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What can funky bass players teach you about producing top-tier copy?

After years of playing guitar, I decided to start learning bass in summer 2022. I made good progress by myself, but was hitting a wall with my motivation last year, so I sought out a teacher to help me improve.

Instead of focusing on my heroes in classic rock and metal like John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) or Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath), my tutor builds our lessons around the early bass chops of masters of funk, Motown and jazz, whose legendary work inspired all the later generations of musicians I already knew.

But what do funky basslines have to do with producing sparking and flawless marketing copy? Read on to find out.

James Brown told his band to play on the one!

My bass teacher is always reminding me to “play on the one”.

This advice comes from the inimitable James Brown, whose incredible multi-decade career transformed soul, funk, pop and rock – and any other genre you can think of.

One of his huge contributions was the way he transformed soul and R&B into funk, through an emphasis on “The One”, that is, the first downbeat of every measure of a song. You can hear this groove on his 1970 hit, ‘Get On Up’.

The bass, drums and band all hitting the measure on the same beat was the rock-solid foundation for the groove, and its predictability also made it easy to dance to. As Brown said: “Funk is the root of the blues […] It’s soul, jazz, and gospel. Funk is coming down on the one. If it’s on the one, then it’s funky.”

For writers, the same applies; excellent writing is built on rock-solid foundations. Style, flourish and inspiration is important, but it only works when built on a dependable foundation of accurate and correct use of grammar and spelling, and a sound knowledge of your subject matter.

Chic know that expertise is important, but so is giving the audience what they want.

Bernard Edwards’ bass line from Chic’s 1979 hit ‘Good Times’ is one of the most instantly recognisable and influential funk riffs in music history, immediately spilling over into other genres like rock (it was the inspiration for Queen’s 1980 hit ‘Another One Bites the Dust’) and rap (it was the foundation of the Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 hit ‘Rapper’s Delight’).

In a Guardian interview, Edwards explained that he and fellow founding member, Nile Rodgers, were experienced jazz musicians with classical training and perhaps spent too long doing “heavy stuff” and “ego-tripping” to impress other musicians.

Their breakthrough was realising that expertise was important, but not as much as what an audience actually wanted, which was fun.

“Look, have whatever in your collection at home, but everybody needs a little Friday night. And really that is Chic. No big deal. Y’know, smile, dance, get crazy…we sure do while we’re making it, because music is our leeezshure, it’s my fun.”

So, while expert knowledge is important for producing excellent copy, so is actively listening to exactly what your client wants, and delivering on that, rather than your ego.

Pino Palladino played bass for the biggest stars by constantly reinventing what he did.

From humble beginnings growing up in Cardiff, Pino Palladino went on to become one of the most sought-after session players of the 80s and 90s; his understated but distinctive fretless bass work appears on songs by a long list of artists including Paul Young, The Who, the John Mayer Trio, Nine Inch Nails, Gary Numan, Jeff Beck, as well as more recent names like Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles and Corinne Bailey Rae.

How did he do this?

As he said in 2000: ”It’s important to be able to reinvent what you do. When the call came to play with The Who I was working with Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, and I had to change my whole style.”

By dedicating himself to constantly learning, expanding and refining his style, Palladino only grew better and better with time.

As a writer, taking on new challenges can only lead to growth, and continuing to learn, whether by studying the work of others, taking training courses or seeking out mentoring, will help ensure the work you produce is the highest quality.

Kim Deal knew when to hand bass duties over to someone else.

When Kim Deal responded to a wanted ad for a bassist in 1986, she couldn’t have known that the Pixies would go on to be one of the most influential alt-rock bands of all time.

Since then, fans have included David Bowie, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, U2, The Strokes, Weezer, and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, who even admitted in an interview that ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ was the band’s attempt to write a Pixies song.

She was originally a guitarist, and even had to borrow her sister Kelley’s bass at first, but this meant that Kim brought a fresh perspective to the instrument, writing simple but catchy basslines for hits like ‘Debaser’, ‘Hey’ and ‘Gigantic’.

When Pixies went on hiatus in the early 90s, Kim formed The Breeders with twin sister Kelley and Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donnelly. Wisely, Kim returned to guitar and lead vocals, handing over bass duties to Josephine Wiggs, who was classically trained on cello as well as an experienced player with other bands.

This soon paid off: Wiggs’ unforgettable opening bass riff to ‘Cannonball’ from their second album helped create their biggest commercial hit to date.

Likewise, when it comes to producing top-tier copy, sometimes the best thing you can do is not doing it yourself, but rather finding someone who has the expertise you need while you focus on your other strengths.

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Whether you need advice on writing excellent marketing copy or recommendations for Friday night disco bangers, we can help. Email us at or call on 0115 896 5300.

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