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Don't Worry, Be Happy
(Soapbox Column Encore - Back Page)
Bass Player Magazine
Published February, 2004

You ever wonder how those people do it? You're not alone. I wonder myself.

I'm talking about people that leave a good impression on everyone they meet. We all know someone like this. He (or she) shows up at a party, or dinner, or in your workspace, or at a gig. Three or four people are standing around. A little small talk ensues. The person we all know is outgoing, warm and funny all at once. Shortly after he leaves, heads nod in unwavering agreement: What a great guy.

This person-type (let's call him Happy Outgoing), who by my unscientific estimate makes up no more than 3% of the total population, has an advantage over the other 97%. Through either compulsion or fanatic effort, Happy Outgoing has consistently presented a positive image to so many people on so many different occasions, he's cemented his own brand within his circle of influence. Great guy. Very cool. Easy to be around. Smells good, too.

Whether he knows it or not, Happy is successfully marketing himself every time he opens his mouth. Is he happy on the inside? Doesn't matter. Not in marketing.

In this capitalistic society we live in, we as bassists have much to learn from Mr. Happy Outgoing. First of all, we're bassists. Some of us are bassists because the only Happy Outgoing in the band is either singing lead or playing guitar. That's to be expected in most steady band situations. You're a bassist. You want people to notice and appreciate you, play the blues harmonica. People love that.

But what about working freelance bassists? You need money, you need gigs. You need people to like you. Chances are you didn't hit the 3% lottery that Happy won at birth. More likely, you're like me. You don't like everyone you meet. Sometimes the world bothers you. Things like car alarms and drunk drummers and traffic before soundcheck and people in supermarkets, on the wrong day, cause you to pound your right hand into the passenger seat with force sufficient to send your charts flying into the windshield.

On a really bad day, you show up on the gig, and the bandleader is there, greeting everyone, and you're in the place I call Angry Outgoing. Bandleader says hi. Within seconds he's aware that you jumped out of your car and throttled an old Bulgarian woman within inches of her life because she cut into your lane without using her turn signal. You're satisfied now that you got it off your chest. Bandleader nods, then walks away, looking for a more pleasurable interaction.

Meanwhile, Happy Outgoing (in this case, the guitarist) shows up, talks up a few other band members, they laugh, Happy walks away, and you can see the band members all doing the official what a great guy nod and smile.

But remember, Happy Outgoing has two names. Let's talk about his surname for a second. He probably earned it by talking up everyone he met, asking their name, what they did, where they live, what kind of gear they use, what breed of dog they have...and might have even remembered enough of the conversation to bring it up the next time around.

Meanwhile, when he's onstage, he wears a special vest with golden sequins and pants to match. Every time. His hips shake in a funny but catchy way while he plays. He smiles throughout the gigs - except for the ballads, when he switches to a more pensive visage. The other band members give him the "you just did something cool" look at least four times in a forty-five minute set. When the gig ends. Happy Outgoing gets offstage, greets a few people, and leaves them smiling and nodding. You already know what they were saying as he walked away.

Does this Happy Outgoing guy really exist? Sure. All it took him was persistent positive communication with those around him, a couple of consistent quirks that people could remember, and - voila! - he created a reputation. A style. A brand.

* * * * *

The rest of us 97% aren't going to be Happy or Outgoing all the time. We're human. Mr. Happy Outgoing, to us, is not. So how do we make up for that? Allow me to present some tips for those with issues in each particular category:

Happy Rule #1: Don't start off any conversation with the words, "You won't believe what happened to me today." Unload your emotional baggage on your instrument, not your bandmates.

Happy Rule #2: Don't curse your equipment during soundcheck. A bad cable won't "straighten up and fly right" if you give it a dressing-down a drill sergeant would be proud of.

Outgoing Rule #1:
Buy the band a round of drinks. You wouldn't believe how consistently effective this is. Get yourself a double for being so happy. (If you're a teetotaler who works out, have a Diet Vanilla Coke and a smile.).

Outgoing Rule #2 (this one's important): Talk to a few people after the gig. Even though you're tired and you have a long drive home, the whole "pack up and get out ASAP" thing may cause you to miss an opportunity to make good impressions on the public when they're easiest to make - right after they've been stunned by the show they paid to see. They're hungry to see the Happy Outgoing side of you; a little of it will go a long way. If you're working as a sideman, you're connecting with his or her fans, some of whom may communicate regularly with the artist who's paying you. Bonus: If it's your gig, this helps immensely in selling merchandise, getting asked back, and just achieving remembrance for being something other than...a bass player.

* * * * *

Do I follow these simple-sounding rules for positive self-marketing? Usually, no. In fact, I'm horrible at it. I tell everyone within earshot how my apartment needs a leak fixed, or about an incident in the grocery store parking lot that nearly resulted in violence and mayhem, or my busted tuner, or my idiocy for forgetting a guitar strap, and I'll get so worked up about something stupid that I'll bail out two minutes after the last hit of the gig and be on my way home while Happy Outgoing is still back at the venue making friends.

But I'm working on it. It's nice to see you. Thanks for coming out to the show. That's a cool shirt, man. Let's hang out soon. I'm so glad you read my column.

See? That (I'm) wasn't (really) so (tired and just) difficult (want to), now (go home), was it?

Reprinted with permission from the February, 2004 issue of BASS PLAYER. For subscription information, please visit

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