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The Path to Solo...

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by stephanie, Feb 26, 2001.


  1. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Is it harder, easier, or just as easy/hard to 'make it' as a solo artist, than, say, if you were in a band?

    What is the process of going about being a solo bassist? I mean, is it easy to get gigs, etc.? Where do you start? Write some songs...then what? Etc. etc.

    Man, I've been asking these questions to myself all day. Gotta get em out in the open!! LOL

    Any advice would do.

    Thanks,

    ~stephanie
    (Tired of sitting alone with a bass in the bedroom)
     
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    ...Probably not - it depends how you define 'make it' - I don't make enough to live on playing solo bass, that's for sure. There are very very very few people who do (how many players can you list who just play solo?)

    That said, the great thing about solo playing is that the overheads are much lower - often, setting up and promoting a band demands a fairly big initial investment, and unless all the musicians are willing to share the costs, whoever 'owns' the band had better have some cash behind them. I certainly couldn't afford to tour with my trio, but gigging on my own is simple, cheap, and I don't have to consult anyone else's diary to do it. Putting the album together didn't cost me anything in terms of hiring musicians and studio time - I was fortunate enough to have a friend with a recording studio who mixed/mastered the live recordings for me, but that would be possible on a very simple home computer set-up, maybe not to quite such a standard, but easily good enough to put on MP3.com and use as a demo for getting gigs. If you'r willing to put the work in, forging a solo career is possible, but there's no way of bypassing the talent thing - if you want to put a pop band together, with a good marketing strategy, you don't really need great songs (just look at the crap that fills the charts week in week out), but there's no such route as a solo bassist - you'll get a certain amount of recognition just for being fast if it's a chops-based project, but that's fairly short-lived (remember Adrian Davidson - he was marketed as 'the world's fastest bassist', and I don't know anyone who's actually heard what he did - music seemed to be secondary to speed in the adverts, and most people were turned off) - but if you've got the tunes, it's possible. I've had a fair amount of radio, magazine and internet coverage for what I do, some great reviews, get a reasonable amount of people to my gigs, and manage to sell enough copies of the album all over the world to make it worth doing. I did a solo tour or California in January, which I couldn't possibly have done with a band, and have got a whole range on local, national and international gigs coming up... Why? do I have an amazing advertising team? no... do I look like Britney? no, thank God... do I spout homophobic mysogynistic stuff that gets me lots of column inches in newpapers and moral majority newsletters? nope... I guess people like what I do then... :oops:) I send out the CDs, point people to my website, and let the music do the talking. I don't mind if people don't like it, after all, most people probably won't, but I get a huge kick out of people who do like it, and love the fact that there are radio stations playing my music, and people out there playing it to their friends who then come back and buy the CD - I kept the price of the CD as low as I can, but it means that I have no advertising budget at all, so word of mouth is my only way of spreading it... that and articles/reviews...

    Try and get gigs - forget about getting money for it to start with - if you're in it for the cash, form a tribute band and get on the cabaret circuit! :oops:)

    if you can put a demo CD together, send it out to local coffee houses - the states has a great network of coffee house gigs that don't exist in the UK. Get out and play, play open mic nights, play parties, talk to art galleries about doing stuff as opening nights, find out if anyone strange is doing a show in your area and ask if you can support... you gotta get heard.

    When you get something recorded, get it out onto MP3.com . and send the CD to people who are open to solo bass ideas, like Paul who runs this site, and Warren at www.globalbass.com, and Cliff at www.bassically.net - if they like what you do, you may get a review, or a mention of whatever.

    and send any news you have to gigs@solobassnetwork.org.uk and get it listed there!

    play loads, network loads, send out CDRs of your stuff (I'd love to hear any solo things that people are up to - I don't have a fast enough net connection to download MP3s but if you want to send CDs, or point me to low res real audio, please net me know here!

    most of all, have fun - play the music that you can't not play, and hopefully people will connect with it. And if they don't, you still got the music...

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  3. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    Clinician: EA, Zon, Boomerang, TI. Author "The Art of Solo Bass"
    Stephanie
    I hope Steve doesn't mind if I put my .02 in. The role of solo bassist is both the most rewarding and the most frustrating thing that I've done, musically. As a solo performer I truly get to realize my musical vision. I get to share the intimacy and energy of my music with the audience. I have the opportunity to educate and liberate the myopia of the, all too often, music going public. The only ego that I have to worry about is mine ;). I can travel cheaply and I need less money to perform a gig as I don't have to pay others musicians, sound engineers, etc. I have the been able to play in unique and unorthodox venues. I can record with less expense and therefore distribute my music more reasonably. It has given me opportunities as an author, magazine columnist and clinician (BTW - the clinician gig is great! - good money, wonderful hours, motivated audience).... and I get nervous and excited playing again. A feeling I lost a long time ago playing in bands.

    On the other hand, I would have to agree with Steve, it is very difficult to make a living as a solo bassist. I have had booking agents laugh or comment "solo what?". In fact the worst offender is a man who books the premeir venues in my area - and HE IS A BASSIST (at least he spins his upright very well). People call me a "cheater" when I use a looper even if everything that I do is created on the spot, including the loops.

