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another question regarding interest in "going pro"

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by TooFunkToDrunk, Jan 17, 2002.

  1. ...actually it's two questions. First of all, how many gigs/recording sessions does one need to play in order to support oneself? Second, how much would I charge? My music experience consists of only one pro recording session and about five or so bands that never got past the first gig (if there). This is excluding school-related music programs/ensembles cause that's a different environment (you've got a teacher there!) I've been playing for almost 5 years now and got somewhat of a good groove....(sometimes it may take me a couple run-throughs of a tune to get it) as always, any help is appreciated. Oh yeah, once again keep in mind i'm canadian so money's worth a bit less here than in the states....
  2. I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, dude, but you're thinking this through in the wrong sequence. Most bassists that are full pro, got there as a natural progression. It probably went like this.
    Started, like yourself, in bands that went nowhere. Had a burning desire to improve, and spent anywhere from 2-5 hours a day practicing (Sting spent 7!) and worked on up into better bands. As well as playing in bands, they freelanced on the side, playing any crap thing that came along. Attended every venue playing original music, and every jam session going, in all styles, and networked like crazy. Slowly but surely the freelancing calls came more often than the band calls, and some of these calls necessitated taking time off from the day job. Eventually the boss said, "it's your music or your job", so they figured they were almost making enough from playing to tell the boss to shove it. Besides, not having to go to work in the day made more time for practice and networking. At this point they nearly starved to death, I mean, new strings or food? Gradually things improved, and they started looking less malnourished!
    Is this true? Well, it was for me!
    Some advice. Dont do it because "i wanna be a session guy", do it because you love playing, otherwise it'll never happen.
    Dont give up your day job until you absolutely cant spare the time for a day job anymore, and then get a part-time job until you absolutely cant spare the time for that anymore.
    Learn to read music well. Very well.
    Learn to play and understand jazz. It will give you all the musical knowledge you will ever need.
    Realise this simple statistic: you have got more chance of being killed in a road accident than you have of making a successful career as a session bassist or solo bassist. By successful, I mean the likes of Nathan East etc. That is not to say you wont get a lot of work on minor projects, you likely will. It's the same in the band scene. How many young rock bands can you think of that have hit the big time in the US? 15? 25?, 35? How many young rock bands are there in the US? Maybe 10,000? Maybe more.
    I say this, not to be a wet blanket, but to point out that if you do it because you want to be a star, it will likely never happen, but if you do it because it's your destiny, your sole purpose in life, nothing else matters, playing music is what you want to do to the exclusion of everything else, then you just may have a glimmer of a chance.
    Good luck.
  3. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    Well where I'm from the best way to make a living as a pro is to get into a professional covers band, you work 5 to 6 days a week and you get paid a really good salary (tax free..but keep it to yourself ;) , as a lead on from that you'll end up getting LOTS of session work (then again I'm lucky 'cos Ireland is a small country and if your on the circuit you get to know everybody in the scene so you invariably end up working with the same people over and over again and if they get a session which needs a bassist they'll recommend you and vice versa).

    Unfortunately as in most things its not WHAT you know its WHO you know so it dosent matter if youve monster chops, very rarely will you be hired to do a session based on how good you are as a bassist some of the busiest session guys I know are decidedly average musicians to say the least but they can come in and do whats required of them..(very rarely will you have to slap and tap and most times if you do youll be told to "play it straight") and they got the gigs from knowing the "right" people.

    Its all about networking. Be careful though its really a young mans game it takes a lot of stamina to travel long distances to a gig, set up, play for 3 to 4 hours, pack up, travel , set up, play another 3 or 4 hours, pack up etc etc for 5 to 6 nights a week, on top of that having to do sessions on your "off" time as well..(I know I did it for 7 years and burnt myself out).
  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts

    The math is easy. Piick a figure that represents a "good" income in your eyes. Let's just toss out $30,000 a year.

    Assume you will work 50 weeks per year, so you must bring in $600 a week.

