What advice can you offer to those trying to make it in music?

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by cassanova, Jun 28, 2003.

  1. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    Hey guys,

    This probably is'nt the normal type of question for this forum. But I thought it would be a good one any way.

    What kind of advice can you offer to anyone trying to make a living out of playing music?

    It doesnt have to be on a lable either. Just any advice you can give on how one can earn a living playing bass in general would be appriciated.

    I ask because you have paid your dues and have been down many of the roads that many fellows members are now walking.

    Thanks Much
    Mama Cass:bassist:
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Hi Cass,

    big question that.

    First thing to realise is that you won't get to be pro just by being good at what you do. For most people, if not all, who end up pro there's a fair amount of luck/grace/whatever involved, especially with regards to being in the right place at the right time.

    that said, there are things you can do to shorten the odds on getting somewhere.

    Firstly, I'd suggest getting your playing to a place where you can handle just about anything - be prepared to play as many styles as possible (therefor having the right sound for as many styles as possible), so that you never have to turn a gig down just for not being good enough. Listen to as much music as possible, and file away the salient points of each particular style somewhere in your head, for recall later on. One of my strongest assets in any musical situation is the size and scope of my CD collection - I've got a reference point for just about anything.

    Next, go where musicians are. It may sound obvious, but hanging out at places where other musos hang out is going to help you get somewhere. Give up on any notions you have of there being any heirarchy in the musician world, beyond that imposed by security people... ;) - the guys you listen to are in just the same position as you, they're just doing more gigs. This works both ways - people who haven't done what you have deserve the same respect when you meet them as if you were hanging with Marcus Miller. So hang out with musos, swap CDs, tapes, and arrange to jam with as many people as you can. Feel free to be choosey if a certain situation looks like it's going to be a waste of time (jamming all weekend with 3 stoned talentless 17 year olds isn't being open minded, it's wasting time :D ) - but do take risks - you might find that some things are very cool that you thought were going to be a bit rough.

    Linked to that point - have a demo of what you can do - put whatever you want on it, just make sure you come across as a pro. If you're looking at playing within specific scenes, then having a demo that reflects a knowledge of that style will help, but just sounding pro goes a long way. Photos and a bio are useful too if you're answering ads or working with an agency, but if some guy in a bar pulled out his press pack, I'd think he was a freak... ;) If he had a CD in his pocket, I'd think he was prepared.

    Don't expect others to do it for you. If there are no gigs happening, think about booking some. If you're in a band, and can think of another local band that you could open for who are more established than you, look at promoting a show for them, thereby putting the work in to get yourselves out there. If you're putting on gigs, do it in style - contact radio, newspapers, mailing lists, get posters up everywhere. It's really worth putting in the effort, and gets your name about.

    Take your demo into all the studios, agencies, etc. that are in your area. Talk to other bassists near you, get friendly and offer to sub for them. If there are long running shows in local theatres, then they may have a sub list, for guys who have learnt the show and are available to cover it (that's certainly the case in London) - if there are shows like that, and you know the guy with the bass chair, check out the music and see if you're up to it. If you are, get a copy and learn it. The exercise will be good for you anyway, and subbing on shows can be a cool way to kill dead time.

    If you can teach, it's worth considering, but if you can't or don't have a 'calling' to do it, please don't do it just for the cash - it's tempting, but think how much it could have damaged your start in music if you'd had a teacher who didn't know what he was doing and resented you being there... teaching music is way too important a thing to do it badly...

    If you've got your own band, contacting festivals is a good way to get your name about - festivals often have a built in audience, so are good for raising your profile, and as they book loads of bands, are often easier to get a set at than a local club. If you are gigging with a band, make sure you have a mailing list, and have the signup sheet at every gig.

    keep an eagle-eye on any publications in your area that advertises musicians wanted/available - you never know what might come up.

    Lastly, stick at it - there are no guarantees in this business (I know some incredible musicians who can't get gigs, and some dreadful ones making insane money), but you can shorten the odds on getting somewhere by playing great, being seen, and being the nicest guy that anyone you ever talk to has ever met.

    The number one distinction between the A-list guys I've met and interviewed and those who are desparate to make it but aren't getting anywhere is attitude - Lee Sklar, Michael Manring, Jimmy Haslip, Abraham Laboriel, Victor Wooten, Steve Rodby and Doug Pinnick are among the friendliest most helpful open and supportive people I've ever had the good fortune to meet. All of them were grateful to be doing what they were doing, and none of them - at least in their time talking to me - showed any sign of being bitter, or overly competitive or nasty about anyone else in the business. That stuff goes a long way.

    good luck - and wish me luck, we're all on the same journey... ;)

  3. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Great advice, Steve. :)
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think we've discussed this before and I've said that a lot of highly-rated Jazz musicians are not very nice people at all and can be very competitive - especially Sax players! ;)

    But thinking about this again, in this context; I suppose there is a difference between being highly-rated and getting a lot of work.

    So - one of the UK Jazz Sax players I have actualy met and talked to, is Ed Jones who is a really nice guy and always has time for anybody.
    I've noticed lately that he is on loads of albums - in Jazz as well as pop/funk veins. So - like Incognito, US3, Jamioquai etc. - as well as touring with loads of high-quality Jazz combos.

    I suppose if you're easy to talk to and work with - then you are more likely to be asked - just logical?
  5. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Hi Bruce,

    It's fairly easy to be successful if you're horrible if no-one has to meet you! If you put out a record under your own name, get some publicity happening etc. then you can sell what you do on the strength of the music, if it's your music. I've met quite a few nasty successful musicians, but none of them were top flight session players, and few got asked to play on other people's records.

    Occasionally you'll see a highly respected player whose CV doesn't even come close to justifying the level of hype around them as a player - if they've been around for years and years, it may well be because dispite being incredible musicians, they just aren't worth putting up with on a session!

    A lot of the London scene players I've met, bassists or otherwise, that are doing SERIOUS amounts of work, are lovely people - the Mondesir brothers, Ben Castle, BJ Cole, Pino, Mo Foster, Keith LeBlanc... the list goes on.

    I've met guys who self-conciously tried to have a big attitude - obviously people who'd just read Miles Davis' autobiography, and thought you had to be like that to get anywhere. Oh dear. None of them have ever ended up famous or successful, that I've known.

    Bottom line is - front persons can get away with being nasty more than backline people. And if you want to be an alrounder, you gotta get the 'tude right...

    take care

  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Yes - I've talked to Tim who books the gigs for the Brighton Jazz club and his view is that the bass players are always really nice guys - but there are some 'mavericks' who lead their own bands and play up to a "difficult" stereotype. ;)
  7. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    ...Feel free to tell him about the lovely friendly solo bassists you know who'd love to come and play in Brighton... ;)

  8. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Although Steve has once again offered wonderful, sagacious advice I thought I'd throw my two cents in, too. Making a living from music is a very different skill than being a musician and I think it makes sense to focus on both if you're thinking of pursuing a career in music. Although music can be a pretty precarious profession, I'm consistently surprised at how many ways there are to generate a little income here and there from being involved in music. The trick seems to be to stay flexible, positive, adaptable and creative. It's important to try to make the most of the opportunities that arise rather than wait for the perfect situation to present itself. If you apply the same creativity you use in playing music to making a career of it you can do just fine.
  9. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK

    that's a very good way of thinking about it, thanks for the tip... ;)