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Aspiring Session Bassist

Discussion in 'Ask Justin Meldal-Johnsen' started by TopBillinBass, Jan 6, 2013.


  1. TopBillinBass

    TopBillinBass

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2011
    Hey JMJ!

    I've been playing bass for close to 10 years and have become very serious about making music my life.

    Ideally I'd like to become self-sustainable as a recording session bassist.

    I realize a session bassist has to basically play anything at the drop of a hat. But more specifically, what sort of things are asked from a bassist in the studio? Sight reading charts and written music and pre-written basslines? Making up your own bassline on the spot? Picking stuff up through listening? Soloing?

    What genres of music are prevalent in LA? I have a nice Ashdown rig and Xotic 5 string. What other gear should I have at my disposal? A fretless? Any must-have pedals or stomp boxes?

    From what I hear one of the hardest parts is getting in contact with the right people. Any advice on how I should get my name out there?

    Thank you very much for your time! Your story is awesome and inspiring!
     
  2. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2005
    Hiya,

    Thank you for being here and sharing your story.

    Here's some things that I'd say regularly asked of me:

    - good taste
    - a broad selection of instruments, particularly of the vintage variety no matter what style of music I'm doing. An Xotic 5 string is not going to be something most producers/artists are going to be stoked on, honestly.
    - cool amps, including vintage ones
    - an ability to understand a song very quickly and make charts within one or two times of listening to the song.

    Sky's the limit in terms of genre.

    Getting your name out there would probably first be achieved by establishing yourself as a great, reliable, flexible, cool to hang out with live side musician. Most studio people in LA come from that first.

    Good luck,
    Justin
     
  3. TopBillinBass

    TopBillinBass

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2011
    Thanks JMJ!

    I hadn't realized that having vintage gear was such a 'plus' in terms of hire-ability (if that is a word...)

    Is the fact that the Xotic is a new-sounding bass and producers/artists love the older sounding stuff?

    In terms of LA, are there any sort of general hot spots to live around for the music scene. I am fairly familiar with the different parts of LA but not too much with the music scene there, yet.

    And I'm guessing it couldn't hurt to get a part time job at a music shop while I get on my feet, right?

    After posting this thread I had realized that it's probably made a dozen times before. Sorry 'bout that :/.

    Thanks a bunch again!

    -Eric
     
  4. bass12

    bass12 Fueled by chocolate Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2008
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    I don't want to be a vibe killer but you honestly have about as much chance of "making it" as a session guy these days as you do winning the lottery. You really need to be aware of the "supply and demand" aspect of being a session bassist in today's music business. There are tons of guys out there qualified to do the job and very few positions to fill. By all means, pursue your dream but have a realistic back up plan in place.
     
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  6. TopBillinBass

    TopBillinBass

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2011
    I do have a backup. I got accepted into UCLA's Aerospace Engineering Graduate Program. I just thought I'd give this a good shot (since it is what I truly love) before I do something for making a living rather than for something I love.
     
  7. bass12

    bass12 Fueled by chocolate Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2008
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Sounds great then - good luck! :)
     
  8. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2005
    Yes, I've covered this quite a bit before. Perhaps do some searches. Music shop - sure that's a notion.

    Yes, I will tell you straight up that an Xotic 5 string is frankly going to be met with a fair amount of consternation and ridicule in LA in most circles except trade shows, jazz gigs and R&B gigs. Traditional and/or vintage instruments are overwhelmingly more desirable. I think you have to start off by doing a lot more research into the LA music scene, the venues, the types of music in which players can be involved.

    I think that the problem with your approach right now is that you're being quite general. I have found that the only way to get something done in a music career in this town is to decide exactly what it is you want to do (type of gig, style of music, your personal aesthetic, etc) and chase THAT. Not to sort of present yourself as "available for gigs" in a broad sense. In this town, it's all about being bloody-minded and confident about who you are, and people will respond to that...eventually...with lots of tireless work. Being a sort of all things to all people "dude for hire" seems to not get people very far, completely irregardless of how well you play. People respond to vision, identity, strength of personality, and confidence of approach.

    Get your research hat on: find out everything there is to know about the scene in LA. The blogs, the printed word, historical accounts, etc. Simultaneously, figure out exactly what sort of player you are and exactly what your goals are, and get as focused as possible on that.


    JMJ
     
  9. TopBillinBass

    TopBillinBass

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2011
    I appreciate the honesty and the information! Thanks a whole lot, this has been very insightful.

    Eric
     
  10. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2005
    Location:
    Apopka, FL
    Disclosures:
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I wonder why that is...it's pretty much a Fender copy. Do Sadowskys, Alleva Coppolos and Mike Lulls get that same taint in LA, or is it the 5-string aspect that kills it?

    BTW, glad to see you're honest about it. Not enough folks out there are honest about the influence your gear choices have over people who might hire you.
     
  11. pbass2

    pbass2 Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2007
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Depends entirely on the genre. Like Justin says, the OP is being quite general---genre will greatly dictate what a producer, composer, or artist will want to see you whip out. Sure, you could do an RnB session here with that Xotic, but even then, you should at the very least also have a vintage-sounding(and yes, preferably LOOKING) P or J on hand too--passive and four string for sure. You do see Laklands, occasionally Sadowskys, Lulls, etc.
     
