Hundred Days of Bass Journal

Thoughts as I go through the 100 days of bass.

Day 2: Keeping the bass lines simple

One of the things I’m really keeping in mind is something Steve Lawson said in a seminar which I’ll get wrong but was something like “You’ll never make a dime playing Teen Town [a popular and challenging piece for bass players to work on] but you’ll pay a mortgage with roots and fifths.”

I’m going to be doing my best to keep acrobatics and truly tricky stuff to a minimum. Luckily, my acrobatics are limited in the first place.

Also, my drum machine skills are limited so if any of you wanted to donate a drum line or two just make a loop or a swath of about 2 minutes 30 seconds and post a link for download here, thanks.

Day 6: A good bass line is a recorded bass line.

So far so good. At this point there’s a couple things I’m noticing. One is that it kills me to not go back and make everything perfect. But I’m getting better about letting it go. I keep telling myself that when it’s all done I can go back and perfect the lines.

Another is that this is teaching me about my recording rig as well. Usually I hit “record” only once a week or so. But with this project, I’m hitting it every day. In addition, I am using a workflow so that I don’t spend all my time setting up and getting ready. So my “skill” with my main production tools is increasing as well–TR-8 for the drums, Logic for the DAW. I’ve already made two revisions to my “Recording Desk” template to get me from “open Logic” to “hit record” faster. Tiny little tweaks, (getting some track stacks for the individual drum channels open, pre-setting input monitors, removing some plugins that I don’t actually use until mixing) but they make a difference in time and CPU usage.

Day 9: Better monitoring = better sounding result

Almost to the double digits!

Yesterday I took the time to sort out my monitoring situation to move away from software monitoring (sound goes from the bass into the computer, through the DAW, then back out to my ears) and towards direct monitoring (sound goes form the bass to the computer where it splits and some goes to the DAW but the part I can hear goes straight to my ears). Obviously this reduces latency a ton and makes it much easier to play. Sort of embarrassing that it took me this long to set it up. But I’m glad I did!

It makes for: better performance and faster production

Also, I’ve been using my jazz-ish bass for a lot of the recordings so far. I don’t use it very often and it needs a little work (the frets stick out ever so slightly and I should probably file them down). But I really am liking the sound of it quite a bit.

Finally: I’ll have some work trips coming up so expect some uke bass while I’m on the road in a week or two!

Day 14: Interrupting default bass patterns

This week I watched the Steve Lawson video (and made notes) and one of the things he talks about is figuring out what your defaults are (a certain style, or a certain scale, or a certain way of playing, etc) and then interrupting those patterns so that you can play more consciously.

One thing this project is doing is helping me identify what my defaults are. I’m noticing a definite tendency to a certain kind of scale (minor, minor pentatonic-y) and also that I tend to keep it all in one position.

So perhaps in the coming weeks I’ll try to interrupt that pattern a little bit and see what happens.

Day 19: Dynamics in bass lines

Got some good feedback from Scott on adding more velocity to the notes–making some notes stick out a little more in terms of attack/dynamics. I’ll work on incorporating some of that into this in some future lines.

Day 27: The airline bass and recording rig

Did six days of travel. This means I was away from regular electrics and upright and also my tweaked Logic recording rig at Gahlord’s Awesome Studio. I did a prep day before I left, using an iRigHD + iPad + GarageBand (and the very fun “smart drummer” feature). The test went well. I brought my bass uke on the trip (fits in the overhead, especially since I bought seats that would let me board earlier–either the extra legroom seats or seats at the back of the plane where they load earlier). Everything went down fine.
Probably the big improvement in terms of systems on these has been non-musical. Each soundcloud track (and social posts to instagram etc) can have a picture and I’ve been having fun adding a new photo with each track. But the soundcloud interface on mobile devices is absolutely atrocious. And the process of getting a photo from the iPhone to the track in Soundcloud involved way too many hops. So I streamlined that using my cloud storage system. Sort of a minor and not audio thing, but it’ll make it quicker to post and promote in the future as well.
Musically, I had fun with days 22-27 using the bass uke in “fake oud” mode. So I hope you all enjoy that. Also, you can hear some of the charm and not-charm of using the iRig/Garageband/iPad system. In this case, you’ll hear lots of high end on the bass because of the nature of the pickups. Normally I run it through a preamp that is matched for piezo and then roll off the highs to make the sound more pleasant. I didn’t want to carry all that extra gear so I just went as is with it. It isn’t terrible and adds a certain texture to the sound that is interesting, just not what I’d normally go for. Also, had fun with the “smart drummer” for rhythm tracks. Might do more of that or steal some of those ideas for my TR-8 lines in future tracks.

