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Tips From The Bargain Basement
(Soapbox Column #11)
Bass Player Magazine
Published October, 2001

Things are different out there than last year. I'm not talking about the weather, the "hot" bassists of the moment, the control of the Senate, or even the decline of the boy band phenomenon (though I dearly wish I was). I'm talking about the economy. And it's not for the better.

Dot-com disasters and NASDAQ nose-dives aren't fun for anyone, but musicians suffer more than most. A sour economy means fewer corporate parties to play, A&R reps taking even fewer chances than they do already, lower draws on cash-strapped tours, local venues desperately staving off Chapter 11...and less disposable income in the hands of your best friend, The Music Fan. We bassists have it better than most thanks to raw numbers: we are fewer, and therefore in more demand than the struggling guitarist or drummer next door. But it's little solace come rent time.

Well, when the going gets tough, the tough get saving. The road to frugality doesn't have to be a blind alley - not when you've got Bryan Beller's Official Recession Handbook for Bassists at your disposal. (Results may vary.) I can't give away all my secrets, but here are a select few:

Don't Change Strings Unless Absolutely Necessary. If it was good enough for James Jamerson, it's good enough for you. Stay away from the stainless steels and go for the nickel-plated steels. They're not as bright out of the box, but they don't die as hard or fast. When they get crusty - and if they don't you haven't played them long enough - boil them for fifteen minutes. When they die again, repeat as necessary until they show rust. (Rusty strings look really cool on some basses.) I've found I can get away with two to three boils per set, and they do come back to life. (Sort of.) Bring along a spare set of the oldest, cruddiest used strings you've got in case you break one. Or not, and see if you can play "I Feel Good" with no D string for kicks.
Savings: $25.

Carpool To The Gig. With the singer, because he doesn't have any equipment, and it'll be the only way you'll ever get him to help you carry your gear. This is only an option if you can stand to be in a moving vehicle with your band's singer for more than ten minutes. Make sure it's in his car.
Total savings: $5. ($15. in California or Chicago.)

Pack A Snack. Most gigs don't include a meal, yet last longer than six hours when you add in the loading, unloading and commuting. The time between soundcheck and downbeat, or after the gig on the way home, is the handiwork of the devil. Better to have a PB&J or a Power Bar with a free venue soft drink than venture forth on a food quest in the area surrounding most venues. Watch as your bandmates turn green with envy as you munch down a tasty, home-packed foodstuff while they play gastrointestinal roulette at the greasy spoon next door. If it's a blues gig, just go hungry.
Total savings: $7.

Maximize Your Wardrobe. That gig shirt you bought makes you look so cool (and hides the weight you put on when times were good), but those two words on the label make you think twice: "Dryclean Only." Get over it. By the time you're offstage, your clothes aren't clean anymore anyway. Tie a previously-worn garment to the antenna of the singer's car as he drives you to the gig. Or just rough it. I say a shirt and pants can be worn three times before you risk getting fired. For tuxes, five times. Even if your wardrobe is washing-machine friendly, you're still saving water, power, detergent and quarters.
Savings: $7.

Don't Run A Bar Tab. Duh. Smuggle a six-pack or a flask if you must. This especially helps when you're wearing that shirt for the third time. Don't forget to share with the bandleader.
Savings: $15.

Avoid Batteries. If the 9-Volt that drives your supercharged onboard preamp dies in soundcheck, it's time to pay top dollar at the local convenience store. Always use passive instruments in a recession. Pedal effects that require batteries and won't take an AC adaptor should be left at home. Trust me when I tell you that your bandmates don't want you to use effects anyway. Use the guitarist's tuner, because if he doesn't have one, you don't need one either.
Savings: $6.

Congratulations! You just saved sixty-five dollars. If that's more than you're getting for the gig, you're on your own.

* * * * *

I've practiced a little economy of my own in this here column. For the first time in two years, I've actually come in under the word count limit. This allows me to do something I've been meaning to do for months - thank you, the readers, for the multitude of kind comments I've received via e-mail. Some of your responses have been column-worthy themselves, especially in regards to horror stories about corporate gigs. My favorite so far is from Jeremy Cohen: "Once we had a request to do a rap tune, and one of the guys said, 'We're four bald Jewish guys, what do think a rap tune would sound like if we did it?' but it didn't keep them from saying, 'C'mon, just fake it!'" Somewhere, this very second, a bassist at a gig is having a moment like that, and it's worth more than sixty-five dollars just to go through it and laugh afterwards. In most cases.

One of the truly magical fringe benefits of being a bassist as opposed to, say, a haberdasher, is that you experience more of what life has to offer than the average Joe. A gig isn't just a gig - it's a slice of life in that town, in that club, at that party, at that moment. And it's often hilarious. To the extent that I've been able to relay some of what I've seen and you actually find it interesting enough to read, I can only say I'm grateful.

Of course, not everyone sees it quite that way. I recently received in the mail an unmarked cassette tape with an anonymous note that read, "Here's one of many examples of what electric bass sounds like when played properly with a pick, you f*&^#$! dork." Curious as ever, I popped the tape in and listened closely. Thrash-punk all the way, with properly-picked bass raging in the mix. Then, at the bottom of the note: "P.S. Please feel free to distribute this correspondence on your e-mail and mp3 lists."

Now that's funny.

Reprinted with permission from the October, 2001 issue of BASS PLAYER. For subscription information, please visit

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