How to nail an audition every time

Here’s a word that surely strikes fear into the heart of every musician – audition!

I hate auditioning. I know musicians who refuse to audition – I was almost one of them. Although I’m really glad I didn’t adopt that mindset, I totally get why some people would just not want to put themselves through the most unnatural musical environment imaginable. If you’re anything like me, during an audition you’ll experience every emotion from, “I’m awesome on my instrument, totally got this” through to, “I shouldn’t even be allowed to touch a bass”.

I have auditioned around 10 times over the past 5 or 6 years, and I’ve only ever got 1…and that was the last one I did! Although a 10% success rate isn’t great, I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy and I like to think of it as 9 auditions where I learnt how to become better. So this post is my way of sharing those things I learnt from my ‘failures’ in a hope that it will help people prepare better for auditioning.

It’s not about playing all your licks

I struggled with this one for ages. I like a good lick (lol), I love being expressive when I play and being responsive to vibe and atmosphere. I love music to sound “live” and for a band to be energetic, and I LOVE a good arrangement! On top of that, you want to go into and audition and stand out, right? So if you whip out some badass licks, or some crazy chords or chops, then you will be remembered and will get hired.

Not true. At least not for the auditions I’ve done. One of my first auditions I thought to myself, “I’m going to go in a shred all over this”. The artist was auditioning for a whole band, so we were placed in bands at random and told to play the track. I remember the guys in my band that day, they were sick! It was an amazing group of musicians, but things got out of hand! The drummer did a chop, I felt like I had to match it so I did a chop, the guitarist turned up, the keys player started putting in passing chords. To me, it sounded amazing and was incredibly fun (a rare feeling in an audition), I remember coming away from that audition thinking to myself, “If we don’t all get that gig I don’t know who will”. Plot twist (or not), none of us got the gig! So why not? Aside from being incredibly arrogant, the reason I didn’t get the gig was because, in that room, I thought that the audition was all about me and my superb ability.

Auditioning is not about you – it’s about the artist and their music! Here’s a fact for you, there will always be someone better than you. Cold, right! But seriously, if you want the best bassist in the world, why not get in Anthony Jackson, or Victor Wooten or *insert famous musician name here*. Obviously, I’m talking in extremes to make a point, but the thing is, an audition isn’t a competition to show that you are the best technical musician in the room, it’s about getting the artist excited about hearing their song, and their arrangements and their finely crafted sounds, that they have spent weeks and months and thousands of pounds recording, live. If you want to show off your licks, film it in your bedroom and stick it on youtube – don’t bring them into an audition.

Prepare musically

I’m sure this one goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you are not fully prepared musically for your audition, then you may as well not show up. Just so we’re clear, when I go into and audition (or rehearsals, or gigs, or studio sessions, or whatever), I know the tracks inside out and backwards, I know when the drum pattern changes or when the guitar part comes in, I know my part on bass and on synth, I could play with a plectrum on a 4 string or 5 string. I know where I could fill if I was asked to open up a bit in the song – I’ll even have arrangement ideas, in case I’m asked. Don’t just learn your part, learn the song!

Make sure your gear is right for the gig too. If the song calls for a 4 string p-bass, don’t rock up with your 6-string ken smith. Get you patches and sounds right, and if you’re going to be using a keyboard that has been brought in, make sure you know your way around it (I go down to a music shop and have a play down there if it’s a board I’ve never used before).

really think it goes without saying, but you can’t over prepare for an audition, and I don’t understand why anyone would just rock up and wing it – it shows that you don’t really care, and it’s cool to care…right!?

Prepare physically

An audition isn’t just about your ability. An artist (and moreover, a label and management) wants to see how you look on stage, how you fit in with the look of a band and how you perform. So think about your appearance. What are you going to wear? Get yourself a haircut. Practice standing up and performing the song. I really like the saying, “dress for the job you want”, it stops me getting into the habit of thinking that my ability alone is what will carry me – it’s the way you present yourself both physically and socially that also carries you.

Prepare mentally

I feel like this point is massively overlooked on so many levels. When you go to an audition, do you know what it’s actually going to be like? If you’ve done a lot, then probably yes – although saying that, almost all of my auditions have been very different.

