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Any advice for a newbie to Big Bands ?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Florian C, Dec 28, 2017.

  1. Florian C

    Florian C

    Dec 28, 2017
    Paris - France
    Hi Guys, first post here ! (pretty long time lurker, and I'm French so feel free to correct my english)

    Long story short, i'm about to enter a Groove/Funk/Pop Big Band (12 musicians 3 singers). I just have to prove my level and my skills as a bassist and I'm in.

    So I was wondering, how to prepare my audition ? What should I expect from that kind of environnement ? Any mistake I could avoid ? ...

    For the record, I'm 25 yo, playing bass for almost 10 years and with pros since 2 years. I play in a Rock/Pop/Funk(y) cover band (A drummer, a guitarist, a singer and a bassist). I'm at ease on my instrument, but i'm a full self educated player so you can guess my defaults.
    I also play and sub for pro cover bands for 2years now.

    Oh and, while we're at it, I play a Fender Active JB (2007 Mex) and a Fender Pro PB (2017 US) on a Ashdown EB 15-180 EVO II COMBO. I like it for the cost, but anyway my sound is pretty ok to my ears, should I expect to invest a bit, any idea ?

    I'm all yours !
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2017
    FenderB likes this.
  2. crguti


    Feb 14, 2011
    Learn the songs.
  3. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    I would assume that you will need to be a good sight reader, or if they give you the material in advance then learn it and nail it on the audition.

    Also feel free to ask about what they will be doing at the audition so you can prepare. Do you know anything at all about the audition already? I would not feel comfortable auditioning for a pro band not knowing what the agenda for the audition will be.
  4. Florian C

    Florian C

    Dec 28, 2017
    Paris - France
    Aaaaannnd that's my weakness.

    Or i mean, i can read and follow a tab, but that's all.

    I've been given some songs they do, and for now I've been judged and my mindset and my project. They told me that personnaly wise I'm the perfect fit (and above all I'm the opposite of the previous bassist who got kicked out for being a pain in the a**).

    I already know half of the songs they told me because I have to play these for my cover band or the subs i do.

    So the deal is to make some videos this week end to make sure I could fit in. (If I'm on the same page) But they said that's not a big deal because I've already played these songs for years.

    Depending on these videos, I go to an audition with guitarist and maybe main singer et drummer. But I could even go to the first general rehearsal January 26st as a real first audition.

    I'll get to know a bit more this weekend, but I'm thinking ahead since they already told me that I would be a perfect fit on the paper (based on my "personnality" test, and my facebook page)
  5. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    If these are pros, they should expect you to ask the questions you need to be as prepared as possible. They should give you a song list or charts or if they expect you to just come in and play appropriate basslines on the fly, that's OK. They need to say that.
    design, DrummerwStrings and Florian C like this.
  6. Florian C

    Florian C

    Dec 28, 2017
    Paris - France
    Ok I see your point, I guess I'll have the infos when they will tell me their opinion on my vids. If they don't, then I can ask for more and it won't be awkward.
  7. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    If you know half the songs already and you know they think you're a good personality fit you're more than half way there already, so I'm going to skip ahead to the first time you get together with them to play.

    Be prepared to drastically alter your tone and playing style to fit with a 12 piece band from what you've been using in your 4 piece.
    Every time I've been in a band that adds even one or two players, much less 8, I've had to rethink how I play in order to leave room for the other instruments.
    I would suggest playing a song or two and ask how you are fitting into the mix, both tone and amount of playing, if they don't volunteer any feedback.
    Then be able to make any adjustments suggested on the next song. That will show you're thinking about how to make the whole band sound good, not just yourself.
  8. bwildt


    Mar 21, 2017
    Wichita, Kansas
    Generally, the more instruments in a band, the less any one instrument plays. That doesn't mean it can't be fun. Here are my tips:

    Unless a specific bass riff is required, keep your bass part fairly simple.

    Make sure you hit the important notes that really drive a song. Don't try to be too busy.

    Make sure that you and the drummer are meshing together.

    Everyone needs to work out who is going to take a fill, so you don't all try one at the same time.

    This is the fun part! Pay attention to what the horns are doing and if you can, occasionally become part of the horn section for hits and fills. Think of yourself as a baritone sax, holding up the bottom of the horns. In my opinion, nothing else brings out an great ensemble sound like this does.
    SeSt, equill, design and 2 others like this.
  9. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    This is of course a generalized thought, but: Big picture thing: get proficient at reading. Stage bands tend to use charts and rely less on lots of long term prep to learn songs and depend more on expecting musicians to be able to read well. Don't be surprised if they toss you a site reading curveball at the audition (if I was a big band BL, I would do this).

    Even though I can read music in general, I know it's not one of my strengths; give me a chord progression and I can get through most anything, give me something musically notated and some time (like a week!) and I'll get it. But unless it's very simple, I wouldn't be able to make it through site reading musical notation on the spot or even in a few minutes.

    As those above me have stated, unless you have specific parts written out, you'll want to play much simpler lines than you do with a three, four or five piece situation. You need to really focus on a good groove with impeccable timing and a simple line. In smaller groups, it's often useful for the bass to help fill space, but with a 15 piece band, you need to stay out of the way most of the time. Your role is very strictly rhythm section with the possibility of a couple of solos thrown your way once in a while.

    I used to play horns in stage band in school. I knew we had a bass player, but I'll be damned if I ever noticed him in the mix. That's the level of impact you'll have on the band.

    Bonne Chance!
    Cowboy in Latvia likes this.
  10. Florian C

    Florian C

    Dec 28, 2017
    Paris - France
    Yes I'm pretty confident on this side.

    Indeed, I've always had the luxury to have enough room to do whatever pleases me. Thanks God for that, I think it helped me to improve as a bass player.

