The Professional Bassist

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by mikarre, May 17, 2004.

  1. mikarre

    mikarre Guest

    I'd like to make this thread a collection of thoughts and musings of what it takes to make bass your career, or at least your major source of income. I'm not talking about getting a record deal or anything such as that. I mean the bassists who form successful local bands, put in the studio hours, or serve as hired guns for whoever needs them. People who call themselves "professional" musicians. Anyone who has been down that road, please share what you feel are important points that you learned along the way. What skills must a bassist have to succeed? What role does being a good businessman play? Please feel free to ramble. :)
  2. RevGroove

    RevGroove Commercial User

    Jul 21, 2002
    Burlington ON Canada
    Manager, Account Services: Long & McQuade Ltd. (Burlington); MTD Kingston Basses International Emerging Artist; Bartolini Electronics Emerging Artist
    Check out Ed Friedland's book "The Working Bassist's Toolbook." Can't say it any better than he does!!!
  3. sheepdip


    Apr 14, 2004
    I definately can't speak for myself but here is an experience I had.

    I was living and working in The Peoples Republic of Kalifornia near L.A. in a construction trade (my primary source of income) and had a chance to do a job for a guy who was a studio musician (Guitar). He had been doing it for years and it was his only means of support. I asked him what it was like........ He said "This has progressed far beyond something that I do because I like to play, this has turned into a job. When I sit down they expect me to play what ever is put in front of me right the first time. I practice about 6 hours almost every day if I am not recording and I am thinking about quiting because I am getting burned out".

    It's not all peaches and cream at the top. :crying: :bawl:
  4. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    A pro bass player I knew in Nashville had to do many different kinds of playing to make ends meet. He played in two bands at the time, one blues-rock and a band of his own. He played bass for two different B-list country singers and toured with them. He played bass on demos, but only on a few actual final product CDs.

    He gave private bass lessons in students' homes on the side to supplement the income form the demos and bands. He was lucky enough to have a product endorsement arrangement with a name bass instrument company that got him strings and even some basses.

    He drove a rather old car and had to live in one of Nashville's outlying towns where costs were cheaper. He worked literally around the clock, but was not rich by any means.

    I would have been exhausted to follow his schedule. I know he had to be very flexible to be able to play whenever and where ever needed. He was an excellent player but I don't think he played upright acoustic, a fact that may have prevented him from getting some gigs.

    I think it would have been hard to look around and see some younger, even much younger, but cooler looking and acting bassists getting gigs with A-list stars, knowing that as he aged his chances of landing a Garth Brooks gig or Shania Twain gig were getting slimmer and slimmer even though his experience and professionalism was probably far greater than younger players.

    For me, that life seemed rather hard. Late nights in smokey bars, touring on buses, being "itinerant" and not knowing where your next gig was coming from and never being sure of your income from one week to the next, and often not playing music you want to play, but doing so anyway to earn a few needed bucks. Maybe he had enough musical "highs" along the way to where he enjoyed his music enough to make the rest worthwhile. I certainly hope so.
  5. jive1

    jive1 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    In short, in music and in business, the ability to get along with others goes a long way.
  6. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Maybe you'll see my comments in the next Talkbass "Bassist of the Month" article.

    In order to keep it brief and readable, one thing I skipped over is the indignation of a bassist who didn't "get the gig" ,even though they knew they were the superior bassist, or, the band who didn't get the gig but knew they were the best band.

    The music biz is no different than the traditional corporate world - that is - the "best" bassist, or, the "best" band, doesn't get the gig. Often, just as in a job interview, you get judged by dummies who are more interested in such superficial aspects as your personal appearance or what their boss in the polyester suit would approve of, instead of your talent. In short, your ability doesn't always mean you get hired.

    Let it go. It's going to happen. Be persistent and seek out every opportunity. When you fit in and they fit in with you, it's so good!!!
  7. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Well, depending on how you look at it, I'm either a professional bass player with a day job to supplement my income, or I'm just a working stiff who makes a little extra money playing the bass. I make about the same with either gig. (The IRS doesn't care, for them "income is income").

    Strange as it may sound, the one thing I've had to learn and come to terms with over the years is "not to play for free". I love playing the bass so much, that my natural tendency would be to play without regard to compensation. But then, it screws up your business. Maybe that's the businessman thing you were talking about. People pay me good money 'cause I'm a good player and 'cause I'm reliable (I show up to all the gigs on time, never forget my amp, that kind of thing), but why should they pay me if they already know I'll play for free?

    So in the specific environment you referenced (local bands, studio tours, hired guns, etc), I've had to pay attention to getting paid a reasonable fee for my services. It sucks, but it's either that or not eat (well, you get the idea). I can doodle all I want on my own time, but when I get a paying gig I show up on time and I'm thoroughly professional in my attitude and approach. I do have a little beer pouch in my cable bag, so I can stash a can or two till after the gig, but that's where they stay till the last note's been played.

    Discipline counts for something. Who you know counts for a lot. And talent is the most basic requirement. If you put all three of those things together you can do pretty well for yourself.
  8. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    I'm not disputing a single thing you say, nonsqtr, because I think what you said in on the mark.

    But there are situations where my bands have played for free: benefit shows for a good cause.

    Often these are for fellow musicians who have passed away and, due to the nature of the game, died with little to no money to cover the expenses for a decent funeral or left debts behind. Or, they need money in to help with their hospital expenses so they can get the treatment they need, (think Rocco Prestia, for one).
    We've also done benefits for charities.

