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Bass Egotist


Thomas Wilburn

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Went to a friend's 21st birthday last night, just dropping in to say hi and then left (I don't drink, so that's not a good party for me ). While I was there, though, I heard something really frustrating: the band playing in this very small bar/grill setting was playing way too loud, with the bass completely dominating the mix. Now, the guy was playing an Alembic (characterless, but you know he spent a bundle on it) and he sounded pretty good, but he wasn't playing anything spectacular, just some arpeggios around the roots. His setup was turned way too loud, so that you could barely hear the vocals--just bass and drums. Meanwhile the guitarist/singer is just bopping around the place, completely unaware that he's pretty much inaudible, and using an envelope filter on every single song to make it even worse.

 

I think what really drove me nuts was when they covered Hey Joe and all I could hear was that damn Alembic. I'm glad the guy has a nice bass and can play well, but when someone covers Hendrix, I want to hear the guitar and the vocals, not the bass progression! It's really frustrating. I'm all for having a strong bass role in a band, one that does more than just play the roots, but there's no reason to make it all you can hear. It should drive the band, but not dominate it. Makes me really conscious of how loud I play, and what priorities I have to set as a bassist and singer.

 

Anyone else have any stories like this? Has anyone noticed bassists out of control lately, or is it just these idiots?

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I went to a couple of events recently that were mixed so poorly, you got bass, but just in the form of mud. At one, there were three (!!) guitars & a bass, and you could see there fingers moving, but really all you could hear was this big, undifferentiated mass. So in a sense I couldn't hear the bass at all! At the other, it was similar, but really all you could make out were some of the bass notes; the guitars were totally lost, & even the lead vocals were all but impossible to hear (the background vocals, though, were pretty high). Just awful awful awful, in places that have spent a ton of money on state of the art everything. And you're right, a bad mix is thoroughly distracting & takes your focus off of what it should be on. A bunch of us from our band were there, & the next time we saw our sound man we thanked him profusely!
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I wouldn't get mad. Get even. Next time you play, play so softly that only you can hear you. :evil:

 

It's a lot more common that the guitarist is overwhelming the band. I've played with people who played so loud on solos that I have had no idea how they could hear the rest of the band.]

 

I've played with singers who had the monitors up so high that it was painful on stage....we ended up turning down the mains since the monitors were already louder than the mains.

 

I've played with a soprano sax player who put the bell of the sax over the mike and let it rip. People were running from the room.

 

So a bass player did it. Big deal. No reason to get angry. One thing to consider is how hard it is to tell what the overall mix is from the stage. Most guitarists and bassists have their speakers aimed at the backs of their knees. Most humans do not have ears in the backs of their knees.

 

And then there are the old stage volume wars...everyone wants to hear themself better. The bass player does have one advantage in these wars...bass carries better than the other instruments. Cymbals are often the loudest thing on stage, but you can't really hear them as you go further back in the room.

 

Like I said, why are you angry? It wasn't your band. I've heard a lot more concerts where I couldn't hear the bass than concerts where there was too much bass.

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I can relate to this.

I met someone who thinks he invented slap bass. I've been playing in bands for a couple years and I have never played solo or have gone completely lead. He keeps complaining to me that because I dont slap in the band...i'm a bad bassist. I finally found one of his recording which was given to me by one of his band mates. He always slaps and it causes the band to sound like fieldy in a rock band :rolleyes: and why this relates is because he think he IS the band.

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Mike, just give him a big 'ol slap across the head for being so ignorant... :D

:evil:

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I agree with JeremyC. it is not usually the bass but the guitar player that is overwhelming. It is my opinion most (not all) bands are made up of the Good the Bad and the Ugly ( the people who overwhelm the songs). Just strive to be one of the Good, and nurture the Bad for they can get better, and put up with or replace the Ugly. After listing to and or playing with the Ugly players you will really appreciate it when you get in a band with no Ugly players
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Also, the bass has to be really loud (if played well) before it becomes overbearing, especially if it has a deep tone - how loud is reggae bass?! Some of the greatest bassists are always really loud in the mix, like Larry, Bootsy and Jaco but because they play so well it works.

 

Was it the combination of bright Alembic tone, too many notes which weren't deep in the groove and sheer volume - if this bassist had been playing better would it still have been too loud?

 

On a similar note, you know the bassline from "Son of a Preacher Man" - really busy and melodic but quite mellow, soft and far back in the mix - does that only work because it's mixed low, if it was louder wouldn't it tread all over the vocal?

 

Alex

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I also think there's a somewhat tangential point that inexperienced (and even quite experienced) musicians just don't seem to realise how loud the bass should be. People seem to be able to listen to, say, a disco record where the bass is the loudest instrument and because they always focus on the melody will convince themselves that the singer, guitarist or whatever is louder than the bass. Put them in a live situation in a band and they are always convinced that the bass is too loud. This is why I always prefer to play in a band hiring an outside pa/engineer, it avoids arguments if relative volumes are being decided by an objective professional.

 

I've noticed that:

 

1. a very high percentage of sound engineers play bass. Why? My theory is that bassists listen to the melody and chordal instruments like everyone else, but also listen harder to the drummer and (obviously) the bass. This equips them to mix the whole band, whereas a lot of melody instrument players don't listen hard enough to the bass to be able to mix it.

 

2. I've found that the more experienced/professional the sound engineer, the louder the bass is relative to other instruments. I've played several support slots where we had the opportunity to use pa/sound engineers hired by big name bands. I've always had a great sound, but been a little surprised at how loud the bass is.

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I know, Jeremy, it can be a frustrating argument because you are liable to meet the response "well, you would say that wouldn't you". Which you know to be unfair, but how do you prove it? That's why I prefer it if a pa guy sets the volume - I've yet to meet an experienced/competent one who doesn't give me at least as much bass as I could possibly want.
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Originally posted by jeremyc:

I play lots of funk and disco. On the records, the bass is always louder than the guitars and louder than the keyboards. But when I play live, the guitarists and keyboard players crank it up.

I played in a funk and disco covers band for a while and had to bludgeon my way to the appropriate volume by keeping my rig turned down during soundchecks and then cranking it up once we'd started. Worked remarkably well, especially as the guitarist only had a tiny MesaBoogie combo that could be easily 'overpowered'! Glad I wore earplugs though...

 

Alex

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Ha, this reminds me of one of my least enjoyable gigs. I was playing guitar in an original material band that I'd loosely describe as "jazzy pop". Broadly in the style of Everything But The Girl (pre electronica version), Style Council etc, etc. We played in this place that was usually just a disco. We played our first set to a muted and somewhat puzzled (though not in any way hostile) response from people who were expecting to boogie on down to normal disco fodder. The disco then came on during what was supposed to be the interval. Not only was it all bass and drums, this DJ had a colossal rig, and it was about 10 times as loud as we were. We immediately realised we'd just sound ridiculous coming back on after half an hour of this huge, shiny, dance sound.

 

To be fair, the manager was an absolute gent. He realised he'd hired the wrong band for the wrong occasion, was very complimentary about us and said he'd be more than happy to hire us for a specialist live night with a different audience profile. He paid our full fee and tactfully indicated that there was no need for us to play our second set. Still, pretty embarrassing for us to be dismantling our equipment and disappearing quietly out the door during what should have been our interval.

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