There’s no getting around it, and the science is in: Bass is crucial for giving your songs both impact and coherence. It also, apparently, hits our emotions in just the right way. The upshot of all this is that you’d be selling your songs short of that emotional pull if you don’t bolster your tracks with some great low end.
Often ignored, sometimes maligned, but ultimately difficult to get right, the low frequencies will have a huge impact upon how music is received. To help you out, here’s a quick overview of some digital software instruments (or soft synths) that will help you round out the bottom end of your sound. And if you’re looking for help mixing those low frequencies to get the strongest possible punch, preview our Faders Up course series, Modern Mix Techniques and Advanced Mix Techniques, for free today!
1. Native Instruments Massive
This flagship synth from Native Instruments defines the term “feature-packed.” There are three oscillators available with a whole host of waveform selections. The low-pass filters are voiced beautifully and are versatile enough to pull sounds that have depth and clarity. There are ample routing and FX options built in, so that production shine is on hand without requiring extra plugins on your chain.
If there’s one criticism of Massive, it’s the learning curve. There’s a decent time investment required to get your head around all of the available features, but it’s worth it when you get a synth versatile enough to last a lifetime. (Massive is also what we use in our synth sound tutorials on Flypaper!)
2. Ableton Live Operator
There’s a chance that even if you own and use Ableton Live (and you probably do), you may not have dived deep into Operator. Don’t pass up the chance to get acquainted with this humble workhorse of the synth world. It’s not as fancy and glamorous as other virtual instruments, but Operator’s frequency-modulated sound is as clean as its design, combining depth and versatility in a simple and accessible interface.
My go-to Operator bass is two stacked sines. Adjust the volume envelope of the first master oscillator, and bring in the second oscillator playing an octave lower to taste. Sweep the low-pass filter to get some fatness, dial in a little spread, and you’re pretty much good to go in less than two minutes.
The beauty of Helm, Matt Tytel’s synth, is in its simplicity. Very little lives under the hood, with all the relevant modules needed to shape the sound clearly visible on the GUI. Packing two oscillators in the classic analog style, the real power of this synth comes in its powerful modulation system. Using the cute little helmet-shaped buttons to map LFOs and filters to other parts of the synth architecture is intuitive and rewarding. And for a free plugin, Helm boasts exemplary sound and a slick interface.
4. TAL Bassline 101
Togu Audio Line offers a couple of great free VSTs for basslines, but this commercial release is the best of their lineup. Based off the Roland SH-101, Bassline is a different beast from something like Massive. Rather than providing you with a lot of production bells and whistles, it aims to emulate the sonic quality and workflow of a classic piece of hardware. It’s a different and somewhat more streamlined approach, and a testament to how limitations can sometimes bolster creativity.
5. Output Substance
Now for something a little bit different. Substance isn’t technically a synth, but a sample-based instrument, referred to by the company as a “bass engine.” Don’t let that put you off, though — it has the ability to deliver deeply processed lines for a variety of styles, giving results that range from the familiar and stable to the exciting and novel. It’s got a slick layout and unique UI/UX. It’s easy to use, but has enough depth to reward a producer who’s willing to push the boundaries.
Push your own boundaries and expand your low-end sonic palette by learning the ropes of synth bass setup and performance in our new free course, Synth Bass for Bass Players! Or delve into the first stages of synthesis with our free micro-course series, Demystifying Synths.
Would you like a Mentor with that? Check out our newest initiative, the Headliners Club, a month-long one-on-one mentorship program aimed at helping you achieve your musical goals quicker and smarter. Read more about it here.