    IF you could get four gigs EVERY week, to make $600 you'd need to pull in $150 a gig. Oh yeah, you'll have expenses (transportation, gear repairs and maintenance, stage clothes, etc.) that means to clear $150 you'llt need to make closer to $200 a gig. You won't have any health insurance, so toss in an additional 20% of your income for that, now you're up to $240 a gig.

    Now think what you need to do to make $240 a gig. OK, maybe you can only pull in $100 a gig, that means you'll be taking home only about $12,000 a year which is poverty level in some parts of the US :rolleyes:

    Why I'm only semi-professional: I gig four nights a week in the Boston area and only make about 10% of what I make at my day job :eek:
  5. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    The lines between pro and semi pro are fine.

    I would classify myself as semi-semi-pro as I get paid for a small percentage of what I do. This is not a complaint as I enjoy the freedom that goes with the territory. More later.

    I know a pro soundman who drives a taxi. So is he a semi-pro taxi driver?

    A good mate of mine is technically a pro musician but fills in as a roadie for his agents production company. So which bit is the pro?

    The point and there is one is dont get hung up on the pro thing. Pro means getting paid. It is not a mark of quality like the old British Standard Kite.

    If you can get into a position where you can supplement your playing income with other work do so. If you can get a good job that enables you to fund your playing with time as well as money then do so.

    RE session work etc-stunning technique and unusual note choices will come second to playing simply, learning quickly and nailing the song in one take. This has been mentioned before. As an amateur I get to play what I want. Anything restricting that gets a "no thanks I'm a busy boy"
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I think that Brian is right - I talked to one UK Jazz pro who is highly respected by the European Avant Garde as well as Jazz musicians. But he was saying that basically he could only earn about £2,000 - £3,000 a year out of music; so he does a lot of teaching as well!!

    Other pros I have met also say that your guaranteed income as a musician is so low that you can't geta mortgage or loans for anything! Even people who are gigging every night of the week.
  7. I can live pretty happily on $12,000 tax-free / yr. That's approximately my plan, in fact. You just have to focus on what's important to you.

    I've gone ahead and quit the day job. I'm not particularly crunched for money, so I haven't totally been pursuing it, but I see quite clearly how I could earn $10 or $20k here as a musician.

    If I live off that, and invest the money I have now, some day I'll wake up rich. But I'll probably become a rockstar before that:D :D
  8. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    You want to quantify everything. Perhaps you ought to look into a career in accounting or inventory control???? ;)

    Some people can be barely be considered as bassists when they get into the game. (e.g., Sid Vicious, Adam Clayton, Fieldy, et al), but they were in the right place at the right time.

    But, in the "real world" , 5 years is nothing even if you're a prodigy like Jaco. Playing out, getting a rep for dependability and a good work ethic, reliable gear, and good contacts will get you much further, IME.
  9. geoffzilla


    Oct 30, 2001
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Aguilar Amplification
    Rickbass's list is a good one. I think without dependability and a good work ethic, chops won't do you any good at all. I've seen it happen to great players who don't understand why they can't get work. Being an enjoyable person to interact with gets you just as far in the music business as in any other. After all that, let me make it clear that I'm typing this from my desk at work;)
  10. ZuluFunk

    ZuluFunk Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2001
    It's as easy as fishin' just to be a musician
    and you can make sounds hard or mellow.
    Get a second-hand guitar (bass), chances are you'll go far...


    They forgot to mention that that was the hardest part of taking care of business.

    As was said before, what you're like as a person has as much - if not more - to do with your chances of succeeding as skill.

    The only other thing I'd be concerned with is taking a thing that I love to do and making it the thing that I HAVE to do.
  11. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Whoops! Great point I forgot zilla!!! I've learned to be such a diplomat, I neglected that.

    Chemistry is so important for longetivity. You can see a lot of pissed-off "our drummer/our guitarist does this/doesn't do this" threads on Talkbass.You don't have to be best buds, but liking each other instead of tolerating each other is really important for the long haul.

    There are many of very good, musicians out there who are tainted with the rep - "Great musican but a bitch to work with" or they have a substance abuse problem.
  12. c-ba55: America's finest city? Are you in San Francisco?

