Advice for aspiring Studio Players or anyone that wants to "Go Pro"

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by tommixx, Apr 3, 2005.

  1. EDIT - My other post was closed so I am going to incorporate what I said in that one here by editing the content from that post to this one and replace the original one I posted here....this is essentially a refinement of my original post.....

    I am going to discuss the gear required for a typical recording session or PRO gig which includes the basses I typically carry along with what I think are some OTHER essential items that you should carry ALL THE TIME....I hope that the moderators recognize this for what it is and decide that it does, indeed belong here....

    I am not suggesting a specific bass/basses and I am not saying that you have to have the gear that I specify to be a sucessful studio or pro player....However, I am trying to illustrate the types of gear that you should have with you based on over 20 years experience as BOTH a Session/Pro player and sucessful engineer.....I would welcome and appreciate the input and thoughts from other session/pro players and hope that this will help the younger (or older for that matter) people that want to be sucessful (ie. working and MAKING A LIVING playing music, you DO NOT have to be a ROCK STAR to make a VERY GOOD living as a professional in this business).....PLEASE participate in any way you see fit.....I would ESPECIALLY like to know what BASSES and OTHER GEAR you PROS out there are carrying to your sessions........

    I should tell you first of all I started playing at about age 5....first band at 13 and was gigging in a semi pro band with guys that were 11 years or more older than me at 14....been an engineer since about the time I was 15.....was on the road as a pro player and/or engineer for about 9 years and I got my Degree from Full Sail in November of 92 as a promise to my grandmother to get a degree.....if I had it to do all over I would have gone to BIT and gotten a double BIT/RIT program under my belt....anyway I think you get the point....

    I have, over the years, worked on Grammy winning projects and have had the priviledge of working with people like Queen, Prince, Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Travis Tritt, The B-52's, Tom Dowd, Tom Lord-Alge, Al Schmitt, and Joe Galdo to name just a very few.....I do not say this to impress only to give you an idea of my experience level....

    Please take all of this as my own experience over a 20 plus year career that is still ongoing.......I hope you will Enjoy the read.....

    First of all, I agree with the general consensus about practicing and listening to a LOT of stuff.....I am a bass player but also an engineer and in my engineering gigs I can't tell you how often someone comes through that wants to slap their way or play 16ths through a song that it just doesn't work in!!! BE TASTEFULL!!! In the studio, LESS IS MORE....sometimes silence is more important than a note so the vocal can come through.....

    It is not about how fast or how many notes you can get is about making it fit and making it vibe with the rest of the players ESPECIALLY THE DRUMMER in the context of the song....if you can't lock with that drummer, you ain't no playa.....and most likely you will not be able to KEEP a gig for long.....people may hire you for your chops if it is a solo audition but as soon as the meter starts and you add other people you will be "judged" on your ability to lock it up and keep it grooving....If you want to solo all the time and be a LEAD bass player you may as well go ahead and hire your own backing band NOW and save yourself the frustration and aggravation....

    As far as gear goes (what bass for this sound, what amp for this sound etc...) you HAVE to be able to make chicken salad from chicken Sh** to keep playing with people....the Great thing about Will Lee is that No matter what bass you give him and what you send him through he will STILL SOUND LIKE WILL!! Short story to prove a point.....He went to what he thought was a vocal studio date (he is actually a GREAT singer and does almost as much vocal work as bass work) one day years ago only to find out it was actually a bass session....a potential disaster because he did NOT bring a bass (NEVER happened again) and it was a big session and he was on a tight schedule to get to another session. He did not have time to go home and get one or have one carted over.....

    Anyway, the studio had an old 4 banger that needed strings and was not intonated very well and Will picked it up and said "Let's go for it, where are the charts?"....The reply was "No charts just do some of that Will Lee Sh**!" He did not crack a smile looked right at the producer and said roll the tape....he listened to the track one time making notes on the back of somebodys credit card statement envelope and said "OK, I'm ready when you are".....