This story will haunt me forever. I remember auditioning a couple of years ago for a very well known artist. I got the audition date and couldn’t make it, so I phoned the MD and told him. The MD was adamant that he wanted me to audition so they moved the whole thing so that I could make it. At that point, I felt like a pretty big deal! Cutting a long story short, I got to the audition room and it was utterly vibeless – if there is such a thing as anti-vibe, or some sort of vibe-vacuum, it was present in that room!

The set up was a (really awful) bass amp in the middle of the stage and a laptop. In the room was the MD, management, the artist, some next-guy filming and a seriously awkward silence. I got up on stage, plugged in and the MD hit play on the laptop, at which point I became super aware of how exposed I was and played like my hands had been stuck on backwards. Some people would probably argue that I should be able to play along to a laptop on my own – and that is true, I do it all the time at home. But there was something about standing there, with a whole room watching, trying to catch a vibe with a CD that got in my head and made me totally unable to play.

Something got in my head. My thoughts would sabotage me, I would think that I was no good, or not able to prove my ability or that I would tarnish my reputation that had got me the audition in the first place. Whatever it was, it stayed with me for months afterwards too – I really struggled to believe in my ability and for the longest time I hated playing music. All because I hadn’t mentally considered what the audition scenario could be like.

So what can you do? Well, this is where things might get a bit freaky-deaky for some people, but I believe that for as much as you can prepare musically for something, and prepare physically, you can also prepare mentally. About a week before my last audition I made a list of negative, sabotaging thoughts that have a tendency to creep into my thinking. Things like, “You’re not good enough”, or, “You’re going to ruin your reputation”, or, “You’re going to mess it up” (I actually went into more detail than this when I wrote it down). Then, on the other side of the page I would write down what I know to be true as a counter to these thoughts; “I’ve worked for x, y, z and been playing professionally for x years”, or, “I got called for this because someone had heard about my great reputation”, or, “I have the ability, experience and expertise to demonstrate that I’m a great bassist”. Again, I would write in a bit more detail, but it was based on facts rather than irrational thoughts. Every day I would focus on this positive affirmation so that when I enter a room where I would normally think negative thoughts, I have trained myself to think positively about myself.

Like I say, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in terms of walking into a room and being able to lay it down under pressure – this kind of preparation has become invaluable for me. Try it!

Be you

This is my last point, and for me, this is what means that I will forever nail every audition I do. When I got called for my last audition, I was asked to prepare the tracks on synth, using Ableton to create the sounds. My Ableton knowledge (at the time) was pretty limited, but I started looking through tutorials and working away at building the right sounds. After a couple of days of struggling through, I had an epiphany, if I got the gig I would be forever struggling to figure out how to use Ableton to make the sounds and patches for each song. So I decided to change my approach to be something more true to myself – 2 bass synths, a bass and a big ass amp!

This change in mindset, I think, is the key to auditioning well. I walked into the room and demonstrated what I could bring to the gig. I had programmed up my 2 synths, hired an Ampeg 8×10 and decided to bring in live bass at the end of the track (with a tiny fill) to give it a boost. I’ll be honest, the playing wasn’t perfect, my gear failed a bit and the amp didn’t sound that great…which goes against my other point, but, when I left the room I knew that I had shown them exactly what I do and what I could bring to the gig. I knew that if I didn’t get the gig it was because I wasn’t the right fit, not because I didn’t have the ability.

Coincidentally, this is the only audition I have ever got!

I genuinely think that when it comes to auditioning, it’s important to be level-headed and not hold it tightly – the goal isn’t to get the gig, it’s to do your best and show what you can bring to a gig. If you have this mindset, then whether you get the gig or not, you have nailed the audition.

Hope this was helpful. It’s taken me a lot of trial and error (mainly error) to get to this conclusion, so hopefully, it saves people having to go through the same number of knockbacks! I think there should be more discussion and emphasis on the mental strain musicians (and self-employed people in general) put themselves under, it’s something I’m really passionate about talking about so you’ll probably hear more from me on that over the next few months!

Let me know what you think, give us a share and subscribe if you want to be notified of when I post again,

Here’s a word that surely strikes fear into the heart of every musician – audition! I hate auditioning. I know musicians who refuse to audition – I was almost one of them. Although I’m really glad I didn’t adopt that mindset, I totally get why some people would just not want to […]

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Effectively dealing with frustration in the music industry

Emo warning – this is going to be a mildly personal post….it won’t be a long one though!

