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Finding Your Path To Success
(Soapbox Column #1)
Bass Player Magazine
Published Fall, 1999

OK, I know what you're thinking. Bass Player Magazine, in a desperate attempt to reach a new demographic, has employed the services of one of those "motivational speakers" to demonstrate how you - yes, you! - can easily achieve success as a professional bass player by simply perusing this column every month. All you have to do is read along, think positive, and send $199.99 to the address below, and in return you'll get three monthly installments of our "Beyond The B-String: Subsonic Keys To Success!" audiotapes. Right?

Well, sorry to disappoint you Tony Robbins fans, but no. From what I understand I'll be appearing here every other month, with a license to expound on whatever I see fit, just so long as it's, uh, "bass-centric." And what better place to start than the grandest topic of all: How To Achieve "Success" as a Bassist. I'm not much for scales and fretboard exercises anyway, so we might as well go high concept right off the bat. Ready, aim...

Let's start with the obvious. In terms of pure numbers, you have chosen wisely. Compared to the throngs of aspiring drummers and guitarists, who seem to arrive on the scene with the alarming regularity of junk mail, you are the few, the proud, the in-demand. Bands and gigs are loath to let you go, because the other good bassists in town are too busy, and besides, those other guys don't groove with their three rotating drummers as well as you do. (I've noticed this phenomenon in Los Angeles time and time again-bandleaders are downright possessive of their bassists.) So with this knowledge in hand, how do you, the ambitious, knowledge-seeking, Bass Player-reading bassist that you are, achieve success in this tough-as-nails business?

It's all a matter of how you define "success," one of the most subjective words ever to grace the pages of Webster's. To some, it's the utopia of playing bass and putting food on the table at the same time. To others, it's nothing short of worldwide musical domination at any cost, be it personal, financial or otherwise. The degrees in between vary so wildly that I could barely even begin to try and cover them all, but in the interest of clarity (not to mention a word-count limit for this column), I'll give it a shot.

The Player. If you read this magazine long enough, you might think that this is the most common of all working bassists. Yes, you can make a living by doing clinics and high-profile "player" gigs, appearing in ads, playing the frets off of your bass and hanging out with Marcus at the NAMM show. But there's only so many Oteils out there, and even if you have the God-given talent, the self-marketing acumen, and the otherwordly musical presence to qualify, the openings for these slots are, shall we say, few. And the money isn't nearly as good as it was in the go-go days of the late 80's, when bass and bass amp companies were swimming in heavy metal profits and promotional budgets were gaudy. In fact, the number of endorsements a Player has can in some cases be inversely proportional to his ability to pay for the gear in the first place. In other words, success in this world isn't all it seems, even for those who've achieved it. But it's nice work if you can get it. That is, if you want it.

The Music Addict. This is the guy who brings his CD Walkman in the shower with him. Who sings basslines in his sleep. Who can't survive a single second on this earth without some kind of musical accompaniment. Who will do any gig, no matter what the money, how far the drive, how long each of the six sets are, because it's music. This tolerance for hardship in the name of playing bass for a living is a gift, and these people involuntarily use it to their advantage. Not everyone can live like this, but every hole-in-the-wall gig these guys take (that someone else may have passed on) could very well lead to a better one down the road. And to them, that's success, because no matter what the gig is, it's still music, and they didn't have to milk cows to pay the rent this month, even if they mainly subsisted on pork rinds for a few days here and there. (Oh, I can see the Midwestern hate mail already.) Doing lessons on the side is often a practical way to make ends meet for the Musically Addicted.

The Financial Planner. A distant cousin of The Music Addict, this clever sort knows all about the scarcity of good bassists, seeks out the highest paying gigs available, does them and keeps them no matter what they are. This could include commercial studio work, GB gigs (or "casuals" as they call them out west), corporate gigs, lucrative cover bands, whatever. You won't catch these guys starving, because they feel that success is being able to play music for a living and still have enough money to: a) feed their families something other than pork rinds; b) take their girlfriend out to dinner and actually pay the bill as opposed to the other way around; c) buy a new piece of gear without having to scramble for an endorsement deal; d) take a weekend off without fear of collection agencies finding them at home. To be completely devoid of any Financial Planner characteristics is asking for trouble, yet to be overwhelmed by them presents a spiritual dilemma for some bassists. Yet another example of how success is in the eye of the beholder.

The Picker-and-Chooser. So you're not a music addict, but you still want to play professionally for both fulfillment and occasional profit? These folks choose gigs that make sense to them both musically (they like them) and financially (some pay well, some don't), and any dollar shortfall is made up with a job that may or may not be musically related, but doesn't involve playing. This way they get to keep their bass jones fresh, still play for part of their living and not go completely broke. It involves compromises and plenty of time-management skills, but in many cases it allows the guy who has significant non-musical interests to be a professional bassist without losing his mind.

I could go on and on, but let me get right to the point. You're probably thinking, "Wait a minute, I don't fit into any of these categories." That's the whole idea. Every bassist has a different idea of what it means to be "successful." The key is to find the right mix for you. Maybe you're part Music Addict, part aspiring Player. Or part Financial Planner, part Picker-and-Chooser. Maybe you're lucky enough to already be making a living playing exactly the music you want whenever you see fit. If so, bully for you. But if not, then you're in the same boat as I am, struggling to find the right path to whatever you consider to be "success."

To you, I can say only this: Find it. And then take it.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall, 1999 issue of BASS PLAYER. For subscription information, please visit

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