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…
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