Do you play bass for a living?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Gabu, Nov 5, 2001.

  1. Gabu


    Jan 2, 2001
    Lake Elsinore, CA
    I am wondering if you could just give some general insight on what you did, what the results were, what you would do differently... Also please include any tidbits you want to add.

    The reason I ask this is that as I continue to practice and play little shows I am running into more and more musicians that do coverband work for a living. Many of them are doing pretty well and it gets me to thinking about doing that as well. (I should add that I am in the Navy Reserve... I don't know what complications that might throw at me. :p)

    I am still in the very begining stages, though I do feel that I have made a lot of progress since I first started playing again. The more I play the more I realise that this is much more than a hobby to me.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Blackbird

    Blackbird Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Well, I'm by no means a "Pro", but I feel I have taken some significant strides in the quality of my playing lately. My roommates, who are both musicians, have told me they've noticed improvements, but that's enough about me.

    Anyhoo, for better or for worse, a lot of times, landing a particular gig has less to do with your skill and more with who you know and who knows you. Networking skills are very important in this field. I think I read somewhere that Leland Sklar will (or at least would) call up studios to let producers know he was available for sessions and the like. Get your name out there, play with as many people as you can. There are two kinds of bands out there: the kind that's like a marriage, where even the thought of performing with other musicians is an act of treason; and the kind that's like, well, less like marriage, in the sense you can play with anyone you see fit, as long as you're there for the band when they need you. If you enjoy playing around more than being in the band, you're in the wrong band.

    In order to play with as many people as you can, you have to be versatile. Learn as many tunes as you can, not only the bass lines, but the melody too. It's ok to specialize, but the more you know, the more work you'll be able to accept. I've played Jazz, rock and Reggae-rocksteady gigs and met different types of people in each venue.Treat every gig and every jam as if it were an audition. Get some cards printed, get your name out.

    Don't badmouth other musicians. Telling people bad things about others makes them wonder what you're saying about them behind their back. Be wary of people who badmouth others. Be humble, be supportive. Be yourself.

    Learn to read music, learn your way around your instrument. The reason people like Neil Stubenhaus and Abe Laboriel can play anything is because they practice everything. Learn about dynamics and the different sounds your instrument can make. Listen to all kindsof music. Listen to comtemporary music (grin and bear it). Listen to music you don't like. Listen to what you like and try to notice things that you might have missed in the past. Transcribe, transcribe, transcribe. Practice with a metronome. I don't care what the pundits say. 200+ years of music history can't be wrong. Count, count, count.

    Learn to sing. Even if you're not planning to be a lead singer, backing vocals are important and people who play and sing have a lot more exposure.

    Show up on time. Smile. Wear a clean shirt. Bring tic-tacs, extra cords, picks, whatever you need. Be polite and stay off the liquor.

    Well, it's high time I followed my own advice...
  3. barroso


    Aug 16, 2000
    luckly i'm not a pro bass player. i'die without food!:D
  4. I'm certainly no 'pro' in fact I'd best describe myself as a mediocre player - I haven't followed much of the advice that Big Wheel gave, maybe it's time I did!

    The band I'm in have a 'sorta' management and record deal. We're currently recording an album of original material, and our 'manager' is going to promote us with the intention of licensing us to a bigger label. We'll see how it goes.

    Playing bass to me is a hobby, something I enjoy a lot. Playing live gives me a real buzz - better than the one that drink gives me, and the after effects of playing live aren't as bad! I am seriously hoping to turn this into a living - we'll see what happens. If not we'll just play for fun and some additional income you know for strings, petrol (gas/GAS) etc. - I guess what most bands do at some point.

    I have a colleague ( actually a friends husband)who is in a covers band and they seem to make about £5,000 (about $7,000US?) a year out of their playing, they all still have day jobs too, but the extra income helps big time!!

