Talk to me about subbing

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by The Thinker, Mar 21, 2011.

  1. The Thinker

    The Thinker

    Sep 17, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    I just got back into gigging a year ago after a looooooong hiatus (career, kids, etc). I'm 39, have two young kids, a terrific wife and a fairly demanding day job.

    Problem: I've had trouble making the time commitment to get in/stay in good bands. They've all agreed I'm a very good player, but at this point I generally can't gig more than once per month, which isn't enough for them.

    I finally joined a startup band that is fine with my schedule issues since they're all busy too. But the level of playing is not where I'd like it to be, and after 5 weeks in the band I am already frustrated. We only have 5 songs down, still not tight, can't recruit a lead guitar player...anyway, you get it.

    So I'm wondering if I wouldn't be better off just being a sub for a while until my schedule opens up (couple of years). That way I can take gigs on dates I'm open, don't have to deal with band frustrations, etc. I figure I'd reach out to all the established bands I can find, post on craigslist/bandmix, etc to get gigs.

    Am I kidding myself about how this works? Or does it sound like a viable idea? If you are a sub/have subbed, let me hear what you think.

  2. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    Subbing is tricky business. I think it involves more listening than it does actual bass chops. Every band has a different arrangement for every song. Not to mention different keys.

    I really need to practice with a band before I sub for them. I dunno if that's subbing in the sense that you're talking about.
  3. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    Subbing is a terrific way to expand your network of musicians, your repertoire, and your listening chops. It also gives you a great incentive to "woodshed" on new material if you're the type (like me) who has a hard time practicing for its own sake and is much more motivated when there are gigs on the horizon as an incentive.

    Phalex is right in the sense that coming in dead cold for another bassist is very challening and may not be the way to go. Generally for the sub gigs I've done, I've been given plenty of notice, and a song list and/or packet of charts. Almost always I get together with at least one or two of the band members ahead of the gig, at least if it's a group I've never played with before. If you get into a situation where you're subbing for one band pretty regularly and their material doesn't change much, you can probably forego rehearsals and just show up.

    Bottom line, since the life circumstances you are currently in seem to preclude a real serious one-band commitment, I would strongly recommend taking sub gigs as they come along and who knows, by the time your situation allows you to make more of a commitment, one of those sub gigs could turn into a permanent opportunity. Depending on your faith orientation, church praise bands could also be another relatively low-commitment outlet for you but be advised the quality of musicianship in those situations can vary wildly.

    P.S. I see you live in Chicago... I lived there for several years in the mid-90s and if the scene is still the same now as it was then, you should have no problem picking up sub gigs. When I lived there, good bassists were in high demand and it wasn't uncommon for guys to float between 2 or 3 bands or more.
  4. Roadman


    Mar 26, 2008
    As with any freelance work, you have to be available. If you turn someone down two or three times, you probably won't get the call again. If you are as tied up as you say (I'm just coming out of those busy family/career years myself) it could be a problem booking the little free time you have.
  5. The Thinker

    The Thinker

    Sep 17, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    Very helpful!! Thanks, guys. Keep 'em comin...

    Roadman: I am a little concerned about that, but I might just have to accept that some bands might not bother with me if I turn them down a couple times. However, I figure if I can get things set up far enough in advance (maybe even circulate the dates I'm available for the next few months) I might avoid turning people off.
  6. I do tons and tons of subbing....

    Phalex is right... I NEVER learn bass lines.. I go around just calling out chord changes.. there is a great book (given to me by a TBer) called "hearing the changes" it calls out the basic 7 changes and turn arounds.

    I absolutely love it... the reality is it freaks folks out (going into the abyss)
    Depending on your natural skills.. solo acoustic guitarists/singers are a great way to find work.. most locales have about 10 or so of the "hot shots" (they normally aren't hot.. just the ones who book)....

    During the summer and tourist seasons, they'll get requests to play parties and customer appreciation days... this is where they have to call up a band.
    Issue for these guys is that they normally go off chart and may do funky arranangements... timing and pulse is commonly fluid.

