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Starting work on a solo bass album...

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by thrash_jazz, Sep 18, 2002.


  1. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Hi Steve & Michael,

    I'd been toying with the idea of doing a solo bass album for a few years now, and I've decided I'm going to try to do it and started writing for it a week or so ago. Just wondering if either of you had had any unexpected experiences (good or bad) when you did your first solo albums, that you would like to share. What advice can you give to someone entering the wonderful world of the solo bass album?
     
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Advice? write good music! :)

    The key is to keep the MUSIC foremost in your thoughts - have a quantifiable process that you go through to try and weigh up the merits of what you're doing. It's very difficult to do, as by virtue of you choosing to do a solo bass album, you're already setting yourself technical challenges, but for the audience (assuming you want to play to anyone other than just bassists), those are secondary to whether the music speaks to them on some level. How many times have you heard thingst that were really difficult, been immediately impressed, but tired of it pretty soon? if you're like me, probably quite a lot - my LP collection (this ended by the time I started buying CDs...) has got a fair smattering of dodgy bass-led albums which I bought because of my initial infatuation with their chops, but was left wanting when it came to musical substance.

    Conversely, there are things that have blown me away, completely floored me, which on sitting down to work them out have been incredibly simple.

    So work out what it is that you want to do. And get your sound right, first - all the notes in the world aren't going to rescue a bad sound - it's a marriage of the two - great sound, cool ideas...

    go through a checklist with each piece - timing, tuning, tone, taste and technique - are all of those things in place? taste is a huge area, and some things overlap - phrasing is an issue of taste and technique, for example.

    Don't get caught writing to impress bassists - one possible way of getting you out of thinking like that, if you are, is to have non-musicians as your initial feedback group - play your stuff to them and see what they think...

    If you have got some great chops you want to work with, take time to make sure the music you're basing around them really works - there's nothing wrong with crazy technique (exhibit A - the complete works of Michael Manring... :) ) but it's gotta be doing something!

    most of all, as with all of this stuff - have fun - there is graft involved in songwriting/arranging/shedding etc. but it should be a productive and enjoyable process. It can be deep fun, as opposed to frivolous fun... :)

    hope that lot helps - if you want some more specific scenarios/ideas/etc. just ask!

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  3. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Thanks Steve!

    This is great advice - stuff I never would have figured out by myself without a nasty false start or two. :)

    To clarify, what I have in mind for the moment is just bass - a few tracks of - and various sorts of vocal samples (something to help tell the story).

    The way I am doing this is a bit different. I'm coming up with concepts for songs in the form of song titles, thinking about what those concepts bring to mind, and "translating" those into musical concepts. So far it's been like slogging through mud in terms of pace, but I want to make the visions clear, as it were. I think, for now, doing it one tune at I time seems to work best - otherwise everything would be a jumble.

    Thanks again for the tips - they will certainly come in handy!
     
  4. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    As always, Steve's comments are right on the money and very articulate. I gotta tell ya – I'm very honored to be mentioned by him (thanks, my friend)!

    The only thing I can think to add is that in my opinion, it's wise to look at each recording as a learning experience. Learn to listen to yourself critically, but creatively. Do try as best you can to realize your original vision, but stay open to possibilities that might not have occurred to you. Be prepared to let go of ideas that don't seem to work no matter how much time and effort you put in and at the same time be ready to jump on a new idea that really resonates with you, no matter how bizarre. I apologize for sounding like your basic California New Age weenie, but sometimes the music will tell you where to go and it's wise to put your ego on hold and follow it as best you can.

    Good luck!
     
  5. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Thanks very much Michael!

    If anyone's interested, I can let them know how things are progressing.
     
  6. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Yes, I'm interested! Keep us posted.

    I write everything I write on bass (mainly because my fingers can't handle those fiddley little guitar strings... and I don't own a guitar!). I write medium length chordal pieces quite often that I always mean to take further, but I find I get stuck for time/inspiration/skill/technique/direction/motivation in no particular order!

    It'd be interesting for me to a) hear some work when you're ready to share it and b) hear how you did what you're doing.

    Interesting idea about thinking up concepts & song titles to write about. I tend to just "come up with stuff" and then follow where the tune goes in my head... eventually!

    Good luck on your quest :)
     
  7. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    I think I do a bit of both in the writing process. You know, whatever comes into my head first- concept? A title to work with? Or a tune? I keep a manuscript notebook filled with ideas. And most of these ideas are only one line or just a few notes. I sometimes wonder how they can ever become a whole song. LOL. Sometimes they make good use, though, if I am working on a song and I'm looking for something to fill in a space. I know where to turn for ideas if something doesn't pop into my head or I'm having a dry spell.

    I hope to someday have a solo album out as well *sigh* :)

    Keep us posted on your progress Thrash_Jazz! I'm always interested in solo stuff. :)

    Cheers,
    Stephanie
     
  8. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Thanks Howard and Steph - although it'll probably be awhile before any tangible results show up!

    So far I have about ten concepts to work with. Whenever an idea pops into my head, I'll write it down. As for the music I have some stuff specifically written for bits of two songs (although I have a lot of other stuff that may be usable). I don't plan on trying to record them until I have them down pat.

    As for the recording, I'm thinking about doing it all on the computer. A friend of mine did a concept album using only the computer to record and the sound turned out quite nicely (check it out here ).

    Anyway, it's all in the planning stages right now!
     
