Getting Recognized: Advice for Bassists

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Q: How do I brand myself as an internationally recognized bass player? How does one get endorsed to an international brand?

A: You’d be surprised by how many times I get this question.

It seems that many think there may be a trick or a simple solution to “making it”, “getting discovered” or “scoring an endorsement”.

There are a few things that I think are helpful with regard to maintaining a healthy perspective on this stuff, and there are a few things I can suggest for trying to manifest it all.

If it were easy or a sure thing, everyone would do it!

Making a name in the arts is one of the least secure plans for the future there is. Those who succeed usually only do so through hard work, determination, blood, sweat, tears and thousands upon thousands of hours in the shed trying to perfect their craft.

Of course, there are exceptions: the people of power and influence who got there via good timing, nepotism and a bit of luck. You know, pop stars who can’t really sing, songwriters who can’t write, players who can’t really play. This is akin to winning the lottery and shouldn’t be a factor in your mind. Sure, you might meet a big A&R guy at a party, and he might place you in the next band but, probably not.

“It ain’t bragging if you can back it up”

(That’s Jaco’s famous quote.)

Getting on YouTube and all of the social networks, and hitting everyone on the planet with your videos and comments is a good way to get exposure. But if you haven’t honed your craft, it will likely lead nowhere. It sounds brutal, maybe, but I have met far too many people who spend 80% of their time trying to get noticed and 20% of their time (or less) trying to get better at what they hope to get noticed for in the first place.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that the cream rises to the top. I’ve always spent more time trying to get better than anything else. Now that I’m confident in my abilities, I’ve been putting myself out there more, and it is now showing results. I’m not saying, “stay in the shed until you’ve figured it all out,” because we never figure it all out. But do spend at least as much time practicing as you do networking. Make it your mission to have something to say if you’re going to speak.

Endorsements

I’ve written about this before so I’ll keep it short:

Endorsements don’t get you free gear. That happens rarely, and only if you’re the kind of player who they know will be out there playing the stuff publicly and often only in addition to having a buzz about you online.

Endorsements don’t make you (instantly) famous. Cruise the list of guys on any gear manufacturer’s website who endorse the gear. It’s long, and you like won’t know most of them. Getting your name on the website only adds a minimal amount of credibility to your name.

Endorsements often mean the company invests in you. Most companies will help support artists by contributing towards clinics, for example, where the gear will be showcased. But you will not be receiving money from any companies and you generally can’t land a clinic until you are “in-demand”.

Typically, an endorsement is a mutually beneficial relationship. They sell you gear at wholesale and you appear in an ad, do a video, play at the booth at a trade show and so on. You are helping to expose each other to the others’ audience.

Landing endorsements doesn’t make you a successful musician or legitimize you as a player. Learning how to be a working musician, spending hundreds to thousands of hours in clubs playing music with different bands gets you experience and talent (which is really a fancy word for hard work and time spent) gets you the experience you need. Then you need to add plenty on top: working hard and smart, with tenacity, and then that all might equal success.

I decided long ago that I would rather be a poor musician than a middle class working guy. That made it easier to put all of my energy into it. I hated being poor, so my only option was to work even harder at it so as to try and become a middle class musician – or better.

Having endorsements doesn’t legitimize you as a player. Having gigs legitimizes you as a player and, in order to get gigs, you have to be able to play! In order to play, you have to shed and work hard and becoming both a better bassist AND a better musician. After that, you ail probably land some endorsements, garner a following on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the rest and ONLY THEN does it begin to snowball (ever so slowly) into a career.

Patience, hard work and time (with a hint of luck). The only way to be recognized as an internationally renown bass player is to play at that level.

That, my friend, is quite a process that can take a lifetime. Enjoy the ride.

Photo by Marcus Österberg

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to askdamian@notreble.com. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. I agree whole heartedly on what you say. Ok ive never played on the international stage (as yet) but I have secured myself a spector endorsement deal. An endorsement deal really means you support their gear and in return you get their gear at discount prices. I’m not signed to any label but my band puts in a lot of hours actually engaging with fans, practising and of course the obvious gigging. what messes a lot of young bands up is ego. They don’t engage with their fans and would never help a fellow musician. where as although its not in my agreement with spector to do any of them things I think it goes a long way to success and gains you one thing no amount of amazing ability will get you and that’s respect.

  2. Congratulations Damian on a well written article! I love it.. Although I don’t play bass, my son Aaron Gibson does and I believe he is a tremendous and very talented musician! I know first hand the years and thousands of hours of hard work he has put into his craft. I am a university professor at Jiangxi Normal University in China and I’ve spent most of my time these last 12.5 years here teaching my students the importance of hard work and passion for what you do and for what you want. I’d love permission to share your article with all of my students. It embodies everything I teach them about what it means to truly hang on to your dreams by WORKING THEM until you get what you want. My students have had the pleasure of both meeting and hearing my son Aaron and his amazing music here in China, a few times. They are learning that studying “rote” memorization without critical thinking skills and creativity of independent thought will never bring them to the success they are looking for… your article is true of anything worth having and dream worth going for… not just playing bass… thank you Damian, for sharing. Good job! Connie Gibson, Nanchang, Jiangxi, China.

    • Dear Connie, Thanks for the great sharing

    • Thank you for the link. I’m showing it to my students tonight with other videos I’ve planned.

  3. I totally agree, simple example: my bass teacher, he hates youtube and facebook, he just do it cos’…. if he wants more students, he has to do it, but all the job he has got is near his home…. and sometimes he gives me some to sub him lol (easy jobs: pink floyd tribute bands, blues-rock, etc… not jazz-fusion yet), he’s recognized as the best in our city, 420 000 inhabitants (in France, it’s huge!) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ad1mjPGcRqw only 265 views since 3 years… why? simply cos’ he prefers spending his time on… his bass ;).

  4. Hi Damian,
    wonderful article – I would only add that if you share your musical knowledge on youtube and the like, be sure you have the knowledge to share. Nothing is more painful than seeing a player trying to teach with bad technique and information.

  5. Wise words Damian, thanks man!

  6. I love Jaco, but that quote came from baseball great, Dizzy Dean. :-)

    I like the article and the perspective.

  7. Here’s some advice, wear a skeleton suit! haha

  8. Good advice, I have amp deal with GK, also a string deal with Dunlop, but its pretty much your getting a better price than at a music store, its a who you know buisness its not for free good stuff Damian.