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Musicians – Be ready so you don’t have to get ready

I love this phrase!

Be ready so you don’t have to get ready.

I heard a friend of mine use it the other day and remembered just how spot on it is for musicians whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the game for 30 years.

When I was a teenager there were 2 DVD’s I used to watch on repeat – they were the Justin Timberlake Future Sex/Loveshow (no way is that £35…you can find it cheaper!) and Jools Holland Hip Hop and Soul. These were the DVD’s that made me want to be a session bassist and carved out a very particular style in my playing. Most of my time at music college was spent watching these, learning stupid Victor Wooten tunes and transcribing out Chaka Khan lines. After a whole load of time doing this on repeat, I thought to myself, “you’re alright at bass”. So off I set, bass in one hand, manuscript paper in the other, out into the world of session bass playing feeling pretty self assured that the world wasn’t ready for what I had to offer. Ok, i’m both paraphrasing and exaggerating my entire teenage years, time at music college and my level of confidence/ability – but, whatever my mindset really was back then, it certainly wasn’t ready for the music industry.

I remember my first ever pop session, it was for a guy called Tyler James and it felt amazing to finally get on the session ladder. I learnt the tunes like they were the only songs in existence, but, whilst my ability to be professional was ready, there were so many things that really weren’t ready – these are things that I thought I would share as I still find that if i’m not prepared in these areas today then I end up getting caught out.

Gear

Having the right gear for the gig you’re called for is super crucial, knowing how it works is more crucial and making sure that it actually does work is even more crucial-er.

Before you even rock up to a rehearsal or gig, what are you going to take with you. How big is the gig? Does it warrant 2 8×10 cabs? or, conversely is your 2×6″ micro bass amp that you can fit in your pocket going to look really dumb on a 60ft stage? If this is a folk gig, bring a 4 string passive bass instead of your 6 string Ken Smith. It’s even possible that your £200 second-hand strat could be more appropriate for the gig than your £3k PRS…seriously!

On top of bringing the right gear, you need to know how to use it…inside out and backwards. Know how to get the same result in 3 different ways. In the last 2 months I’ve been asked to change the EQ on my preamp to fit around the frequencies of the kick drum sample, create a side chain effect on my Moog (using an external sample, not just ADSR filters) and sample a bass sound from a song to use in Ableton – the only reason I can do these things on demand (which, to some people might be incredibly simple), is because I know how to use my gear.

Lastly, does your gear work? Do you test it/keep it clean before you gig? Don’t get caught out by being lazy or under-prepared with your gear – if it doesn’t work, it only looks bad on you. You’re only as good as the gear you use.

Flexibility

I wasn’t too sure what to label this point, but instead of flexibility I toyed with improvisation, being put on the spot and wtf was that arrangement.

You can learn tunes until you are blue in the face and your fingers are bleeding, but, I guarantee, when you step into rehearsals, something will be different to what you have practised at home. It might be as little as the tone of the guitar which clashes with the tone of your synth, or a monitor mix being slightly off, or, it could be as complex as an entirely new arrangement. What will make you stand out as a musician is the speed at which you can pick up these changes and make them sound as solid as what you learnt at home.

I think you can practice this though, I do it by just sticking Spotify on shuffle and learning songs, lines and licks as quickly as possible. Really, it comes down to having a good ear, the technical ability to adopt the changes and a good memory/focus – 3 skills that I think are the most important for any session musician.

Appearance

Let’s go back to my first pop session. I bought 2 Gallien Krueger 4×10 cabs and a brand new bass amp head specifically for the gig – so I knew the gear was on point. I had learnt the tunes so hard I reckon I could still play then now without practice, and I wasn’t rubbish at picking up the new arrangements either. But, I’ll never forget the phone call I got from the MD asking me to get a haircut!!!!

I hadn’t even considered the fact that I don’t just need to sound like the part, but I need to look the part too. I wasn’t even offended, I was enlightened!! I literally got myself straight down to Tony and Guy and said, “make me look cool” – make of that what you will – I think they did the best they could!

Here’s footage from when we did Live Lounge post hair cut…it’s also my first ever live lounge. Have a listen with headphones:

Do as you’re told

This is a biggie for me! I’m always right – it’s such a curse but I just have to live with it. Obvs I’m joking (lolz) – but I used to really struggle being told to do something differently to what I think is right and it’s an attitude I’ve had to seriously confront, because, when you are in a session you are there to serve the gig and do what the MD is asking you to do.