    What followed is an amazing testament to what a bass player SHOULD be and why Will is Will...he locked into the groove with a line that he just made up on the fly without actually even playing with the tape or working out a part or anything....WHILE he was squeezing the strings to get the intonation right!!!!!!!!!!!! The song ended and everybody was so knocked out that nobody stopped the tape!!! Will had to tell them to stop the tape....He looked up at the producer and asked him if he wanted another take and the producer said "Are you Fuc**** NUTS? That was the most unbelievable thing I have ever seen, thats the take.....

    Will looked around the room and thanked everybody for their time and left ON SCHEDULE for his next gig......This happened almost 20 years ago and Will is still 1 of the top players in the game BECAUSE of stuff like this....the lesson here for me was be ready for anything - keep your skills sharper than your gear....get a bass that you are comfortable playing in ANY given situation and keep the things that you HAVE TO HAVE with you at all times and people will find you indispensible in what you this day people call me Mr. Prepared for this very reason.....

    I own GREAT gear and I am EXTREMELY blessed that I do...I know this...but I was not born rich, I was born with "the curse"...I HAVE TO DO WHAT I is not a choice, it is a necessity and if you feel the same way, FIND a way to get the things that you need to do the job....nothing more, nothing less, and don't except ANYTHING less than what you will be satisfied with because if you do you will never be happy with the result....

    Does that mean go out and buy a Sadowsky bass and the latest T-Funk, and an El Whappo? HEEEELLLLLL NO, not necessarily, those are the tools I think I need at this stage of my career because of the tour I am going out on...Don't do as I do, do what YOU a lot of basses, BUY the ONE THAT SUITS YOU, listen to EVERYTHING and be able to PLAY ANYTHING, LEARN TO READ if you can't, trust your own instincts, and follow your heart and your dreams......believe in yourself, practice, and perservere, those are the things that will take you where you want to go, not a specific bass and cetainly not any specific GEAR......

    I saw Tom Dowd watch a BIG NAME studio player bring in a WHOLE LOT of Road cases and bags on a big session. AFTER the guy finishes getting all the cases in Tom handed him a bottle of water and said "I know you must be tired after moving all this stuff let's take 5 and cool off". (this was in Miami at the time and HOT as he**)

    He sat there for a few minutes and did not say another word just watched the guy sip on his water, after 5 minutes he said "By the way, what are all these cases for, did you get kicked out of the house or something?" The guy looks up and said "Well no I am XXXXX (I can not name names to protect the guy) I'm the Bass player, I'm here for the session, you know?" Tom looks the guy straight in the face and said "Bass Player! With all this sh** I thought you were the producer!! What the he77 are you going to do with all this? Just pick one and let's get to work." Turned around and started to go into the control room.....

    The guy says "Well what do you want me to play?" Tom turned back around looked at the guy and said "I thought you said you were the bass player, so play a bass, let's get to work!" We go into the control room and through the glass we see him taking out stands and cables, Direct Boxes, different preamps, starts taking out basses and putting them on stands........After about 20 minutes, Tom gets up and goes back out into the studio and says "What are you doing? The guy says "Getting everything ready" To which Tom replies "For What? This is a Fu***** recording session not an audition, just pick out a bass and be a fuc**** bass player or we will never make lunch.".....Tommy always had a way with words.....

    The lesson here - never take a LOT of anything to a session unless you are asked to do it....a GOOD 4 and/or a GOOD Extended Range Bass, A good DI (Most studios will have them, BUT, REMEMBER BE PREPARED!!) EXTRA STRINGS AND CABLES, and be ready if asked to play with flats (happens more than you would think because they are not as noisy, even the best technique sometimes is not enough for a picky producer with "Sensitive" ears). Remember this too, good people at the top of their game know good gear from bad, they will feel a LOT more comfortable if you walk in with a professional attitude AND professional gear (though the right attitude will get you out of a LOT of hot water).....

