In the music industry, nobody has worse press than the bassist. The singer is almost always the first person who comes to mind when thinking of the band, the guitarist is the second (complete with Air Guitar), next there's the wild and crazy drummer/percussionists, and then maybe musicians playing instruments which are found in orchestras or cultural bands.
And last in line, if at all... the bassist. There are hardly ever any bass solos. There are hardly ever any bassist/singers. There is no hope. Okay, maybe not ZERO hope. For the short heroes' list of bass players who have risen above this cosmic injustice, see Lead Bassist.
This can be an enforced or Justified Trope. The inherent structure of much popular music encourages a simple, supportive bass line. This makes it hard for a bass player to stand out aurally, and doubly hard to do so without simply showing off at the music's expense. So most of the time, a bassist doing his job properly ends up drawing relatively little attention to himself; bassists who try to defy this and push their way into a Lead Bassist role without actually taking the songs themselves into consideration will quickly piss off their bandmates and be shown the door.
This trope refers to this phenomenon, and media in which it is discussed. Compare Dumb and Drummer, which involves similar levels of disrespect but with outright insults instead of the musician simply being forgotten about.
Examples in media:
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In some bands, the bass player is not an official member of the group, usually because he replaced a long-time bass player. The most famous such band is The Rolling Stones, who haven't had an official bassist since Bill Wyman left. Darryl Jones has largely replaced him, but he's a salaried employee of the band, not an official member.
Hugh McDonald has been with Bon Jovi since 1994, but is not considered a full-fledged member (though this is mostly because the band agreed never to officially replace the original bassist). It would later come out that he had played ALL the bass in the studio, for everything since the band's breakout hit "Runaway."
Pink Floyd went from having a Lead Bassist to none at all when Roger Waters left, and stayed that way, hiring session musicians and using programmed synth basses.
Waters himself is a curious example; while certainly a Lead Bassist, he's better known as a songwriter, and didn't seem to care for his primary instrument all that much. A considerable number of Floyd songs ("One Of These Days" and "Sheep" come to mind) have bass lines that are essentially single note drones, and David Gilmour ended up doing quite a bit of the actual bass playing in the studio when Waters couldn't be bothered.
Nile hasn't had a full-time bassist since Jon Vesano left back in 2005.
Decrepit Birth didn't bother to get a new full-time bassist for quite a while after Derek Boyer left until 2008, when Joel Horner joined. Once he left in 2011, it became a revolving door of live session players once again; Sean Martinez was the most prolific, but A.J. Lewandowski and Konrad Rossa also had their day. Sean has finally been given a spot as a full-timer, however, so this might be on its way to being averted again.
Lonestar hasn't had a full-time bassist since John Rich was fired in 1998. Rich has become famous as one-half of Big & Rich, along with plenty of songwriting and production gigs. Since his departure, Lonestar uses different bassists in concert, and session bassists on albums.
During Ross Valory's absence from Journey, the band replaced him with non-member hire Randy Jackson (later of American Idol).
ThePillows haven't had an official bassist since founding member Kenji Ueda quit in 1992.
Fear of this trope is why, when Stuart Sutcliffe quit The Beatles, Paul McCartney was the only guitarist who wouldn't quit on the spot rather than play bass. He still found many occasions to add guitar parts to Beatles albums, and would swap between guitar and bass during his Wings period and his later solo career. Even in the image on his trope page, he's holding a guitar.
Paul claimed that the good-looking Stuart's inclusion as bassist was something of an attempt to avert this trope.
"In our minds, it was the fat guy in the group who nearly always played the bass and he stood at the back. None of us wanted that."
The Doors didn't even have a bassist, relying on session players or Ray Manzarek's specially tuned "bass keyboard."
Roxy Music had a revolving door of bassists. In the inside jacket for Stranded, bass guitarist Johnny Gustafson is the only one not pictured.
Rings of Saturn has had bassists sporadically (they didn't even have one when Embryonic Anomaly was recorded; Lucas Mann recorded the tracks himself), and after Sean Martinez left in 2013, they didn't even bother to search for a new live bassist and instead opted to just use prerecorded backing tracks for everything bass-related from that point forward.
Session musician Chuck Rainey played bass on The Rascals' recordings, but during live shows, Felix Cavaliere played the bass notes on his keyboard.
