Why are bass players considered less valuable?

When we’re talking about a band, we usually think of a couple of musicians who work together to create music. There’s the drummer, the guitar player, and the singer of course. And then there’s the one musician people seem to forget to mention. The bass player. Somehow, people tend to think of the bass players’ part to be less valuable. The part they play is rarely the focus of the song, when bands perform live their part is barely distinguishable from the overall sound and it just doesn’t sound all that interesting. But people do forget that a bass player is one of the foundations of a band.

As a bass player myself, I’m confronted with this constantly. When I used to perform with my band, people would come up to the singer for an autograph or a picture. They’d hand out compliments like candy on Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t some sort of celebrities, but the people who knew our music really tended to click with the singer and guitar players because their performance stood out. As the bass player, eventhough I tried to put in a solo here and there and try to make my part as interesting as possible, I never got any attention for it. This could of course be because I’m not that good of a bass player as I might think I am, but there’s more to it than that.

Even in my completely unbiased opinion, bass players are the heartbeat of the band whether you want to believe it or not. Together with the drummer, they determine the rhythm of the song and keep things going in the right direction. And while the bass in a song is rarely the focus of the song, the song quickly falls apart if you take it out. The bass acts as some sort of glue. It takes the guitar- and vocal parts of a song and mixes them with the drums to give the rhythm that the drums provide some flavor. Don’t believe me? Here are some examples.

Sultans of Swing by the Dire Straits – With bass

Sultans of Swing by the Dire Straits – Without bass

Africa by Toto – With bass

Africa by Toto – Without bass

Notice how empty they sound in comparison? And keep in mind that these songs aren’t even focusing on the bass itself! No solos, no crazy riffs, nothing that impressive. But you just can’t help but notice the fact that something is missing. You might even make up for the missing bass in your head. You can still ‘hear’ the part the bass is suppose to be playing. Because it’s supposed to be there. It makes the song.. Well, the song. It’s like when your headphones start to die and you keep fiddling with the cord to get the umpf back into the sound. That’s the bass you’re missing.

And it’s not just on recordings either. Who doesn’t love the thumping of the bass in your chest when you attend a live concert? What’s the one thing you hear when you’re outside the venue? That’s right. The bass. There is no denying that the bass isn’t always the most interesting instrument in a band, but you can’t have a band without it. If the bass wasn’t that important, why wouldn’t genres like Dance and Trance, who don’t normally use real instruments, just leave the bass out? They can’t, because the song will sound hollow and the clubs wouldn’t be bouncing.

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