"Well, here's the deal," says Andy West: "There is no secret sauce to make things sound great. Even if I gave you exact settings, which I will, they won't sound the same for every reader. There are a variety of reasons for this, mainly having to do with the original recording and the inability to duplicate the exact sound that went down on disk originally. That being said, there are a couple of things I can say about how to 'go somewhere' with your bass sound.
"First, don't worry about getting the 'perfect sound' in the mix from the start. Just get the most full-range, versatile tone you can and lay that down. It will be easy to modify the dynamics and EQ later with plugins. Assuming you have a decent bass with a good starting tone, just getting a decent sound when recording your bass direct into a DAW is half the battle. I don't worry about anything at this point except getting a nice, full-range tone that will be easy to modify later.
"Specifically, before using any plugins, I use a really good preamp called the SWR Interstellar Overdrive and don't use a plugin on the original recording. The Interstellar is a basic tube-based preamp and I like the sound it gives. If you don't have a good direct box but your bass amp has a direct line output, just use that straight into your computer's I/O box. I have also used a mic preamp with an instrument input like the PreSonus M80 with the mic pre set up as an instrument DI.
"The basic thing here is to get a really good input sound to start. Also, the A/D converter has a huge effect on the quality. I use the top-of-the-line Digidesign 192 I/O, which sounds great in conjunction with my preamp. There are now some converters out there that cost a lot less money and might work just as well. If you just plug your bass into some crappy DI and use cheap converters, you will really have to work to get that sound where you want it."
"Though I have been doing a lot of writing and recording in Logic 7 lately, I will always mix in Pro Tools," West explains. "It is just the best mixing environment, in my opinion. I like the TDM-based plugins and it all just works.
"For starters, I really like the McDSP Analog Channel. I almost always put it first or second in my plugin chain. The effect is very subtle, but really helps the track lie in the mix and sound less brittle and harsh. I also like to use a little compression to even out the notes a little. The thing is, you don't want to take away all the dynamics--unless, of course, that is what you want. I like to use just a little to keep the bass clear in the mix. Sometimes a multiband compressor is cool, too, so you can get rid of any 'pumping' that can happen in the low end but keep the mids and highs dynamic.
"I almost always will be adjusting the bass EQ as the mix develops. Most often it is the last thing I finish. As you modify other things in the same range (mainly drums), you will find that you need to change frequency settings to keep the bass really present but not drowning everything else in that register out.
"On the song 'Perfect World' from the new Fwap CD of the same name, using my five-string GGould bass, the signal chain looks exactly like Figures 1A–C:"
"Figure 2 shows the same plugins but with the settings I used on my fretless six-string for the song 'To Serve Man':"
"As you can see, the settings are completely different--especially the EQ! My final advice on this topic is simply to experiment a lot: turn the dials radically to learn exactly what is happening, then learn how the settings interact with each other in more subtle ways. It's a fun, lifelong process--as long as your ears hold out!"