Building A House of Bass with Somewhat Incognito
Welcome to the 9th edition of the IMF Artist Profile, a series dedicated to the Indie Music Feedback community. The goal of this series is to take a look at the personal lives of some of IMF’s biggest contributors, giving you a peek into who they are as human beings. We’ll pull back the curtain as far as our guests allow and hopefully we will all walk away with a better understanding of the music these individuals are creating as we learn more about them.
Born and raised in Allentown, PA, Somewhat Incognito has spent the majority of his life invested in music. From an early age, Mark began learning piano and bass. Now married and raising his four-year-old son, he has begun to focus on his indie production skills in the minimal spare time he has between being Dad of the Year and working as a Manager for a digital marketing agency. Having found IMF while looking for a place to post his songs, Mark came in early and quickly established himself as someone who wasn’t messing around with a 2 song per month project.
Tackling major themes that many of the indie producers here can relate to and dealing out incredibly funky basslines, Somewhat Incognito has become a household name among members. From tracks like Inspiration (above), Like Day Says, and Put It Online that deal with the feelings behind coming up with that new track and the struggles of creativity in general, to more nonsensical and fun tracks like Trisha and Go For A Ride. In everything he does, Somewhat Incognito embraces the art and therapy in creating music while keeping it down to Earth and approachable. Today we’re going to learn more about what inspires Mark, what makes a great bassline, and just who the heck The Bassists are…
Now onto the questions:
Baaz: A lot of people know you for your standout basslines in each track that you produce. Can you tell us about what makes a great bassline? If I don’t know how to play bass, what should I be looking for in a synth to get the right sounds?
Somewhat Incognito: There are no hard and fast rules, but when I’m writing the basslines I’m generally trying to keep the core of the phrase fairly simple. With electric bass, right-hand technique, and play style can make huge differences in tone and vibe — and I’m usually fairly mindful of which style of playing best enhances the song and groove. Sometimes a chugging bassline fits better when played with a pick, for example.
My bass lines are mostly about trying to get these ‘undeniable grooves’ that are funky and fun to listen to. Finding bouncy and fun ways to dance with and around the drums is what brings it all together.
Synths are much better at filling the sub-bass areas than an electric bass can, I’m usually looking for sounds that peak on the eq at certain points. Sometimes I want a really low rumble down at 50–60hz, other times I want something peaking around 80hz to get a nice a clear subtone. My electric bass lines actually usually sit closer to the middle of the eq than the bottom- there is usually a sub-bass synth layer under it filling up the low end.
Baaz: For the readers, I’d like to note that this next question comes from a lifetime of knowing Somewhat Incognito personally. Can you please tell us about The Bassists? What was the concept, how did they form, would you ever consider a similar project in the future?
Somewhat Incognito: Haha!!! I played in a 3 man band for many years called The Bassists. The band consisted of 2 bass players with similar influences and styles and a drummer. We were a rock band, and we played shows pretty regularly in Philadelphia and had a small following on the college campus party scene (we played many solo cup college parties). We also did some venues once in a while, but mostly parties.
I met the other bassist, Ethan, in high school mostly because we were both bass players. It was just kind of like “oh we both play bass and are both pretty good and both play in unique styles, lets play together”. We started getting together in the basement at my house and just jamming out with 2 bass players, we started to build some complete songs and picked up a drummer.
I would consider a 2 bass player project, but I don’t know if I would do another trio of only bass and drums, I think there’s a reason that no bands do this and it’s the inability to fill up certain kinds of sounds and sonic spaces in the compositions. I would 100% jam with The Bassists again if we all ever end up in the same place at the same time again.
Baaz: Working in digital marketing, you must have a good idea of what works…I know a lot of the IMF members have a hard time with promotion and knowing which avenues to go down. Without getting too into the weeds, are there any basic tips you can offer new Producers on promoting themselves online?
Somewhat Incognito: Honestly, I don’t know what works for music, I try a lot of things to get some stats and get a feel for the various advertising platforms. The kind of advertising my job does is nothing like music at all, some of the things I know from work will help me better understand what I’m doing and what stats are important, but I don’t know what works for music.
