancellation which will weaken your low-end. Another consideration is that humans have a tough time localising sub frequencies, so side information in the sub region isn’t going to be adding much to the stereo image. Removing the side information will free up headroom in your overall mix and provides a more focused sub.
Let’s open up our sub EQ again and enable the first band. We are going to set it up similarly to our top layer, as a high-pass, but this time we’ll click on ‘side’ to set the band to affect the side information. Let’s hear our sub sounds now.
For reference, we can switch band one’s mode to mid, and we can hear the information that’s being removed from the sub region. Because this sub was created from feedback generated by a stereo Eurorack effect, there is a lot of unnecessary side information.
Now, if we group our top layer and sub tracks, we can load another instance of MEqualizer on the group and see what the sub looks like on the combined sound. You could also add some compression to glue the sounds together a bit more, and any other processing (that doesn’t destroy the sub). Alternatively, we could bounce these to one track, but keeping them separate is less destructive and provides full control over the mix.
We’ll need to complete this process for each of the sounds in our loop. Above is the new layered audio, with our fundamental sitting firmly at about 50Hz.
Listen to the final result:
And this is what it sounds like in the context of a track:
There you have it! It can be a pretty long-winded process, but it’s one that can make a big difference to your bass sounds. We’d recommend tackling this section by section and only once you’re really satisfied with your bass parts.
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Check out more Weekend Workshops here.