What does it take...

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Thegiantgnome, Jan 7, 2006.

  1. Thegiantgnome


    May 31, 2005
    Those of you out there that are lucky enough to play music for a liveing, how did you do it. What did it take for you to get to where you are. Obviously you have to be damn good at playing bass, but there are so many factors. I've been entertaining the thought of presueing a musical carear for awhile now. Im just hesitant to take that leap and devote everything i have to it. Its not that i would mind devoteing all i have to my instrument its just seems like a huge risk that im not sure im willing to take.
  2. In a simplified response, all it really takes is landing a full-time gig, and (in most cases) being willing to make less money than most people who work 9-5.

    That's all it was for me when I was a full-time player... I stumbled into a regularly working band and that became my 'job' until the drummer died.
  3. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Wow, what did you do after that?
  4. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    It takes patience.
    It takes a sense of humor.
    It takes humility.
    It takes a personality that makes band members want to 'hang' with you.
    It takes the ability to read.
    It takes a quick ear.
    It takes taste.

    more later...
  5. Marcus Willett

    Marcus Willett Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2005
    Palm Bay, FL
    Endorsing Artist: Bag End - Dean Markley - Thunderfunk
    Regardless of ability (yeah, all the stuff Pacman said and then some), being able to make a decent steady living playing your axe is going to require some luck. As dark as it sounds, I would advise against it, and it's how I've made a living (put food on the table and bought a house) for the last 20 years. Unless you can honestly say that there is really nothing else in the world you would rather do than play, AND you're willing to sacrifice huge amounts of time and effort AND you feel quite lucky, then MAYBE it might be a wise move.

    Keep in mind; being a musician is the greatest 2nd job in the world. If you can play, you will always be able to do it on the side for extra bread/fun/whatever. When it becomes what you must do to survive; it's a whole different deal. Some get lucky; I did. But most don't.

    One problem with the biz in general (or even history when you think about it) is you usually only hear the success stories; the survivors. There's always the story of the guy who moved to New York all by himself with no money or anything and was able to scratch and claw his way to huge success. Sure. And for that one guy, there's 1,000 that didn't make it but you don't hear about them because they disappear and do other stuff.

    If you are determined, then the simplest advise I could give would be:

    1) Be easy/fun to work with. This will go almost as far, perhaps farther than ability.

    2) Be prepared for any kind of musical situation that may be thrown at you. Jazz gig play standards? Got it. Top-40 gig? No sweat. Sing lead on a few tunes to help out the lead vocalist? Sure thing. Sight-read a bunch of charts for a studio date? Can do. We need a few country and western swing tunes on this one. Gotcha. Playing rhythm changes at an up tempo and the MD looks at you to "take one"? Allrighty then.

    This is just off the top of my head, and I'm sure others will have advice as well. Good luck.
  6. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    I agree with pretty much everything said here. Not too sure about the luck thing, but that's a personal one. I believe if you're willing to work hard enough at something and believe in it, luck doesn't play as much of a part as it might seem. Then again, some people do get REAL lucky and earn a crapload of money having no talent, and never putting in an ounce of the work that some of us others do - so maybe I take that back. :) (Marcus, that wasn't aimed at you - upon re-reading this I realized it may have come off like that).

    Aside from saying ditto to everything said here, I'd like to add that's it's a good idea to have something else you can do that's real flexible while working your way up. I know a few desperate to pay their bills musicians who rely entirely on music for their living, and when people are struggling like that it can work against them. Perfect example last night - we were double booked at a club. Club owner felt terrible, gave us half our pay and booked 3 more shows for us. I was happy to have the night off. My drummer, who depends on this money flew into a rage and had to be calmed down. He NEEDED the money. If he were dealing with the clubowner you can guess what the outcome would have been. I have a super flexible 2nd job (substitute teaching) so if all of a sudden all my gigs fell through, I wouldn't be in a panic. It's so much easier to land a good gig without desperation written on your face.

    I'm real close to earning my living playing bass alone. If my standard of living was a little lower I could pull it off, but I like my cable TV, car, and going out to eat. The one thing I struggle with most is the reading thing. I don't read - and that means the only way I can earn money is by getting into bands that earn money. It has to be situation where I can learn the stuff by ear - and play it well. Closes the door on LOTS of work. I compensate with things that aren't bass related. I stay in great shape, and you'd be surprised how much of a difference that makes in the way people think about someone. I work at my people skills and have learned through many mistakes what do do, and what not to do. Ex: Whatever band I'm playing with at any given timeIS THE ONLY AND MOST IMPORTANT band on the planet - not The Nerve! and/or promoting The Nerve!, or myself for that matter. People like having freindly, supportive, easy to get a long with, fun people around them. I can hold my own pretty well on bass, but I ain't no Jaco for sure - and I've landed some gigs that guys who can smoke me lost out on. Being the greatest player is definitely NOT what it's all about.