I also just try to find out — what’s worth my time at all and what is actual junk, and what options are there at all just to get music in front of more people. As far as an overall marketing strategy, I think having a visual identity, and multiple types of content (not just music — videos, social posts, blog posts, memes .. etc ) are very important to growing real fans (not just plays). I thought that feature.fm had a good Deezer ad, I think Spotify ads might have some potential, but overall, there is nothing that has any ROI for marketing music that I have found — it’s a way to try to get some exposure but the money will not come back — so I don’t think its something everyone should play with unless they have the money to spare.
Baaz: I know you began your musical education from a young age. Can you tell us more about the very beginning days for Somewhat Incognito? When did you learn to play bass and how did you get into production?
Somewhat Incognito: I’m not sure how old I was but maybe around age six I started taking piano lessons and took them weekly for many years, probably 4–6 years of that. I didn’t really like it all that much at the time and never got super into it or music.
Later in life, my brother came home one day with a Primus album and it completely sold me on bass guitar. I was so impressed with how Les Claypool was using the bass as a front-man front-line instrument, I begged my parents to get a bass guitar and they agreed to rent a bass and put me in lessons to see if I would stick with it. I got so into it and have ever since had a love for bass playing.
Production started a little later, between the ages of 13–16 we had this 4 track cassette recorder machine and my brother and I would record songs on it. I started to appreciate the process of writing a song and putting it down in this era.
In high school I became friends with Tim Ruch of Fort Never, he was also getting into recording music at the time and I remember doing a couple of tracks with him in Cool Edit Pro. After watching him use it for a few days I got myself a copy and started using it at home. I started to use that on my own to record in live drums, guitars, basslines, and vocals and made many songs like this for a few years. None of this stuff was any good and it’s all lost (I can’t find any of those files). However, I was slowly learning things as I used the software.
In my late teens, I got into Aphex Twin, it blew my mind when I heard it. I was not really into electronic music prior to hearing the Richard D James album. It changed how I looked at electronic music entirely and it was the ‘I need to play bass’ moment all over again but with making electronic music. I got Fruity Loops and made a few albums worth of material in it around this time. I noticed that my Fruity Loops synths just didn’t sound as good as other things I was hearing. I remembered reading somewhere that The Prodigy used Reason and I picked up a cracked version out of curiosity to see what it was all about. It sounded way better than Fruity Loops at the time, and so I moved all my learning over to Reason. I also got my first midi piano when moving to Reason, and it became an explosion of creativity for me to move from piano roll only to midi piano. I made a lot of straight electronic tracks with no bass guitar in them for a while like this.
Baaz: You have put out a lot of single releases over the last year. As we move out of the black hole that has become 2020 and into the guiding light of 2021, what are your plans for your sound? Can we expect an album soon?
Somewhat Incognito: Hopefully I just keep getting better and better in both songwriting and production skills. I never know what’s going to come out the other side when I sit down to create something so its hard to say how the sound will change over the next year. I want to work on my singing and vocal processing more to do more with my voice in general — things like layered harmonies, raps, new styles of singing, etc.. I also want to get better at mixing and mastering, and I want to continue to explore a range of ‘vibes’ that follow a core set of ingredients.
As far as an album goes, maybe…. I have a few ideas around what I could do for an album and I’m not sure which way I want to go with it. One idea I have is to use my singles and group them into 3 ‘types’ of vibes that could be like a 3-sided release type of thing with a side for each vibe. It would be cool to get like a hundred 3-sided CDs with art and everything made up for merch. This doesn’t feel very ‘album like’ however and everyone already heard all these tracks so what’s the point of putting them in a new package? — I still might do it.
The other option would be to pause the project. As in the 2-tracks a month with informative blog posts on my website, and instead work for maybe 6 months to put together a set of related tracks and release them as an album. I’m hesitant to stop what I have been up to because I like the 2-track a month thing, I know there’s at least a few people following each release and I think there’s potential to grow with what I have been doing.
Somewhat Incognito keeps a blog of his production methods and creative process here. Check him out there to see more about how his tracks are produced from start to finish.