Ramblings of a Bass Player

How to be in a Band

What I really wanted to call this post was "How good of a musician do you have to be to be in a band?", but that was a bit of a convoluted title. Also, the term "good musician" could mean a lot of different things.

For the sake of this post, let us call the "good musician" someone who is extremely adept at their instrument or instruments. They have studied hard or have natural talent or both. Someone who is well-versed in multiple styles, has many years of playing behind them and has been influenced by some of the best musicians Western culture has produced.

Do you have to be THAT musician to be in a band?

Well, the simple and obvious answer is "no". No, you do not have to be THAT musician to be in a band. It may aid in a rise to stardom to be THAT musician, but it is not a given that THAT musician could or would ever get on stage to perform in the first place.

A few years back I bought a used guitar pedal off a guy in Calgary. This guy was in his 50s, was an absolutely amazing guitar player, had some super premium, boutique and highly sought-after gear (and a LOT of it), but I was shocked to learn that he had never been in a band. He was even too shy to go to one of the many open jams near his house. He was desperate to connect with other musicians—as was obvious by the way he showed me around his studio area for over and hour and wanted me to stay and jam with him.

Fantastic musician, completely unable to be in a band. I hope someday he does get over his shyness. And that statement brings up my first point of how to be in a band: you have to put yourself out there. You have to make yourself a little vulnerable. Being in a band is exactly like being in a relationship. The proverbial "one-man-band" just doesn't exist. One man/woman playing multiple instruments is still just ONE man/woman. You need two or more to be a BAND and the moment that happens, you are in a relationship with the members of that band.

Which moves us to point number two: don't be a jackass. You are not the only one in the band. It is not all about you. It doesn't matter if you are the most talented member of the band, you still have to play and perform as a team. It is totally okay to have a bad day, to be a grouch from time to time, not perform well, etc. and when it happens, just own it. Say, "I'm sorry" when you are a jackass, admit to your faults and weaknesses. People will actually like and respect you more for being honest and real with them.

Point number three: communicate with your bandmates. Be clear about your goals, what you want to accomplish, and how far you want to take your music. I did not do this with the first band I was in. I wanted to play a LOT of different songs and get out and perform and after a year of jamming out a minimal song list I was really frustrated and bored. I had an emotional outburst one day and discovered that the rest of the group really had no intention of making the band anything that would perform regularly.

This next point mostly applies if your band actually intends to perform and make money, but it is also very true if you attend open jams and other public functions: be professional. Your band is a business and you are providing customer service. The more you think about your band as a business, the more successful you will be with it. The better "customer service" you provide the more fans you will have flocking to your shows.

After all that, I think we can finally get down to the logistics of actually playing your instrument. I believe that I have already established that you do not have to be the best musician out there—although I would highly suggest that you know a little basic musical theory, understand some structure, and know if you or your singer is actually on pitch.

I am certainly not the best musician, but I do believe that I have two qualities that every member of a band should have (and this is point five): be dedicated and be consistent. Be dedicated to your band and to your music. Show up to practice. Work hard during the precious amount of time you have to practice. Be consistent with your playing. When you get a part nailed down, do not slack off, keep nailing that part every single time you play it. Whatever part you play in your band, do it to the best of your ability—especially when you have songs that you do not like to play. Play every song as if it were your favourite song in the world.

While this is certainly not a comprehensive list of tips to survive being in a band, I do believe it should give you some food for thought. Being in a band is a process of learning day by day. You will never get everything right, but you will get a lot of it right if you persist. If you really want to do it, make it happen. And don't be a jackass.

- Mark Stratton, Bass player for SixFoot (Rock band based out of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada) - November 14, 2016


Trying to be Nice

Social media confuses me. Maybe it has something to do with my age and something to do with the fact that social media is all a little bit fake...at least when it comes to promoting ones personal information. It all seems like this big "Look at me! Look at me!" festival.

The opposite side of that coin is the fact that social media is a necessary evil when it comes to promoting a business or a *cough*band*cough* in the currently over-saturated business and entertainment market.

A very important aspect of marketing on the interwebs is watching what you say in social media circles. And...to be entirely honest...I sometimes have some difficulty with that. It is not that I am negative or rude, but I can come across as a little too...direct. Trust me, most people do not want "direct".

Yes, there are those few people that actually want you to be honest and blunt with them, but they seem to be few and far between. It truly seems that most people beg for honesty and when they get it, they don't like it. The phrase "be careful what you wish for" certainly comes to mind.

Here is where this observation fits into social media. YouTube and millions of blogs and articles across the internet seemingly prove that the majority of the human race is unredeemingly cruel. Comment sections on these sites drip with sarcasm and vitriol in unending streams. Arguments fester and ooze excrement. Offense is given and taken without thought.

