I mean this in more than one sense of the phrase. People who are not associated with music will hardly ever notice the bass playing and when told by a bassist that he is a bassist they will tilt their head to one side and look genuinely stupified. After asking what the bass is and seeing the actual instrument, they will more often than not come to some conclusion along the lines of "oh, it's a guitar". Any self-respecting bassist's blood will go up at least 10 degrees at this degrading and inconsiderate statement of ignorance and either, try to explain further the importance of the bass or just get up and walk off to mull about taking up drums in the corner. The bassist's life is a depressing one, the number of jokes floating around regarding bassists make us an insecure and unpopular bunch of alcoholics. Drummers for instance, who, if ever tried to sit an IQ test did not find the building, generally act like morons, yelling things like "fuck me in the brain!" at the top of their lungs still get more chicks than bassists after concerts.

Oh naturally after a long series of taking the piss out of some bassists, when asked to answer very seriously and still then, even after a few more jokes, will a person admit than a bassist has an important role in the band, namely to tie the drums, chords and vocals together. Without the bassist a band would be as screwed up as the source code to Windows, he is like the C++ class that holds everything together. And due to people's inability to realize this, the bassist is treated like a maggot, small and insignificant, useless and with nothing to offer. No one congratulates the bassist after a concert, he doesn't have the car, or the hair and this is rigidly reflected onto his social life.

The lack of acknowledgement towards the bassist makes him a broken television set permanently on mute to his friends. When the bassist, debating with his group of friends on what to do for the evening, offers an idea, he is shun, ignored and habitually told to shut up. He only speaks when spoken to and that is typically only when someone wants something from him, for instance a ride home. He is never telephoned, and has to beg to be allowed to tag along with his friends. If the bassist is not still a virgin, he has not been with many and is definitely not screwing groupies by the dozen.

Take the conventional gig for instance, after the show is over the singer and lead guitarist will sit down at the bar to impress chicks because they can get them free drinks for being in the band. As the bassist sits down, his two colleagues will act as if they've never seen him before, and he will certainly not be served any free drinks for being in the band. Alas, unfortunately there will be no stories of a bassist's sexual endeavors the next morning regarding two 18-year old college girls. There will be no happiness or fulfillment, there will only be pathetic-ness. A bassist is doomed to lead a dark, lonely life wallowing in self-pity and passiveness.

Blame psychoacoustics. For the untrained human ear and indeed to most music listeners, notes played very far down the scale (which is where bass instruments live, no matter whether we're talking electric bass, contrabass saxophone, bass synthesizer, the low notes of a piano, bass drums or a very deep male human voice) are more difficult to hear when higher notes are being played simultaneously. In a rock music setting, this means that when both a bass and a guitar are playing, most people will tend to focus their listening on the guitar. Most listeners hearing both a soprano and a basso singer singing at the same time will automatically focus on the soprano.

In most musical compositions, from classical symphonies to death metal to techno, the composer is well aware of this, and lets the bass line play a rhythmic support role, where it typically will repeat some phrase over and over (some bass players call this linear playing). The mark of the skilled bass composer is the ability to make this phrase an ear-catcher, and making sure that the listener is presented with the bass line well before the melody is introduced into the piece. A good example is most old Kraftwerk compositions, in which the first instrument to play is usually the bass synth -- and indeed, most people who have heard Kraftwerk's classic "The Model"/"Das Modell" will as readily recognize the bass line as they will recognize the melody.

In some musical settings (usually modern jazz, some forms of progressive rock, funk and certain heavy metal acts), the bass is used both in its traditional role as a support instrument and as a strange kind of lead (and sometimes unaccompanied solo) instrument. The unaccompanied bass solo (which is pretty much a bass player's best shot at showing off, if the band will let him play one) is unaccompanied exactly because of psychoacoustics; if guitars, keyboards, saxophones or other lead instruments are playing at the same time, the listeners will tend to focus on those instead (the other instruments are said to "drown out" the bass). Non-linear non-solo bass lines can be used to good effect; a good example is Black Sabbath compositions, in which the bass has as prominent a role as the guitar -- indeed, Sabbath is almost unique in early heavy metal for not focusing near-exclusively on one instrument or the vocals. The old Black Sabbath anti-war song War Pigs features highly varied bass lines, and most listeners will immediately notice the prominent role of the bass and the skill with which it is used.

