OK…Now What?





by Rawn Randall

OK… You got the right gear, a good teacher and you even know what music to listen to. You are on he right path. What’s next you ask? It’s time to play out. Even if you are not making money at first it is very important to get your feet wet playing live in front of people.

There are three questions you have to ask yourself of every musical situation you are ever involved in:

  1. Am I learning something?
  2. Am I having fun?
  3. Am I being compensated fairly?

In the beginning, the emphasis should be placed on ‘learning.’ If you are only playing as a hobby then ‘having fun’ should be of paramount importance. If you are making great sacrifices and trying to become a professional musician then being ‘fairly compensated’ should be your priority.

Fun is different for different players. Some players like playing live while others prefer the challenge of studio work. With the proliferation of the home studio, studio work is becoming more scarce. Therefore it is best to have mix of different musical situations.

One very good place to start is in your local place of worship. If there is not already a band you can talk to the leaders of the congregation about starting a band. If there is a choir without low-end accompaniment that is a perfect place to donate your talents.

If that is not your scene check the local coffee house for the singer songwriter scene. Most singer/songwriters are probably open to the idea of a little accompaniment.

Do not be afraid to play without a drummer. When playing without a drummer, time keeping falls into your lap de facto. This can be a great learning experience. I presently play in a country/western band that features no drummer. It is a challenge to keep a band playing in time together.

It is from this type of exposure that will lead you to better gigs and paying gigs. Purchasing a ‘real book’ is a very good investment. A ‘real book’ is a very large volume of lead sheets of show tunes, jazz classics and pop songs. It consists of the chord changes and melodies for 100’s of songs. If you become familiar with these songs you can be assured work with wedding bands, casual bands and industry orchestras.

These gigs are usually booked through your local 802 AFM Union. They pay extremely well. Make no mistake they are not the easiest of gigs to master. They require on the spot renditions of tunes everybody knows. You are quite often playing with musicians you don’t know. These musicians may be any where along their evolutionary journey. That means they may or may not know the tunes well. Not only is sight reading absolutely necessary but in many cases you will have to transpose tunes on the spot to match the singers ‘key.’

If you manage to pull in work from all these various venues it may be possible to make a decent living depending on ‘the cost of living index’ where you live. In many cases, any income derived from these playing situations can be a very nice supplement to having a ‘day’ job. It is very tough to make a living playing bass these days. It is good to have other skills as well. You can look into contracting gigs, programming drum machines and synthesizers, audio engineering and teaching as income ‘supplements.’

Today’s bassist has to draw on all his/her skills to make it. You have to make yourself as ‘valuable’ as possible. It is wise to add ‘background vocals,’ ‘doubles on upright’ and ‘sight reads’ to your business cards (you do have business cards don’t you?). It also helps if you can really do those things. Don’t hesitate to go the local college for a voice class in the music department. Reading is something you can improve just by sight reading a piece of music everyday. While learning to play upright is no small undertaking, you can become functional on the instrument in a year if you invest the right time with a method book.

Nowadays you have to be super versatile and there will always be a way for you to make it!

Addendum:

I wrote this fine piece of literature in 2001. Nowadays, 11 years later we have to address the advent of ‘Social Media in our Everyday Lives.’ Selp promotion has never been more available. That’s great except everybody has access to the same tools. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Linkedin, SoundCloud ….can all be used to increase your visiblilty. Next month we will explore in depth how utilize these NEW marketing tools.

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