I’m a 5-string, big sounding, gospelchops.com, active bass kind of guy – I never used to rate the sound of passive basses at all, I thought they were a sign of weakness. I’ll never forget being in rehearsals a few years ago, playing a tune and the MD asked me to switch to a p-bass, to which I replied, “are you sure”? The MD, who I won’t name, but I’m almost sure will read this post was genuinely lost for words at me thinking I knew better than him about the show he was putting together. Reluctantly I did a run through on my p-bass, which the MD recorded and played back to me – honest to God, it sounded spot on. I’ll never forget this, mostly because this MD brings it up at most available opportunities, but also because I learnt a very serious lesson that day – do as you’re bloody well told!

I did a session for Martin Garrix a few months ago (coincidentally the same MD) for the MTV EMA’s – it’s a very synth-heavy bassline, I went into the session with a sound made up on my Moog, the original sound sampled in Ableton and an interpretation of the line on my bass. Having these options ready meant I could ask the MD if he wanted to hear how it sounded on bass, rather than being stubborn about playing it the way I think it should be played. If I remember rightly, I was asked to try it on bass anyway and that’s how we ended up running the song…it actually sounds dope, plus there are fireworks – here it is if you want a listen!

Alright, let’s wrap this one up. I think my main point is this – ability is only a proportion of the skill you need as a session musician. It’s important to stay on top of your game musically and continue to practice and hone your craft – so that you can handle whatever is thrown at you, but, there are so many other factors that you need to prepare in advance so you’re not caught off guard when the call comes in.

So, like a good sermon, I’ll finish with one of my favourite phrases:

Be prepared so you don’t have to get prepared.

If you get a call for the biggest gig of your life today – are you ready for it?

Let me know what you think below, share on the old book face and subscribe to get post updates. I’m working on posting regularly but with more broad subject matters, so let me know if there is anything you’d like me to talk about.

Lots of love.

 

I love this phrase! Be ready so you don’t have to get ready. I heard a friend of mine use it the other day and remembered just how spot on it is for musicians whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the game for 30 years. When I was […]

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How to get Endorsements and free gear as a musician

There is so much I want to say on this topic it’s almost hard to know where to begin! In honesty, I wanted to put out other blog posts before this one, but this subject keeps popping back into my head as one I wanted to put my thoughts out on…so let’s get it out the way!

Let me start by saying this, there is no such thing as free gear! If you are lucky enough to have been given something by a company at a discounted price (including 100% discounted), you will have had to work bloody hard to earn it, and will have to keep working hard to say thanks for it! So, why do we strive for it? And is it worth it? And how do we get endorsed? It makes sense to answer each of these questions individually I reckon, so here goes…

Why do you want to be endorsed?

May as well be honest, it sounds pretty cool to be able to say you’re endorsed – and if you’re endorsed then you must be really busy, right? Or really good, right?

My first endorsement was back in 2011 with an amazing amp company called EA Amps (check them out actually, they’re insanely good!) – I had the iAmp Pro and it was like owning a space ship! – here’s my (first ever) endorsement pic *cringe*

…I’d never seen an endorsement pose with someone holding the amp above their head before, so I thought I was king of the hipsters doing this.

Anyway, to make this point more embaressing for me, here is the email I sent to get this endorsement, which led to this pic:

Hi Barry,

I left you a message on your UK mobile earlier this morning, not sure if you’ll pick it up so thought I’d drop you an email too. I’m a UK bass player currently playing for Mica Paris, I wondered if we might be able to discuss the possibility of becoming an endorsee for EA amps.
Sam Skirrow
The worst thing about this email is not how ridiculously vague it is, but that it wasn’t actually true, I wasn’t (and have never been) the bass player for Mica Paris – actually, I was called to dep once and it never happened. Shame on me right!! Well, in all seriousness it’s people like Sam king-of-the-hipsters Skirrow who are making it really hard to build trusting relationships with companies these days, I was so caught up with my own agenda of looking cool (fail), looking busy and not paying full whack for good gear that actually I lied about what I was doing and probably made it harder for genuine working musicians to get gear from EA in the future.
So here is what I would say to my past self, and anyone else who is starting to think about endorsements – why do you want it? Is it to look cool, or to look like you’re really busy? If so, then sriously, don’t bother – look at that picture of me, do I look either cool or busy?
The reason you should want an endorsement is because you couldn’t possibly live without the company whose gear you use or want to use. You’ll use the gear everyday and in most cases, exclusively, you’ll defend the gear when people use other stuff, you nerd out over the gear and stick their logo over the apple logo on your macbook…it’s basically like having a wife, just way cooler (that comment is a test to see if my wife reads this blog!)…so if you’re ready for marriage, then you’re ready for an endorsement – ok, perhaps I took the metaphor a bit far, but you get the idea, endorsements are for the commited.