In a slightly different vein to my last few posts, this is less about becoming a session musician, and more about making note of something I’ve recently realised. Since I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of guy, I thought I’d share my thoughts as a record of my current journey (not just my past one!) and hope that it helps other musicians too.

Possibly slightly on the controversial side, but I want to talk about how bloody frustrating the music industry can be sometimes. Before I start though, I should point out that this isn’t a rant, and it’s not some sort of sub-contextual, subtly pointing the finger at someone post either – i’m just not that socially complex (ask my wife), this nothing more than sharing a recent change in perspective.

I used to think, for years, that I was the only one who would get called for a gig and then a few weeks before it was due to start I’d find out that someone else had been called for it instead, or that I was the only one who would be hanging around with A-listers in rooftop bars in LA one week – and then working on a building site to pay my bills the next, or even that I was the only one who had to explain to people looking to hire me why “experience” wouldn’t put food on my table (all true stories). Well, if you ever feel like that or have felt like that in the past, then at least now you know you’re not the only one! Actually, the more I chat to musicians who on the outside look like they have it all together, the more I realise that we all feel the same (at least for the company I hold anyway) – frustrated! Fortunate and #blessed (obvs), but also, at times, very frustrated!

This industry can come across as brutally cold at times and that leads to feeling kicked to the side, like you’re not really getting anywhere and like everyone else is progressing ahead of you. Even just the feeling of coming off tour and going back to normal life can feel like the brakes have slammed on so hard that you start thinking you’ve got no future in music – I felt like that just a few weeks ago, it was only 2 days after coming back from a tour in Japan that I found myself telling Emma how I’m ready to call it quits and I don’t feel like i’m getting anywhere…2 DAYS!!!!

It’s a slippery slope thinking these kind of thoughts, you can get in your own head and believe things that really aren’t true – you start comparing yourself to others (or what you see of others) and get that feeling of being at the bottom of the class, or being slowest in the race. Speaking from my own experience, these thoughts seriously inhibit my ability, my social life, my home life and most of all, my inner contentment. So here are a couple of things that I’ve started doing or training myself to think in order to combat this frustration of feeling like you’re trying to run through treacle!

Don’t check your socials to start your day

I got myself into a really bad habit of waking up, grabbing my phone and checking my instagram and facebook feeds to see what’s going on with the world. I’m sure I’m not alone, and I’m fully aware of the fact that I spend way too much time staring at a screen in general anyway! In particular though, I think it’s a really bad way to start the day – essentially I’m looking at what other people are doing, and whether I’m consciously thinking it or not, I’m comparing myself to them – this is how I’ve chosen to start my day, to see if my life compares well to what my friends or colleagues are doing.

It sounds like a really small change, but in order to keep control over your thoughts it’s really not a good idea to start your day in this way. So I’ve made a rule for myself, first thing I do is ignore my phone and go and make a coffee – have a chat with my wife, chuck socks at my daughters head (or some other sort of gesture to show her who is the boss in the house…since i’m outnumbered!), have a shower and think about the day ahead and what I want to achieve…then, I’ll check my socials. I mean, I’m trying to keep this routine, but it’s surprising how it’s become second nature to just pick up my phone and mindlessly scroll!

For me it’s been a great way to cementing what is really important and lasting, rather than to eye up where I think I fall on the scale of success…which doesn’t even exist!

Get some perspective

It’s really easy to loose a bit of perspective when you spend all your day in the thick of it. This story is a bit vague and possibly embellished since I can’t remember all the details…but it is still true!! 3 of my best friends are doctors, I remember one of my friends, on her first shift as a doctor was rushed off her feet and at least one of her patients died…or got very sick…like I said, can’t remember the details, but I do remember the sense of perspective it gave me. Let’s say you make a bum note on a live broadcast…well, nobody died. Or you learnt the wrong version of a song for a first dance and there is no signal to download the right version…nobody dies – you get the gist! Perspective is a great way of realising that the world won’t end if you don’t manage to do something.

I really enjoy mountain climbing – so I always make a point to go away and climb, or swim in a lake, or do something outdoors that makes me realise that the world won’t end because of my problems…no one will die.