Day 37: Bass slog

A few days ago it started getting to be a bit of a slog. I loaded up a different bass and am trying a few new things to help jump start it. It isn’t painfully boring or anything, just that all the system set up stuff is definitely winding down. So either I find a way to lighten up my approach or else dig a little deeper.

I definitely have enough material now to determine what some of my usual patterns are. So I can disrupt them.

Day 45: Up and onward

Well my slump lasted only a couple days and I just kept pushing on it. I recorded some good lines anyway and then the sloggy feeling went away. Some of the things I’ve done since last checking in:

  • Played with new pedals
  • Played with new modular synth rig (debut at day 44 and expect to hear more of it)
  • Got a little deeper into the drum programming (not a ton deeper mind you, but a little)
  • Received some new music tracks to work with from some friends.

These all helped me end the slump and get my motivation back.

Day 54: Recording tips and tricks

By this time I had gotten a handle on some recording tips and tricks that were more complicated. Things like dealing with latency while recording bass. I made the mistake of updating an audio driver in one of my recording interfaces and had to set up my entire rig again. While it was a definite irritant to have to do this, setting it up a second time helped me make an even better recording template and setup. I suspect it’s worthwhile to set up the system from scratch on a regular basis to improve all the little improvements that accrue over time.

Day 70: Understanding the tools

One of the things that’s started to come together over the past several weeks is a much better understanding of the tools I’m using. The first ten days had a massive improvement in recording process and setup (getting a working template for Logic made a huge improvement in the time-playing-music:time-in-setup ratio). But over the past few weeks there’s been a deeper improvement in how I use stuff.

For example, I’ve been using three different electric basses throughout this project–the Creston fretless,  a Gamma Jazz-ish bass, and the first bass I ever bought: my Ibanez RB800 with P/J configuration. Each of these instruments has a different neck and plays a little differently. In addition, they all have different pickup configurations (though all the pickups are Lollars): the Creston has Thunderbirds, the Gamma has Jazz, and the Ibanez has a P/J set with an overwound P.

Doing a bassline every day, and switching between them frequently has really helped me understand, at a deeper level than just intellectually understanding the different specs, the difference between these things and when I might reach for one or the other bass for a specific musical purpose. Doing a bass line every day has also helped me refine my understanding of how to get the most of out of them. And, more importantly, how much further I have to go to really get what I would consider mastery.

A similar thing is going on with the recording side. Though the goal of my project isn’t so much about recording, by virtue of doing it every day I’m getting comfortable with my gear and how it works. The TR-8 is way less spooky to me now. The UAD ATR tape plugin is starting to make a little sense and I am understanding more about how some of the presets I use impact the sound (especially stacked up across all the drum tracks and on the master channel). I’ve got a little bit better understanding of how to apply bus compression.

Some of the pedals/effects/synth stuff is really changing the way I perceive sound. This has a lot to do with understanding how the “knee” of various pieces of gear work and trying to use that knowledge to creative effect–setting the location of the knee and setting up my gear to make the greatest use of that stuff–to really “play the filter.” There’s a lot less random knob turning in the dark hoping for a better sound.

I wouldn’t say I have mastery of any of these things. But I find myself approaching that point where I am realizing which areas have more for me to explore and learn–things that were unknown unknown are crossing over into known unknowns. While this is frustrating sometimes, it’s also gratifying because it helps me plot a course for future work.

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