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Spend Money to Make Money: A Discussion for Bass Players

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Yes, that’s right, the words of my college accounting professor ring true to this day. You need to spend money to make money.

While we often think of this term in reference to the boring section of the local paper or as the guiding principle behind buying lemons to sell lemonade, it’s impossible to think of any business, and especially the music business, without seeing evidence of this concept. If you’re a working bass player, spending money is a given; it’s an investment in your small business. If you’re a low-end newbie or a long time hobbyist, then it may be the right time to expand your gear collection or schedule a few lessons. Coincidentally, as your musical education or your career evolves, so do your expenses. Keeping up with the Jones’s isn’t cheap, few of us can resist lusting over new gear, and there are plenty of reasons why you should make some sound investments (pun intended).

If you’re fairly new to the low end, taking a leap from your first bass to your first “pro” bass may require quite the investment but hopefully it will generate a good return. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money on a bass but you do need to have one that is in good condition, is set up well, and appropriate for the style of music you play. Having a bass that you enjoy practicing on may be return enough; you don’t need to be a gigging player yet in order to justify buying a better instrument. A bass that inspires you to hone your craft or explore new creative possibilities isn’t something to be taken lightly and is definitely worth saving up for.

While you may still be new to the instrument, if you aspire to join a band or play live, you’ll need more than just a bass. That 15-watt practice amp won’t stand up to a drummer, you need to show up with a non-crackly instrument cable, and a guitar stand and tuner are other “must haves.” As with any investment, make sure you do your due diligence to find the appropriate equipment. Consider the types of venues you’ll be playing, the tone you want, how to makes things work with your budget, and whether or not these investments will allow you to grow as a player and/or professional.

When it comes to being a working bass player, it’s essential for you to have reliable, versatile, and transportable gear. Coincidentally, the more you get hired to play and the “bigger” the shows are, the more gear you’re likely to need. It’s a catch twenty-two—in order to play better gigs, you’ll need to make greater investments in gear, but, you may not be able to invest in the gear until you get the gigs. It can take time to acquire what you need and not all gear is necessary for every type of gig. As a studio player, you may need half a dozen basses to choose from for a particular session. As a live player, you can get away with one or two good instruments for your regular gig. General maintenance (new strings, batteries, set ups, and repairs) must be factored in as well—if your bass doesn’t work well, it won’t do you any good.

Of course, gear isn’t the only investment that we need to make as musicians. Trust me, I can find plenty of ways to spend money, some of which have greater return than others. Education can be a huge expense but it may provide great personal and professional reward. Going to school for music or taking private lessons can put quite the dent in your bank account, but if you graduate with a degree or learn an important skill, you will be able to capitalize on that knowledge. Clinics, master classes, and camps are also worthwhile if you need inspiration, want to jump start your practice routine, or hope to network with other bass players.

Spending money on music is equally important, whether you’re buying records or going to a live performance. Going to see a band on a Friday night and dropping $20 for a cover charge and a drink is a small price to pay, especially if you experience a great band and run into fellow players. It’s almost impossible to put a price on networking, being on the scene, and keeping in touch with the people who are likely to hire you (this includes other bass players looking for subs).

And finally, any businessman knows that you need to include advertising, marketing, and branding when you’re creating a budget. This may include designing and printing business cards, developing a website and online presence, creating merchandise for your band, or promoting your shows or record releases. It’s equally important to cultivate a “look” for when you’re gigging or when you’re out on the town and networking. Many people will hire band members for their presence and image as much as for their playing. Having the appropriate attire for a gig, be it a collection of hip t-shirts and torn denim for bar gigs or a tux for playing in a wedding band, is very similar to having the proper gear. Alas, another credit card bill.

With all of these expenses, from lessons and education, to gear, maintenance, wardrobe, and business cards, trying to make it “in the black” may seem impossible. Thankfully, it’s not, and if you make logical investments, you’ll probably make your money back and then some within a handful of gigs. If your not a working player, but enjoy learning and practicing the instrument, then you can pick and choose what to spend your money on… perhaps it’s a vintage P-bass or a trip to bass camp. Either way, don’t be afraid to spend some money to make money or gain motivation.

What was your last “smart investment” in the world of bass? Share your story in the comments.

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and playing sessions, she fronts an original music project, The Interludes and teaches private lessons. Visit her website to learn more about her music or to inquire about lessons.

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