    I guess you gotta work out what you want to do - within the constraints of you life (family, kids etc.) My wife has told me that if it works out she's happy for me to tour the world etc. - just so long as the money keeps rollin' in for her and my son (considerate or what!!). Do what makes you happy!!
  5. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    I have to say, BW, that was a helluva post. Great advice.

    Hard to add anything to it, either. But I'll add this: Lots of times, the guy who gets the gig is a good "hang". People won't hire you if they don't want to be around you. Tell good jokes.

    And take lessons. The most work I ever got was when I took lessons from the #1 working guy in town, I got all his sub work.
  6. Woodchuck


    Apr 21, 2000
    Atlanta (Grant Park!)
    Gallien Krueger for the last 12 years!
    Pac, you nailed it too. I'm a very good bassist, but I'm not the best in Atlanta by a long shot. Hell, I'm probably not even in the top 50! However, I do get a crapload of work, mainly because of my sense of humor and my good ears. I'm not a pro yet, but I have made a lot of money playing, and to me, luck has a lot to do with success. Don't get me wrong, luck will do you no good if you can't play!;)
    Befriend as many pro bassists as possible. I've gotten a lot of work by subbing also.
  7. Yes.. without bass i cannot live.
  8. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    You can't how imagine true this. I played cover gigs for a few years. I am by no means a great player. I would call myself average. In fact, I'd say average among the average. But the thing is, in nine out of ten gigs, average is all you need.

    When I was playing a lot for money, I was always on time for rehearsals and shows, keep professional gear in working order, stayed in tune. Stayed sober (before the show anyway) Dressed as they asked. Paid attention during sound check and rehearsal (not a time for slap practice) Always knew the music and was polite and friendly to the the other players and crew.

    It didn't take long for my name to get around. I was probably offered at least a dozen full-time gigs. I played as much as I wanted. I was known as a "pro" even though there were dozens of players who had the chops to smoke me. Many of whom had no chance of getting a decent gig because of their attitude and reputation.

    There is a great deal more to being a pro than being talented and practiced. It is just like any other business.
  9. I'm with Chararms. Not a pro by any stretch of the imagination, but still get gigs based on personality and versatility of style.

    That said, I have made a living the last 6 months or so strictly playing. Been a busy summer since I got let go from my day job.

    I seriously doubt I would be able to make a career out of gigging. I'm the kind of guy who likes two gigs a week, not 4-8. It gets too tiring.

    Good advice in this thread. Humble is good, but don't let people walk over you either.

  10. Woodchuck


    Apr 21, 2000
    Atlanta (Grant Park!)
    Gallien Krueger for the last 12 years!
    One more thing: Don't be afraid to take or ask for what you've earned.
  11. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    You may not believe this, but I'm gigging 4 nights a week so the guy I study with asked ME if I had a lead on any gigs :eek:

    I pointed out that since he's also on the Berklee faculty he should have better contacts than I do :rolleyes:
  12. Cover band work can be substantial. Hell, I've been able to make a living at it for years. The three most common pitfalls I see with those who could make a living as a cover band are;

    1. They forget or don't emphasize the performance aspect. They dress like schlubs and they don't mingle with the audience. On breaks, they just disappear. Moreover, they think that their technical ability compensates for the lack of stage presence and audience involvement. (I'm not talking concert-level).

    The cover-paying, ticket-buying public rarely if ever, says, "I went to hear (insert band name). They say, "I went to see (band name)"

    They don't videotape themselves in performance and ask, "Would I pay to see me???"

    2. They do a lousy job of promoting themselves, IF, they do any promoting at all. They show up and they play. In our perfect, musician, world, I know we feel that should be all that is needed.

    But the only way to keep the gigs coming is to draw people. And to do that, you have to stay in peoples' minds. Too many bands throw up a website and call that "promotion" never realizing how little payoff there is (outside of communicating with out-of-town fans).

    Did you see the VH1 series, "Bands on the Run"??? Now, that's promotion!!!

