Writing killer basslines

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Joe Nerve, Jul 28, 2005.

  1. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    Gotta start with the disclaimer that if you don't know me, I'm not a newbie and I've probably written 1000s of basslines in my time. Feel I just want to kick this subject around because of a project that's been thrown my way. I've been asked to lay down the bass for a female teen pop/punk singer with a crapload of potential and solid backing, and I've been given 8 songs with various mixes - some have drums, some don't, I think there may be bass on one or 2 of them. Anyhoo... I've got a good feeling about this particular job, and I feel it may open the door to lots of other opportunities, provided I shine - so I'd like your thoughts after I think out loud for a while here. Bear with me.

    What I'd generally do in this situation is listen to the song and start playing the first thing that comes to mind. My instinct has done me well, and I often think first ideas are the best ideas. Not sure if that's true though. :) I also know I can come up with hooks that can really add to the song and make me stand out. But it ain't about me, it's about making her stand out, and I understand that. How did Jamerson become such a great studio guy?

    I'm considering listening to the songs over and over in my car (without any bass) until the bass just starts singing to me, and I'm considering doing what I said above - just sitting down and doing what comes to mind first. Oh dear. I'll probably do anything and everything and keep doing stuff until I come up with simple parts and hooks I really like and then just show em everything I got when I get into the studio.

    How do you approach this kind of thing?
  2. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    I've done quiet a bit of this sorta thing.

    First thing I do is jam with the singer. Maybe just acoustic guitar, vocals, and bass. No drums, they come later.

    Then I listen very closely to the vocal melody. Try and pick out the feel of the song. Is it a dark feel? Light and fluffy? This gives me an idea of choice of notes to use, whether it's Minor and Major sounding. Both maybe? Try subsituting minor/major triads for ones with diminished or seventh interval tone colors.

    Next thing to do is look for spaces in the vocal melody, and also parts where you can sync. in some way with the melody.

    Then I start to focus on tempo, timing, and drums patterns. Live drummer is always best. I also find out whether to use riffs, Arpeggio's, or walking bass rhythms

    The drums will then lock all these things together.

    Hope that helps, or maybe give you some ideas. But I think jamming with the singer is the first step.
  3. I am no professional (give me a couple years of college playing), but I've been around the block. All I can say is don't just learn the chord progression and melody, but memorize them. Know them through and through absolutely. I feel that it always helps me compose if I understand the context of the song and how its moving. It's not much, but I don't find myself in your situation very often, er, I mean at all, hehe.
  4. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    Couple of other things.

    Plan and finalise the piece of music in writing, so you have a visual representation of the music.

    Try and obtain full music score of Motown and Beatles hits. There you will see how they combine Melody and Rhythm.
  5. Tash


    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland
    Listening to the song in your car is a great idea. Eat, breathe, live those songs until the bassline for each one comes to you. Then jam on them.

    Then cut out every 2nd note because what you came up with is probably overplaying for the song. If you have 20 ntoes in a given line just play the 10 coolest :).
  6. Just like you, I memorize the tunes and formulate what I hear in a bass line.

    Serve the groove, serve the song.

    What you hear in your head is what should be recorded. Then, wait at least a day and relisten for anything you might want to take out or fix (or remove notes like Tash stated above ^^). Some tunes might call for you to stand out a bit more than others. Go with your instincts!
  7. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    A little more thinking out loud:

    I listened to the songs in the car a couple of times without thinking of basslines. A few spots popped out where I really felt there should be NO bass, and where I knew I could get really creative. A few spots also popped out where I knew I would have to pretty much just follow the guitars.

    Later I sat with my cd box and bass. Got the roots and just started jamming along with the songs. I'm going to let parts simply evolve. My plan has become to know the songs throughout playing simply the roots, and come up with whatever other creative, tasteful, hooky stuff I can.