On The Colbert Report, Steve Van Zandt was asked a question about the E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent. At first Van Zandt was confused, and then replied, "Nobody told Garry; we don't talk to him."
Throughout early Genesis albums, all bass parts were played by the band's rhythm guitarist Mike Rutherford. Playing live he would spend roughly equal time between guitar and bass; when he was on guitar, the bass notes were either left out or played on a pedal bass synthesizer. After lead guitarist Steve Hackett left the group, Rutherford would alternate the two instruments with sideman Daryl Stuermer, generally playing guitar for more contemporary songs. All the instrument swapping led to him using a series of Ace Custom 12-string/bass double-neck guitars; the most famous of which was a Shergold construction (played from 1977 until about 1990) which allowed him to rapidly swap three different guitar uppers (12-string in two different tunings, and a six-string) onto a bass lower section.
Since their 1981 reformation, King Crimson has largely done without a bassist. Tony Levin spent most of his time playing the Chapman Stick or keyboards, and successor Trey Gunn has stuck almost entirely to the Chapman Stick or oddball Warr Guitar.
Metallica treated Jason Newsted as the new guy for 14 years. (it helps that he replaced a beloved friend of theirs who died tragically) It was even (indirectly note the producers lost the entire low end of the album, and he had copied the rhythm guitar parts verbatim, a no-no for a bassist) admitted there was an attempt to mute the bass as much as they could in his debut album, ...And Justice for All.
In the biopic of The Runaways, bassist Robyn Robbins doesn't have any spoken lines.
Also, Robyn was a character created just for the movie, as the real-life Runaways couldn't keep a bass player. Over their career as a band, they had five of them - six if you count when Joan Jett played bass instead of guitar for part of one tour.
According to some accounts, Patricia Morrison, nominally the bass player at the time of The Sisters Of Mercy's Floodland album, didn't even play on the album; or at least much of what she did play was subsequently overdubbed by Andrew Eldritch playing synth bass (the only song her bass can be clearly heard on is "Lucretia My Reflection"). She later quit the group because she hadn't been paid.
In a Rolling Stone article, Taylor Swift accidentally backs her SUV into the parked car behind her, which happens to be owned by bassist Amos Heller. The first thing she says is, "Oh, my God. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD. OH, MY GOD." The second thing she says is, "Oh, is that my bass player? It's fine. It's my bass player!"
Now one day the bass players, they decided to uprise They were tired of being sidemen to all those other guys So they kidnapped the horn section They put drugs in the drummer's drink And they tied up all the guitar players With their big ol' flat-wound strings
The duo itself is an aversion, as Keith Grimwood (bass) and Ezra Idlet (guitar) split the vocals about 50/50.
Ryan Stasik, the bassist for Umphrey's Mcgee, is the designated social-media punching bag of the group. One song even contains the stanza "Stasik / go take a shower / a shower / will do you justice."
Pity Van Halen's Michael Anthony. Not only was he the band member no casual fan could remember, he was (musically speaking) the real-life Murderface: Eddie Van Halen generally forbade any bass line that didn't double his guitar notes, and insisted on mixing the bass below the point of distinct audibility. For career satisfaction, Anthony pretty much had to settle for availing himself of the massive groupie overstock that accumulated around 1980's Van Halen... wait. Hm. You know what? DON'T pity Michael Anthony. He certainly landed on hisfoot, though.
Eddie even started to neglect Michael, playing most of the bass parts in Van Halen III and the new tracks from Best of Both Worlds (where Anthony only did backing vocals). He only got in the 2004 tour because Sammy Hagar - who later drafted Anthony to both his solo band and Chickenfoot - wanted him to, as Eddie wouldn't even invite him. And when the band started performing again, the new bassist was a teenager (Eddie's son Wolfgang)!
The bassist for "Weird Al" Yankovic makes sure that everyone remembers him more than the rest of the band, through his use of humor. Al introduces his band members over the course of the concert, letting each of them have a solo. After the lead guitar and drummer show off their impressive skills, the bassist leaves the audience in stitches by only playing one note.
In fact, it's the keyboardist, Ruben Valtierra, who's more often relegated to the role of "that other guy" and treated accordingly — most famously, on the cover of Running with Scissors he's the one way back in the distance, blurred out, and on the insert he's lying face-down, presumably dead from the scissors stuck in his back. It makes sense when you realize that, until recently, he wasn't even an official part of the band, only joining them on tour so Al wouldn't have to sing lead and play keyboards at the same time.