And sometimes it's damned hilarious.

Fine, tell me I'm a horrible human being for saying it. Yes, sometimes comment sections are awful and I can't stand them, but sometimes they are just too funny to ignore. Also, they do tend to be pretty honest. People strip away their masks pretty quickly when they don't have to face repercussions in real life.

Now, as I said, this is what one often sees on YouTube and on blogs and in news comments and such. I have found one particular place on the internet where all of this honesty and bad behaviour goes out the window...Reverbnation.

Yes, Reverbnation is a comments utopia on the internet. Everyone is nice to each other. Everyone is encouraging. Everyone is trying to make the community a positive place. Believe me, folks, THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING!

Please don't misread me. I believe that everyone should be allowed to make music and I believe that everyone should be allowed to express themselves, but if you can't sing on key, I believe people have a right to tell you that if you put your music out there for the world to listen to.

However, that does not happen on Reverbnation. Time after time I come across musicians/bands with thousands of fans and thousands of comments saying, "Great job!" or "Sounds awesome!" or "Love what I'm hearing!" and when I listen I am assaulted with something that would make Neanderthals run for dear life.

I am not a musical expert, but I do know what sounds good. I am biased, but I know SixFoot sounds good. Ron and I held an audition for other singers/guitar players before we met Laurence and we knew that they didn't have what we sought. Laurence had an amazing sound and he stayed on pitch...it wasn't hard to decide to stick with him at that point.

I don't like country music, but I know when I hear a good country music band. I love hard rock and metal, but I know when I hear a bad rock or metal band. I don't really like hip hop, but I heard some earlier today that I thought was really catchy and cool.

Admittedly, I know what causes this "niceness" and plethora of positive comments. Musicians/bands on Reverbnation want to be nice to the other musicians/bands on Reverbnation in order to garner more followers and fans. Still, does that mean we cannot even resort to positive criticism? Does it mean that we have to encourage bad musicians and bad music?

We need to enforce the old adage: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all". At least that may slow down the surge of bad music out there and allow the good stuff to rise to the top.

- Mark Stratton, Bass player for SixFoot (Rock band based out of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada) - October 20, 2016


Ageing Gracefully

I am beginning to understand that very few people really get life "right" the first time around. Yes, I am certain that there are those special few who know exactly what they want the moment they enter high school and they just go for it and achieve everything they planned on.

For the rest of us mere mortals, life simply doesn't work that way. It especially seems as if it didn't work that way for me. I drifted through my teenage years without a clue as to what "real life" was all about...okay, to be honest, I still don't know what "real life" is all about, I simply feel caught in a society that I really don't particularly want to be a part of...I got married, had an instant family, and ended up at age 32 pretty much ready to take myself out of the world because I was so depressed.

So, in a sense, I started my life over at that point.

Music had been a fairly big part of my life in my very late teens and my very early 20s, but it had trickled by the wayside for a long time. I picked up my guitar here and there, but nothing developed from it.

When I hit 40 I was definitely wanting to do something different with my life again, but what? Music came up again when I was given the opportunity to join a band.

As I played in that band, the inklings of something a little foreign to me surfaced: ambition. I was actually wanting to play more and do more and advance faster. Believe me, that truly is an unusual trait for me to display. Unfortunately, that particular band was not moving fast enough for my tastes, so I left it.

No, let me rephrase that. 1) I did not feel that group was moving fast enough. 2) I felt I had learned what I could from that group. 3) That band needed a leader and it definitely wasn't me. 4) I was going to hold them back and they were going to hold me back.

Being in a band is being in a relationship. You have to learn to get along, you have to compromise, you have to grow, and you have to admit when it's ready to end that relationship.

I also decided that guitar simply wasn't my instrument. I could chord and riff, but I was/am a sloppy lead player. I definitely preferred bass playing and believed that my best chance of sticking with a band would be if I picked up the bass again.

So, I found another band...and that group failed to come together on a regular basis. However, I did meet a drummer with the same goals as I had, so we pushed forward until we found a guitar player/singer that we could work with. And, thus, SixFoot was born.

So, that is the beginnings of my music "career". It is just starting and I don't know where it will lead. I must admit that it is taking far more effort on my part than my day-job career has ever required. I have to work hard at it and nothing, thus far, has fallen into my lap. Hell, I still have to make my first dollar from it, but "career" still feels like the correct term.

I hope that I continue with it. I hope that I still enjoy it years from now. I hope I can actually make some money doing it.

Getting older is just a natural part of existence and it's going to happen whether you want it to or not. Don't let anyone, not even yourself, tell you that you can't have the career you want or do the activities you want to because of your age.

- Mark Stratton, Bass player for SixFoot (Rock band based out of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada) - September 29, 2016

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