Pro Tips on Bone Crushing Bass Synth Sound Design in NI Massive
If you want a bass that tears right through the music and threatens to crush your fans’ souls, this quick lesson on bass synth sound design should help!
There are way too many types of bass synths being used in modern music production to break them all down in a simple post, but I’d like to share a few pointers that may help you design better, more stable and harder-hitting synths that cuts through a mix and works well with processing. Bass synth sound design requires attention to detail if you want your sounds to be top shelf consistently and not require too much time and effort. There are a handful of things that you can do proactively when making your bass synths that will save you countless headaches and improve your overall sound instantly. Let’s take a look at this bass I just made in just a few minutes time.
The first thing you need to be conscious of is what you want to make and the way it needs to be delivered to be successful. The first steps of bass synth sound design are often things that take place inside your head. So, I first identified that I will be using two envelopes for the synth I’d like to make, which will be a very large and gritty distortion bass. The first envelope is going to be used to control modulation assignments, while the other is the main amp envelope. The reason I started with these is so that I can begin applying the modulation envelope as I go. Too much back-and-forth in a bass synth sound design session can lead to a confused workflow, frustration and ear fatigue.
In the image below you can see that a Digigrain II wavetable is loaded into OSC1, a Dirty Pulse Width Modulation wavetable is loaded into OSC2, and a Sine-Square wavetable is loaded into OSC3. The reason there is a difference in pitch values on the first two oscillators, but not the third is simple. Pitch variance provide added width, depth, character and movement through natural phasing. Though is is highly desirable in a sound like this, we do not want to add it to the sub bass element, which is what OSC3 is providing. To do this would make it more difficult to keep the bass centered in the mix, and there are a whole host of problems that this can create. The modulation envelope assignments are there to provide a more natural and believable delivery of our synth. These are all key points in successful bass synth sound design of this kind.
Next, our sound is run through a couple of filters. A lowpass 4 filter is loaded first, followed by a Double Notch filter. The filters are set up in parallel mode and are being output in equal measure. There are no big rules you have to play by when it comes to filters or how they are routed, in regards to bass synth sound design. But, you always need to be aware of how wide a sound like this is. You want too many frequencies involved. Resonance, although helpful in highlighting some top end character in a bass, can also get out of hand quickly and become shrill–so keep an eye on it!
Now it’s time to add some effects. A Brauner Tube Amp is loaded into the FX1 tab to give the sound more drive and grit. You can instantly feel the distortion pulsing through it. Then, a Dimension Expander is loaded into the FX2 tab. This is a better effect to use, versus a reverb or chorus to create more room and thickness in the sound because it helps protect it from being spread out too much and does not introduce any phasing. The EQ unit it turned on and used to accentuate some highs and lows for impact, while some mids are attenuated to avoid muddiness and keep things crisp and tight. This is another key element to successful bass synth design, proper frequency management from the very beginning of the process.
A touch of Brown Noise and Feedback are added for some extra character.
A Sine Shaper insert effect is used to enhance the distortion and drive brought on by the tube amp. A Hardclipper adds just a bit more grit. Although this step is not necessary to make a big bass, it does help with definition, texture and character. And those are a few things I am always aware of when working on bass synth sound design.
Below is a shot of the Routing Schematic for this bass synth. Notice that OSC3 has been set up to be bypassed if we so choose. And in the image below you can see that I have indeed partially bypassed the filters and FX. This is because they take away some of the low end frequencies that make it a relevant part of this instrument. It is generating sub bass frequencies and we need to allow them to pass through. Another great trick for your bass synth sound design sessions.
As a finishing touch, I have elected to add a few things via the Modulation OSC panel. Adding some Filter Frequency Modulation to the Double Notch filter, and some Ring Modulation and Wavetable Position manipulation to OSC2 helps to add a subtle amount of extra grit, texture and interest to our sound.
Below is a short sample of this synth in action. No processing of any kind has been applied outside of NI Massive. You can also see in the image of the meter below, that the bass signal is right down the middle, so it will easily work in a mix and has plenty of room for added effects and processing one you get it into your DAW.
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