Stop chasing ghosts – pursue things that are real

Recently I’ve used the phrase “chasing a ghost” probably about 4 times a week…i’ve never really used it before, but all of a sudden it seems really fitting for my current mindset. What I mean by it is, are you chasing something that is even real? Think about what you are aiming for – is it fame? popularity? to be the best bassist in the world? To be rich? All of these have popped into my head at some point as something I want to achieve, but here’s the thing – none of those things are real, tangible things – you’ll never reach the end of those goals, it’s like trying to reach the end of a rainbow, and this for me is where a lot of my frustration with being in the music industry comes from – it’s not actually the industry, it’s me! I’m the one setting goals that can’t ever be reached…not because they’re too ambitious, but because there is no endpoint or way of knowing when I’ve reached them.

Although I have been really conscious to make goals this year that are actually measurable – I know that I also strive for things that will never be attained – and it’s important to cut yourself away from this way of thinking. It’s not a bad thing to say you want to be the best at your craft – but it’s such a vague goal that if you don’t have a way of measuring it you’ll get frustrated. Set goals that can be measured – you want to play on a number one album – that would show you’re pretty damn good at your craft, or you want to start doing drum clinics and get booked for one per month – again, that would suggest you’re well on the way to being the best at your craft. I don’t necessarily agree with the goal of being the best at something, partly because it’s so vague, but you see my point – make tangible goals that you could tick off a list once it’s done rather than chasing things that aren’t real!

Know what defines you

Here’s a very honest fact about me – I like being seen to do well. It makes me feel good when people look at my instagram and leave fire emojis, or comment that I’m smashing life. I think to an extent we all do. My problem is that I have recently let that define me, and as a result I became very frustrated when I’m not getting fire emojis or comments on how well I’m doing. So what’s the solution – put up more pics, record more videos? Nope, it’s to change perspective – I guess this point is similar to my last, but chasing after status is not a real thing.

Last year I had a gig with an amazing artist called Matt Wills – check out his music, he’s incredibly talented. The gig isn’t a situation – it’s got a rocky/electro edge to it, plectrum vibes, solid grooves, that kind of gig (picture for this post is from that gig FYI). We played an amazing headline show and afterwards a younger guy came up to me and said, “you’re Sam Skirrow right” (feeling great about myself) I said yes and asked how he found the show, he replied “it was good…you didn’t really go in as much as I was expecting you to…”. Ouch…that comment stung my pride a bit! May as well said that I sucked – although that wasn’t the tone of the comment at all – that’s what I heard! But here is the thing – I was doing my job, and I played what was right for the gig – blazing all over it would have made me look great, but made the gig sound crap. But since I love it when people see how good am – all it takes is a comment like that to make me feel like I’ll never be a good musician, why? Because I was defining myself by what other people thought of me, not what I thought of me – which is that I had done a great job!

So, although it’s a bit of a deep topic for a Sunday evening, I think this is a personal question most creatives should ask themselves – what are you chasing after and what defines you. Be honest too – don’t be ashamed of what you find out about yourself, because ultimately, confronting the answer to this, making sure you are chasing after something tangible and you are defined by solid facts rather than fleeting comments will make you a better player and make you more employable.

I know the tone of this post is a lot deeper than what I’d usually chat about – mainly it’s because I want to make a not of what I’ve been thinking recently and also because it’s my blog so I’ll write what I want. Would love to hear people’s thoughts – I know i’m not the only frustrated musician in the world so let’s get a conversation going!

Until next time!!

Emo warning – this is going to be a mildly personal post….it won’t be a long one though! In a slightly different vein to my last few posts, this is less about becoming a session musician, and more about making note of something I’ve recently realised. Since I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve […]

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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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About jam nights and why every session musician should go to them

I’ve been talking a lot recently about my experience of how I got into working as a session musician – I think it’s something that should be talked about more openly and hopefully there is some useful advice in there for people who are considering leaving their well paid jobs to live the dream.

This might be my last advicey blog for a while as I want to steer things a little more towards nerdy bass gear talk (at least for the next few posts). But before taking it there, I thought I would talk about a topic I’m sure every working musician has an opinion on – Jam nights!!

Some of the most common advice I was given as a young buck wanting to head out into the glamour of session musician-ing was, “go to Jam nights”. Probably the most vague bit of advice going, so here are my reasons on why I think every musician should go to Jam nights and what you can expect.