    Otherwise, I know what you're saying. A subject that has come on this board several times is the saddest, most despicable situation of all, IMO --- where the band "pays to play."
  9. It's for this reason I DESPISE and LOATHE "Battle Of The Bands" "competitions." The entry fee is usually exorbitant, and winning the "competition" has less to do with how good your band is than how many friends you can drag to the show with you. I was in a horrible band, and they could draw a lot of people to all different areas of the city. Never a dull moment with those guys. Anyway, they always managed to win "battle of the bands" "competitions" on the strength of having lots of friends.
  10. elmohoof


    Sep 24, 2003
    Alliance, OH
    Hey guys,
    I just turned 50 in March, and have been playing since I was 11. My experience has been the usual local bands in high school, went to Berklee for a year, was on the road with show bands, doing the hotel circuit.etc. Never had the chance to play with a name band or record in a studio, but always played in a band. Now at the age of 50, I sell real estate, and play in at least 2 bands regularly,sometimes 3. I play in a jazz quintet/quartet and one or two classic rock bands. I drive my wife crazy, but always bring between $60-175 home everytime I play. This weekend I was scheled to play with the jazz band and make $160, the rock band is playing a benefit. It has ended up that the jazz band is getting a fill-in bassist, and the rock band is paying me the same amount to play with them at the benefit. I don't play for free when there is a paying gig! If you want to play bad enough and need the money, and pray alot, there's always a gig Hang in there!
  11. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Be able to read music - any music.
    Be able to play in all styles.
    Be able to show up on time, sober, and dressed appropriately.
    Be able to sleep on a bus (only applies if you want to go on the road).
    Be able to get along with people you don't like.
    Be able to be friedly, even when you're not feeling friendly.
    Be able to carry on a conversation about something other than music.
    Be able read music (needs to be said twice).
    Be able to understand that the music business is a business.
    Be able to sacrifice your art for commerce.
    Be able to play what the bandleader wants, even when its wrong.
    Be able to love playing crappy music, or be able to make people think you do.
    Be able to spend less than you make. (Depending on the gig you get, this can be tougher than it sounds.)
    Be able to groove like you wrote it.

    These are truly ramblings, and not a complete list, by any stretch.
  12. Schwinn


    Dec 4, 2002
    Sarasota, FL
    Have a lot of respect for you guys playing for a living. It must be a hard life because, like has already been said, the guys who make it big aren't always the best players. That must be frustrating for the guy playing in weddings and bars who is a better musician, but who barely makes bills on time.
  13. NJL


    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio
    pretty dam good list, Jon! this is a list that i will give to my students (if you don't mind?)

  14. mikarre

    mikarre Guest

    Very intelligent replies from everyone, and I appreciate it very much. Right now I have a good day job,, but some old friends and I are in the process of possibly getting something together. I would really like it to be successful, not only artistically but financially as well.

    To put a finer point to this perhaps: What about local bands that do well? Has anyone here found their professional success to be with one band over a long period of time? In my area I can think of a handful of bands that have been together for 10, 20, or more years and still never fail to draw a big crowd. Any advice for that kind of situation?
  15. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Have a great ear.
    Understand as many styles of music as possible.
    Network network network.
    Be a good teacher.
    Be a good student.
    If you're in a relationship, it best be with someone patient, who understands the business.
    Be able to read music.
    Network network network.
    Don't miss a gig.
    Have excellent time.
    Know a lot - A LOT - of songs.
    Network network network.
  16. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Be reliable.
    Listen before you play.
    Be creative enough to be able to write a part even when the bandleader doesn't know what he/she wants.
    Be available. The other guy will get the call if you aren't.
    Be able to fake songs if you don't know them.
    Know current trends.
    Have excellent feel.
    Learn as much as you can about everything in the industry from business to theory to gear.
    Don't be a prick.
    Study another trade just in case.
    Listen before you play.
  17. Davehenning


    Aug 9, 2001
    Los Angeles
    You guys pretty much covered it all. Agreed 100% on all of your's and Pacman's excellent points, though I have two more to add, never forget to bring duct tape and ALWAYS sleep feet-foward in a bus bunk!! :)
  18. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Great point, Golden.

    Around this region, we call that "stacking."
  19. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    I have to echo nonsqtr's comment, but with one exception - If playing for free will open doors to paying gigs, don't be afriad to do them. That means benefits, "Jams", open mics, ect. Networking after performance is essential because this is a business where people like to be "shown" and not "told". (and can you blame them, just by telling people you "Play bass" doesn't distinquish you from the kid down the street "who plays bass" in his bedroom) If you play well, people notice, and they remember your name. Which brings me to my second point of advice....

    Be able to read people well. There are ton of bull****ters in the industry, and every band has "major label interest", or "is eventually planning a tour". Play with A-list musicians whenever you can. Who you play with is important, but sometimes, who you don't play with is even more important. Don't waste your time with hacks, and people who aren't going anywhere.

    Understand the dynamics of your local scene. Stay away from places such as LA, and Nashville. Everyone there is trying to "Make it" and the clubs know it. There is not much money in those places. Learn how the politics of your scene works. The 3 major music centers where I live (central PA) are the Altoona/Blair County scene, the Johnstown scene, and the State College scene. State College is a very political scene, where Altoona and Johnstown are easy to break into.