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Bass-less contemporary 'pop' music?

Phil W

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Here's a thought for the day:


OK, I'm not talking about music with other instruments providing the bass function (synths, modifed guitar, tubas etc.) I'm thinking about whether there seems to be or could be a trend against bass in some contemporary pop music.


A couple of things come to mind.


Firstly, like most people taking public transport I'm irritated (almost daily) by schoolkids and teenagers (mostly black kids but not always) playing lous tinny music on their cellphones etc.


As we were growing up, there was a huge cultural focus and status on having bass heavy equipment - rmember the giant booboxes and we all wanted the latest bass boost gadgets on our Walkmans. Now headphones are capable of reporducing bass frequencies better than ever but the kids want to show that they have the latest - and the latest, fashionable gadgets produce little audible bass.


I just hear tinny (awful) hip-hop and even, sometimes, reggae and soul tracks blasted through cellphones which produce no audible bass. Now dance and club culture always favours a deep and powerful bass sound so at least that factor is working for us.


Now, where black street culture leads, mainstream youth culture follows - I'm just wonderding what the longterm effects will be or whether they'll be any.


The other thing which brought this to mind was comments made by Chuck Rainey in his clinic the other day. He was taliking about how he likes to keep up to date. He was saying about how he listens to and plays along with hip hop altough he doesn't like much of it. We said that plenty of hiphop nowadays (can't remember if he said West Coast or East Coast but he specified one) simple does'nt have any bass. There may be a kick drum performing the function but that's it. He said that this might be because of producers thinking about how the music might be played on radios etc. and in contexts where the bass is less conspicuous.

Now just a thought, but if all the kids are listening to music on cellphones without any bass or watching it on TVs with little bass (they seem more interested in the videos nowadays (I sound so old!) :evil:

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Phil, I see where you're coming from but consider this (I'm respectfully playing devil's advocate here), I see my kids and all their friends setting up their cars with the loudest bass kickers they can find. My kids have taken over my home theater because of the thundering subwoofer that they can feel in their *arse* and in their chest. As you stated, the dance clubs push the bass.


I think perhaps the electronics industry the past 5 years or so has grown so fast that the trend is toward "smaller and faster" to see who can get their products to market first. The emphasis on overall sound quality has not really been a priority. But I believe it will catch up.


Example; When the portable DVD players came out I bought one for my daughter. Her only complaint was "Dad, the bass sucks on this thing" so we got her some external speakers with more bass (or could that just be because dad's a bass player?).Our home computer came with crappy speakers and we added a sub to that too.


Just my opinion.


I don't know, It's early here and I haven't had enough coffee yet. The topic does inspire some deep thought though.


Thanks Phil

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God Forbid, I am thinking, is "Rap" the ultimate "Bass Music"? Nothing but a kickdrum going BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. Then I remember, Rap is not music. I feel better now,



"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb, voting on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."

Benjamin Franklin

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That is a very interesting observation Phil.

When you mentioned boom boxes it made me think of my youth, I was born in 1970.

I can remember the days before big car stereo's when there was AM radio with one speaker in the centre of the dash. We used to call it the Cyclops. There was not a lot of bass to be heard from these systems.

I recently got some Motown music and when I played it on my home stereo, with really good bass of course, I was amazed at how different the music sounded compared to my memory from the Cyclops. That was a very tinny sound and had no bottom at all.

I also recently watched Standing In The Shadows of Motown with full surround sound and sub and got to experience the music, bass included, and history the way it was suppose to sound. Long live the Funk Brothers!

With all that, I'm not so sure that this is new phenomenon or just the way music and technology work together.


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Um.. ok.

Let's not start the whole "hip-hop isn't music thing.


It's a dumb argument. Some think it is, and some think it isn't. Can we leave it at that? Don't make me pull out The Roots on your ass.




Let's also not forget that "When Doves Cry" from Prince's Purple Rain has no bassline on it, either.