People do listen to the bassist, but in most modern compositions, it is difficult to focus on the bass, either because it is playing the same phrase as a rhythm guitar (in which case it takes a good producer behind the mixer to keep it from drowning out), or because overuse of lead instruments will keep anyone from hearing it. It isn't the bassist's or the listeners' faults that the bass is so often ignored, it's composers (and in some cases producers) who use the bass wrong. Well, I guess that this means it's sometimes the bassist's own fault, in case he composes his own bass pieces. Listeners who aren't musicians don't tend to discriminate between instruments, but if the composition makes it difficult for them to perceive the bass well, they won't.

........as for the miserable social lives of bassists, I guess the only reasonable explanation is that most of us are intolerable geeks.

The reason why no one ever listens to the bassist...

...is the dreaded rhythm guitar.

Okay, so it's not entirely the rhythm guitar's fault, but it's a major part. Other factors include moronic producers at studios who turn the bass levels down so low that it becomes barely audible, and less than significant. Which is less of a problem in live situations, because like skongshoj said, sound crews usually have their shit together. That's a write-up for another day, though.

First of all, I don't want to blame the rhythm guitarists themselves, they're usually great guys and are just fulfilling their duties. Instead, it's the concept of a rhythm guitar itself that I blame. The rhythm section is traditionally a role filled by the drums and the bass. Then, the melody is taken care of by the guitar, keyboards, or whatever it may be. Ergo, the rhythm and melody work in perfect harmony and create musical bliss.

Then comes the rhythm guitar. Usually, the rhythm guitarist plays chords to provide a backing for the lead guitarist, who plays melodic jingles and blistering solos. Often, the rhythm guitarist uses distortion for these chords, effectively creating a wall of sound. A wall which often blocks the bass from being heard. This is what destroys the harmony of the rhythm/melody zen. It fuses all the instruments into one undecipherable being, a constant flow of noise. Instead of each piece having its own voice, they're a single homogeneous mixture. And the poor bass gets drowned out.

Maybe you need that extra crunch that the chords provide to give your music a raw, heavy feel. Black Sabbath comes to mind, as they only used one guitar. Yet, were they not Heavy Metal? Geezer Butler did a phenomenal job of outlining everything guitarist Tony Iommi was shredding, or vice-versa, Geezer Butler provided an amazing palette which Tony could use to mold his guitar riffs. They didn't need a rhythm guitar, because they already had an extraordinary rhythm section.

Perhaps since no one ever listens to the bassist, having a guitar take its place would make the world a better place. I think not. The bass is also responsible for holding down the groove, something the rhythm guitar just can't do! Groove is something essential to a successful band. Why? It gets the ladies dancing! Any good bassist knows that even if you can't hear the bass, you should feel it. While people may be in awe of the guitarist's white hot shredding, it's that bass lick that you can feel through your bones that gets you up dancing.

Let's take Led Zeppelin, for instance. If you've ever heard a Zeppelin tune, chances are, you've heard John Paul Jones' groovy bass licks. If not, you've heard his mandolin-playing skills or innovative keyboarding. You may not have known it's the bass you were hearing, but you definitely felt it deep down in your soul. Dazed And Confused? That groove could make a grown man cry. A rhythm guitarist only would've dampened the sound and hindered their individual talents from being heard.

Now why in the world would you want to add someone to the band that's going to defer the bassist from performing his most vital role? Bassists may not get the most tail, but the rest of the band sure as hell owe their lives to him for making it possible.

Besides, there's one less person you have to split your earnings with after the show if you don't have a rhythm guitarist.

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