    Cool thing for your family situation is they're normally not dive bars.. mostly wallpaper music for classier bar/restaruants, private parties, orchards, vineyards etc.
    There is a ton of church work out there.. good news is that there are only about 50 songs in rotation.. most of them are off the U2 forumula.
    IF you want to be respected.. get some pro pix... register your name as a URL.. PDF pr kit.. a fast web page... and some biz cards.
    Band sharing is an option.. the reality is most bands really want an equal commitment from both bassists... subbing for a missing bassist is tougher for this type of work as it isn't as fluid and normally has a set groove going.
    You do have to learn how to morph through mistakes (and ignore them).. there are some technical "tricks" to faking through music.... PM me if you'd like to go through them.
    The unfortunate thing about subbing is VERY few acts have good prep materials and notes.. once "they glue" they quit taking notes... this is why faking is so important.
    Best faker advice I received.,

    Don't pick up your bass to "practice"... much of my time is by randomly searching pandora or the radio... I'll then listen closely to the chart mentally doing the chart...
    to really sub, you need to be very concrete with what you have and what you need... flexiblity needs to be planned in adance.. if you're a "my tone" guy.. you'll be an ass barnacle to your boss.. you need to be prepped and ready to dial in exactly what they ask for when they need it...

    ONLY amp suggestion I make for this work is a kickback amp with useable DI... (brand is trivial).... I rarely get a temp gig that they want to see my fridge coming in..

    ONLY bass suggetion is to have a useable B String.. I never get paid to play higher or faster notes.. you can fake more on a B string than you can on your G.

    I had a GREAT Saturday (one of my favorite playing nights ever...

    I got a note from a local guy.. his band moved away.. his wife had all his former band mates fly in.. she booked a gig (at his favorite restaruant)

    I got a "dude what will it take to get you here.. in like 30 minutes" .. (I was clueless of why)

    I scrambled to get my most flexible gear and race out.

    When I opened the door, the entire place stood up and clapped and cheered...

    The guy had a guitarist.. latin percussionists.. 2 guitars.. vocals.. trying to pull off Marley tunes without a dub bass.

    I was paid handsomely to hide my cluelessness.


    I may have the only baby will grow up singing to a tune.. 3-6-2-5-root instead of the lyrics.... it's all because of on the fly improv.

    In your situation sounds like a good option.

    Hoping all this rambling is of serivce.
  7. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    it might be tough to get started because you've been off the scene again...still have any connections?

    When I'm fishing for sub work I go out to see people I know and chat them up. Usually that gets the phone ringing.
  8. The Thinker

    The Thinker

    Sep 17, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    More great advice--thanks guys.

    MNAirHead: I have never liked playing a 5-string and have always done just fine on a 4---there have been very few songs I've played where I missed the B-string, and in any event the audiences didn't seem to notice or care. Do you think a 5 gives me a significant advantage if I turn into a jobber? I'd probably reconsider if it's all that important. Is it that the low frequencies on the B make it harder to detect "jazz notes"?
  9. Commreman

    Commreman Faith, Family, Fitness, and Frets Supporting Member

    Feb 12, 2005
    New Jersey
    I am in a main band that does 40 to 50 shows a year, and I sub in 4 other projects. That means I need to have 5 books of tunes under my belt.

    It's not impossible. It takes time and commitment. Do yourself a favor and get the standard "classic rock" tunes under your fingers - Cougar, Petty Springsteen, U2, you get the idea. Then branch out to the '70's funk stuff like "I wish", "Brick House", "Superstition", etc.

    Ask if the band you are subbing for has live mixes to listen to. Ask for the set list in advance. Take the time to learn the chord changes and the signature lines.

    As far as key changes go, they will be there. In my own personal practice time, I learn all of my chord tone exercises, modes, intervals, etc. in all 12 keys and play them through the cycle. This does wonders for your ear and your ability to change keys on the fly.

    I have a passive Jazz bass with a d tuner. This serves me very well in a variety of styles.

    Subbing is a great way to expand your network and your chops. BTW, I'm not a kid - I'm 50 with a great wife, three teenagers, and a business to run during the day!

    PM me if you want to talk further.
  10. B String (in context of faking and subbing)
    The lower you play the less people hear mistakes...

    As a bassist (from a band's perspective) you are paid to lay down a low fundamental floor... never higher and faster

    On this single topic..

    As a hired gun you are clueless if they have a keyboard player... 3 guitar players that play all open chords... just for this alone having a B allows you to play lower.

