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Selling Oneself as a Sub

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by kweej, Apr 1, 2013.

  1. kweej


    Nov 30, 2012
    In the reading I have done on this site, it sounds like a band hiring a sub in a pinch is a pretty normal thing. It sounds like a good way to experience different bars and crowds, play with different people, and make a few extra dollars. How do you get yourself on a list of people to call? Does anyone advertise themselves as "available" for that sort of work? Just tell all of your musician friends that you'll help out if they need it? I think I've got the chops and experience to do it, and I'm always up for a challenge. How do you do it?
  2. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Well, I network a lot. I have a bunch of old friends in the local scene. I talk to people at music stores. I put up a CraigsList ad every now and then. And I also respond to ads for bands looking for a bass player. I just tell them up front that I am not looking to join a band right now, but if they ever need a fill-in, please keep my number. I give a very short resume and done. Some respond. Some don't. And my phone rings off the hook (if it were on a hook). I turn down more than I play. But I REALLY enjoy them. I have learned a LOT about playing by learning songs out of my comfort zone. I make quick charts for each gig for the songs I don't know. I keep a thumb drive with nothing but songs I have learned and charts I have made.

    If the band is easy to work with (and pays well), sometimes I even give them the chart book I made to hang onto in case they get someone else next time. It's just printer paper and a $1.00 binder. And that move alone has gotten me a ton of call backs. (And like I said, the charts are on my thumb drive if I ever need them again.)

    Good will and professionalism will get you as many calls as you want.

    But just put the word out there. I wouldn't spend any money on ads or anything. If you have chops, then odds are you have a good reputation as well. That reputation will do the work for you.
  3. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I can't add much to what Two Fingers said.

    Amusingly, my first paid gig was a sub job, playing cello in a theater pit, while I was in high school. When I started subbing on bass, I was definitely not at the pro level, but I had one skill that made me employable: Fluent sight-reading.

    Now, that's for jazz and related genres where bands tend to have charts, or they play standards. For rock music, I'm not the expert, but I have to imagine that in the absence of charts, one has to develop a very quick ear and a memory for tunes. A lot of my electric bass practice time was just playing along to the radio, so I memorized most of the "classic rock" repertoire, but I'd be in trouble today because I've lost touch with contemporary cover tunes.

    Subbing begets more subbing. Your reputation will grow, but I don't think you can force it too much. I've found that most bands are willing to work with a sub, and are forgiving if you don't know 100% of the repertoire, because you're helping them out of a sticky situation, and they value building your skills so they can use you again.

    Based on what musicians say about one another, I've noted some attributes of good subs:

    1. Willing to play any genre with enthusiasm and make it sound good.

    2. Easy to deal with in every possible way.

    3. If you can't take the call, turn it down right away. Have your calendar at your fingertips at all times.

    4. Always be positive. I always say good things about other players, especially about the player who I am subbing for, if I know them.

    I like what Two Fingers says: "I'm not looking for a band right now..." In my opinion it's bad form to sub for another bassist and then try to grab a permanent slot in the band.

    Gear? Something that can carry a medium sized room if needed, but that is also easy to mix into a typical PA.
  4. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    Lots of good advice there. A few more things: make sure you have reliable transportation, always show up early if you can, and "yes means yes". By that, I mean never cancel a gig you accepted because you get a better offer, at least not if you want to be a working sub.
  5. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    unless you find a sub of your own who you know is gonna nail it; (down we go into a recursive fractal spiral of subs hiring subs, until it's one bass player playing all the gigs all at the same time :bag:)
  6. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    Lots of good advice here already. To summarize and perhaps add just a bit from my experience:

    DO Network constantly

    DO Have reliable transportation and a large enough variety of gear to cover any sort of gig you anticipate playing

    DO Keep your gear in good working order and have backups; the last thing you want is to have to turn down a job cause your only amp is in the shop or whatever

    DO Have a minimum per-gig charge and stick with it; people respect professionals who put a fair value on their services and won't lowball themselves just to get more business

