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Using hardware synths to create solid basslines - advice please!

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Ewan Hoozami
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« on: June 29, 2010, 09:37:04 »

So I'm using a Novation X-Station and am attempting to create solid synths for chunky basslines.

I'm kind of doing OK figuring out oscillator/LFO combos and am getting there with envelope control and layering the waves. But the problem I always seem to have is that my sounds don't have enough force behind them. Like, they're really  Pimp but not enough  Tomato Slayer! LIGHTAH!

You know what I mean? Can anyone help?
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« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2010, 10:15:12 »

You monitoring with a sub? If not then chance your b-lines have more growl than you realise. If you check 'em on a sub (or bigger hi-fi sort of system) and they're still lacking the wavy-arm-tomato-factor  you might want to base the sound on a lower register. Never used an X-Station but most synths have a register control like 16' - 8' - 4'. Stick it on 16' to get the deepest root note and then layer on top of that with harmonics (i.e. use a square wave and filter out what you don't want). Some synths will do a 32' register as well but unless you're playing it live through a system that you know works down past 30Hz then there's not much point imo.

Also the channel treatment you give to the sound makes a huge difference. I found in the past that knowing the ins and outs of compression is often more useful for b-lines than knowing the ins and outs of synthesis. (don't get me wrong though, you need both).
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Ewan Hoozami
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« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2010, 10:55:06 »

You monitoring with a sub? If not then chance your b-lines have more growl than you realise. If you check 'em on a sub (or bigger hi-fi sort of system) and they're still lacking the wavy-arm-tomato-factor  you might want to base the sound on a lower register. Never used an X-Station but most synths have a register control like 16' - 8' - 4'. Stick it on 16' to get the deepest root note and then layer on top of that with harmonics (i.e. use a square wave and filter out what you don't want). Some synths will do a 32' register as well but unless you're playing it live through a system that you know works down past 30Hz then there's not much point imo.

Also the channel treatment you give to the sound makes a huge difference. I found in the past that knowing the ins and outs of compression is often more useful for b-lines than knowing the ins and outs of synthesis. (don't get me wrong though, you need both).

All good advice, cheers

What are the main things to consider when compressing basslines then? I'm always a bit wary of doing it as I don't want to squash it too much, so I tend to go with a very gentle compression...
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Ewan Hoozami
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« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2010, 11:10:13 »

Oh, a further question - if my b-line might be beefier but my monitors won'tshow it... how then do other b-lines sound fat through headphones etc? Is it just through mastering?
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« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2010, 11:37:03 »

Oh, a further question - if my b-line might be beefier but my monitors won'tshow it... how then do other b-lines sound fat through headphones etc? Is it just through mastering?

Party a mastering issue but a lot of it will be from the mix as well. It depends on the sort of music, too. With filtered house a la daft punk you often control the compression on the bass by using the kick drum as the control source (so the bass ducks under the kick then "pumps" back in when the kick dies down). EQ is also your friend. A nice boost down at 40Hz never hurt anyone, then a slab of extra gain around 200Hz (or down from that depending on the particular sound) can give it more beef on a system without a sub (and obviously also help it sound a bit clearer/louder on a full range system too).

A lot of folk I know who make breaks (particularly nu skool ones) use something growly and warm and squelchy (like the X-Station) to do the main bulk of the bass, but then run a sine wave bass in a lower register underneath it to add a pure sub tone. Compress the two together on a group channel et voila. That probably adds more beef than any other method, I reckon.
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« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2010, 13:59:53 »

some good advice already.

Ive got a Novation ks4 - which is 4 x X-station i think. It's capable of some pretty meaty bass but sometime i find it thin and digital sounding.  I think layer as said above is a really good idea.

It depends on the type of bass you are after really but the general rule i use with bass is to overdrive it a bit, to make it loud and then compress i to add some punch to the attack. do that with some layering and you are on for a beef cake.

the other thing to do is just shell out for a true analog synth. but to be honest, some of the software these days blows my mind and its so much easier to put into practice.





