I learned something cool about aligning kik/bass

I’ve been struggling lately with aligning live bass guitar takes with live drum tracks in a way that both feels natural and is also really tight and professional sounding. I recently had a breakthrough that was really helpful, and I thought I’d share. Let me know what you think. Sorry if this is really obvious to everyone else. But, the solution to this issue wasn’t obvious to me, and I didn’t really see anyone else actively talking about it in the usual places. I also made a forum post about it and didn’t receive much helpful feedback.

So, you get your hitpoints on your kick and bass tracks, you snap them to the grid, and bam! Done! But, hold on, you play back your session and suddenly things sound wrong. The feel is really “weird.” Why does THIS bass note sound LATE and this one is now EARLY? Everything should be on the grid now! What gives!?

Again, maybe I’m dumb for thinking this is some great epiphany, but the issue is that the waveforms of low-frequency content are really slow, and this presents a rather interesting problem; the time between the beginning of the attack of a low sound’s envelope to the peak of the transient can be non-trivial. Okay. So what?

Well, Cubase likes to put hitpoints at the initial onset of a transient. At least, that’s what I’ve noticed. That being the case, the attack envelope of your bass guitar and your kick drum had better be REALLY similar. If they aren’t, then the respective relationship of each instrument’s waveform to the grid itself after quantizing isn’t going to be the same, and it’s going to sound weird and off. Thing is, at least in my experience, of course the attack envelopes aren’t going to be the same between the two instruments; bass guitar is MUCH slower!

You may think, as I did, “Oh, the obvious solution is that the hitpoints should be over the area of highest energy on the transient, then that should be snapped to the grid.” But, not only is that pretty very labor intensive, it’s also not strictly true either. I found that for low-slow waveforms like bass, there is enough information to be heard in the time between the onset of the attack to the peak of the transient for the part to sound/feel early even if you align the peak of the transient up very nicely with the kick.

So, what do you do? You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

I struggled with this for quite some time. I tried manually moving the bass to where it sounded/felt best against the quantized kick by ear. This proved to be extremely difficult because it’s so incredibly subjective. Things can sound “late” or “early” depending on which frequency range you’re feeling like focusing in on in the moment, and that itself changes across the session. I found myself doing a ton of work only to listen back in horror a few hours later wondering what I could have been thinking. Clearly I needed another method. Again, I wasn’t finding much info on this in the usual places. People mostly just say, “Do what sounds best.” And I mean…okay… :confused:

Anyway, what I figured out works very well is this. Snap the kick to the grid since it probably has the sharpest, most precise envelope. Then, you visually align the peak of the bass guitar’s envelope to the peak of the kick’s envelope (this is also a great time to make sure these two elements are IN PHASE and punching together - in my case, they actually were not). This is going to move the bass guitar’s initial attack information too early. But, since a fingered bass attack contains a lot of useless “THHHHH” at the very beginning as the felshy part of the finger travels through the string, you can actually chop a little of this off with a very quick fade-in right at the beginning of the barline without negatively impacting the attack at all. Doing this, you get a pop-music perfect marriage between kick/bass that sounds extremely natural, intentional, feels great, and involves very little guesswork.

Again, maybe this is a really obvious approach to everyone. But, it wasn’t obvious to me. If it’s not obvious to you, well, here you go. Hope it saves you some time. Also, probaby really great bassists and drummers compensate for a lot of this automatically. But, for those of who need the help of the Q button to get our music to the next level, try this out. Hope it helps :smiley:

Great post.

DId you find the bass notes needed to be moved by a consistent amount? If so, I’m wondering whether moving the notes achieves the same results. If you have them as separate events you could then apply the fade in you mentioned to each note in one go.

I had as similar issue, but needed to make the notes sound later: I took the quick option and just applied a track delay.

Thank you!

I did not find they needed to be moved by a consistent amount, and I also tried moving the track with a track delay offset. I couldn’t really make that work. There’s probably some PLE scripting that could automate this process a bit.

That approach may have worked in that particular case but this is definitely NOT what you should do. I am not sure how much experience you have with real bassists and drummers and live plazing? And have you ever heard about the term “playing in the pocket”?

Really good rhythm section will, depending on the song and genre, play so that attack of the bass and kick are separated in time by very specific amount. This will also help when mixing, much less need for side-chaining compression on bass. It is a difference that is very small but helps the feel of the song and help both kick and bass guitar in the mix. What you have discovered is that it is not possible to just line up all instruments when editing and get good results in a lot of cases. For instance, as I was mixing mostly hard rock and metal, more often than not, bass guitar is ideally just a small amount behind the kick. In that way they work together, first comes the click of the kick drum, than just behind that attack of the bass guitar. In that way bass guitar note acts like a sort of a body for kick drum hit. But again, some songs or even parts will work much better if bass is pushing forward slightly. So there is no formula that works every time.

When editing bass that was not well recorded (because if it was, there would be no need to edit and it would feel great, right?) it’s probably good idea to avoid using hit points and use slip edit technique, you can for instance find a lot about it in some old threads in Andy Sneap forum. Short version, cut everything jut a little in front of every note, move audio inside the clip but to not move the clip itself, cross fade everything. Use your eyes to see where the attack of the bass note is, try first with 10-20 ms behind the drum hit and when you get the feel what works best in that specific song, do the rest. Other song will ask different separation s the relationship between kick and bass note is song dependent.

Again, do it visually, you don’t need hit points, just use transients.

Your approach will get you unnutural result that may work in some cases but you are essentially cutting away part of the bass note that helps bass be defined and heard in the song. Also, whole idea, at least when it comes to natural sound for bass and kick NOT to sound at the completely same time. It also makes getting good sounding kick harder.

One more thing - when recording bass player that is at least decent, it is good idea to get from him at least one good take on one part of the song. Then you can open this good take and see where the bass notes are in relationship to the kick. In most cases that relationship will work for the rest of the song and you can imitate it while editing. Also, good idea is to finish editing drum take first, it will save you a lot of work later. If you record a bass player and then edit drum take that is not great, you will end up with useless bass take where literary every note has to be moved.

P.S. Same for the distorted guitars. On modern releases, they are often edited, quantized and melodyned. They also have their pocket, when rifing, kick will sound while pick is ending scraping the strings towards the full chord, and body of the chord will come together with the bass or milliseconds later. But it is whole another story.

Not sure if you have live bass or VST. With VST, you can bounce one measure to see where the attack of this specific bass is , with some vsts moving everything few milliseconds back or forward can help a lot to make kick and bass to work together. Don’t cut or fade anything , there is no need.