    DO Have an e-mail account and a cellphone with voicemail and text capabilities, check them regularly and acknowledge receipt of gig inquiries ASAP even if you can't commit right away

    DO keep your calendar close at hand, in whatever format is best for you; unless there are unusual circumstances my policy is to never make a potential client wait more than a day for a "yes or no" and I'm usually back to them sooner than that

    DO be 100% pro with regards to arriving on time, not getting "altered" on the gig, etc

    DO thank the BL and other musicians for the opportunity (even if the gig turns out not to go so well)

    DO set aside a portion of your pay for taxes; for me that's 25%, put in a dedicated savings account so when the 1099s come in at tax time I'm not caught short

    DO keep meticulous records of all expenses related to your sub jobs (including mileage), for tax purposes

    DO get paid in cash whenever possible

    DO make it known up-front that you will expect payment before you leave the venue; as a sub you are an easy target for unscrupulous BLs who offer to "put the check in the mail" and then somehow never seem to get around to it

    DO NOT Try to leverage a sub job into a permanent gig; "poaching" is extremely bad form; if you're good enough and there's a personality fit you may be invited to take the permanent spot, but trying to force it is never appropriate

    DO NOT Badmouth the player you're subbing for or any other musicians or bands you've worked with; word gets around and you don't always know who knows whom, especially if you don't know anyone else on the gig; in general when I'm on a sub job I don't talk much beyond what pertains directly to the gig

    DO NOT Bail on a gig you've already booked even if a better paying offer comes in later; first come first serve even if it means leaving money on the table sometimes

    DO NOT BS your way into a gig you know you can't handle; if you're not comfortable with the genre or you know the material will require practice time you don't have, the correct response is, "I appreciate the offer but I really don't think I'm right for this gig. You might want to try < insert name of other bassist here >." Passing on a gig you can't cut will do far less harm to your reputation than taking it and messing it up.

    DO NOT ask the BL or other band members how much they are being paid for the gig; it's none of your business. Sometimes you'll get the same as everyone else, sometimes less, possibly sometimes more. You agreed to a price and as long as they make good on that, what anyone else is getting is irrelevant.

    DO NOT take it personally if you don't get called back the next time they need a sub. BLs can be quirky folks so it may be something completely unrelated to your playing. If you were prepared for the gig, conducted yourself professionally and played well, then that's all you could do. Even if you didn't sell the BL there's a very good chance others in the band took notice and you may wind up getting referrals from them.
  7. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    Hang around the gigging scene.
    Get to know the active players.
    Get a business card.
    Craigs List does not yield much for me. A lot of wannabe's but
    very few players.
  8. phillybass101


    Jan 12, 2011
    Artist, Trickfish Amplification Bartolini Emerging Artist, MTD Kingston Emerging Artist. Artist, Tsunami Cables
    Word of mouth means alot. Be on time, know your part. have good dependable equipment, and be sober, don't mind showing up for rehersals. Soon enough word travels. I just got a call for an easy gig just because of these simple things. Also helps if you can play a little :)
  9. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA

    Being able to read charts, Fake Book etc. will make you a lot more marketable and make at least certain gigs a lot easier. Even more so if you can read sheet music too. If you can avoid (unpaid) rehearsals and just show up and ace the gig off charts, your dollars per hour winds up being a lot better.

    And if you're able/willing to sing backing vox make sure you put that out there too cause it may give you the nod over another bassist who can't.
  10. bluewine

    bluewine Banned

    Sep 4, 2008
    In Milwaukee, if your talking about good paying sub opportunites, if your not established and key veterans that play good gigs don't know who you are, forget about it.

  11. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    I've never sold myself as a sub. I'm just a bass player with 45+ years of experience with a wide network of friends, former band mates, and acquaintances on the local music scene. Gigs come by word of mouth for the most part.
  12. jonas_24112


    Jul 11, 2011
    Most everything has been covered. For me, it's just been networking. Due to recent marital discussions with my wife, I had to give up the regular weekend warrior gigs and relegate myself to the occassional sub gig. I had been playing regularly with one band and doing sub gigs with others for a few years straight with no let up (on top of a full time job with travel). Our deal is I can do fill-in gigs and that should get me on stage once every month or two to scratch my itch.