    From my meager experience... it's common to have songs that use
    CDGAE in them... Hit a low C in "Pink Houses" during the quiet section and you'll receive a bigger hi five than if I were to play it above the 12th fret on my 7 string.

    I don't want to start the "Jaco only needed 4" stupidity... you can always ignore it until you're ready.... can't add it when they call out "Sweet Caroline" and you don't have a B string to hit during the second verse "where'd it begin"


    Second thing I'll add is focus more on singing backup...than playing... in about 1/2 the bands you'll then out rank their current bassist.... you'll smatter the competition if you're good at selling... and stay to load out gear.


    PMs...I've received a TON in the last 24 hours..

    I don't really want to be flamed while helping a TB brother... for this reason, just PM me... most of the faking has to be "right sized to the individual...
  11. I go to tons of jam sessions in town and meet other players and play what they are playing. It's built confidence in them that I know their tunes if a day comes along in which they need a sub.

    I also play 60ish show a year with my "main" band. And have around 4 side projects cookin of different genres. There's not many "go to" guys on the rock side (James Townes is my fave R&B "sub") in the Twin, I wanna be "that guy".
  12. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    NE ND
    I haven't done a lot of subbing. When I have it's been a variety of situations.

    One time was a friends band where I got 3 weeks notice. Time to get a set list, learn some signature licks, etc.

    Another was a call that afternoon to play that evening for a band I had only heard about but never heard myself. I had met the guitar player at the local store while hanging out on Saturday. He had heard me "noodling" so he knew what I could do. They told me some typical tunes and a couple "signature" tunes for them so I had a few minutes to make sure I had an idea what to do before I left the house. I was also able to name my price (I was reasonable) as it was such short notice and they needed a good player to fill in.

    I also fill in with local jazz groups. Basically Real Book stuff so I'm pretty comfortable with that.

    I guess my advice is make contacts, network, have a good bass and small but decent amp, and really good ears and the ability to improvise - not just jazz, but think on your feet.
  13. intheory


    Nov 17, 2009
    SW Florida
    subbing is definitely a great way to keep your skills sharp and get your name out there. I just recently did subbing for 3 months (in between full time bands-I'm now in 2 gigging bands full time so am not subbing presently).
    Lots of fun-some scariness at times :)

  14. In my experience, it's way more work and time commitment to sub once a month than it is to find a solid band that gigs once or twice a month.

    That being said, I love subbing.
  15. The Thinker

    The Thinker

    Sep 17, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    Noted, thanks!
  16. I'd disagree that it's more work.

    I own a band.. I have tons more time into artwork, PR, sales, gear, politics, details, coordination.. this is all before the time to audition, pick material... setup setlists etc..

    Very rarely do you get involved with band politics or dynamics as a fill in.

    Subbing is show up ... do the job and get paid.
  17. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    If you really want a leg up on subbing, play an upright.;)

    Even my EUB got me tons of first calls, and the fact that I'm comfortable reading off charts maybe even more so. Five strings are probably a bonus for lots of styles (undoubtedly actually), but not one person has ever even asked me if I have one. They know what I do and don't bring to the table, which saves lots of potential aggravation for everyone I think. I won't even tune my 4 down to Eb these days or drive for more than 20-30 minutes for a gig, but as you can probably guess, I'm not all that hungry or ambitious either! My gigging days are definitely winding down, but subbing will most likely be the last to go.
  18. The Thinker

    The Thinker

    Sep 17, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    Thanks. I recently bought an EUB, and am trying to get comfortable on it. When I am proficient I will definitely market that fact :bassist:
  19. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown

    Feb 16, 2011
    I don't know if it would be called subbing, but I played for a while with a guitar player/singer who would book bar gigs then hire a band.
    It was real gutbucket blues stuff and we never played together anywhere else but on stage. I hooked up with this guy's first call drummer and he called me one wednesday night and asked if I could come down and play. I asked when he needed me to be there and he said 30 minutes ago. Long story short, they liked my playing and I started getting regular calls to play. This went on for about a year and a half before work demands forced me to give up my spot on the call list, and was the best musical education I've ever had. Key for any given song was usually chosen on the spot and was rarely the same twice in a row. Same for the changes, it was truly a "lightnin change when lightnin wanna change" situation so you had to pay attention. You listen and respond or die. Some times it was very stressful, but most times it was the most fun I'd ever had with my pants on...and we always got paid.