    Our society has some very definite ideas of what is and what is not music, often times they have difficulty moving outside that paradigm.

    If by now you are feeling a bit negative to the solo bass idea, re-read my opening paragraph. Being a solo bassist, or better yet, solo musician has been a cathartic experience for me. It has made me a better ensemble player as well. Besides my 7 month old daughter loves when I play solo.

    Mike Dimin
    www.michaeldimin.com
     
  4. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Steve and Mike,

    Wow. Thanks so so much for all the advice. It'd be too much to quote everything in this response, but I just have to say...no...I am not at all discouraged after reading. I am quite inspired as a matter-of-fact.

    I leave Solo bass as my option. Cuz as much as I would like to be a band, it is difficult enough for me just to find someone to jam with. And Solo seems so much of a way to go. :)

    And as a final add-on here: No matter what path I take with bass, I'm sure I will always have that feeling that I do , even when I just pick up the bass to practice my lesson. I can't explain the feeling. As long as I have that feeling I will be satisfied. :)

    Thanks again,

    ~Stephanie
     
  5. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    Clinician: EA, Zon, Boomerang, TI. Author "The Art of Solo Bass"
  6. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Thanks Mike!

    Wow. New thing at my lesson: Improvisation. My teacher said no more book for awhile. LOL. I have to take the chords he's given me and improvise improvise improvise! I think this is a good lesson. :)

    Cheers,

    ~Stephanie
     
  7. maxvalentino

    maxvalentino Endorsing Artist Godin Guitars/ Thomastik-Infeld

    Hi Stephanie....browsing thru this site saw your post about "going solo" and thought I might chime in. First, let me congratulate you on even considering such a brave move. And for having the insight to realize that playing with other musicians is certainly as fullfilling (or more) as playing solo bass.
    I am a solo bassist. And I will echo both Steve and Michael's advice....it is difficult to make a living doing this. You will have to endure much criticism and complaints from folks who can not accept that the bass can do more than go "boom boom boom". But it is one of the most rewarding and challenging things you can do as a bassist. I make my living as a bassist. Not all of it solo...but a great deal of it. I supplement solo playing with freelancing as a "straight" bassist for groups, and teaching. I started doing this 5 years ago...but the idea (dream) of being a solo bassist started when I first started playing bass. I always felt there was more that could be expressed with the beautiful sound of this instrument than I was being "allowed" to do in groups. I began really studying chordal theory and learning how to apply that to bass. Finding chords and inversions on the neck. Then when I would try these out with bands I would be met with contempt...even got fired from a band 'cos I dared to play chords on the bass (tastefully, mind you). I think the guitarist felt a bit threatened! Advice: learn harmony and relate that to the bass. Build a vocabulary of chords and voicings on the bass. Learn melodies and progresssions to standards (my first solo bass song was "Blackbird"..quickly followed by "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". "NIght and Day" and "The Lady Is A Tramp"). LEARN MELODY!! Listen to great singers...learn their phrasing. Apply it to your instrument. And...buy a looper. Using loops with solo bass is a wonderfully creative and expressive tool (It is not cheating!). Then take all of your studies and apply them towards your own compositions. Sure, playing Sinatra on the bass is cool, but playing something beautiful, unique and original is tremendous! Go out and play...anywhere you can. This is how I started. Restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries....money may be small (tips), but you can develop a network. I still play 2-3 coffee shop gigs a month, and 2-4 restaurant shows. Just to do it! Both Steve and Michael mentioned how financially difficult "making it" solo can be...and I feel very fortunate and blessed that I make a living as a (mostly) solo bassist. It has been a major financial struggle at times, but the effort has now paid off. You have to be rather entrepenerial (sorry about the spelling)....and create your own gigs.
    BTW: I recently had the great pleasure and honor of playing with Steve Lawson at the Solo Bass Looping Festival in Santa Cruz CA, and the beauty and artistry of his playing has been an exceptional inspiration to me as a solo bassist. If you do not already have it, I urge you to get a copy of his CD.
    Good luck and best wishes,
    Max Valentino
     
  8. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    The way I figure it I have nothing left to lose! LOL! My financial situation right now is terrible anyway.(And that's just putting it lightly)

    Max, you mention a looper? What exactly is that? I hear that word everywhere.


    You know, it's funny, I was just thinking about times before I had my bass. I just had my acoustic guitar. And I was playing the thing pretending it was a bass. Don't ask. LOL. Now sometimes I play the bass as if it were a guitar. LOL


    As for harmony, I've been reading a bass book all about harmony. Pretty hard book to follow but it's all good. :) I've been putting all the exercises in it to good use. :)

    Cheers,

    ~stephanie
     
  9. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    Clinician: EA, Zon, Boomerang, TI. Author "The Art of Solo Bass"
    A looper is a device that allows you to play a phrase, record it then play along with yourself. It allows you lay down a bass line, a harmony and then play melodies on top. I use the Boomerang Phrase Sampler - www.boomerangmusic.com

    There are also other good units on the market. A used lexicon Jamman, which is not longer made, is commanding twice its original price.