Remember how drummers freaked out when drum machines started sounding better? They were all gonna lose their gigs, right? Yeah. Guess what? Didn't happen. Producers and musicians still want live drummers for a lot of things... because a drum machine, no matter how awesome it sound or how well it's programmed... doesn't sound like person playing the drums in a room.


Or how about when synthesizers got popular? Oh man, guitars were out the window, right? Rock was dead. Wrongo. Some people still wanted guitar-based rock...


I'm sure the same worries were voiced when guitars started being amplified... "Oh NOES! My poor acoustic act will be jobless forever...." Wrongo.


And now basses aren't quite as popular in some genres of music... bah. They'll either stay out of it and come back... or actually never totally... juts become less prominent... either way, I see no cause for alarm.



"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

--Sun Tzu

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I'm not going to let bass dissapear from punk (although some would say it doesn't really appear, but it depends on what you listen to.)

I want to get a kick in the chest at a gig!

Also, that article was right about getting lots of gigs if you are a bass player, I am getting loads of requests!

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I don't have a problem with bass not being part of an ensemble. Even though I have a personal interest in plugging great basslines into the music I perform on, I'm not so arrogant as to say that EVERY artist doing any music should have some kind of bass part in their music. In that regard I think that we need to detatch ourselves from our own musical inclinations and try to be an openminded listener.


Certainly, any time that a bass player listens to a piece of music, they're going to key in on a bass part. Why? Our ears are trained to listen for basslines, so it's only natural that we have expectations of music to have bass. I think it's that predisposition to listen for bass that winds up throwing us off when we listen to music without bass.


But would I force bass on every piece of music I listen to? Certainly not. I can always listen to those old Robert Johnson recordings and be satisfied that his singing and guitar playing are just what those tunes need. The same goes for Johnny Cash. Who would I be to tell him that his acoustic guitar and voice aren't enough to fill a track? Or more contemporarily, what about the White Stripes? I think they write great songs. So who cares if they want to play as a 2-piece without a bass player? Are there bass players starving in Detroit because they really could've used that White Stripes gig?


I think we all love our chosen instrument. Otherwise what the hell are we all doing? But in the same regard, we also do this because we all love music. So why not take the time to detatch ourselves from our basses and just listen to what someone else is doing? You don't have to like it all, but try giving it a shot and MAYBE you can find some music without bass that you do like.

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Yes, good post Nick. I can think of a lot of classical Indian music, country blues as you say and some great folk music that gets by without bass function. We are tuned in to expect bass but many listeners are too.

Maybe some of my language did imply that I regretted the lack of bass on a chunk of contemporary music but I really intented the post as a thought provoker rather than a tirade.

My only problem is with having to listen to dodgy (or even good) music played through tinny cellphones at full volume on my way home from work.

I just find it interesting to wonder if some current production trends in areas of hip hop and hip hop influenced pop are not in part influenced by the way in which some young people are listening to music . . . and how that will influence what we hear around us.

TBH, I see much more in the way of live musicians on mainstream TV now than I did in the 90s or 80s.

Even most bands that feature programmed drums and synths go out with live rhythm sections on the road and sometimes on TV performances.

I really don't think bass is in any danger and I was referring to absence or lack of emphasis on bass function (synth or otherwise) rather than specifically on bass guitars or upright bass.

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I get where you're coming from Phil. Cellphones are always going to sound like dreck, so I tend to either ignore them or just have very low expectations. The whole concept of songs as ringtones is novel, but I also recognize that we're not going to get anything near high audio fidelity from a cellphone speaker.


I think it's tough to say whether or not producers are gearing their work towards the cellphone market. If that's the case, then I think it's commercialism gone mad. But there's also the matter of so many young people being easily swayed in their musical tastes by whatever happens to be on TRL in the United States. They're a fickle bunch and their tastes can turn on a dime. I see the whole situation as being somewhat transitory. Things are always changing. But my recommendation for you? Get an iPod with some good music and tune out the cellphones on the way home.

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"My concern is, and I have to, uh, check with my accountant, that this might bump me into a higher, uh, tax..."

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