Are endorsements worth it?

Obviously, getting a discount on your gear is great. But what is the cost beyond money? Well, here is typically what might be expected from you when you sign an endorsement deal (all of these things I’ve encountered personally but it’s not necessarily true of all companies).

  • Exclusivity – you can only use this brand of gear, and that includes abroad dates where you may be hiring in gear (so you will need to make sure your bespoke, handwired amp is readily available in Moscow…for example)
  • A certain amount of professionalism and credit on your socials. Yep, your socials are no longr your own, instead, every instagram post, tweet, status, snap…whatever, will from now on be followed by a list of @’s and #’s – and you’ll probably want to stop putting up posts about your cat – from now on, you post about your gear.
  • The logo on your gear must be visible to an audience/camera
  • Loan gear is often free, but you will probably have to rent a flightcase for it (which can add up to the same price as just buying the gear!)
  • You may get called up to write articles/play on advertising stands at expos
  • If your company don’t think you’re working hard enough, or representing them well enough, your gear might get called back (harsh, right!!)

…ok, these are by no means meant to seem like an excessive amount of work or a downer on the generosity of the company endorsing you, but it’s worth considering that having an endorsement does come at a cost and you will have to show what you can give back to the company in return for their gear. Remember, there is no such thing as free gear!

It’s also worth checking if an endorsement is actually financially beneficial. A classic deal might be 40% off, I was offered this not so long ago with a company, but when I lookd at the details, I realisd it was 40% RRP (which is typically 20% more expensive than in the stores), then there was 20% tax stuck on top, then import tax (varies, but could be up to another 25%), then there was shipping…*wipes sweat from forehead* – in the end I went to my local music shop and bought the product outright and saved myself nearly £300!

So there are 2 things you want to ask yourself, is it financial worth it and is it worth it in relation to your time and effort.

If you’ve made it this far, then it’s time for the big question everyone’s been waiting for!

How do you get endorsed?

Getting an endorsement is actually dead easy if you follow this simple guideline – put your money where your mouth is!

Let me explain. If you really love a company and you respect their craftsmanship so much that you want to shout about them all over your socials and put their sticker on your laptop, then the only way to truley demonstrate how into them you are is to buy their gear! At that point, you are in the position where you can say, from experience and with evidence how much you love their gear and how much you’d like to represent the company when you perform.

For me, endorsements are all about building a relationship with companies who build, in my opinion, the best gear – and you don’t start a good relationship by asking these companies to lower the price of the gear which they have slaved over building and the profits from it puts food on their tables. As with everything in this industry, good relationships are the most valuable thing you can have.

All the gear I play I have (at some point) paid for the first of it’s kind in full, and have subsequently built a good relationship with the companies who are kind enough to endorse me. So before you write that bolshie email talking about how great you are and what you have done, get yourself down to your music shop and buy the gear you’re trying to beg for free – then email them and tell them how great their gear is. Trust me, having done it both ways, this is far better recieved and leads to much longer term relationships.

Then, once you have your endorsement you can start working on your super cool, hipster endorsement pose 😉

Hope you find this helpful, would love to hear people’s expriences with being endorsed or trying to get endorsed – leave your commnts below, giv us a like on facebook for updates and subscribe by email on the right if you want to be notified whenever I post!

P.S. The “e” key on my laptop is broke (apple…if you’re listening), which is pretty unfortunate given the amount of e’s in this post! I’ve tried to catch them all, apologies if I’ve dropped a few!