Some bands love bassists so little that they don't bother having one:
The White Stripes. (although Jack White often uses an octave pedal to simulate a bass, such as in Seven-Nation Army)
The Black Keys. (although bass is heavily featured on their tracks, played by the guitarist)
Nine Inch Nails had no bassist in the touring band prior to The Downward Spiral, with bass parts being played on synthesizer. After the departure of their most recent bassist, Pino Palladino, Trent Reznor decided not to replace him, going back to the Pretty Hate Machine four-piece arrangement.
In a relatively recent playing of the famous bluegrass instrumental "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", there were... two banjo solos, an acoustic guitar solo, two electric guitar solos, a fiddle solo, a mandolin solo, a harmonica solo, a piano solo, an electric organ solo and a dobro(!) solo. The bass didn't get a solo. Hell, the bassist didn't get to appear in the music video.
Da Yoopers changed bassists twice times in the course of about 5 years: in order, they went from Jim Pennell to Joe DeLongchamp to Dave "Doc" Bradbury, each of whom held their role for only two albums. Each was more prominent than their predecessor; Pennell was quickly forgotten around the time the band achieved regional fame with "Second Week of Deer Camp" (which he didn't even play on — the song had a gutbucket bass played by a guest musician). DeLongchamp wrote and sang lead vocals on the title track of their third album, Camp Fever, and sang another song on the next album, Yoop It Up. And despite his short tenure, Bradbury got lead vocals several times, including one of their Signature Songs, "Grandpa Got Run Over by a Beer Truck". Bradbury left shortly after lead guitarist Joe Potila was replaced by Jim Bellmore, who played all the bass parts on their 1996 album We're Still Rockin' by himself. By the next album, Reggie Lusardi had begun serving as their touring bassist, although Bellmore generally continued to play most of the bass parts in-studio. Bellmore also takes over on bass whenever they do "30 Pound Diaper" so that Lusardi doesn't have to rap and play bass at the same time. (Oddly, Bellmore played bass on this song even before Lusardi took over the vocal part from now-departed percussionist Jerry Coffey, who would sing the song in concert many years before a version sung by Lusardi appeared on an album.) For a short time, Dick Bunce (an actor in the sketch comedy segments they do between songs) would sometimes come out and play bass on a few songs, presumably to give Lusardi a breather. This stopped when Bunce left.
The "nobody loves" side usually comes up with drummer Bobby Symons, who has been in the band since the late 90s. He always stays behind the drum kit, and never sings or participates in skits. In addition, frontman Jim DeCaire (who used to be the full-time drummer before he got promoted) usually played the drum parts in-studio, with occasional assistance from Jerry Coffey in The Nineties.
Anime & Manga
Invoked with Ako in Mahou Sensei Negima!, who struggles with worries that she is nothing but a minor character destined to live forever in the background (which, well, is kinda true) and plays the bass in a high school rock band.
The anime of Litchi Hikari Club pokes fun at this, at one point. The club decides to form a band, and everyone is eager to participate, until Zera asks who will be the bass player. Everyone goes dead silent.
In K-On!, the classical lack of attention towards the bassist is Mio Akiyama's reason for choosing to play the bass, as she has significant self-confidence issues. This would've been played straight had it not been for one unforseen circumstance during their first school festival performance resulting in her being the band's most popular member.
The bass player was the only band member not involved in Aya Hirano's career-derailing sex scandal (and subsequently the only band member not fired), though he reportedly had to deal with some sexual harrassment.
School of Rock: The bass player has few spoken lines, and is the only one who doesn't get an end-credit solo (at least in the final cut). The movie's only named bassists are unsympathetic acquaintances of the main character.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: In the film, Scott and one of the evil exes engage in a "bass battle," which is treated as a self-evident gag scene.
In That Thing You Do!, the bass player of the Wonders doesn't even have a name. His character is listed as "T.B. Player," and when he disappears during the band's trip to Los Angeles, nobody really cares; they replace him with a studio musician.
This joke: A couple is going to a marriage therapist. But his efforts seem to be useless, since the husband and the wife aren't even willing to talk with each other anymore. Then, he grabs the bass which happens to be around (don't ask), starts playing - and while he's playing, the couple suddenly starts communicating. Afterwards, they thank him: "You saved our marriage! But what was the bass for?" He answers: "I play in a band as a hobby, and I know from experience: Everyone is talking during the bass solo!"
