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Guitarist in original band likes to write bass parts...I like to write my own.

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Neil Folkard, Feb 23, 2019.

  1. Neil Folkard

    Neil Folkard

    Nov 24, 2016
    After taking up bass fairly late in the game, I am now in a couple of original bands, including one that plays my favourite style of music: progressive rock. This is a band situation, but the guitarist is the de-facto BL, simply because he started the project, writes most of the material and has strong opinions on the music.

    All well and good, except that it now turns out that the guitarist also tends to write all the bass lines (and has some suggestions for drum parts as well), for all his songs. Now, never in a million years did I think that I'd play in any band where I, as the bass player, doesn't write his own bass parts. One of things that I enjoy most about original music, is coming up with my own riffs and lines. On top of this he also has strong opinions about the WAY that I play, including with/without a pick, slapping, thumb, etc. I have put my foot down about that last part, but still...the suggestions come.

    At this point we have come to a sort-of-compromise, where I agree to play his bass parts, if I am free to interpret and play them, the way that I want to, and in ways that best suit my abilities. I seem to be better at this agreement than him.

    Now, I like the music, enjoy the hang, don't hate the bass parts he writes and want to stay in the band, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that it is frustrating for me, to have parts written for me (parts that are oft-times obviously written by a guitarist), which I have trouble, at times, both playing and putting my whole heart into. I am also a writer and do write some of my own stuff, which obviously involves bass parts written by me (which he is fine with), but it is challenging to consistently come up with enough quality songs that suit the band, so this is not a real solution.

    Not sure what to do. Thoughts? Is this something that you would be okay with?
    Clemouze and fhm555 like this.
  2. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    i play a lot of originals in one band: i play what is written for the bass (it's jazz) whether written by me or or another composer/arranger. that person (the writer, or the arranger) writes all of the parts for a tune --- 3 horns, keys, guitar, bass, drums!

    your post seems to suggest that there are 'rules' or 'protocols' when it comes to "who writes the bass part?" i'm sure that bass players write their own parts in some situations/bands/arrangements, but lots of players are handed manuscript for a tune/arrangement with varying degrees of 'permission to take liberties'. so it's hardly unusual for others (besides the bass player) to influence (or dictate!) the bass part.

    sounds to me like the guitar cat knows what he's doing...for the most part! i'd say live and learn: if you feel you have a better idea = play it and see! if the writer/arranger likes it = you're in!

    good luck with your band's original music! :thumbsup:
  3. Spent


    May 15, 2011
    Upstate NY
    I’ve always written my own parts, for me it’s a package deal. I bring a style to the project I’m working on, if that isn’t what they’re looking for, we’re just not meant to be. I certainly don’t mind suggestions, I love collaborating, but I’m playing it my way. The exception would be if you want to pay me to be a hired gun.
    JtSD619, addylewis, RiZzBot and 6 others like this.
  4. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Supporting Member

    It really depends on the situation. I have another thread here about similar stuff. If it's a creative collaboration to develop new material then I believe the assumption is usually that everyone is competent enough to come up with their own parts and, ideally, everyone stays in their lanes and trusts everyone to do what they do well. This doesn't always work out, sometimes there's a micromanager in the bunch that wants to control the process.

    If it's someone coming in with written parts already, then the expectation is usually that you'll play what's written, or something very close to it (if playing it by ear). If there's a designated musical director, that person has the final word on what gets played and how it gets played.

    So you need to figure out if this is a collaborative situation, or if it's the guitar player's project. It doesn't sound to me as though you're going to be happy outside of a collaborative situation. I wouldn't be, either, unless I were being paid well to cover someone else's writing. Then I'd be fine with it.
  5. Chango Malo

    Chango Malo

    Apr 8, 2017
    you want to write the bass line entirely? write the tune.