  1. Make some mates and play with new musicians
    I briefly mentioned this point in my last blog post about how to promote yourself as a session musician and get gigs. Having friends in this industry is one of the most valuable assets (that is, friends, not just contacts), not only do mates want to work with mates – but actually the importance of having someone to depend on for advice and encouragement has been crucial for me to keep believing in myself and being persistent.I can’t stress this point enough here – don’t go to jam nights thinking that Gary Barlow is going to see you, be totally blown away by your playing and flock to you with his phone number begging you to play for him. When you say it like that it sounds stupid (Ok, I exhaggertaed little), but this was my mentality at first, and I’m sure it’s the mentality of a lot of other people that have been given the advice, “go to jam nights” when asking, “how do I get a gig”. Infact, I would say the opposite, don’t go to jam nights expecting a gig at all – you will be seriously dissapointed. Instead, go to be socialable and enjoy playing with other great musicians. Once you’ve had a play, chat with the people you played with, get numbers, go for some food after (there is a great little Italian takeaway place opposite Ronnies), nerd out over gear – basically, be normal! Your goal isn’t to use people to get gigs, it’s to get to know other, like-minded musicians.
  2. Build your confidence
    I remember the first jam night I went to – it was at the Troy bar and the level of musicianship was so incredible (pretty sure it was Rick Leon James on bass…if you know, you know!) that I decided I never wanted to play bass again! Twenty minutes later, I decided that was a stupid thought and that I had just wasted a great oppurtunity to better myself by being too scared to play.I started going down to jam nights a couple of times a week and, in a similar way in which I imagine Bear Grylls forces down a goats testicle, I would force myself, against every part of me that wanted to just go home and have a qiuet night, to get up and play. Actually, non-surprisingly, there’s not really anything too it – it’s always that first step that takes the most confidence. I used to think of it as “faking confidence”. I think it’s a key skill to have though as a musician, it translates to more than just getting up on a jam night to play to having the confidence to walk into a last minute gig, or having the confidence to sugest an arrangment in rehearsals, or having the confidence to audition under pressure – think of it as a training ground to build up your confidence in your own ability.
  3. Grow your repertoire
    Having a good repertoire is a big weapon to have in your arsenal. It means not only can you jump on any song at a jam night, but you can also hop on function gigs easily with very little preparation, or join in when the whole band decide to soundcheck by playing superstition (*cringe*).Seriously though, repertoire is a big advantage for jam nights and for your musical career in general, so to help out I’ve made a Spotify playlist of songs that quite often pop up at jam nights – but also that I think are just good to know!Disclaimer – I’m sure everyone and their dog will have songs to add to this list – it’s not a definitive list. Feel free to leave comments about what songs you think are good function/jam night standards though.

  4. Show your face
    Again, this was a point I made in a previous post, but showing your face regularly is a great way to stay on people’s mind, and a great way to build relationships with people. The more you go to jam nights, the more you will be recognised and eventually you’ll be asked to come up on stage to play rather than having to ask. So be a regular, on jam night will not land you all the gigs…which leads me on to my final point of why you should go to jam nights.
  5. Get all the gigs
    OK, this is not actually the point at all, infact, I think it’s fair to say that in about 7 years of going to jam nights, i’ve never been given a gig…perhaps that says more about me now I think about it!But here is the thing that has definetly been true for me; good relationships, self confidence, a large repertoire (and a good ear) and regular catch ups with other musicians will eventually lead to getting you gigs – and these are all skills that you can learn and develop whilst at jam nights.

Where are the jam nights?

There are so many jam nights that happen in London, some better than others and sometimes the good ones will have a hen night going on in the same room and end up with a bunch of drunken middle aged women who don’t play instruments getting up and giving it a good go anyway…true story. But here are some that I’ve definetly frequented in the past:

Ronnie Scotts

  • Ruby Sings – every Tuesday, £8 on the door (or email to get on the guest list for £6 – limited places available)
  • W3 Jam Sessions – this is a great jam night by the way and will be packed out! Every Thursday, £6 – £8 (depending on what time you arrive).