Another joke: A man vacationing on an island is driven crazy by the constant sound of drums, but whenever he tries to ask the natives when it will stop, they look horrified and tell him, "Very bad when drumming stops." Finally, he plucks up the courage to ask what happens when the drumming stops, and the response is, "Bass solo."
Bill Drummond and Jim Cauty discuss the disdain for bass in general in their book The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way). They note that white Europeans care so little about bass that bass rhythms aren't covered by copyright. So when it comes time to make a future #1 hit song, Drummond and Cauty encourage their readers to make the melody suspiciously similar to some other hit song, then turn around and tell their readers to just directly copy a good bass line. They also note that the trend is to use synthesizers for the bass lines (the book was written in 1988) because that's preferable to dealing with some "thumb slapping dick head" of a bass guitarist.
"The great thing about bass lines is that they are in public domain. Nobody, even if they do recognise it, will seriously accuse you of ripping somebody else's bass line off."
In Soul Music, none of Insanity/The Blots/The Whom/Surreptitious Fabric/And Supporting Bands can actually play their instruments, but the bass-player, Noddy, has it particularly bad, since no-one seems to care that he has an instrument that is impossible to play (the guitar maker, giggling hysterically, had made it from a lump of wood and some fence wire).
Kevin: No one invites the bass player to the party after the show...
Bruce: Hey, what are you guys doing after the show? (beat) Oh, nothing? Okay.
Kevin: If he does go to the party, he can only get the good-looking girls'... best friend.
When Steve Harvey was a guest on The Tonight Show in 2014, a game of Family Feud was played that pitted Jimmy Fallon, Jason Segel, and Steve Higgins against members of The Roots. The first survey question was, "Name an instrument least likely to get a band member groupies." One of the top three answers was "Bass". Cut to a shot of the band's bass player, looking embarrassed.
Discussed in a Rocky strip, where Rocky and his buddy concludes that being a bassist is a job for slackers, since nobody cares if you show up for rehearsals or even for the concerts.
You need a mini-fridge in your practice space. It's more important than a bassist. If you can hear the bassist, your speakers are too loud.
Also this one from the third game:
You seem to be having a problem with your bass amp. I can hear it!
This is the bassist's problem in Guitar Hero World Tour. She quit her former band because she was sick of being overshadowed by the others. At the end of her story mode, she makes a solo album and becomes famous... with Lou's help.
TV Tropes: Guess which instrumentalist isn't represented in the main page for Five-Man Band? That's right, the bassist is less important than the Tambourinist.
In The Simpsons episode "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation," Homer goes to a rock-and-roll summer camp, and when they begin to run out of guitars, Elvis Costello is forced to suggest that someone learn the bass. The camp-goers don't take it well.
In the Home Movies episode "Guitarmageddon", Jason complains about getting saddled with bass, saying it's thankless and the bass player is "the loser of the group." His friends disagree, but when he offers to trade instruments they back out quickly.
The Life and Times of Juniper Lee: Juniper and her brothers have a band named "Short Angry Freuds". She told her big brother Dennis nobody would pay attention to him because he's the bassist.
By unanimous consent, Murderface's bass lines are always left out of the final mix.
Their producer Dick Knubbler refers to Murderface as "almost part of Dethklok." To his face.
In The Doomstar Requiem A Klok Opera, a rock opera where almost every line of dialogue is sung, Murderface gets the least amount of dialogue. He's the only major character that doesn't get a song or major verse of some kind. Mind you that characters like Abigail and Ishnifus, who had just appeared in the tail end of the previous season, both got full length songs . Whether this was intentional or not is up for debate.
Murderface admits that sometimes at concerts he'd leave his bass unplugged and just "pretend play". No one noticed.
This sentiment was partially averted in "Birthdayklok"; in the Cold Open he played a solo at a concert...with his penis.
In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Dude, We're Getting The Band Back Together!", the boys are trying to re-form Love Händel. When they approach the bass player, his response is "You don't need me. I just play bass in the background. Nobody even remembers me."
In Regular Show, Mordecai skips the name of the bassist while naming off the popular band 'Hair To The Throne' when they show up at the park, and just calls him "the bass player", then the bassist frowns. He's also the only band member who gets no speaking lines.