    I agree it's who you know just as much as what you know. I've gotten my best gigs from referrals from another bassist.

    I am going through this right now, and I'm just trying to make sure that I:
    1) have a place to live - extremely tough getting a mortgage or even a good credit report for a rental
    2) have a big stash of cash in the bank - at least 2 years worth of expenses
    3) get out there an meet musicians! Jam sessions, etc. Make sure you carry your demo with you.
  13. San Diego is America's finest city. That's the actual official slogan.

    SMASH, I'm living in reality now. I know myself fairly well. I'm not saying I will want to live indefinitely like this. But I am currently very, very happy. I would not recommend it to hardly anyone, but for me it's perfect.

    If you want to focus, that implies letting most things fall to the wayside. That's why they call it "focus."
  14. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Anyone here manage gigging bass work and a 9-5 job? I'd like to do more than twiddle in the living room, but the dayjob pays too well, demands lots of hours, and I suck too much to commit to music fulltime.
  15. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Here's some hard, cold facts about Nashville, Music City USA. When I first came here several years ago, I hired a pro bass player through a newspaper ad. He my drove to my house and gave me private, one-on-one lessons for a misery $25 an hour!

    He did the in house lessons to supplement his income as a bass player to one of the second tier country and Western singers for whom he toured. He also played in an excellent blues rock band with an outstanding guitarist/singer/songwriter who has written some of the biggest hits of another guitarist.

    He also played sessions, but they were demo sessions. In Nashvile you don't play THE sessions of the biggest names until you have established yourself by dint of years of hard work and slow reputation building. The A List of first call session players is almost sealed tight.

    My teacher worked around the clock. And he wasn't rich by any stretch...maybe comfortable. He was in his early forties and a heck of a gifted bassist., but he hadn't hit the big time session scene or playing for major pros yet like Brooks or Gill or Brooks and Dunn or Shania.

    A pro drummer lives next door to me. He does tour with some second tier performers, but he hasn't been able to break into sesssions either. He does, however, earn enough with all his touring and a side band or two to live in bare bones comfort. He is a gifted drummer and determined in his late twenties. If he keeps trying, he may eventually work his way up to the "big time." I'm thinking maybe ten more years of sacrifice and dedication.

    He has told me that networking, contacts and establishing a reputation as having talent, versatility and dependability are essential. One also has to be able to hang on financially for the long haul.

    I would say if you want to be a full time pro musician, you will need to live somewhere such as Nashville, Las Vegas, Orlando where there are lots of jobs for bass players and you may have to play lots of music you don't even like just to get the experience and get your face in front of folks. You may also need to find flexible jobs that permit you to work more or less your own hours, so you can put your gigs first, or be absent weeks at a time. Maybe giving bass classes would be one of those jobs.
  16. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    From experience I can safely say you can try holding down the 9 to 5 and the gigs but eventually youll have to come to the decision to either do one or the other, (well until they figure out a way to clone you) its just too much of a strain on the body and isnt it better to do one thing well and enjoy it than to spread yourself thin and as a result both aspects suffer?

    One thing you can do though is maybe gig at weekends or once a week, its a handy suplement to your 9 to 5 income and it keeps your hand in musically, I paid my way through college gigging but its either a feast or a famine you can maybe get 5 GOOD gigs a year (I mean really really well paying, maybe an orchestra/show date, a residency or a big recording project like a soundtrack) but after that its back to the pub/club gigs so theres no way you can confidently say "I'm gonna make x amount of money this year.

    A friend of mine is a full time professional 1st call session bassist whos just back from a very successful run holding the bass chair in a HUGE broadway show, whats he doing now? playing pub/club/wedding dates to pay the bills.....

    I case my rest.
  17. Well, what I did was go to a top University, get a great job, and save hard for 5 years. Now I'm retired and on to my second career as a bassist. I can take only the gigs I want to take for the next few years at least.