Troy Bar

The Troy bar actually do music most nights, but I think the best ones are:

  • Spirit & Soul – every Tuesday – this is more of an open mic night, so good for vocalists
  • Fusion Jazz Jam – this is my FAVE. If you want to see amazing musicianship, and get up to play and really push yourself, this is the one. Every Friday night

Marmelade Jam

Disclaimer – i’ve never actually been to this one (yet) but my friend Chelsea who is well cool runs it so it must be good!! Plus, it has it’s own website – Every Wednesday night…Chelsea, I’m coming down I swear 😉

Ciros – Music Box Live Jam

My experience of Ciros has been limited but great – the first time I may have had a bit too much to drink, stormed up on stage like a bull in a china shop and i’m pretty sure I played awesome…but that last bit might be open to interpretation (the picture for this post is from that night…photo cred to my mate Loucas Hajiantoni…superb keys player, and not so great photographer). The second time I burst through the door and knocked the bouncer over who then kicked me out…so that night wasn’t great. It’s brilliant musicians though and a great intimate vibe. Every other Monday (I think) – it’s a bit vague, but it’s called the music box jam, so if you search that you will find a post on facebook from someone, somewhere about it!!

For most Jam nights, I would aim to get there for about 11pm…any earlier and you’ll be that nerdy guy who get’s everywhere too early. Just kidding, punctuality is well cool. But they run late, so get yourself a nap in the evening and expect a long (and thoroughly enjoyable) night.

As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, my hope with this post is to make jam nights seem less pressured and daunting to people who have been told they should go, but don’t really know why!

I’ve been talking a lot recently about my experience of how I got into working as a session musician – I think it’s something that should be talked about more openly and hopefully there is some useful advice in there for people who are considering leaving their well paid jobs […]

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How to promote yourself and get gigs when you’re a session musician

Following such a positive response to last week’s post – Can be be a UK session musician and not live in London, I thought I would talk about that thing that comes before getting work, something that I feel doesn’t really get taught enough in music colleges or spoken about in general…self promotion!

I should probably mention before we start, this is my limited experience from the last 6 years or so, and in particular I’m talking about promoting yourself for pop gigs.

Definitely the most common question I get asked about my job is “how do you get gigs”. If I’m honest, I don’t really know the answer – there really isn’t any formula for getting gigs, but I know that I didn’t just wake one day and have them. So the question really is, how do you get noticed?

Well, here are a few things a friend of mine called Spam Spirrow found out didn’t work:

  1. Posting a phone with your phone number on it and a post-it note saying “Call Me” to the head of a major label company…nope, doesn’t work.
  2. Stalking up and coming artists in their home town to just so happen to  bump into them and mention you’re a bassist and you’d love to work with them…nope, that’s both creepy and unproductive.
  3. Emailing an MD everyday for 30 days straight for a gig…yeah, also doesn’t work

Plot twist, Spam Spirrow is actually me, Sam Skirrow. Yeah, pretty embarrassing right – I mean, most of these things were nearly 10 years ago now, but I wish I had a blog about promoting yourself to read before I went ahead and did them!

So I think it’s fair to assume most people reading this will have a much more rational head on them and NOT do anything stupid like the above, so if you’re wondering what has actually helped me pick up gigs (and now you know i’ve tried more or less everything!!) then here’s my advice.

  1. Be excellent, all the time
    To be honest, I could stop writing this post now! As this really is what it all hangs on, whatever size gig or crowd, or whoever is in the band, always bring your A-game. Practice for those function gigs just as you would for those arena gigs, and respect the gig while you are on them. Why, because you never know who is watching and you never know who will call you.

    I remember being in a rehearsal for a gig a few years back that was paying very little (it was a agreed fee for 5 weeks of work – and it probably worked out at about £30 a day). But I played for my life during those rehearsals, in the middle of it, a guy came in from the studio next door, stopping our rehearsal and asked to get my number. From then on he started calling me for work which I’m still doing to this day!

    Don’t play to the size of the gig, play to the size of your potential <- sick quote I just made up!

  2. Use social media…but don’t spam people
    I probably don’t need to mention how good social media is for promoting yourself, put up videos of you playing, do the whole Facebook live thing and Instagram about what you are doing – it’s a great way to show people who you are and what you can do. I think there is a bit of an unspoken etiquette (at least, I think there is) when it comes to how you present yourself on your socials.

    Here’s what I think the unspoken rules are:
    – Don’t tag the whole world and their dogs in your videos!! Ok, every now and then it’s cool to tag people in your super sick drum video – but don’t do it ALL the time because people will get sick of you. Plus, let’s be honest, there are only so many drum fills or bass chops we can all take right?! Sometimes it’s nice just to have a bit of 2 and 4!
    – Don’t pretend to be on gigs you’re not, or endorsed by people you’re not…no one does that right 😉
    – Don’t troll on other musicians – these are your potential colleagues, if you’re going to gossip or hate on people you are burning bridges….basically don’t hype!