  9. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Wow, thrash_jazz, I checked out your friend's work and I thought it was awesome. Very original. :)
     
  10. Beefbass

    Beefbass Guest

    Feb 4, 2001
    Yes, I'm interested, keep us informed! :)
     
  11. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Well, I had a rather severe case of the 'flu last week, so I didn't get a whole lot done on ANY fronts. I have 9 concepts or so - maybe 4 of them have material written. I also am thinking about a couple of covers, but everything depends on how the rest pans out.
     
  12. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Things are coming along slowly but surely... I have three songs pretty much finished with four more or so in the works. I'm probably going to do two or three covers (for surprise's sake, I won't say which ones they are yet ;)). With luck, I'll probably start recording at the end of the month.

    A couple of things I've noticed thus far is that it helps to write EVERYTHING down! I've already forgotten a few things I had come up that fit. :( Also, I notice that I've written several very tricky parts that I can't even play right off the bat - I have to practice them for awhile first!
     
  13. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    good luck thrash jazzz...thats a very ambitous project.
    the only input I can give...is that it is a huge challenge to make solo bass appealing to non bassists(Steve touched on this) and I feel that its a very important issue...when I listen to Michael manring or victor wooten solo stuff...I feel two things "wow thats amazing technique"and "wow thats a nice song."
    with victor wooten, its more on the technique end....that guy can really play...but often times I feel a tremendous lacking in the composition, sure its amazing stuff I cannot do, but there are certain licks that he uses alot that I find to be kidn of bland for my tastes....the michael manring I've heard(not alot I'm afraid) really emphasized on composition, I don't remember the name of the last track I heard from him, but it wasn't the most complex song, but it was so well articulated and played, that I really was immersed by the music.

    I think that solo bass(or solo anything for that matter) has to excel in musicality for it to work and really get heads turning(or swaying or bobbing or whatever)
    I'm going to be doing a Project for my school(senior project stuff) and its going to be a concert/gallery of photography...the concert is going to be half solo bass and half with friends....so far I've only written one song I'm really happy with, yet everytime I play it I'm always looking to improve it and make it as in-depth as I can.

    I don't know, I'm kind of rambling, I wish you the best of luck in your endeavour.
    I can't wait to hear it.
    -k
     
  14. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    This happens to me quite a bit. I will write a part that I can't even play LOL. So, yes, the best thing is to write that down and keep practicing.

    Glad to hear about all the work you've been getting done. :)
     
  15. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    another thing i find difficult when attempting to write music just using bass.. and something which i think Steve is pretty a master of... is texture and getting different complimentary sounds from the bass.
    i find it all tends to get little muddy cause of those fat ol' strings... i expect the 6th string would help, as it's definitley the lower registers that i have difficulty separating when there's a lot going on.
     
  16. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    As far as composing goes, I find a good rule of thumb is that if you can't remember it the next day, it's not worth using - I know other composers (including McCartney & (I think) Duke Ellington) used this idea. But don't let me tell you what and what not to use - only you know - and this rule may or may not work for you.
     
  17. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Howard - thanks very much! :) - it's something that requires a lot of thought and attention, especially as in almost all settings, you're playing multiple layers of bass through a mono source - something that with a 'normal' band, you just wouldn't do...

    Working on tone is a HUGE area for anyone wanting to play bass - the thread labelled something like 'AM I CRAZY?' over in Effects at the moment is an interesting discussion about this - trying to separate out processing from any other degree of electric sound manipulation, such as amplification or EQ is only a matter of degrees and familiarity.

    The key to all of it is to LISTEN and RESPOND - is it too bassy? what can you do? what are your options with your hands/bass/amp/processing?

    And Moley - that's one way of working certainly, but I would definitely advocate recording any experimenting you do - millions of song-writers have proved that great songs can emmerge out of just messing around and then coming back later to edit it... Many of my tunes would've been lost without my MINIDISC - the little two part harmony thing that comes round every loop on The Inner Game was just an accident which I caught on tape, and came back to later. Boy, am I glad I wasn't following McCartney's advice there... ;)

    Whatever works for you...

    ..and where did you get the name Moley? I've been called Moley for years! Are you me in disguise? :D

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  18. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Fair point - and it's true that so many great tunes come about from messing around, however I find that if it's any good, I remember it - I can't remember any time I've forgotton something I made up and wished I'd remembered it. But that's just me, far be it from me to suggest that's the best way to do it, just one way - as you say, whatever works for you!

    I can't be you in disguise, if I were I'd be better at the bass! A friend gave me the name Moley about a year ago - at the time I had very short hair and my hair is very soft - she said it was like that of a mole...
     
  19. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    That's an interesting viewpoint, but in my case I rarely forget the part entirely. It's usually a small phrasing detail that I forget. This can make the whole thing useless... I'm sure others have experienced the same thing.

    I'm always playing something different - starting with one note and seeing where it goes. I find it a great way to practice but, unfortunately, it has the drawback that I can never remember everything that I do.

    As for the "mud factor" - to be honest I don't really notice it. I know, for the most part, what sounds my bass can make, and what I am trying to do is to put together my ideas within those limitations. If that involves mud - then I guess I must make mud fit! ;)
     
  20. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Five songs complete except for nuts and bolts details. I'm shooting to start recording by December, if not before.

    The way I will probably do it is either to input directly to the sound card through a DI or mic my amp, depending on what kind of tone I want. Cubase, Cooledit and all that good stuff that the recording guy has will (hopefully) take care of the rest...