    Now that's a cheap short answer, but it cuts to the heart of it. Of course it's not as black and white as that, but you get the point I'm sure.
    In my band there are two songwriters. One is the acoustic guitar/vox guy and I'm the other. I'm doing electric guitars/mandolin/mandocello/bouzouki/vox. John tends to write not thinking about what the rest of the band will play and leaves it all up to us to shake out what happens. On some stuff I take the same approach and let it happen organicaly and on some stuff I 'write' the various parts. Some of my written parts I want to hear note for note and others are a starting point. But if I wrote the tune, I get to call the shot. The trick is not being a jackwagon about it.
  6. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Depends, but i think in THIS type of band(prog rock) i would prefer to have some say is not only what i play but how i play it. With that said, i would still try to jive as well as i could with the composers vision. After all, he took the time to write it and i didn't. But the composer and myself should have an understanding up front that i will only be taking the written line as guidance, and that i will make it better than what they wrote. If the composer doesn't like the way i interpret bass we just shouldn't be working together.
    TH63, Artman and Mr_Moo like this.
  7. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Also good to look to historical examples of how a prog rock band might work. I don't think Geddy Lee or Chris Squire had Alex Lifeson or Steve Howe telling them what to play and how to play it. They had the freedom to put their mark on their own line and i think their respective bands were all the better for it. With that said, i'm sure that whatever Alex and Steve were writing had some sort of boundary or guideline along with it for the bassist to play off of and it wasn't total open season.
    BCRichguy and Artman like this.
  8. Bodeanly


    Mar 20, 2015
    His song, his bass line. Songs are sometimes raised by one person from their infancy and it’s often difficult to let someone else jump in and tell you how to raise it, especially when that song is already grown, or if the single parent has visions, hopes, delusions, and so on.
  9. Jborg


    Feb 1, 2018
    Long Island, NY
    I had a bass teacher long ago that gave two bits of advice on this;
    1. If you’re going to tell me what to play, you can pay me.
    2. If you really trust the quality of the material you write (chords, melody, lyrics) you should trust the musicians to interpret it.

    One caveat.. I have had songwriters give specific pointers for short bits of a song. That was cool because something specific was going on for all the people in the group, like in an elaborate lead to a key change.

    If you playing Bach, forget everything I just said.
  10. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Supporting Member

    There are songs and there are arrangements, and sometimes a "song" is a simple thing with some chords and a melody and not much else. When that's what you get from a songwriter, it's fair to assume that you're expected to be creative about what goes underneath it. Songwriter still gets to say whether it works for them, though, maybe unless you're going to share writing credits.

    When someone brings in a full arrangement then it's generally assumed you're going to duplicate the written arrangement.

    I have a bunch of songs with full arrangements but I don't want to play them live the way they are arranged. I don't even play the bass parts the way they were originally written, in most cases. I like to see what happens with my music when I have a bunch of talented people doing what they do. Almost always it's better than what I imagined. But I don't want people telling me I should change my recorded arrangements. Those are finished. They don't need to be fixed. If we come up with something better and fresher, we can record them again.
    jwave, packhowitzer, Artman and 3 others like this.
  11. There's no set rule for this. I've played both guitar and bass in bands. I've been a band leader and not a band leader in bands. I've written songs and played songs other people have written. Some times with songs that I have written , I have told other band members to do what they feel is right for the song. Some times I have a very specific line that I want in a song that I have written and ask other members to play it a certain way. I have been told to do the same both ways for songs other people have written. I think that if you write a song , it should be the song writers decision as to how it is played. If the song writer is OK with other players making it their own creation , fine. If the song writer has specifics for a song , that's fine too.
    Oh , and if you are going to be a prima donna in the music business and expect everything to always go your way , you're going to be disappointed a lot. The ability to get over your self is somewhat of a necessity in this business. I know it sure makes things easier for me.:thumbsup:
  12. Every band is different, but it sounds like you want to contribute to the writing. Either you're in a band that allows for that or you're not.......and you enjoy playing it or you don't. Only you can answer that one.
    RodRy, jwave, Jhengsman and 2 others like this.
  13. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    No, I wouldn't ... probably. It would be presumptuous of me to assume that whatever I come with is "better" than what the writer envisioned, but being constrained in the way described wouldn't work for me ... unless I was getting paid, and we're pretty sure that isn't the case here. It's one thing to write out the bass line, but then to tell the bassist what bass, strings, pick or no, etc ... crosses the line (for me). If I wanted to be a session player, I'd have taken a session gig! It would become immediately evident to me that the BL hired the wrong guy for the bass job.