    I've got probably 5-6 regular gigging bands that know they can call me and I know at least 3/4 of their tunes already. Plus, some of those bands have guys that play in multiple bands and they know they can call me for those too. I picked up a sub gig last month from a multi-band drummer I met from just an audition with his country band.

    Just network. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to bands you go out and see. Make sure they know you're not a poacher. I recently sent a message to all my musician friends and bands I've LIKED on FB explaining that I'm not looking for a full time gig right now, but would be more than happy with fill-ins as needed and left it at that.
  13. Tons of good advice so far - just one thing I'd add that helped me out a little bit when I started subbing (which was in blues and rock cover bands):

    If you're not too busy playing yet and have the time, do some homework on the band you'll be playing with and their musical style (especially the bandleader). If the BL says he's a big Freddie King fan, go learn some Freddie King tunes, even if there aren't any on the set list. One of my first bands to sub in, the bandleader mentioned he was a big Arc Angels fan. I picked up one of their albums, learned a few of the easier songs, and ended up jamming on one of them at a rehearsal, which impressed the heck out of the BL and the rest of the guys, and led to me playing with them on many other occasions. Plus, if they recommend you to their friends, there's usually a good chance their friends have similar musical tastes, and might very well play the songs you've already learned.

    Again, this is just a little "extra mile" kind of thing, and if you're already busy, I wouldn't say to do this over the other stuff mentioned.
  14. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    For sure... the bigger your personal "repertoire" the more valuable you become as a sub.

    The last thing most bands want is to schedule 2 or 3 extra rehearsals just so the sub can get up to speed for one show. They would much rather send you a setlist 3 or 4 weeks out and know that you'll learn the tunes on your own time. If you can do that -- along with having good "ears" and the ability to pick up band-specific cues on the fly -- you're likely to have as many sub jobs as you want.

    "Plug-and-play" is what most bands want in a sub more than anything else.
  15. Marial

    Marial weapons-grade plum

    Apr 8, 2011
    I don't sub hardly at all, but when I do it's purely by word of mouth. Funny timing, I was just asked today to sub on a gig at the end of May. Caveat: I'm not a covers guy and this is for alt-country/folk originals.
  16. jnuts1


    Nov 13, 2007
    Marial, if you didn't write the song it's a cover!
  17. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    I've only ever taken one sub gig for an all-originals band and that's because #1 I loved the material and #2 the gig was big time (major outdoor festival).

    The gig involved two 2-hour rehearsals and a 40-minute set. In return for all of that I got $25 and a CD. :meh:

    In general the amount of pay offered to me by originals bands in return for the time I have to invest learning their material doesn't make those jobs viable. But to each his/her own and I give major props to those of you who sub for originals bands cause you're definitely earning every penny.
  18. Phlipper


    Feb 5, 2013
    Fayetteville, NC
    Endorsing Artist: Old SS Peavey Lead Sleds and Peavey tube amps
    I sort of fell into subbing on lead guitar and bass by accident when my band split up at the first of the year. The 'to-dos' have already been covered. I will say Craigslist has actually been a good tool for me and has netted me three regular clients. I charge $100 for a couple of practices and a three set gig and have all the work I want. I'm actually getting back to one band and one side job because my wife is complaining about me being gone. If I was single I'd be able to play every Friday and Saturday with someone for pay, never getting bored, not stuck with tards I can't stand, etc. :D
  19. Lots of good advice here. The operative word is networking.

    Networking does take time, and it won't happen very fast. However, it helps if you're aggressive, and actively try to expand/establish your network. Get to gigs for bands that you think you might sub for, and hand them a card. They probably know someone who uses subs often.

    Open jams are also excellent places to network. Always bring cards - they still work better then websites. However, having a website showing your skills can seal deals much, much faster and get you in faster.

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