Recording a bass guitar and getting a thick and heavy bass sound that covers the low end and brings people to their feet is not as easy as plugging your bass into a sound card's input, pressing record and playing. But i will show you that its very possible, even with little to no experience in recording (audio engineering).
THERE ARE 4 DIFFERENT WAYS TO RECORD BASS GUITAR
Direct Recording, Direct Injection, Miking a bass guitar cabinet and the combination of direct recording and miking the cabinet.
1.) DIRECT INJECTION
Direct Injection is when you capture the dry bass guitar sound without any effects. A lot of times, its not even used, but we can never predict the future and its smart to always have a back up plan just in case you need that track to re-amp or to run it through software bass amp simulators.
Different ways to set up Direct Injection
DI box - Active or passive depending on your taste and depending if you're bass guitar has active passive pickups. If you have a passive bass, then you can use an active DI box. If your bass is active, then you can use a passive DI box. But this all comes down to taste. You can use any DI box with any bass as long as you like the sound. (Bass guitar ---> DI box ---> Line input of your audio interface)
You can use the Direct outs of your bass amp head. (Bass guitar --> bass amp head input --> Audio interface's input)
You can use the pre-amp of your audio interface. (Bass guitar --> Pre-amp of audio interface)
2.) DIRECT RECORDING
This technique is when you use a mixing console or some sort of outboard gear like an amp simulator. Example: Bass Pod or Bass Stomp Pedals like the Hartke Bass Attack pedal.
You would just take the 1/4" cable going form your bass guitar to your outboard gear and then into your audio interface line in or mic pre-depending on what outboard gear you use.
If your outboard gear has line outs, then the signal going out of it will be line level and you can insert it into your audio interfaces line ins or mic pre.
If the outboard gear doesn't have line out, then you need to insert it in the audio interfaces mic pre-s to bring it to line level.
3.) MIKING A BASS CABINET
This is when you place a microphone right up to one of the speakers in a bass cabinet and record the bass guitar sound from the microphone. I like to place the mic really close to the speaker and just off center. Do not place the mic dead center of the speaker. If the cabinet has more than one speaker, try and find the best sounding speaker and mix that one.
Some microphones to consider for bass guitar are the RE320, Sennheiser 421, and yes, of course the SM57.
4.) COMBINATION OF 1 & 3 OR 2 & 3
I always like to mix and blend the direct and mic recordings together to get my desired sound for that particular song.
I love using the direct recording and running it through an amp simulator and combining that with the recording made from miking the bass cabinet.
Lets talk about Compression. I used to compress the bass in the recording stage, but ever since the invent of 24bit recording, there is no need. Just set your PEAK dB level around -10dB to -12dB and then you have plenty of room your any occasional peaks that may arise while you are recording.
I think its best to add compression in the mixing stage, because if you compress in the recording stage, you are stuck with those settings.
How many times have you changed your mind and adjusted an EQ, compressor or any other effect? See my point! Its best to do it non destructively after its been recorded.
The meant of the bass guitar frequencies lay between 125hZ to 400hZ (give or take). If your bass is buried in the mix, boost some of the frequencies in that range while cutting the same frequencies in the kick drum track to bring out the bass line more and have it sound more clear in the mix. Boost anywhere between 1.5kHz to 3kHz if you want to make the bass seem more clearer. If you are after that finger sound, boost between 5kHz to 7kHz. If for some reason your bass sounds too boomy, just cut between 40hZ to 50hZ. I didn't list any 'Q' settings as there are no right or wrong settings. You will just have to see what works best for that particular mix and bass sound. But that goes for everything in recording and mixing
SATURATION / DISTORTION
In my opinion, some of the greatest bass guitar sounds come form Valve Amplifiers, but they cost a lot of money and most people who record at home cannot afford a valve amp. Thank god for Tape simulators, Saturation plugins and Distortion plugins. All these when used in the correct way can yield a marvelous ass guitar sound without spending thousands of dollars on a valve amp. There are no magic settings for these effects. Just learn how to use them and then use your ears to dial in the sound that best fits the bass guitar sound and the song its in.
I hope this helps you in recording your next bass guitar track