    The Boomerang is a really fantastic unit. You can check out some MP3 examples at www.mp3.com/diminbass

    Mike
     
  10. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Stephanie

    check out www.loopersdelight.com for more info on loopers - I think the coolest low(ish) priced one around is the Line 6 DL4 - gives 28 seconds of loop time (more than enough for most things! :oops:) and a bunch of other cool delay effects. The Zoom BFX-708 has a 6 or 7 second loop function, but you can't layer stuff with it - still a cool practice tool nonetheless.

    I have a JamMan and a DL4, as well as a Lexicon MPX-G2 (MAx Valentino, who's very good - I'm really looking forward to his forthcoming CD - also uses the JamMan and DL4 combination...

    The Boomerang that Michael Dimin uses is also well worth checking out - longer loop time, but a bit more cash than the DL4, methinks, and if you can't afford CDs, it'll be a bit of a stretch... :oops:)

    You can still practice without that with a tape recorder, or even better, a minidisc recorder. On tape, you can just record yourself playing one part, and then play over it. With Minidisc you can set loops to play over, so that's even better...

    most of all, have fun, play what you feel, keep studying, and let me here what you come up with.

    To hear more bass looping check out Michael Dimin's site ( www.michaeldimin.com ), my site ( www.steve-lawson.co.uk - all the pieces there involve bass looping except the album version of Bittersweet ), Michael Manring's site ( www.manthing.com - not in full working order at the moment, but will be soon ), and any live recording by Eberhard Weber or David Friesen (both play electric upright - I had a gig here in London with David on Friday night, which was great - he just uses a really simple little delay pedal with a hold function, which is another option for looping. His music is fabulous - see www.davidfriesen.net for more.)

    And of course, see www.solobassnetwork.org.uk for more info on all of the above!

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  11. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    I'd add Dave Holland's One's All and Emerald Tears recordings. Steve Swallow comes to mind too, not for any specific solo playing but because his music has the strength of melody necessary to solo bass.
     
  12. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Hi Jeff,

    ...as far as I remember, there isn't much in the way of loop playing on Dave Holland's stuff... :oops:)

    ...if we're talking all time great solo bass albums, that's a very different thing indeed - there aren't that many completely solo bass albums (Though I hear that Michael Manring's next album may be heading that way - here's hoping! :oops:)

    as I mentioned, there are loads of links to the sites of solo bassists on the solo bass network website - on upright or electric - including all those mentioned so far, I think...

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  13. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    No there isn't, ooops.
    OK, I know he isn't a bass player but listening to the old two reel-to-reel "Frippertronic" recordings of Robert Fripp might give someone some ideas of looping possibilities. Analog bulk aside this setup works well.
     
  14. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA

    That's what I'd love to do some day: Record an album that's just about pure bass, with barely anything else. "Solo" will be "Solo". LOL. And not have it smothered with other instruments. I have a Jaco album. And as much as I love Jaco, some of the songs just seemed overrided by other instruments as I struggled to hear the bass.

    I want the bass and nothing but the bass. mwahaha! LOL

    ...though a drummer on my recording would be nice. :)

    Cheers,

    ~stephanie
     
  15. maxvalentino

    maxvalentino Endorsing Artist Godin Guitars/ Thomastik-Infeld

    I would second Steve's advice. If you can afford a looper....check out the Line 6 DL4; it's a lot of machine for the money.
    Loops allow you the luxury of not only accompanying yourself live, but being able to work out passages without the dreaded "rewind time". You can lay down a bass part, or a chordal part, and "solo" over it; or work out contrapuntal lines which intertwine and "layer" over each other...and you add infinite overdubs to all of this!
    Or...you can take it into new, uncharted territory laying down loops of textures....something the bass excels at! You can solo over this or use the loops as "soundscapes" (another Fripp-ism).
    Thanks for the kind words, Steve. I am busily working on that CD...and it will be SOLO bass (but hey, save for one track, yours is too!) I am even doing drum/percussion tracks on the bass (Rick Walker's influence spills even further...), and I hope to have it finished soon. The problem is, see, I recently had the great honour of performing at the First Solo Bass Looping Festival with Steve Lawson. And after watching (should say "studying" as it was like a looper's Master Class) Steve's set I had to go back and rethink a lot of what I doing with this CD. Thanks Steve...it was truely inspiring!
    For those of you who don't know his music, check out his website and order Steve's new solo Bass CD....it's wonderful and inspiring.
    Max Valentino
     
  16. kezekiel

    kezekiel

    Sep 24, 2000
    Stephanie:

    If you're sick of playing in your bedroom, go find a church that needs a bassist. Within two weeks of taking the bass back up, I was playing two gigs a week at my church, with another 3 hours of group rehearsal. On Sunday night, I play with truly professional musicians - people who make their living singing and playing. What a difference it makes playing with people like that... they make me sound *good*.

    Praise music is relatively easy, and it's not hard to follow a chord chart. I've played songs live that I'd never even heard before just by following the chart.

    Of course, they'd probably prefer that you actually believe in God, so you should settle that issue with them ahead of time. :)

    Kevin