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« Reply #6 on: June 30, 2010, 07:59:38 »

Oh, a further question - if my b-line might be beefier but my monitors won'tshow it... how then do other b-lines sound fat through headphones etc? Is it just through mastering?


Sort of relates to what Noodle said, but one trick a lot of pop songs use is to make sure there are plenty of mid-range harmonics stemming from the root note of your b-line. The human brain is so adept at recognising the note that these harmonics stem from that if it can't hear the really subby stuff it'll fill in the gaps for you; this is why tunes played through headphones, shitty clock radios etc still give the impression of having some good bass to them.
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« Reply #7 on: July 01, 2010, 17:17:35 »

Layering is a good start. Sine waves will give you the umph in the bottom end.

Otherwise with bass you can be pretty heavy handed with compression. Try some extreme settings and then back it off. Also as Spit points out, bass isn't always about the 40Hz, lots of power comes from the 100-200Hz range. You can also boost multiples of the fundamental to give the false impression of a deeper bass.
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« Reply #8 on: July 01, 2010, 18:19:26 »

You can also boost multiples of the fundamental to give the false impression of a deeper bass.

A much more succinct way of putting it.

Ewan, assuming you're still using Logic then the default EXS24 patch (a simple sine wave) makes for a pretty good sub which you can use as a layer as B.P. suggests. If it's good enough for Breakage, it's good enough for us!  Pimp
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« Reply #9 on: July 01, 2010, 18:50:38 »

a lot of it is in the final mix down, most of my stuff I mix down and master myself then when it goes to press the engineer just makes it as loud a press as possible without skipping...
what I would do to start with is to sample some basslines you like and then try to emulate them and remember basslines that may not be heard on your monitor speakers may be present in your head phones and vice versa so mix it down in your headphones and then turn it loose on some speakers...

and always hip hop basslines etc are a lot less heavier than say dubstep or house music etc so dont cross compare styles.
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« Reply #10 on: July 01, 2010, 23:35:30 »

if possible, use accurate monitors and use an analogue synth, preferably with 2 oscillators.

No need for compression, or post processing or effects or secret sauce.



low frequency sine/triangle wave with polyphonic  midrange layers sound ok with digital though.
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« Reply #11 on: July 02, 2010, 06:48:37 »

No need for compression, or post processing

No need for compression
Laughing Laughing Laughing
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« Reply #12 on: July 02, 2010, 08:50:10 »


i don't understand what's funny. I'm just advising on a way to get ballsy deep bass right from the source. Without starting with something weak and trying to make it less weak afterwards.

I think engineers need to use compression to tame acoustic instruments, or take out the occaisional pop or click from a live recording. A synthesiser has very tight controls for dynamic modulation. Volume envelopes. Filter envelopes. etc etc.
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« Reply #13 on: July 02, 2010, 09:12:32 »

It needs to be good at source, people who think an effects rack can make up for weak production have to go back to the drawing board big time. That much I agree with. But imo whatever the mix, whatever the sources, whatever the style (except classical and certain lines of ambient electronica) compression is a standard issue tool. By all means if you want to preserve the source dynamic then just some light compression to help smooth things over without biting too big a chunk out of the attack (the response/attack time setting on a good compressor can do that nicely), but very very rarely would I say no compression is good compression. Hells, even whacking a completely transparent one on there with a threshold that never gets touched is a good safety against that one point in the tune where you don't notice that, say, the programmed velocity sends the resonant peak briefly into the red. Its easier to whack a comp on there than go through the whole thing by hand. Same as how using a well set-up gate is preferable to 3 hours of editing out gaps.
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« Reply #14 on: July 02, 2010, 11:35:41 »

no, i agree with oblioblioblio .
a true analog synth often doesnt need anythng added to it.  The sound is usually much more huge.... (giving them impression of being compressed already.)
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« Reply #15 on: July 02, 2010, 11:59:40 »

I respectfully disagree with that as advice. I think its more the exception that proves the rule than a good piece of general advice.
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« Reply #16 on: July 02, 2010, 14:27:45 »

no, i agree with oblioblioblio .
a true analog synth often doesnt need anythng added to it.  The sound is usually much more huge.... (giving them impression of being compressed already.)