    So today my playing can be affected by what I call "spasmes", I can do fills when I feel the need to without bothering myself too much. That could be a default to keep my eyes on playing along with a Big Band.

    So I have to prepare myself to be more steady on my bass lines and let some of the harmonizing work to the horns. (God I never played with horns for example, I'm really looking forward to it)

    Pretty good idea, I'm more than enclined to do that anyway, I'm more scared to be "overconvinient" and by that putting myself in a kind of weak position...

    Drummer = best ally, i get it.

    For the other point, we have a "conductor" (Chef d'Orchestre in french), so someone will tell who does what before there's a fight over a fill.

    On the side note, they really attend to put on a show so, in the end, I'll know exactly what to do when I'll be on stage !
    lz4005 likes this.
  11. Florian C

    Florian C

    Dec 28, 2017
    Paris - France
    Merci !

    I don't read at all (other than a tab), as I am self educated and didn't need to.

    I am (very) confortable on pop/rock/ and cover projects in general, so i wanted to step up and improve myself. The only issues I'm facing as a sub or in a cover band is my memory, so I don't want to get bored and i'm working on my touch, my harmony skills and scene presence, but I seem to need to go out of my comfort zone.

    I don't know how to play jazz and in an "academic" way. Meaning I can't read music and I have never played jazz (it's been a year that I discovered this kind of music other than Disney's and Ray Charles).

    And knowing that, the Big Band called me this week as they needed someone like me, so destiny it is ! I know how to play Funk and Groove songs like they seem to play, but playing in this environnement is a whole new thing to me, so this is a golden opportunity at the moment !
  12. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    You mention you have never played jazz, but is it going to be a jazz heavy band? You didn't mention that. If so, i reckon knowing how to read a chart will be a must have skill unless they tell you otherwise. You will also have to know how to walk the bass when given just chord changes, or read a written line on the staff. If they are playing purely covers per the recording, then i think you can get by without reading. But keep in mind with three singers, they may change the original keys to a new one to suit a singers voice. So if you learn from the recording, you best know how to play it in multiple keys too.

    When folks say "big band" i automatically think swinging jazz. But you mention it as a "groove/funk/pop" band. What music will the band be playing specifically? More like a cover band with horns or what?

    So here are essentially the skills to have to join a big band in my locale:

    -Sight read music on the staff(or home learn if given time to do homework)
    -Sight read chord changes(or home learn if given time to do homework)
    -Know how to play a swing, ballad, latin, rock, funk, or soul rhythm over given changes
    -know how to solo over changes
    -Potentially play upright bass alongside electric bass, depending on the band
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2017
    DrummerwStrings and Nashrakh like this.
  13. Florian C

    Florian C

    Dec 28, 2017
    Paris - France
    Yes I'm sorry if that's not hundred percent clear. The jazz thing was on a side note ;)

    It is a Big Band for Groove and Funk music style. And for what I know and saw, they play things like :

    Bruno Mars (Treasure, Uptown Funk…)
    Jamiroquai (Canned Heat, Bad Girls, Litlle L…)
    Chic (Good Times, Le Freak, We Are Family…)
    Kool & the Gang (Ladies night, Celeration…)
    Jocelyn Brown (Somebody else’s guy)
    Jackson 5 (Blame it On The Boogie)
    Incognito (Always There)
    Earth Wind & Fire…

    So I dare say classics but with a full band.

    Hum, I think I'll have to lear how to read a chart... Until I've rehearsed enough to play with my memory ! ;)
  14. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Good tips. i will say that i have had a lot of horn players say they listen to the bass first and foremost when playing for the pulse and harmony. Not sure how common that is.
    DrummerwStrings likes this.
  15. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Ok great, you may be able to get by without reading but i would definitely work on that skill. They still might use charts. If they are sticking to the recorded arrangement just be ready for potential key changes to suit the singers.
  16. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    With this clarification, there's less chance that reading "music" will be required, but I would find out. Reading is not rocket science, but it's not something you get comfortable with over night.
  17. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I play in a 19 piece big band. I'd say one adjustment for a bassist is going to be your role in managing time. Horn sections tend to drag when playing uptempo charts. The rhythm section has to be operating as a solid unit in order to keep the whole band on tempo.
    design, DrummerwStrings and Nashrakh like this.
  18. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass

    May 10, 2006
    Say "big band"and I think Basie, Ellington, etc. It was the bass in that music that always grabbed me -- steady four-beats-per-measure pulse. Almost always an upright bass. Quick attack, fast note decay.

    With electric bass, the sustain will kill the big band vibe. I recommend approaching this in two ways.

    First, you can mute the strings by putting foam or cloth under the strings near the bridge, or lay some duct tape over the strings in the same spot like Carol Kaye does. This kills sustain and produces quick dead notes. It's the deadness that bothers me.

    You can up this game with a pedal I recently discovered, the Malekko Sneak Attack. The pedal lets you adjust the note attack and decay speeds, plus the attack and decay slopes. I'm using Sneak Attack with my Taylor AB-1 acoustic bass guitar stung with black nylon tapewounds. Just finished recording an alt country song and the bass sounded like an upright with gut strings. Highly recommended.
    J_Bass likes this.
  19. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Good stuff, but if you read through the whole thread you'll see that it's not classic "big band" but a large group playing funk and "groove" tunes. He mislead most of us well meaning TBers....
  20. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Indeed, I play upright in a classic "big band," though we cover a wider range of decades -- almost a century of music. But when the band pulls more than a couple of funk or contemporary style tunes in a gig, I end up wishing that I had brought my electric. On the other hand, the monster bassists in my locale can handle that material on upright no problem. So I'm hesitant to blame my bass. ;)
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