    Put out good quality videos and Instagrams and Facebook live’s and fan art till you’re blue in the face, but do it in moderation – be real and be humble.

  3. Don’t network – make friends
    I’ve always hated the word Network – it feels really cold and non-relational. One thing I’ve learnt in this industry is that you need friends not just a collection of phone numbers. Aside from the fact that people want to work with their mates and so you’re going to get called by people you get on with, it’s far more valuable to have people that you can call up for advise or encouragement when you most need it.So how do you make friends? I started meeting other musicians at jam nights (ahhhhh the dreaded J word!). I want to do another post on jam nights and what to expect at a later date, so for now my advise is this – go to them, lots of them, but don’t go expecting to get gigs. Instead, go to enjoy playing with other great musicians and meet people who are doing, or trying to do what you want to do.

    If you just want to go and show off your latest lick then no-one will care! Talk to people, buy them drinks, enjoy making music with them and keep in touch with them – it’s kind of like dating!

  4. Be friendly
    This point probably doesn’t need to much explanation. But I’ve found that just by being mildly sociable and texting or phoning people regularly you stay in the loop a little better and develop greater friendships.

    I don’t want to be patronising about how to be friendly so I won’t go into any more detail here – treat musicians as friends rather than potential leads to work!

  5. Develop your own musical identity
    This is a point I preach a lot, especially to musicians who are in, or have come up through music college. I feel like the music education system teaches us to try and be good at everything – I think that’s rubbish! I am never going to be really great at playing Latin music because it’s not in my culture or my upbringing, and also I’m just not that into Latin music! So why should I try and get good at it when I have other things that I’m naturally good at and that I enjoy.

    Know your musical identity because that is essentially what you will get hired for. I have always been very focussed on the style of playing I like and practice, even to the extent of turning down some great gigs because it’s not the route I want to go down. I remember a great friend of mine and utterly brilliant bassist called Si Francis passing on this advice to me – he was doing the whole 5-string bass, RnB/soul playing thing but felt like it wasn’t really him, so he sold his bass and embraced what he loved, great bass tone, 4 strings (although I swear I’ve seen him on the occasional 5 😉 ) and incredible skills at making sounds with effects pedals (and also smashing up Ableton and synth sounds too), and that is what got him called for the Ellie Goulding gig. The moral of the story, people will call you for what you bring to a gig – so find your sound and what you enjoy and master it.

Essentially, I’m sad to report, there isn’t a rule for getting work – everyone has a different story behind how they got their first pop gig. But I genuinely believe that hard work and determination don’t go unnoticed. If you work diligently, make friends and keep cool, you will (eventually) get work!

Would love to hear your thoughts on my thoughts – how did you get your first gig, or are you feeling like you’ve tried everything and not getting anywhere? Is there anything that has worked well for you or would recommend to other musicians? Leave us a comment below and give us a share on the old book-face.

Lots of love.

Following such a positive response to last week’s post – Can be be a UK session musician and not live in London, I thought I would talk about that thing that comes before getting work, something that I feel doesn’t really get taught enough in music colleges or spoken about in general…self promotion! […]

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Can you be a UK session musician and NOT live in London?

As a non-Londoner, this topic is pretty close to my heart and one that I really wanted to air my thoughts and first hand experience on.

I’m definitely that guy who, if you say to me “you can’t do such and such” I will want to do it more! So when I started out as a session musician 5 years ago, and everyone’s advice was “you need to move to London”, instinctively I felt the need to absolutely not move to London. Not because I don’t like taking advise, but because for me, it never made sense that where I live should affect where I work (within reason, obviously) – afterall, I do have a car…and a sleeping bag!

I should probably say at this point that I don’t have any hate towards London, I actually love it – but I enjoy my space, and the outdoors and London really isn’t where I want to live…I think this could be the same case for a lot of people who have also been told you need to live in London to work as a musician – hense why I want to write this post to share my experience and advise.

Plenty of successful working session musicians live outside of the M25, so it’s definetly possible, but how do you make it work? Here’s a few things that have worked for me (and also not worked for me) in the past.