    3. They don't have a musical identity. They play whatever is doing well on the charts and some old standards, which means they're playing a variety of styles. These are the bands you see in the club listings that are just names.

    Admittedly, having a "Heinz 57" set list will get you
    one-nighters because you are sort of "one size fits all." If you're in a band that does weddings, singles dances, and gigs like that, great!!! The downside is - you never build the fan base you need for a steady income.

    By narrowing your music to a couple of strict genres or just one, you have an identity you can reflect in your stage appearance, your band name, and how you communicate with your audiences. Here in the Midwest, there are bands that milk the country/western and the rockabilly genres and they are booked solid. Unfortunately, it takes patience, energy, and determination to build a fan base. The payoff is that at some point, the work will become steady.
  13. BWB


    Aug 30, 2000
    Knoxville TN
    I made my living off of playing bass for five years,
    from 1989 to 1994.

    Insight on what I did: I starved. I worked like a
    dog. I lived in drafty run-down apartments.
    My band put out an album. Record companies
    sniffed around. I drove a Dodge van 200,000
    miles in 3 years on tour. I came home every
    month with $150 in my pocket and $350 in rent
    to pay.

    Then: (blaring of trumpets) I decided I wanted to
    eat and pay rent. I stopped touring, got a 'real'
    day job, and started playing in cover bands.
    Been having a lot of fun doing it for 7 years now.
    Make far more money playing bass now than I
    did then. Make $400 to $1000 a month over what
    I get from my day job. Bought a house.
    Life is good.

    Doing it for a living is a tough way to go, no matter
    what genre of music you end up in. Consider
    having a day job and playing cover band gigs
    two to four nights a week. You'll be busy, you'll
    have fun, your rent will be paid.

  14. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    The only income ive had in 2 years has been from playing my bass.

    There are other ways to make the greenback on a bass besides cover bands. Ive made most of mine doing session work for local yocals here who are going into the studio and need a bassist. Or from bands that need a sub for a gig, The church i play for lately is the main sourse of my income. I dont like to say Im a professional because it sounds arrogent especially since im not a a major label and could use a day job. But in a way I am, because its what pays my bills. I dont think im that great a bassist either, but as stated above its who ya know, sometimes where you are too. Got some sub work one time just because i was in the right place at the right time.
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

  16. VellaBass


    Aug 29, 2003
    London, UK
    Excellent advice here. Just another thought, which is to consider carefully whether you WANT to play basss for a living. It's not as stupid a question as it may sound. You would lose a great deal of control over what and how you play, and your passion for your style of music will come a distinct second to having to do whatever others want in order to pay the rent. You could quite possibly lose more musically than you gain. Just my 2p.
  17. ZonPlyr


    Apr 29, 2003
    Pasadena, CA
    Some fantastic info here. I don't make my living playing bass anymore. I had to get a day job. Didn't have anything to do with being able to play just some bad personal choices (wow, long story there). I'm doing the cover band thing and playing with 3 other bands here in town. Everyone above has given great advice. One thing I would reiterate is how important it is to network. I have landed some fantastic gigs here in town just by being in the right spot at the right time. That's also how I got my national touring gigs. I happened to be playing one night when one of the acts had gotten fed up with their bass player. They offered me the job on the spot and I was the one getting on the bus after the gig. This was clearly my "lucky break" but it never would have happened if I hadn't been out there playing at the time.
    The comment about being able to "hang" with the other cats is important also. I recently joined a band whose previous bass player had way better chops than me but he couldn't get along with the other guys in the band so they parted company with him. As it turns out they just wanted someone that they enjoyed being with.
    As for the Naval reserve, I'm an officer in the Reserves now and I haven't had any problems making gigs. There are times it takes some creative scheduling and I do have a few subs lined up that I can call on short notice but no problems so far. The big thing is just to get out a play with as many people as you possibly can. You never know when someone may ask you to play something completely off the wall, if you have played with enough different people and types of music you won't have any problem pulling it off with confidence.

    just my $.02