    That's also not necessarily a recommended route. But then again, I'm a much better bassist than I was coming out of college. I could not really have supported myself back then. So I don't know if I could have done it differently except maybe by majoring in music.
  18. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I am in the same predicament. I finished university nearly a year ago, then moved and got a day job. Since then, I have been barely doing any music, except a few open stages and jamming with old buddies.

    The sad fact about the music industry is that it's business, business, business. The more gigs you get and the more you deal with record labels, producers, radio people, etc, the more this sinks in. It's 100% true that it isn't about what you know, it's who you know.

    I worked in the music department of a radio station for three years and I can tell you that if you send them a demo, if it doesn't catch their interest within a minute at the most, it goes in the trash. Make sure that your demo goes to someone there who is at least interested in that kind of music.

    As far as record labels go, make your demo three songs long, no more and no less, and put your best stuff on there (duh). If they reject you, try to talk to them and find out why, for future reference.

    I don't know about the rest of you, but a lot of the time when I see bassists in music videos and such, their technique is often bad enough to almost make me want to cry.

    The size of the city matters a lot, too. If you're really interested in turning pro, you might have to move to a big city - like NY or LA sized. Obviously, more gigs are available in bigger cities, but the competition for them will be tougher.

    Had you considered teaching bass as an option? You can make a decent living with that, especially if you teach during the day and gig at night.
  19. maxvalentino

    maxvalentino Endorsing Artist Godin Guitars/ Thomastik-Infeld

    OK...this is an interesting thread.
    I am a pro player. I earn my living as a musician, it is the only "job" I have held for the past 10 years or so.
    I make a comfortable living from sessions and studio work and my own solo career (yes, you can make $ as a solo bassist) and teaching. It averages out to about $2500 a month...sometimes more, sometimes less. As a session player I have worked with a number of big name artist, and now get regular calls from LA studios.
    It has not been easy to work up to this level. It takes a lot of diligence and commitment and sacrifice. You not only have to be of high calibre musically, you must also have your professional "chops" together (i.e. showing up on time, in fact early, to gigs/sessions, knowing the material, be able to learn quickly, adapt to situations, accept direction,being able to communicate clearly, and bring positive ideas and attitudes to the table). I have had to learn to be flexible with varied musical styles; being able to play in any given genre or style.
    Reading, though not an absolute neccessity, really helps. Being a good sight reader is even better...I often have to read charts on the first pass; there is no second take! A thorough, and I mean thorough as in intensive, knowledge of theory and harmony is essential.
    If you want to be a rock star...good luck. If you are banking on your band getting signed, and all the trappings that carries, then I wish you similar luck. Make no mistake all those things are luck....not based on your talent. Beware of the traps of the recording industry which is set up which is quite akin to slavery. There are very few bands signed that make any money. The record labels all make money on them, but most bands (incl. most of the "biggies") are in extraorinary debt to their label and/or management.
    I became a session player as a career choice. It is my profession. I am a solo bassist as an artist. I have spent years developing both of these paths. I have my own studio in my own house, my own production company and label. As a session player, the labels/managers/producers pay me for my unique skills and talents. I show up, early, ready to contribute 100%. I take directions from the producers/engineers/ MDs/artists, and yet am always ready to toss out ideas and constructive criticism WHEN IT IS CALLED FOR. The bottom line is I serve the music, not my ego. And, at the end of the day I go home with a considerable chunk of their money. How much, you probably ask? The lowest is about $300 for a nights work, the most was $45,000 for a 45sec. commercial piece.
    Yes there is some freedom and autonomy in being a "session guy", but it takes a lot of hard work to get there. You must be entrepenerial. You must network. You must take chances. You must be reliable. You must be a good player (not neccessarily a flashy player tho)...and even then it is not the most stable of careers. To augment things I teach....I have recieved both teaching and "Artist In Residence" Grants from arts commisions and councils. I compose music for films. When I do have gigs...I make them.
    To do this you must have a deep, deep passion for music which goes far beyond the desire to be a rock star, to be rich, or to be famous. You have to want to be a musician, simple and true, with all of the anonimity which that entails....and there is the greater glory.
  20. That's very cool, Max. Can you tell us about how you started, and what it was like?

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