When attempting to start a band, musicians often find that it is hard to find a bass player. In time, they also notice that skilled bass players are extremely hard to find.
But why is it hard to find a good bass player? And more importantly, why is there such a high demand for bassists in the first place?
After playing bass for 15 years across a multitude of genres, I feel well equipped to answer these questions. I will also showcase how big the divide between guitarists and bassists actually is, and what this means for bass players and musicians at large.
Are bass players in high demand?
In general, bass players are in higher demand than guitarists, drummers, and vocalists. While there can occasionally be a surplus of bass players in some less populated cities, bassists are generally among the most sought-after musicians in more populated areas.
Overall, the bass is a less popular instrument than the guitar, drums, and keyboards. This leads to fewer bassists and even fewer good ones. In turn, this leads to a demand that spans across musical genres. This makes the need for bass players all the more noticeable.
Younger musicians also rarely choose the bass as their first instrument. While the bass is the most important instrument in a band, it can be hard to see the appeal of the 4-string for beginners.
This is because it is not usually thought of as a flashy instrument. This deters many beginners from choosing the instrument over other options. Thus, there is often a particularly high demand for bassists among younger musicians.
Depending on where you live, you might however experience the opposite to be the case. While the statistics tend to even out in larger cities, smaller towns commonly have a surplus or deficit of certain instruments.
As an example, I grew up in a small town with few musicians, and I was looking to play metal. While there were multiple bass players that played the same genre, there was only one serious drummer in town. This, in turn, made it difficult to form a consistent band as a bass player.
Thus, while bassists are more in demand overall, your mileage may vary. This holds especially true if you live in a rural area, and if you are looking to play a less common genre of music.
Why are bass players so hard to find?
In general, it is hard to find bass players because they are in high demand due to the bass being less popular than most common instruments. As a result, bassists will rarely be on the lookout for a band as they will already have a band to play with or have multiple job opportunities to choose from.
Creative Soul Music made a list of the 10 most popular instruments to play in the US. As one might expect, the piano, violin, and guitar took the top 3 spots. However, while the clarinet and harp made the list, the bass guitar did not even crack the top 10.
While the bass has made the list on other rankings of popular instruments, it is at best always ranked right below every other common band instrument.
Thus, because the bass guitar is a less popular instrument to play, bassists are more sought after. This also means that they generally have more offers lined up than other musicians. In turn, this makes it harder for bands to find skilled and fitting bassists as they will oftentimes already have found a band to play with.
Another reason is that skilled bassists are often adaptable and can play a multitude of genres. It is not uncommon for intermediate bassists to have played in both church services and prog-rock bands, or to have dabbled in both jazz and pop.
Being adaptable to different genres means that skilled bassists are rarely out of work. If they can`t find a band to play in one genre, they will have others to choose from. As a result, they can be hard to get a hold of when trying to find a bass player for your specific project or band.
Are there more bassists or guitarists?
There are significantly more musicians that play the guitar than the bass. The guitar is the most sold instrument in the US, whereas the bass is less popular than the ukulele and keyboard.
Electric guitars made up 13% of all instruments sold in the US in 2014. If we account for acoustic guitars as well, guitars made up ~30% of all instruments sold in that year. Thus, the guitar has been and continues to be a more popular instrument than the bass by a good margin.
When researching why bassists play with a pick, I found that guitarists outnumber bassists somewhere between 4:1 and 6:1. While drummers and vocalists also tend to be less in demand than bassists, the difference in demand for bassists and guitarists is thus especially noticeable.
While bands commonly have 2 guitar players, guitarists still usually have the hardest time finding a band. This is simply due to it being a more popular instrument. As a result, the ease of finding a band is one of many reasons why people choose to play bass over the guitar.
Bass players have been, and will in all likelihood continue to be in high demand.
Beginner musicians tend to be drawn toward instruments that they feel a connection to. The personality of a good bassist usually includes both maturity and patience. When young musicians pick their first instrument, these are rarely the traits that they are looking to showcase.
This is one reason that the bass ranks lower than the guitar, drums, keyboards, and vocals in popularity rankings. If the instrument is less popular, this naturally also creates a higher demand for people who play it.
Guitarists, and to some extent drummers, often specialize in playing one, or a select few genres. While bassists often do the same, the core principles behind the instrument make them more apt to play various forms of music.
As a result of this, bassists can take on various forms of work, which leads to a higher demand for them. This, in conjunction with the other reasons above, can make it difficult to find fitting bass players to start a band with.
Some people choose to play the bass exactly because it is in high demand. Others feel a close connection to the instrument and feel like the bass chose them more than they chose it. To find out whether the bass is a fitting instrument for you, read my guide on whether you should choose to play the bass or not.