Yeah if anything you need to use processing to make it less huge, and give other elements space to breathe.

I've always thought of compression as adding a 'hold' element to a typical adsr envelope. A typical hardware synth won't have an ahdsr envelope, so compression can still be useful in controlling dynamics.

As already mentioned sine waves are your friend for bass. If you're using a hardware synth a self oscillating filter gives a tuneable sinewave
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« Reply #17 on: July 02, 2010, 15:17:05 »

As already mentioned sine waves are your friend for bass. If you're using a hardware synth a self oscillating filter gives a tuneable sinewave

On the MS20 it can really add a lot of impact if you lift the high-pass filter a little bit (say to 35-40Hz) and whack the resonance up on it..... You can get it to feed back, and generate a sine tone similar to what Jimmy's saying, but I usually find its enough just to use the resonance of the filter as a very finely tuned EQ to boost what exists of the 30-40Hz range on the oscillator tone. You should be able to do that on any synth with a high-pass filter, although if the synth has only a single (switchable) filter then it depends on if you would be losing out too much by not having some low-pass control (which afaik you absolutely need for wobble bass).

In a nutshell.... Use an MS20.  Tomato Slayer! Or indeed run your SH101 through the MS20 and use the MS20 for all your filtering needs (it has filters that give me an erection, even in the digital copy).
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« Reply #18 on: July 02, 2010, 15:49:45 »

Also not all analogue stuff is fat. Some analogue synths are thin and pathetic. Some can't do bass because the ADSR isn't fast enough as well. 
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« Reply #19 on: July 02, 2010, 15:55:30 »

Also not all analogue stuff is fat. Some analogue synths are thin and pathetic. Some can't do bass because the ADSR isn't fast enough as well. 

Seen. Same goes for digital. I honest-to-godly think (as Pete says above somewhere) that some of the digital stuff is pant-wettingly good these days, and some of it is weak.... I think we're past that glorious mid-90s time when you could comfortably say "software synths are all shite, digital synths are mostly shite, analog synths are good".
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« Reply #20 on: July 03, 2010, 17:17:20 »

http://www.robpapen.com/subboombass.html

Eek
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« Reply #21 on: July 03, 2010, 20:11:52 »


You using this Dan? I bought it about six months ago, and am pretty underwhelmed to be honest...
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« Reply #22 on: July 03, 2010, 22:31:01 »


You using this Dan? I bought it about six months ago, and am pretty underwhelmed to be honest...

Yeah - just tried it out on a recent remix and sounds lovely to me. But then I have real bass issues in my room it's a perfect square!) so it's hard to tell. As a synth for subs I think it's fab.
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« Reply #23 on: July 04, 2010, 10:30:14 »

I have real bass issues in my room it's a perfect square!) so it's hard to tell.

Yes this is another thing that is important to mention  Most of us probably have spare rooms or bedrooms/living rooms as our workspace usually in rented houses, so haven't got any room treatment. Bass problems are very common. I'm as guilty as the rest! It's one of these things I'm intending on looking into soon, I think some bass trapping and some new monitors would help me out, plus a better arranged room.

Some good links here about rooms and acoustics:

http://www.soundonsound.com/forum/postlist.php?Cat=&Board=DESIGN

Spotted this link as well:

http://www.soundonsound.com/forum/showflat.php?Cat=&Number=830007&page=0&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=&fpart=1#Post844044#830007

The final post sums up the above!
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« Reply #24 on: July 04, 2010, 15:44:58 »

Spent over 250 on treatment in my room, and still I get standing waves at around 90hz! In fact, bought 2 Auralex bass cubes today so hoping they're gonna help.

I've written tunes where the bass sounds monsterous, then played em in a club and there's nothing there. :-/
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