A student made an appointment with me, as many do just before they graduate. They are nervous about the “real world” and want to come talk about what the future holds, knowing my history in the business might help shed some light on what they are about to face. When they enter my office, I have a series of questions from a list that I call, “You Are Not Ready For the Real World IF….” This list is based on my personal experience along with what I have learned from others who have traveled the same road, before me and after me. Most of the criteria on that list pertains to music: repertoire, reading skills, ear-training (the real world kind, on the bandstand: learn a song in one pass—not solfege, which I have never heard on a gig), improvising, rhythmic consistency, groove, and so on.
Then come my other questions, which seemingly have very little to do with music, but in reality they have MUCH to do with being successful. One of these mini-quizzes is I have the student open their laptop and I send them an email. The attachment to the email is an MP3 of a track that has no bass on it. They look at me puzzled, and I say, “‘You Are Not Ready For the Real World IF…’ you cannot deliver a finished bass track at 24/48 that I can drop into my session, and it will sync from the git-go.” It’s scary for me to admit this, but academia—with all the emphasis on playing well and with all the right intentions—is not preparing most of our aspiring performers to make the most of their skills.
With these recording skills, the working bassist can create a potential revenue stream that will allow them to generate income at any hour of the day, virtually anywhere in the world. The basic functions can be learned in just a few hours, and it’s so easy to practice your “technique” in a plane, train, car (backseat), or just about anytime a laptop and headphones can be used.
Additionally, this unleashes one of the greatest practice tools, as we can analyze our playing at a microscopic level. We can measure our attacks, sustain, and accuracy by viewing the waveforms of our recorded lines. We can enter loop mode and practice timing exercises by utilizing a click track or loop that we simply drag into the timeline.
In the Berklee Bass Department we now offer a class called The Self Producing Bassist. In 14 weeks, meeting just one hour per week, students get a solid foothold of these skills. Some are even opening their own “recording shop” while still in school, promoting themselves through social media, and generating income. We have coordinated with the Contemporary Writing and Arranging faculty and their students, enabling our Self Producing Bassists to send their products back and forth for free, through email or many other web-based platforms designed to send larger files.
The reality, however, is that one does NOT need a class to learn this. There are great, free videos online, and many low cost A-Z courses. Once you spend a few hours on the basics, the creative potential of this skill starts to manifest itself. In addition to creating bass lines, you will have the skills to record other instruments, create loops, arrange, compose, and mix. As the benefits and application of this skill-set expand, it becomes addictive. And you can start with a one-channel interface/preamp for less than $200.00.
So while you work on your modes, scales, grooves, and solos, give some energy to how you are going to apply these skills to “today’s” industry. And in the case of recording chops, how you are going to creatively translate those rhythms and notes into an “at your convenience” means to pay your bills.
Steve Bailey is the Chairman of the Bass Department at Berklee and the grand master of the fretless 6-string as a veteran sideman, author, educator, and solo artist. In addition to participating in Victor Wooten’s , he is close to releasing his next solo record, a collection of duets with a wide array of artists.