Andy Till: The Professional Bass Player – Working as a bass guitarist

Andy Till

To the professional musician, playing a musical instrument can be very rewarding.  If you play an instrument you know how much fun is involved, especially when performing for people.  Of course there are also the frustrating times when inspiration is running low.

I play the bass guitar, an instrument I found while at school. Once I started playing I wanted to learn everything I could about the bass.  After talking lessons, I stuck with it, and knew before leaving school that I wanted to be a professional musician.  I feel lucky that I found what I wanted to do in life, play the bass guitar!

I now make a living playing bass guitar.  At first, it took a lot of hard work, practicing and getting out there to play music.  I play an instrument I love and the challenge of making a living doing it makes it even more rewarding.

So where to start?  If you play bass guitar and are at the level where you can go out and play with a band, and enjoy playing, here are some ideas and tips that I hope may inspire you to make the steps to playing bass for a living.

First off, practice, practice, practice.  Knowing your bass and improving your technical skills goes a long way.  You need to stay on top of your game and do what is required as a player.  A good all around player is ready for any gig and has a good knowledge of the bass guitar and its role. Continually learn new ideas and techniques, and always be ready for new songs and material.

Play what is required for the song.  You may be told when recording what to play, if you are doing session work you get paid to play what is asked.  If you are doing live work, or playing covers, play what is required for the songs you play.  If you get a gig writing, that’s great, now you can be creative with your bass playing.

Be ready to play for the song and always be open to new ideas.  A good, solid bass player should be locking in with the drummer.  Listen and work as a team.  Be ready for rehearsals and do your homework.  If you read music it opens up a whole lot of work for you, although a lot of work is done by ear and does not require reading.

When I decided to try to make a living by playing bass, I didn’t really know where to start, or where to go to meet the right musicians.  Luckily, I had spent many years playing covers in pubs and clubs and met a lot of musicians along the way.  Eventually I started to meet professional musicians, who pointed me in the right direction.  I learned a lot from these musicians, whom I am very grateful for.

A key thing as a professional musician is to network.  Get out there and tell people about your bass playing and what you can do.  Contact professional musicians and bands and tell them you are available for work.  There are professional bands out there from working bands, function bands, tribute bands and if your lucky, original bands.  If musicians don’t know who you are, they won’t contact you.  So get out there and network, playing with as many musicians as you can. Jam sessions are a great way to meet other musicians.  Check your local town or city for jam sessions and open mic nights.  You may meet professional musicians who need a bass player to stand in, or even find a place in a professional band.

There are thousands of bands out there performing and playing as well as professional bands and music work if you look for it.  There may be a professional band looking for a bass player, or who needs a bass player to stand in or session for them.

The Internet is a great place for networking with other musicians.  There are musician forums where you can post your details or look for auditions.  Check out the many musician websites and use search engines to search for professional musicians and music jobs.

The music press is another great place to look for music auditions and jobs.  Music papers and magazine where you can post advertisements about your bass playing abilities can be useful as well.

Many musicians find work by word of mouth.  You do a gig or work for one band and if you do a good job, you get recommended for another gig.  It has worked out well for me and is part of the music business.

If you want to work as a professional bass player, being a good people person is a must.  Do your best to get along with other musicians as you might end up working and travelling with a band for a long period of time.  It’s always good to get along and have a great working relationship!

I have also found a good professional manner is important.  Be reliable and keep good time, not only in your playing, but also when turning up on time for a gig.  Reliable transportation and a willingness to travel long hours as well as having working and reliable bass gear is a must.  Having a very good sense of humor is always a plus as well.

Playing is the fun part, but you must also think about the business side.  The bass becomes your business and you have to keep on top of getting gigs, getting interest in your playing, contacting bands for session work, as well as contacting bands who are in need of a bass player.  Running the business side of things, the book keeping and the paperwork side, can be just as important as the playing side.

Being a working bass player it is a great life.  You may not be playing stadiums like Paul McCartney, but you are making a living playing the bass guitar.  A lot of work I do is with tribute bands, working bands and function work, along with original work and recording.  Loading your bass rig in and out of venues and clubs week after week can wear on you after a while, but if the big opportunity comes in and you get a lucky break then you will be on your way and have plenty of experience working out there as a bass player.

I hope I have inspired you and given you some advice that you may have been looking for.  Get out there and network with other professional musicians, practice and work on your bass playing, believe in your playing and the most important thing; have fun playing the bass guitar.