    Lastly (I think) I'd like to add that for me it's got to be number one priority. I have to be willing to juggle 5 bands, stay in on Friday night learning 10 songs for saturday night - and I hate to say it, but it's gotta come before just about anything. My relationships suffer, I struggle to pay that cable TV bill at times - and there's times where nobody wants to be near me, including myself - but I wouldn't/couldn't have it any other way. I love the bass. :)
  7. I'm not a pro,

    but, out of all the hardships listed above none would be harder than the regret of not trying.

    If your young, think you have the goods and can hang with a minimal income. I say give it a shot.

    I took an easier life with a stable income, but to this day question my own testicular fortitude. Even if I failed, by now I would have been back on my feet and would at least have experience.

    This actually brings up a good point.

    If you decide to try it out. Plan ahead and have something to fall back on. If you decide to go to a collage for you musical career, major or minor on a second career.
  8. deaf pea

    deaf pea

    Mar 24, 2005
    Cuernavaca 1 hr S Mexico City
    Seymour Duncan/Basslines SMB-5A Endorsing Artist
    I think that Joe really hit the nail on the head with his last sentence. "I love the bass".
    In my case, I've spent the last 45 years working (surviving) as a 100% full-time professional musician(with some related work as a recording engineer) because I can´t imagine myself doing anything else. What I mean to say is that I NEED to play music, every day. If I don't play for a day or two I get "irritable" and just impossible to live with. But that's ME! If you don't feel that NECESITY to play, maybe the life of a full-time professional musician isn't for you. It's not easy (the "survival" part) . . .
  9. Marcus Willett

    Marcus Willett Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2005
    Palm Bay, FL
    Endorsing Artist: Bag End - Dean Markley - Thunderfunk
    When I said "luck" what I meant was things beyond your control.

    What you can't control is just happening to be in the right place at the right time.

    What you can control is being ready to act if and when this happens. Like I said, being ready for any situation that may arise, so that if you get "lucky" and happen to find yourself in a situation where (for example) you can substitute for another player; you can do a good job that people will remember, and this might lead to another opportunity.

    I'm not suggesting for a moment that luck is any sort of substitute for having your act together, it's just necessary to understand that factors beyond your control do occur, and the best you can realistically do is to be prepared (as much as you are able) to be ready for whatever might come your way.

    I also agree with deaf pea....it better be something you NEED to do if you're gonna do this full-time.
  10. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    In a local market, it's nearly impossible to make a decent living by just playing music. One way to do it is to give lessons. The guy I'm taking from has appointments all day, at $50 per hour. He also plays in at least 5 bands and subs for several others. I don't doubt that his main band gets at least $5,000 a night, but more likely closer to $10,000. You have to hook up with superb musicians, and stay completely out of the bars. Cover bands and corporate gigs are where the money is for a local band. This means dressing up and putting on a show. You have to look like you're worth what the client is paying ... cutoffs and AC/DC tee shirts aren't going to cut it. If you play originals only, you're not going to make any money at all.

    It's as simple as that.
  11. discoboo


    Dec 25, 2002
    charleston, sc
    a few years back i played and lived off my earnings but i was scraping by...it was fun and well worth the time and i have some great memories. now, i work for myself so i can schedule gigs when they work for me. i only take gigs that i want to play, not that i have to play. i do things on my own terms and it is much more satisfying. thursday night i did the rock/pop thing and tonight is more blues based. you only have one life to live...i want to go out with no regrets.
  12. georgestrings

    georgestrings Banned

    Nov 5, 2005
    One thing I haven't seen mentioned yet, is having and using your own PA to help make money... Do what you have to to own a PA, and a means to move it - and when your band isn't gigging, you can make money by renting out your PA, and running sound... Another slant on this angle is make arrangements with a local bar or 2 to set up an "open mike nite" - using your PA, of course - and possibly working your band into the mix as the "house band"...

    I also have to agree with pretty much everything that was posted before this...

    - georgestrings
  13. Well, the band died with him as he not only was the drummer but also lead singer and bandleader. Lost a best friend and my job, which sucked. I suppose it's also a good example of the harsh realities of the music business, and the instabiliity with how quickly your situation can change if you get into it.

    I spent 6 months working crappy PT jobs, and have spent the last 6 months or so since then juggling 2 PT jobs and pulling in music work when I can. I'm now finally back in the position of being in a few bands, picking up sub work, and as of this week am able to go back to a single, flexible PT job as a supplement to music. Interestingly enough, I think I appreciate and enjoy music twice as much now that I've had to go through all this, and having a supplemental income outside of music helps me enjoy it more too.

    Basically for me, Joe Nerve's post hit the nail on the head as well, sounds quite close to my own experiences.

    The other thing I have to add, which many others have alluded to, is in order to make a living at music it's good to diversify a little. Being able to do sound (with or without your own PA or studio, although having your own helps) is always a good thing to pick up some extra gigs. Being able to teach is also a great source of income. If you're good at booking, consider being a booking agent for a club or other bands. The guys I know who are success stories as full time musicians combine one or all of these elements with their income from playing.