Continuing on with our column on Bass clarity.
My “Get Low, Get Loud” technique discussed previously is a simple way to gain clarity in the band room. If you’re unsure about gear, tone and the sympathy of your bandmates/sound engineer, it’s a great place to begin developing clarity.
There are more sophisticated methods available – here’s three.
1. Experiment with a pick.
Playing with a pick causes the string to vibrate differently when struck. It can give your bass consistency and clarity in attack and tone that your fingers may lack (I personally prefer fingers though).
2. Modify band arrangements.
Les Claypool from Primus and Flea from the Chili Peppers are two bass players that you never have trouble hearing. Why? One clue is their guitarists. John Frusciante from the Chili Peppers might put down a lot of guitar tracks, but they are often texturally thin and rhythmically functional. Very few big strummy chords or monster multi-tracked riffs from John Frusciante, and the parts are considerate of vocals, drums and bass.
Primus is the opposite of a guitar heavy band. Imagine if guitarist Larry Lalonde or drummers Brain or Tim Alexander tried to compete with Les Claypool? It would just be a big unlistenable mess, where you couldn’t distinguish any instrument, let alone bass. Instead, the drummer keeps out of the way, Larry Lalonde might make a thin skronk noise every other bar,
and Les Claypool takes up all the room in the arrangement.
Consider your band’s arrangements.
Does each instrument have room (even if some instruments take up more room than others)? Does your keyboard player need their left hand strapped down? Or are you looking at making the next …And Justice For All… (is there a bass player on that album)?
3. Work with your sound engineer.
Beyond controlling foldback, your engineer impacts hugely on your clarity.
I saw Midnight Oil play The Woodford Folk Festival years ago, it was a great gig and eye opening from a live sound perspective.
I generally discourage bass players from using distortion. Poorly applied distortion steals your (sub) bottom end and presets and pedals are generally designed to sound impressive in the store, but the scooped mid-frequencies result in a bass sound that disappears once the guitars start.
Midnight Oil’s gig was impressive because all guitars on stage were distorted, bass included. What should have been a mess was entirely under control from the mixing desk. If one guitar had a bassier distortion, than the other guitars distortions might have more presence in different areas of the mids – each guitar had a distinct sonic footprint where it was distorted and loud, but didn’t sonically interfere with the other guitar’s sound.
You should get a regular engineer for your band (it really helps). Talk to them about where your bass fits in the mix. Work with them to develop a quality bass sound that fits sonically with the rest of the band.
For a good example of what we’ve talked about above check out At The Drive-In’s Relationship Of Command album and always make sure that you trust your own ears first!
As always, if you have any questions, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.