    Personally, I ALWAYS carry a 4 with Flats to EVERY session I do, PLUS my NYC Vintage 4 (with flats or nickels), and was carrying a Warwick Thumb 5 NT but from now on will probably carry my NYC Vintage 4 strung with Sadowsky Flats and my new Sadowsky Ultra Vintage 5. I know a lot of players will mention fretless basses as well...this is my .02 and it goes to MY own personal ability but I have a way of rolling the PUP selector back toward the bridge and playing right on top of the bridge almost with my right a little EQ adjustment (typically on the bass pre) and use a sliding technique with my left hand that is so close to a fretless sound that I don't carry one. I have dumbfounded engineers and producers for years with this ability but it works for me, and it works for them!! (remember I've been playing almost 35 years now!!) some of you may have even heard this but did not know it......

    I am NOT suggesting at ALL that you should all run out and buy a couple of Sadowskys but alot of pros play them...they are indeed "Fenders on Steroids" and they just suit me better than anything else I have ever had (I'm up to 81 Basses now.....I intend to add a PJ 5 Sadowsky to the flock and I am DONE!!) However, I will say this, there is a certain comfort level that an engineer and/or producer will have when you walk in with quality (as that relates to you of course) demonstrates a commitment that you have made to your craft.....while you may sound great and be perfectly content with a Fender Squire, I promise you it will NOT inspire an engineer when you walk into a session because he KNOWS that he is going to really have to work to get a decent sound to tape out of it....the more work they have to put into that the more the client pays for that time....the faster you are able to get good bass sounds and start putting stuff down, the more valuable you will become and the better your reputation will be...(and the better the rate you can get as a result!!)

    Aside from my basses I carry a gig bag with extra strings (including flats), GOOD cables (with spares!!), My Demeter Tube DI, an Avalon U5 in a small rack, a six pack of 20 oz PLASTIC bottled Mountain Dews (warm already, thanks for reminding me Joker!!) my Sadowsky outboard preamp, (believe it or not they may have a bass there that they want you to play (especially Vintage stuff or fretless in some cases), in this case I ALWAYS turn them on to the Sadowsky outboard and it usually adds a lot to whatever it is they have, if they DON'T Dig it Don't push it. After all, they are paying you for this you know, be a pro!!

    That is 2 or 3 basses max, a SMALL rack on rollers, and 1 small Bag, I usually can carry ALL of this in 1 or 2 trips.....if the Studio has an intern and I know it I will call when I get there, let them know I'm on premise and ask if they could send out someone to help me load in.....I usually wind up carrying the Single case over my shoulder and my small gig bag (because it has the costliest stuff in it) and we make it in 1 trip EASY....If I go with the 2 bass scenario (I keep a pair in my Incase Dub Bag, I HIGHLY recommend them) I'll carry my small Bag and roll the rack with the bag sitting on top!!

    When I get inside, I AM THE BASS PLAYER!! NOT THE ENGINEER AND NOT THE PRODUCER!! I CAN NOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH....I am there to put down the line that is written.....PERIOD....IF THEY WANT YOU TO PLAY ANYTHING ELSE THEY WILL TELL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Alot of times they will give you a creative pass or 2 just to see what you can come up with, sometimes there is NOTHING written and it is up to you to come up with something IN A HURRY!!)

    I try to get there 30 minutes early (if possible) and let them know I'm there and available if they are ready for me to setup... you should ALWAYS get there AT LEAST 15 MINUTES EARLY!! After introductions all around I ask if they want me in the studio or the control room......once they tell me I set up IMMEDIATELY....TIME IS rule is I should be in tune and ready to put something to tape within 15 - 20 minutes max from the time I START setting up....If THEY want to talk LET them....(don't be the cog in the wheel of progress, be the grease that gets the session started) but be a PRO, work while you talk, and don't waste any time.....the better you get at this the more you will work for the same people and the more they will be willing to pay you!!!

    Thanks for Reading!! Now go practice!! YOU CAN DO THIS IF YOU REALY WANT TO!!!

    Like I said this is my own .02 and YMMV....


  2. Superdave


    Apr 20, 2003
    St. Louis, MO
    That's for the advice! A lot of people are going to appreciate having about a sticky?
  3. Thanks SuperD....I'll let the mods decide on that....I did edit the post stating that it is OK if they want....