There is so much I want to say on this topic it’s almost hard to know where to begin! In honesty, I wanted to put out other blog posts before this one, but this subject keeps popping back into my head as one I wanted to put my thoughts out […]

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The Eich Amps Bass Board Review – Gimmick or Super Flippin Awesome?

Recently I’ve noticed a few fellow low-enders doing away with their bass amps and rocking up to gigs or rehearsals with an intriguing bit of gear – the Eich Amps Bass Board. In an effort to try and explore ampless solutions and develop a consistent on-stage sound that i’m happy with, regardless of the venue, I thought I’d join team bass board and give it a go.

If you haven’t already seen the Eich Bass Board, they basically look like a small, 4″ riser with Bass Board written on it – here’s a picture of mine:

So what do they do, how much do they cost and are they any good? These are the important questions right!

Before I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that I’m not in any way affiliated with Eich Amps (although I am good friends with Peter – their EU artist rep) – this review is my unbiased opinion of the board having road tested it fairly extensively over the last 8 weeks.

So what is the Bass Board? In short the concept is pretty simple, it’s a panel that you plug your bass (or any audio signal) into and you stand on it while it amplifies the signal as vibrations. It’s essentially like standing on top of a sub-woofer, but, instead of speakers inside, it uses some pretty industrial-strength transducers to vibrate the board and give you the experience of feeling the bass. The big selling point to this bad boy is that it is practically silent (obviously since it’s vibrating it’s going to make some sort of noise as it’s still technically moving air. #physics) – so if you’re working on in-ears, then this is a great way of adding the physical punch back in that you miss when not using an amp.

The board comes in 3 sizes (S, M & L), small being good enough to stand on and do a very conservative 2-step, medium is good if you like to lunge while you play and, if you live in London you could pretty easily advertise the large board on Air BnB and make yourself a bit of extra rent (it’s huge). It is pretty needy however, drawing a serious 500 Watts of power over 8ohms! You could, in theory drive it from any old amp head – but you must be certain that you have this power available at the correct impedance, otherwise you risk blowing up your head…which would suck pretty bad.

Calm down though, since Eich do offer a solution to this mamouth drain on power, in the form of their very own range of amps (which are excellent by the way). Say hello to the T-500, T-900 and T-1000

This range of super clean, shiney looking amps are perfect for driving the bass board – so although you could drive the board from your current amp (providing the power rating is right), if you’re going to buy a board you may as well do it right and get the amp that was built to drive it…mixing and matching makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s worth noting that the T-1000 has two, individual 500 Watt power amps (wtf!!) built in – this means you can drive a cab AND the board…you know, just incase you want to rip a hole in the space-time continuum!

Having spent some time playing through the T-900 head, there is 1 (fickle) downside, 1 thing I personally wasn’t so keen on, and 1 thing that perhaps I’ve missed

  1. The fickle thing – It’s not rack mountable.
    This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine as I like things to be racked away and be all nice and neat. But even aside from my rackmount obsession, I can’t understand where this is supposed to physically sit if it’s not made for a rack…as such, I just let it sit on the floor…because where else would it go?UPDATE 07/12/16:
    After chatting with the guys at Eich, it does look as though they provide rack ears for this amp (hurrah!!). It would be nice t see a full rack version at some point, but this is a good solution for rack junkies like me!!
  2. The thing I’m not so keen on – It’s incredibly clean!!
    Probably the cleanest amp i’ve ever played through infact! This really shouldn’t be listed as a downside because it’s awesome – a truley untarnished sound. However, I like a bit of character from my amps, for as theoretically and techinically awesome as this amp is – it’s one fault perhaps is that it could be accused of being too clinical?I must emphasise though that this is just my personal preference – the amp is beautifully clean, but if you want a bit of dirt, you might need to consider some sort of preamp solution too.
  3. Did I miss something?? There is only 1 input
    Previously, Eich had a product called the rocket 500 (before that, Eich were called Tecamp and the same product was called the Pleasure Pump…lol). This was a great piece of kit dedicated to driving the board, and what I liked about it was there were 2 inputs (with 2 seperate gains), so you could have one dedicated for bass, and one dedicated to a seperate monitor feed (for example) or an aux input such as an ipod, iphone or Nokia N-Gage. Each channel had it’s own gain so you could blend to your hearts content.From what I understand, the 3 amps do have a second line in (aux and 1/4″ jack line in) – but only the T-1000 has the ability to blend the two – this does decrease the amount of flexibilty you have in terms of what you can pump into your feet.The previous Rocket-500/Pleasure Pump also had a really cool high cut filter which allowed you to cut out a lot of noise coming into the board from higher freuqencies, essentially allowing you to just single out bass frequencies…I liked this feature and it’s a shame it’s not on the amps.

