So You Play Bass – Now What?
Let’s say you’ve invested a number of years getting your skill set together as a bass player. You subscribe to one (or more) of the bass-oriented music magazines. You’ve maybe taken a number of years of private lessons with various instructors. You’ve put in your time in the garage/rehearsal space with a couple of bands. You’ve got the best gear you can afford (and that includes an Eden or Nemesis amp if you’re fortunate <lol>) and now you’re ready to make an income with your Bass-ic Life.
I’ve been exactly in that place, as well. In the course of 30-something years in the Music Business, I’ve worked in the capacities of Band Member, Studio Musician, Hired Gun, Private Teacher, and University Instructor. I’ve played Jazz, Rock in all it’s flavors, Country, Gospel and CCM Music, Ethnic (anyone for a Mariachi or Klezmer gig?), Funk and everything up to Light Classical and Polka gigs. Sometimes I’ve worn any number of tour laminates and tooled around backstage in hockey rinks and theaters. Sometimes I’ve worn a tux and played just the right combination of tunes to make this Wedding or that Bar Mitzvah a success. Sometimes I’ve played Arty Jazz while wearing the required uniform of Black Turtleneck and Jeans. I’ve played 4-7 string electric basses, electric and acoustic upright and Chapman Stick. In this column series, I’ll try to bring my bag of Tips and Tricks to you to help you earn income doing what you love.
Regardless of style and work, there are the same set of basic skills that you use in any and all facets of your Bass-ic Work Life. These are:
1. Communication: Can your clients reach you? That would include an answering service or voice mail for your phone, an email address if you’re reading this, and a mailing address for all of those whopping royalty checks (if you’re concerned about your privacy, investigate a PO Box-they’re not that expensive). If you’re working with a band, can you all get along? If not, how do you resolve problems. If you’re in a session situation, how do you communicate with your fellow players? The producer? The artist?
2. Promotion: Woe be unto the bass player who ventures from his home without business cards! That number and name scribbled on a bar napkin will be forgotten or washed and, at the very best if it survives, tells your prospective client that you don’t care enough to promote yourself or are so disorganized that you have to scrawl your contact information on a random paper scrap. A step up from that would be a website (most ISPs will let you put up a simple one with little hassle and expense), a promo/demo CD, and Merchandise for Retail (CDs, T-Shirts of your band and the like). If people don’t know who you are or what you can do for them, they surely won’t hire you.
3. Versatility: OK, so you started out in that Ramones tribute band-maybe Retro Punk isn’t selling these days. You can either choose to stick to your guns with your band and start a strictly for profit musical venture (another band just for the cash) on the side, or augment your musical income with a side income as a music teacher, hired gun, or studio musician. I’ve used this principle to survive and thrive in Country Music Central while playing in the same Fusion band for the past 23 years. You can exercise your passion while still working as a musician in another musical genre. Of course, you have to understand the other musical genres, but the bassist’s gig in most styles of music is to create a glue between the drums/percussion and the rest of the band. Of course, you have to groove and create a good time feel. In the words of songwriter Todd Snider, ” All the eyes in the room may be on the Star, but all the butts are movin’ to the Bass Guitar”.
4. Integrity: Whether you’re working alone or are in a band situation, do what you say. If the gig starts at 8 PM be there in plenty of time to be set up at least 30 minutes early. Make sure your gear works and is in good repair and you’ve got all the strings, cables, and other tools needed to get the job done. If you are a freelancer and you have to bow out of a gig for a valid reason (dumping one gig for another because option #2 pays $10 more is Cheezy) make sure you can provide a quality sub and train him/her if necessary to cover the gig. Remember, a sub should be so prepared it will seem as if you’re still there and he’s been playing the gig for years. That way everyone is comfortable. Be on time, be on time and while I’m at it, be on time…(This from a Recovering Tardy Musician).
5. Preparedness: Know the gig, know the tunes, know what you’re required to do. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t wait until you get that big Broadway Pit Gig to work on your bow chops on upright, be ready!
There are some other facets we’ll deal with in these columns, but this will give you a taste of where I’m coming from. In future columns, we’ll examine all of these as they relate to Studio Work, Live Work, Private Teaching and other ways of making a living with your music. In the meantime, people don’t always remember all that you did, but they will remember how you made them feel (emotionally and with the groove).
Peace and Low Notes,
Roy C. Vogt
Bass Instructor, Belmont University, Nashville, TN
About the Author:Roy Vogt is an internationally-acclaimed bassist and educator. he is the creator of Teach Me Bass Guitar, the world’s most comprehensive DVD course for bass guitar.
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