    Glad you got something out of it....


    seang15 likes this.
  4. Blackbird

    Blackbird Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Good post. I think it would work better in Miscellaneous of General instruction, since the "Basses" Forum is about, well, basses. :)
  5. Mr. Jiggy Fly

    Mr. Jiggy Fly Supporting Member

    Thanks so much for that. I really appreciate this article. I am an aspiring session bassist, and this was perfect for giving me the right tools. Thanks.
  6. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    Great post. I hope I need to use this advice in the next couple of years. :)
  7. Blackbird....not many people read those forums including myself...but like I said, feel free to make it a sticky here or put it wherever you think it should go....the info is free to any who want it....I think the listing of appropriate Basses and gear to carry into a session would make this qualify for this forum which is mainly why I decided to put it here, however I defer to you and I trust your judgement....

    Thanks Jiggy!! Hope it helps......


    seang15 likes this.
  8. JonTheBassGuy


    Dec 12, 2004
    Damn man...thanks for that. All I can say. Made me think.

  9. JohnThomasson

    JohnThomasson Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2003
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, DR Strings, Source Audio,& Fishman
    The Will story is great. It goes to show that people get hired because they are musical, professional and are easy to work with. Chops mean nothing to 95% of commercial music and solid musical ideas mean everything.

    This is what I do when I'm called into a session:
    - I usually don't bring a DI because I know most of the studios here in town and I only bring something if it is questionable, but I do keep a small rig (1-12) and a head in my car just in case they want to add a that sound in addition to the direct one.
    - Get there a little early than called for and set up quickly. You don't want to be the one they wait on.
    - I also bring a couple of well intonnated basses; a nickel strung electric, one with flats and my upright. 90% of my sessions involve at least a song on upright. All of the basses are 4 strings. I have NEVER been asked to go low or high. If so I would just bust out my octave pedal.
    - Check my tuning with my strobe tuner on my basses.
    - Listen to what they have so far and scribble out a chart while thinking about what the song needs WITHOUT using my bass. Usually singing the lines in my head. You want to internalize the song as fast as possible and I make my best effort to get it in one take. Then do another pass and that way they have choices in editing. I will go to the control room (if not already set up there) if they want something different after the drums are cut so I can get verbal feedback from the producer.

    Good gear is important, but it doesn't have to be GREAT $$$$ gear. Just set up well and intonnated to your level of pressure on the frets. Just give them a good clean sound on a solid musical line.

    The most important thing I have ever learned is that you should always be a slave to the song! Never add something that is selfish in nature. In fact, take what you think you want to play and cut back about 15% (less busy). Leave space for the song to breathe and think about what the song writer is trying to say and make sure you are contributing to it. It could be by totally laying out on a section. Space is so musical.

    Just my thoughts. 15 years making a living playing. It is not because I can slap fast or rip out 32nd note lines. Locking in, listening, playing consistent, listening, being professional,listening and treating everyone with respect. Oh... and did I mention listening. Do that, listen to tons of music and learn to sing harmony and you will always work. :bassist:
  10. Amen MAS, Amen.....

    That is exactly what I was hoping to see here!! Anybody else?


  11. JohnThomasson

    JohnThomasson Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2003
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, DR Strings, Source Audio,& Fishman
    Glad to contribute. I usually hang out on the double bass side of the forum.

    I think it all boils down to 5 words:
    Make everyone else sound good.

    The concept also works with women and most everything else in life. :D
  12. jokerjkny


    Jan 19, 2002
    NY / NJ / PHL
    :bassist: :cool: :bassist:

    i've been on the receiving end of "what's taking so long?" and only recently learned, all you need are three basses (one jazz, one low B, one fretless), a nice DI box, and ALOT of your own water. ;)

    and, i really like the idea of a "flatwound" bass, and think i'll restring my 4 banger for just that. good stuff, T.

    but anyone wanna hazard a guess as to where this gets moved? i say "Recording Gear"...
    Gospel Bass Player likes this.
  13. AlembicPlayer

    AlembicPlayer Im not wearing shorts

    Aug 15, 2004
    Pacific Northwet, USA
    thanks..nice post!