    Personally, I think the amps need a more dedicated control section for board users that has gains for both inputs, as well as the cool high cut filter.

Right, enough of my downsides, let’s quickly talk about how awesome the board is though, here are my thoughts:

  1. It’s super responsive
    The board picks up every little nuance of your playing, it really feels like the bass is inside of you (when you try it out, you will know what I mean). It’s not simply just a dull shaking, it’s very accurate and very precise, every dead note, slide, slap and pop can be felt in all it’s glory – it’s really an amazing playing experience.
  2. It’s bloody loud!
    That is, loud in terms of how fiercely it vibrates rather than amplitude. 16 year old me thinks this is well good, nearly 30 year old me is concerned about my knees!! In all seriousness though, I have never needed to turn the master level above a third! I did a stretch of rehearsals where I stood on this board for a straight 10 hours and afterwards I felt like I had run a marathon…great for toning up your calfs! But I do wonder if there are any actual health risks involved with it…gosh, when did captain lame get here!! If you do plan to go and practice your slam dunks the next day though, I probably wouldn’t go above half!

So what’s the cost? Well, thanks to Brexit it’s not super cheap! There are UK stockists, here is where I got mine:

http://www.bassdirect.co.uk/bass_guitar_specialists/Eich_Bass_boards.html

Board prices as follows:
Small – £399
Medium – £450
Large – £489

If you’re lucky you will find yourself one of the previous dedicated drivers in a local dealer – the Rocket 500 will set you back £579 (It could act as a decent preamp too – which helps jusitfy the cost a little though). You could also search around for the last remaining Tecamp Pleasure Pumps – they are exactly the same but just branded under the old company name. If you manage to find one in a shop, it’s likely it will have been purchased pre-Brexit so you could get a good deal (Bass direct advertise them for £450 – so you can save yourself over £100…which you could put towards buying some rack ears!!!).

If you’re going down the amp route, I would recommend the T-1000 – obviously it’s the top shelf model, but it will be the most flexible in allowing you different setups, from the conventional amp/cab situation, to amp/board and amp/board/cab – there is also a built in compressor as an added bonus.

Prices for the heads are as follows:

T-500 – £625
T-900 – £725
T-1000 – £1150

So you’re looking at around £1000 – £1500 to get yourself set up. If you’re thinking of going for it, my advice would be, decide if you want your amp to be an Eich amp, or whether you just want to add the board to your setup. If it’s the latter, Get the board and the T-500 (use that as a replacement for the previous Rocket 500/Pleasure Pump), if you’re going all in and want to embrace the Eich sound as part of your audible rig then get yourself the board and the T-1000 head…and you may aswell grab yourself an Eich 610 cab too 😉

So, in conclusion. This is a great great great bit of kit, I love how responsive the board is and how well it internalises bass. It has revolutionised my home practice as I can go as late as I like without disturbing the family/neighbours. It feels great on an ampless stage too, however, if people don’t know what it is, they will assume you have just bought yourself a riser for your ego (yup, that happened to me). I’m also not so keen on the extra 4″ of height it gives me (which, if you use synths, you will have to raise them up too). There are a few features that I think are missing from the amps (that were on the previous drivers) and it would be good to see these come back in future developments.

The playing experience when using this board is like nothing else – it’s truly unique and amazing. When it comes to playing live though, for me, if the venue has good subs and decent side fills, this wouldn’t be the top of my buy-list. Having said that, this board has genuinely changed the game – what I’d love to see is an even smaller board specifically designed for home use that you just rest a foot on, and a driver the size of a pedal (and a price tag maybe half the cost!) – I think that would be an amazing addition to an already brilliant lineup of products!!

 

Recently I’ve noticed a few fellow low-enders doing away with their bass amps and rocking up to gigs or rehearsals with an intriguing bit of gear – the Eich Amps Bass Board. In an effort to try and explore ampless solutions and develop a consistent on-stage sound that i’m happy with, […]

Read More