Robert Mercurio on Bass Production

“Making the transition from being a bass player to recording and analyzing parts as a producer provides a whole new perspective on the role of bass, and music in general,” says Galactic’s Robert Mercurio.

“MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM BEING A BASS player to recording and analyzing parts as a producer provides a whole new perspective on the role of bass, and music in general,” says Galactic’s Robert Mercurio. He produced 2012’s Carnivale Electricos, as well as two singles released this year. Mercurio also co-produced the debut release from his new project, the M&Ms, with John Medeski, Stanton Moore, and Papa Mali. Mercurio is currently co-producing, writing music, and playing multiple instruments on Lyrics Born’s upcoming album. Outside of recording bands, Mercurio co-produced music for the best-selling PlayStation 3 game Infamous 2, and he’s currently producing the score for the upcoming movie Car Dogs.

How do you decide what bass to bring to a session?

I come with a couple of options. I usually show up with my ’62 Fender Precision Bass because it has such a sweet direct tone, and I love to have my Lakland Skyline hollowbody with me at any session because I can hear it unamplified. I can work on a bass line in one room while the engineers are working on, say, the drums in another.

Do you have any signal-chain recommendations?

If you find yourself in a situation where you are limited to a direct signal—which happens quite a bit, because bass easily bleeds into other tracks—make sure a good preamp is available. I prefer to start with a good clean tone using an API 512c preamp and a touch of compression from a UREI 1176. You can always re-amp the clean signal by sending the bass track out to your favorite amp and recording it with your favorite microphone. For digital tracking there are plenty of cool plug-ins available to add color. Little Radiator by SoundToys adds a nice overdriven sound.

What advice can you offer to players looking to make the transition from bass player to producer?

Pay attention to every detail on a session. Remember that you are there to play bass first and foremost, but try to pick up on what the producer and engineers are doing, especially how they work in Pro Tools and other digital audio platforms. Pay close attention to workflow, including which quick keyboard commands they use, and how they go about editing.

Is there a golden rule you expect players to follow when you hire them?

Give the producer what he wants—not what you want. Musicians want to show what we know, but simpler is almost always better. Most bassists know that, but it’s especially true in the studio.

Start by showing the producer or songwriter a simple part, and then add to it if necessary. Drums and bass usually go down first. Good recording bassists can envision how a track will sound when it’s fully fleshed out with other instruments, and they leave space for the melodies. I encourage players to come up with ideas ahead of time. They might not work, or they might morph into something else, but most producers are going to be open and excited that you brought something to the table.



Galactic, Carnivale Electricos [Anti/Epitaph, 2012], “Higher and Higher,” “Dolla Diva” [Number C, 2014]; The M&Ms, “Melts in Your Mind,” “Brand New Day” [Pulsar, 2014]


Bass ’62 Fender Precision Bass, Lakland Skyline Hollowbody
Rig Ampeg Heritage SVT-CL head, Ampeg Heritage SVT-810E 8x10 cabinet
Effects Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synthesizer, MXR Phase 90, Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
Strings DR FL-45 Flatwound Legend (medium set)