  12. obimark

    obimark

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2011
    Awesome for Justin to tell it like it is--- how much of what you hear on the radio is recorded with a 4-string P-bass- Probably 75%.
     
  13. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2005
    Straight up. Yes, Sadowskys, Lulls, Laklands get love, but even those are poo poo'd.

    Trade show ----> Sunset Sound Studios = quite a divergence.

    JMJ
     
  14. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2005
    Location:
    Apopka, FL
    Disclosures:
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    No offense, but if someone will take a Fender Precision but wouldn't take a Lakland Duck Dunn in its place, that's listening with their eyes. I've played the Duck and it sounds like a Precision to me, though I hate that oval bridge ;) Still, though, if you want to get hired, the old adage "When in Rome" applies, and if they're listening with their eyes, then you give them something to "listen" to or you don't get the gig. Unfair? Sure. What are you going to do about it? Write your congressman?
     
  15. pbass2

    pbass2 Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2007
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    I sit in the producer chair myself on occasion, and hire players for my composing work, and frankly, I do listen with my eyes for starters. Let's say I know the track needs a twangy rootsy Tele part, or a classic Les Paul chunk, or maybe...both. If the guy shows up with nothing but say, a boutiquey guitar with a bunch of switches on it, and starts proceeding to tell me how it can cop any sound, I start getting worried (and start looking at the clock)......
     
  16. christoph h.

    christoph h.

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Location:
    Germany
    I realize that some instruments aren't necessarily what people want to see in the studio situation for most music. Basses like Fodera, Yamaha, Ken Lawrence and sometimes even Sadowsky might be able to get great sounds, but maybe not the "standard" sound that producers have in their heads. So with regards to that, it's simply about giving the producers what they want and expect - and what very likely is fitting the song the best in that situation, simply because it works within that "frame of reference".

    But what I don't get is why it has to be "authentic vintage anything". I always thought that a "good Precision bass" is "a good Precision bass" (or "Jazz Bass" or whatever).

    Why shouldn't something like a Lakland Duck Dunn, or a Suhr Jazz Bass work - except for some VERY minor details (oval bridge, headstock or whatever), it looks and sounds the same - no strange PUs, no preamps, not a "bunch of switches". Just a "great Precision/Jazz/Whatever". To me, those instruments are copying the original Fender designs so closely that they are not merely "emulating" them or "copping their sounds", so why shouldn't they function just as well as their vintage counterparts? To me, there's a big difference between someone bringing their passive Suhr with single-coil PUs and someone "splitting the coils of their Duncan humbuckers and disabling the preamp on their Fodera to cop that Jazz Bass sound".
     
  17. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2005
    I hear what y'all are saying. However, you guys are trying to rationalize/challenge a bias that has existed really since people started recording the electric bass. It's in the DNA of producers, going back to the time when Phil Spector would ask for the upright guy and someone to come in and play "Fender Bass". And before that, even. The fact that one's instrument may be a "new and improved" version of an iconic design is going to be lost on many people.

    It just is what it is. The fact is: those tones are more recordable, reliable and classic than anything, period. So at least its a bias based on some degree of truth, not just unfounded prejudice.

    Thankfully, over the past 20 years, producers have broadened their taste quite a bit to include all sorts of instruments that have since become iconic from the 50's - 80's, so there's quite a bit more latitude.

    JMJ
     
  18. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2011
    Location:
    charles town, wv
    Disclosures:
    I'm a Fuzzrocious-aholic. It's been one week since I bought my last Fuzzrocious pedal.
    I'm sure you'll get lots of good advice and you should probably consider all of it, except don't try. As difficult as this might be and as much as the odds are against you, if you don't try you won't succeed.

    Good luck. Whether you succeed or not, you'll most likely be glad you tried.
     
  19. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2005
  20. TopBillinBass

    TopBillinBass

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2011
    Time to buckle down and practice and do more research! Thanks for all your help, guys! I know I'll regret it down the line if I don't give it a shot.
     
  21. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2000
    Location:
    Nashville,TN
    Disclosures:
    Endorsing Artist: Accuracy, Carvin, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    Don't overlook the large amount of sessions being done online now. Having a good DAW (and knowing your way around it) and a good audio interface as well as a good website/means to market your wares is another source of income. As brick and mortar studios in Nashville get reduced a lot of recording is being done in people's homes.
    As far as gear, a little of everything works. My clients can choose from a P Bass, Jazz Bass, 1976 Alembic Series I, 1973 Mustang with 20 year old flats, 1978 Ibanez fretless, upright, electric upright plus all my multi-string basses which do see a good bit of work on Jazz and Instrumental Rock/Guitar sessions. One other thing to consider is having a small studio rack you can schlep in and out of people's homes. I think LA has more Draconian zoning on this than Nashville, BTW.
    +1 to branding and marketing yourself. I see that a lot in younger players especially. Carol Kaye and Tommy Tedesco could (and would) play on anything but there are way more able players to choose from nowadays. If you're a Rocker (or playing on a Rock Session) look the part, if you're a Hipster look the part, etc. When I first came to Nashville all the Old School Guys just dressed pretty conservatively, but I'm sure seeing it now in players 20 years my junior.
     

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