    While working with the songs I realized where my anxitey is coming from. The guy who recorded her and laid down all the other tracks is this guy Bumblefoot (www.bumblefoot.com) who's musicianship I absolutely worship. He's been working with these songs for a while and I'm sure he's hearing his own bass parts. He ALWAYS lays down the bass for anything he himself records, and I'm not quite sure why he's asking me to do the bass on this. Perhaps so she has different names on her CD. I have to be ready to abandon anything I come up with that I think is godlike, and I also have to be confident enough to put it out there with all my heart and soul - as in, "this may completely change your song, but check it out anyway - it sounds great." For some reason that's a rough one for me. probably cuz I'm such a damn people pleaser. This is going to be a super good experience. I'm psyched and excited.
  8. eldave777


    May 24, 2005
    Jamerson was a herion addict. He would give you three takes and if that wasn't good enough too bad. I don't suggest the herion. I think what your doing is a fine idea. Keep it simple but memorable. By the way how's the Santo situation going?
  9. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    Thanks. Santo's gone. Our stand-in guy is now THE guy. We gots lots of work ahead of us. Ain't the first time we're doing the new drummer thing. I think this is number 6.
  10. jtauban


    Oct 28, 2003

    Good you get this opportunity; why not record more than one version of bass for each track... then let Bumblefoot decide which one to keep.
  11. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Generally, I'll jam around on the song for a while and see what comes out. Sometimes a particular idea will pop into my mind, such as 'oo... kind of eastern... let's try a harmonic minor scale' or 'mm... a bit tense... let's make some deliberately dissonant note choices' and I'll let it all through.

    However, the secret is to have my minidisc unit to hand. Fairly early on, I'll grab a recording that picks out a few things that seem to be working. That means I can come back and:

    a) evaluate whether it really fits as well as I thought

    b) refine it, taking out the wrong turns and building on what makes it work

    c) pick up "happy accidents" that I'd forgotten about but which seem to have something special about them.

    Even performing the songs, I'll try not to be too tight about playing exactly what I worked out but take a few chances ... and then listen back to the recordings to take the line forward for the next time.

  12. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    There are a lot of subtle things you can do to make the bassline pop. Some of the things I'm very conscious of when I'm trying to write a good line:

    1) Dynamics. A lost art in pop/rock, since everything in the studio is so compressed, and everything live is so ****ing loud.

    2) Differentiating the parts of the song. My parts on second verses and second choruses attemtpt to be noticeably different from the parts I play on the initial verse and chorus. This doesn't necessarily mean I get more complex - I often subtract the second time around.

    3) Upper chord extensions. I always think of Eric Johnson's bass players (Roscoe Beck, Chris Maresh) when I attempt to write a cool "melodic" sounding part. The key to their parts is that they're always throwing in some cool 9ths, 11ths, 13ths etc. along with holding down basic root note grooves. You have at least four strings - make the skinny ones do something useful.
  13. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    Bfoot chose you cuz your the man, he probably wants your "vibe" on the record.
    If the material you recieved was scratch then don't get locked-in too deep in anything, just "live" with the songs enough to know them.
  14. bwsailer79


    Aug 5, 2005
    Laurel, MD
    Listening to the vocals is a big part of me writing bass lines. A lot of times when I have a song I just can't come up with something, I sit down and figure out the vocal part on bass. And then I mix that in with the bass notes of the guitar/keyboards/whatever.

    It seems to really work out and I end up coming out with something that I would never have come up with on the spot.

  15. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    Hey, what ever works. If there's formula or pattern happening, go with it.

    It seems that the harmonic relationship between bass and vocals is very important, and the bass must support the vocal melody. That's probably why Funk and Rap go so well together. They are both related by the syncopated rythym.

  16. OrionManMatt


    Feb 17, 2004
    I think you've had a lot of wonderful suggestions thrown in your direction so I'll just expand, encourage, and offer my two cents:

    - You have been chosen for a reason. If the musicianship of this guy is as you say it is, and he typically will lay something down but in this case has not...there is reason. He values your input. Your experience, diverse playing ability, and ear are something he would like to hear. Don't let this go to your head but realize that whatever it is you do, you do well enough that he has taken interest in your work. Respect his ideas in the studio and offer your suggestions as well.

    - What made the classic basslines classic? Think Motown and then think of the most influential rock bassists you can. What did they do differently? What did they add that made that track really shine? What did they not do? There are plenty of people who can hit the right notes but it is the combinations, the feel, and the subtleties that define a good or great bassist.

    - This may be HER album but if she doesn't have quality musicianship backing her up it will not matter how wonderful she is. The band is part of the equation.

    - Exhaust yourself playing the same stupid lines. Imagine having to go on the road with this girl and gig 300 times next year. What bass lines would you most often play? Live, what will pound? If you're going to get tired with a bass line make it worth playing.