I have doubled on electric bass for years to the point where I find myself performing with groups on bass more often than with guitar. Often as a doubler you will find yourself identified by the instrument you seem to play most, or are seen with the most, which is fine. I don’t really concern myself about it because I am a bassist, and a guitarist, and in the end of it all a musician. I do find certain aspects of being a bass player to be a bit frustrating one of which might seem ridiculous, but it happens all too frequently. Bass players have to fight for their space, both sonically and physically.
Sonic displacement comes in different forms, some more maddening than others. Bass in itself is difficult because the sound waves are longer so there are times where the closer you are to your amp, the more buried in the mix you become, which can actually result in you, the bassist, not being able to hear what you’re playing but it being perfect out in the audience for the mix, or for that matter for the other band members who are permitted to be far enough from your amp to hear you clearly. More on this in a few moments. It can also get a bit messy because quality keyboard players use both hands, which is awesome. However it also means that sometimes their left hand is playing in the same range as your bass line. This can end up garbling your lines, covering up your lines, and messing with your head because the note you left a nano second before is still ringing from the keyboard. For the most part, all it takes is a short conversation with the keyboard player to eliminate the issue. If not then you have to cut back severely on what you play, which might in turn lead you to search for another playing situation where you have the sonic freedom to play your bass lines the way you/the music indicates you should.
Physical displacement is another issue that can be frustrating. Most bass players, myself included, are not about grabbing the spotlight, so being at the front of the stage isn’t necessarily a why am I not up there issue. We do need some physical space though and it really does need to be more than two feet in front of our amplifier. For one thing at that range if we’re playing with a loud band, we’re playing more by feel because a lot of the time we can’t hear ourselves no matter what the rest of the band thinks. We can feel the push from the air being moved, but don’t really hear much. Often this tiny floor space is shared with a couple of the drummer’s cymbals, which have the sonic impact of dynamite when you’re tucked between them trying not to hit them with your headstock.
One night, not too long ago, I played a gig where I spent the bulk of the night physically off stage because I was pushed off by other folks’ equipment, including some non-band members who were sitting in for a couple of tunes but had their amps set up for the entire gig. We normally have a keyboard player with whom I usually share about the same amount of space as the guitar player has. Nothing against the guitar player; it’s going to be lopsided the way we’ve been setting up anyway. The keyboard player came in for the last two sets due to a double, so despite the sit ins’ equipment I had space during the first set. The rest of the night I was playing off stage. It was either that or to be wedged between two cymbals and right on top of my amp.
Bass players are generally fairly easy going and don’t make undue demands on the band. We do like attention and the occasional spotlight, but for the most part we get our jollies from locking in with the drummer and providing solid support for the rest of the band. We might not take flashy solos filled with pyrotechnics but we do provide the foundation for the band. We make the connection between the drums and the rest of the band happen and in a lot of ways this is why we are part of the rhythm section. Generally we don’t ask for much, so it shouldn’t be a big deal to give us what we need the most, sonic and physical space.