    Honestly, in this exact situation (my understanding of it, of course) I'd be leaving the project on the next train outta town.
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  14. JakobT


    Jan 9, 2014
    Oslo, Norway
    I’m in the same situation, but I’m fine with it. If I have ideas, we discuss and decide on them together, and this works fine. I also contribute a lot of things which he doesn’t do as well as me, such as lyrics. A band is a collective undertaking, and as long as there is sufficient give and take on all sides, I find I don’t care so much about who does what.
  15. Scottgun


    Jan 24, 2004
    South Carolina
    Pardon me if I sound like a hippy, but I often say I don't write bass lines, I discover them. That is, the bass should serve the song, not my ego. So when someone gives me a song they've written and have written the bass as well, I will play exactly as they've written. Over time when the song is familiar and under everyone's fingers, that's when the "proper" bass line starts suggesting itself. Then I will say that I've come up with alternatives and ask everyone to let me try them a few times and see how the like it. Sometimes it's minor changes. Sometimes it completely changed the character of the song. In most cases, the changes are accepted because they just plain make the song better.

    So it's counter-intuitive. If you yield entirely to the composer's vision at first, the muse will enter eventually. This also goes into my other esoteric mystical truth of bass: you might not be the frontman, but you are musically in charge.
    RodRy, blu-snafu, PaulCISSA and 14 others like this.
  16. SLIV


    Jul 16, 2009
    North Carolina
    I agree with this. A songwriter writes songs and sometimes the main melody instrument is a bass, guitar, keyboard, or horn, etc. Take a song like Fascination Street (by The Cure). That bassline has to be that bassline. I would not be surprised if Robert Smith wrote it.

    As a bass player, I'll happily accept a strong bass-line with a prominent role in the song. If it's a weak bass-line that is just trying to stay out of the way, I'll give it a whirl if that's what they want but over time I bet I could find something that the songwriter actually prefers. I'd do it tactfully and let them make the call.
    jwave, Keyser Soze, djaxup and 4 others like this.
  17. jeff62

    jeff62 Supporting Member

    Oct 24, 2005
    Orlando, FL
    Sounds like they are his songs, written with a specific sound in mind. Given that he’s the band leader, he gets to direct what he wants.

    Your option is to write your own songs, or suggest to him that you try writing together. Otherwise, it just is the way it is and you’ll need to get your kicks with minor interpretations. Bring him a bass line or three and ask him to do something with it?
    jwave, Rum Ham, nnnnnn and 4 others like this.
  18. TheReceder


    Jul 12, 2010
    Thoughts... write some of the material yourself? Songs are like some peoples kids... even bad parents will swear they know what's best for their little angels. Be tolerant, and I'd say ask him to listen, and if in the end he still opts for his version... accept that you're in a good situation that could be better... but it's still good.

    I had an entire CD of bass lines planned by our guitarist. Zero input, recorded just a short time after being told what to play The only spot where I'd really added was when there was a mellow break where he hadn't figured out what he was going to do. In Jest, I added multiple versions of a pretty ridiculous bass lead without him knowing during the session. He opted to not have me in his headphones during recording, which to this day blows my mind, but it was fun goofing around. Anyway... he unfortunately liked it and I had to figure out what the heck I just did so I could repeat it live
    Wasnex, Mr_Moo and Jeff Elkins like this.
  19. Jeff Elkins

    Jeff Elkins Supporting Member

    Everyone else covered the gamut, so not much to add that hasn’t been said. And said pretty well. I’m on the “I play your charts, you pay me to be a sideman” fence. If you like the music, that’s cool—but you’re essentially in a cover band. Covering the BL’s songs.

    Which may be fine. It’s just a mindset shift for you, maybe. I’ve been in your shoes, but I wasn’t offered the opportunity to write at all. Only slightly interpret originals based on my strengths and weaknesses. But I believed in the songwriter and her ability to write music that had legs. Crowds loved it. So I played pretty much what she and the keys player (the de facto music director) came up with. Plus the hang was awesome.

    But even then, I was a sideman. In an ostensibly collaborative arrangement, I’d want any BL to trust that the band’s Sound was a creative meld of everyone’s ideas. If my primary goal was to create, I’d want to be a respected member of the team.
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  20. 4001

    4001 Inactive

    Sep 29, 2004
    Lake County, IL
    Tell him you'll make a deal He can write your bass parts and you can select his gear for him....

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