making a living as a bassist

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by xXMunchXx, Feb 28, 2005.

  1. xXMunchXx


    Jan 16, 2005

    As a budding talented bassist I am looking at what are the hard facts of making a living as a bassist.

    1. what are the fairly easy reachable goals for working as a bassist if I am stunning and creative as a bassist.
    (ie. Are there alot of excellent bassists... never finding their way out of their basements?)

    2. Is more work in certain types of bass styles etc which types?

    3. What types of work make for a reasonable ability to make a decent living playing bass? Studio? Internist? (forget the word for that... )

    4. Do most guys end up playing 2 bit gigs most of their lives?

    5. In other words... does talent/skill+creativity quite often go nowhere?

    Hopefully I am asking guys who have a fairly good/bad experiences...and how it happened for them. (Was luck/connections mostly involved?)

    I heard a lot about starving musicians from my dad... just need some input from guys who know what its like in the real world.

    Thanks :bassist:
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    I'll answer your last question first - yes, there are loads of excellent bassists who don't play outside their own houses.

    Reachable goals? Depends on how you define reachable. If you want to tread a path that's already carved out, then your first step will be playing cover tunes. could be top 40, jazz standards, blues, country, rockabilly - whatever, that's where the majority of working bassists make their money. The pay scale goes from appalling through to pretty good salary - very few people are getting rich doing this. But if you want to get rich, music is about as reliable as doing the lottery.

    If you're up for carving your own path, then it's possible to create your own career - write your own music, promote it, book gigs, get radio, play festivals, collaborate, release CDs etc. That's a bit more of a 'bespoke' career, and everyone's route into it is different. My leg up into a solo career came from having written for a bass magazine, teaching at a fairly respected college and doing a few notable sessions. But there are other ways to do it.

    see above

    Not sure how a musical intern would work. 'getting a career as a studio player' is pretty much a myth these days. There are a handful of really well known players who get called for sessions, and lots of less well known players who do sessions for friends or people they bump into in bars, or people they swap skills with... the world of original music has morphed partly into an old school bartering culture - swapping studio time for drum loops, or bass tracks for guitar tracks - you play on my album, I'll play on yours etc...

    So it's back to my first point - the nearest to guaranteed work as a musician is covers gigs, and from there you've just got to network network network and see what else comes along.

    depends how you define 2-bit - very few people end up playing arenas, lots of people reach the lofty world of 5 people in one van sharing a hotel room touring for the t-shirt money. I also know a far few people who manage to pay sizeable mortgages playing in high quality function bands.

    If the opposite of nowhere is huge commercial acclaim and wealth, yes. I'd say that skill+creativity never goes 'nowhere', as it's primary use is about defining who we are as creative people, but in career terms, there are a lot of very very creative people who can't pay the bills with music.

    I've seen both ends of it - still see both ends of it from time to time - and chance encounter definitely plays a very big part in it. Also just being a nice person counts for a lot. I know that I don't choose the people that I tour with based solely on their musical expertise. They have to be the kind of people that I'd be happy to drive round in a car with for two weeks. I don't care how talented you are, if you're a pain in the ass for the 22 hours a day that you're not on stage, I really don't want to be touring with you :)

    So, be nice, work hard, learn as many songs in as many styles as you possibly can, always carry a business card, practice your recording technique so if the break comes you don't mess it up (recording is a very different world to playing live), and write music for yourself - if it happens to sell millions, that's a bonus, but write it for you and you can't lose.

  3. xXMunchXx


    Jan 16, 2005
    Thank you very much i plan to do this, though i will have a back up job for bills and friends who will take me in ^_^
  4. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Thanks Steve for that post. May I also add in addition to all the great things you said is that: you can be immensely creative and be a wonderful musician, but...I think it's important to also have the mental toughness. I'm finding that out. Alot of the musician's lifestyle can be both mentally and physically exhausting.

    Well, I'm still dreaming of that day when I'm making my living doing what I love to do (just hope I'm not that old to do so hehe)! Sacrificing much, but I hope it's worth it at the end. :)
  5. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Stephanie, that's very true. It can be mentally very taxing, especially if you are trying to run a band. I was talking to a friend of mine last night, Gary Husband - he's an outstanding drummer/pianist (to be world class on either is amazing, to be world class on both is just greedy... ;) ) - and he's currently on tour in the UK (see ), and has been organising the dates, liasing with local promoters, sorting out logistics etc, and he's exhausted from it. The upside is the music, and the chance to play with such a remarkable bunch of musicians - his band really is one of the most amazing collections of musicians I've ever seen - but the downside is the mental toll that the extra-musical stuff takes on you.

    It is, it really is. Working solo has it's ups and downs - it's cheaper, and harder to fall out with the people in your band (I'm sure some people manage it though), but there's no-one to share the work load with. :)

  6. And, here in the real world, Gary's planned show at the Nottingham Arts Theatre on Sunday 26 February was cancelled, much to my horror. :eek: :eek:

    No information as to why this happened (illness, ticket sales. etc. etc.) but it must be particularly galling for people in Gary's position to be involved in so much work to actually set up these shows only to have to pull them at the last minute.

    Aaahh - the glamour of it all eh? ;) ;)
  7. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    It was ticket sales - not enough advance sales. So, please, anyone planning on going to Manchester, Gainsborough or Newcastle, BUY YOUR TICKETS IN ADVANCE!!

    Sad to see the gig cancelled, what a loss to Nottingham.

  8. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Are you going to Gainsborough show instead? From Nottingham, you can get to Gainsborough quicker than I can get into central london to see them at Ronnies (I used to live in Lincoln, I know these things! :) )

  9. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    There's been some excellent advice here, so I’ll just toss my two cents in to say I think it’s important to do some soul searching if you’re considering a career in music. As Steve mentioned there are many different paths to follow and the concept of “making it” is pretty much a myth as far as I‘m concerned. I’ve met folks who were at the top of the game in terms of commercial success, but seemed to be very unhappy, while I’ve met other folks who seemed deeply fulfilled playing “two-bit” gigs as Munch put it. I think it makes sense to ask yourself what makes you truly happy and search for ways to be able to do that. If you find something you really believe in, all the work or difficulty it takes to accomplish it will be more than worthwhile.