Compression is often thought of as a process designed to make things louder or smooth out dynamics, but in many cases it should be viewed mainly as a tonal shaping tool for adding punch and definition. Bass is no exception, especially given that bass elements already hog a significant portion of the available headroom and synth basslines typically have little dynamic range.
Let’s see how compression can be used to shape this bassline:
Start with a medium to fast attack, moderate release time, a ratio of 2:1 or 4:1 and slowly bring the threshold down until you get 4-6 dB of gain reduction. We’re using Logic’s built-in compressor plugin set to the default Platinum mode:
Here’s how it sounds:
The denser the bass notes, the faster the release will need to be. The release control should be set to a time which allows the compressor to recover between notes.
Changing the attack time is a way to emphasise the initial onset of each note. Adjust the attack for maximum punch. Too slow and you’ll lose any benefit. For an example of how the attack time affects the sound, the following clip demonstrates the effect of gradually increasing the attack time while leaving all other settings in the same place.
Don’t forget that different types of compression with the same apparent settings can sound very different. Logic offers six different modes in the basic compressor plugin:
Here’s how they sound with all other settings equal:
Finally, avoid very fast attack and release times. These can lead to audible distortion on low frequency material, which is most noticeable on sub-bass parts.