  1. Have a plan. Be organised, punctual and mobile
    The biggest thing you will need to prove if you are going to commute to London for work is that you are reliable and that your home location doesn’t affect your work. So have a plan – do you drive? If so, how long would it take you to get into central London for 10am…with time to spare…because traffic…and coffee! If you don’t drive, how reliable are the trains and buses around you? What will you do about your gear (I store mine in London and get a cab to drop it off to wherever I’m working). What will you do with your gear after a show if your lockup is closed?

    You really can’t afford to be a liability on a gig when you’re from out of town, so being organised like this will mean that other people don’t have to spend their time worrying about how to get you from A to B, or how to ship your gear about, or even whether you’re going to be able to make it to your gig!

  2. Budget your own travel expenses
    I never expect to be paid my travel expenses. Since it’s my choice to live outside of London, I don’t expect to be put up in a swanky hotel or have my train fares paid. Having said that, thankfully, the people I work with respect that I don’t live locally and are happy, most of the time, to pay my expenses or put me up in a hotel (although, I often miss a couple of petrol receipts or train fares off my invoices). It has to be said though that I have spent many a night in a shared dorm in a five-pound-a-night hostel in London…hugging my bass for dear life! Or top and tailing with other band members, or sitting in a bus stop until the first train back home…I’ve done it all!

    Here’s my top tip though if you’re on a budget and you need a hotel, go on really really late on the day you want a room – like 10/11pm – I’ve never paid over £30 for a 3* in central London…in this case, lack of organisation actually pays off!

  3. Embrace the fact you live outside of London
    OK, honesty time. When I first started out, I remember thinking it would be a great idea to just pretend to live in London when people asked…at the time I thought I was as cunning as bloody Jonathan Creek, now I look back on that I realise it was a dumb idea which didn’t actually land me any more gigs than when I just said where I lived for reals!I did live in London for a few months (had to try it) and in honesty, I didn’t get more gigs just because I had a London postcode…all that really happened is I spent loads more money!! Ironically, the day after I moved back to the Midlands, I got a call for the biggest pop gig I had done at the time.

    But here’s what I learnt from all that – Not all music work comes from London! Everywhere has local function bands that you could get involved in, or pick up some students who don’t mind keeping a flexible schedule, or find a local studio and start working with a producer, or even work your way into doing remote sessions and sit in your boxers and record (not that I do that)…there is plenty of stuff you can do locally or remotely which still means you are able to earn as a session musician without being in the big smoke. These gigs are a great way of sustaining you whilst you spend your time going to London to meet other musicians, go along to jam nights and expand your network, all things that can help you work towards getting the bigger gigs that work from London.

  4. Don’t be a burden
    This point is kind of similar to my rant about not claiming expenses, but it’s something I think is really key. Remember, you chose to live out of London, so if you have to get up at 4.30am to make the start of your rehearsal, or if you have to drive for 45 minutes to get to a pickup point on the motorway so the tourbus doesn’t have to take a detour – then do it!! Don’t make other people’s lives difficult.
  5. Show your face
    The amount of times I’ve heard people ask me “You came all the way from the Midlands…” as if I live on the moon. Truthfully, it takes little over an hour for me to get to London, so there is no excuse for me not to be there whenever I have free time and show my face. By doing so, you’re letting people know that it’s not actually an issue for you to be available….plus you also get to hang with some really amazing people.

    I used to block book train tickets at the start of each month, in advance, every Wednesday – Friday, and head down to meet people for a coffee and make my way to jam nights to meet other musicians. I’d sleep on couches, hostels and train stations, but it meant that people became familiar with who I was and that I could start making friends with people doing the same thing I wanted to do.

I think in reality, the whole living outside of London thing will always be something that initially makes people who want to hire you wonder if you are going to be reliable – which is fully understandable. If you’re going to do it (and it’s 100% possible), expect it to take that little bit more work and determination and a few more redbull-fueled late night drives than if you did live in London.

Would love to hear people’s thoughts on this, is anyone feeling like they are expected to live in London to work as a musician? Or did anyone make that move already? For me, where I live has always been my first priority and work second, so this is my experience in trying to achieve that balance.

As a non-Londoner, this topic is pretty close to my heart and one that I really wanted to air my thoughts and first hand experience on. I’m definitely that guy who, if you say to me “you can’t do such and such” I will want to do it more! So when […]

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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:

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