    I'm hip to the flats bass and roundwound bass..that's why I have both too. I'm a player that serves the tune. In the studio, I play WAY less then live work. I find I play more whole notes on session tracks then in live work with the same tunes. May use a pick or fingers depending on what's needed. I carry a Jazz with flats, a P with rounds..and my Series I Alembic with flats. Between those 3 ..there's some tones to be had! :bassist:

    great stuff..thanks again!
    Gospel Bass Player likes this.
  14. andysvec

    andysvec Supporting Member

    Great read, really puts some things into perspective. I've been playing myself for over 20 years and can count on one hand the times I've worked in a studio, really wish I did it more.
  15. adrian garcia

    adrian garcia In Memoriam

    Apr 9, 2001
    las vegas. nevada
    Endorsing Artist: Nordy Basses, Schroeder Cabs, Gallien Krueger Amps
    Tommixx, thanks for sharing. who the heck is Joe Galdo ? ;)
    Do you remember Tony Battaglia? I have a Will Lee story that involves Tony, pretty funny stuff.
    Man, can't belive we never met down in Miami.
    For a while, reading your posts, i though YOU might be Tom Lord-Alge !
    seang15 likes this.
  16. keb


    Mar 30, 2004
    Great post! I've come to the same conclusions based on my own experience (though more limited ;) ), both in front of and behind the glass.
  17. GREAT THREAD!!! Thanks Tommixx!

    I learned that early on too... 7/8ths of the ears that hear the tracks we lay down couldn't even pick the bass out! They'll tell you somethings missing if it's weak, but not know what.

    Best thing to do it play what the song needs... boost and support the emotion and dynamics of the "Singer". If it's pop, rock or jingle.... that is ALL that matters. Every whole note, half note, etc needs to be played with the attitude and confidence of your "showcase" solo. There are no boring lines, just boring players.

    Now, I was barely a session player, but got paid for a few jingles & Singer/Songwriter gigs in NJ, Philly and NYC in my time... I'd go with one active bass (FYI: It was a 91 Carvin and I ALWAYS got "Wow, what bass is that, it tracks great!"), a AMP BH-260 (the little brother to the amp the Thunderfunk was cloned from) and my S12 Bagend. Every studio had WAY better mic pre amps and DI boxes then I did and a suprising number just took the line out of the bass head. I'd also bring fresh strings, extra cords and the typical "Gig survival kit" stuff.... it all lived in the backpack I kept the head in.
  18. Thanks Guys.....More great stuff here... are not the only 1!! I have had several people ask if I was but alas I am NOT TALALA.....I wish!! He is a really great guy though, talk about somebody who's on their game!!!!!.....As far as I know he's still camped out at South Beach for the most part....He ought to just buy the place!!! Tony's name sounds familiar but I'm not sure I can place it....the guy I'm thinking about is/was in New York, was Whitney Houston's Engineer and helped build her (SSL equipped!!) home studio.....I met him while he was a doing a consulting job for somebody that wanted to build a studio in the Grove.....same guy? :meh:

    Joker....LOL about the is pretty amazing how stingy some places are....I would agree that is probably something you want in your bag too.....Mountain Dew works good for me because you can still TOLERATE drinking it warm (to stingy for the ice sometimes)...I'm not sure where this belongs either but here it is......


  19. FenderHotRod


    Sep 1, 2004
    Oh man now this is a great thread.


    Wasn't real happy about using the flats thing tho. I've never used flats exept on a G**tar. I thought it had a kind of thud sound. After reading this and the popularity of them I might have to try some next time I change my strings.

    Thanks again Tommixx and yiou too masmasbasso
  20. Thanks,

    Sadowsky flats are my favorite and it seems they are becoming the favorites of a lot of other players based on what I see in the studios.....they actually have a surprisingly good slap tone......they are a bit brighter than the typical flat and the sound to me is a bit more dynamic than the usual thud you think of when you think flats.....



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