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I get an awful lot of sympathy.

I’m never seen without either my rollator or my powerchair, except maybe in the shower (yes, I went there, but you did first, and shame on you for that), and any sort of assistance apparatus always elicits a few “poor thing” glances from time to time. Don’t think for a second that I don’t ever use this to my advantage; pity, much more than flattery, will get you everywhere.

Occasionally the topic of my disability comes up in conversation. I don’t mind, really; I know people are curious, I’m happy to educate people about my condition, and I don’t find it the least bit rude if someone says, “So how come you’re in a wheelchair?” Kids can be the funniest; not long ago a very young girl saw me rolling around outside the building with my feet unclad, gasped, and said: “You’re not wearing any shoes!” To which I replied, “Yes, but it’s not like I’m going to step on something, now, is it?” Her jaw dropped, she stared at me for what seemed like an hour, and then she ran off to find her mom without another word.

The more candid and open conversationalists will often say something to the effect of “I just can’t imagine having to deal with what you go through every day,” or even “I was diagnosed with fill-in-the-blank a few years back, and it’s tough, but it’s nothing compared with your struggle I’m sure”. I have my replies distilled down into easy-to-digest soundbites and homespun homilies for the sake of brevity in conversation (I get to be verbose here, in my blog; lucky you); there’s “Everyone has a handicap; mine’s just more obvious than most”, or “Don’t let my struggles make yours seem less significant; if I have a $10 bill and you have a five spot, my ten doesn’t make your five worth any less than it was before”, and my old favorite, intoned to those who want to know how in the world someone in my position manages everyday tasks: “You just do it however you do it.”

For instance, I’ve learned to do a lot of things left-handed – a feat I was sure was impossible 10 short years ago. I now use a fork and spoon, a computer mouse, a toothbrush, toilet tissue, and my smartphone and TV remote entirely southpaw now, and I’ve also begun to use a pen that way.  I even use my left thumb for the space bar sometimes. Other things have changed as well, such as always having to sit to use the restroom regardless of the particulars of the task at hand, and of course, needing to use a pick instead of plucking the strings with my fingers.

This last point is the topic of this blog.

There is still (and always will be, I’m afraid) a part of me that loathes using a pick when I play my bass. I MISS using my fingers; I miss the tone, sound, feel (tactile as well as musical), and convenience. And so I have spent countless hours looking for the most “fingers-like” picks in terms of tone – hours that could have been spent practicing instead.

I also spend a lot of time beating myself up over the fact that I have to use a pick.

This weekend I was asked to play in a large church in the local metropolis.  This was my third time up on that stage, and many of the churchgoers are now accustomed to occasionally seeing the guy zooming around on his powerchair with a bass balanced on his feet. Between sermons, I was chatting with a very nice woman about my issues, and at one point she said, “I just don’t know how you do it – I don’t know WHAT I’d do if I were in your situation!”

I replied with a version of what I’ve said several dozen times over the last decade:  You find a way to get done what you need to get done if you want to get it done badly enough.  And how you get it done isn’t nearly as important as following the Nike principle: Just Do It.  And when you do it, you “do it however you do it.”  Method takes a back seat to accomplishment and achievement, as it should almost all the time. Pollyanna would approve for sure.

Not long after I began the drive home, I recalled the conversation, and hoped that I’d imparted some words of wisdom that she found useful.

Instead, I felt a Voice inside me (not the first time this has happened, oh no) that said:  take your own advice and apply it to how you play your bass these days.

WHAT!?  But… NO!  That picking-bassist nonsense is… well, just that:  NONSENSE!  I know these days I have to do it that way, but C’MON, God!  We both know I’d chuck those picks in a heartbeat if I had my fingers back.  It’s INFERIOR, I tell You!

do it anyway. your words are wise; now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is.  show ‘em.  heck, show yourself while you’re at it.

Oh, MAAAAANNNN… You’re not telling me I’m never ever going to get my fingers back, are You?

i said no such thing, but that’s beside the point.  you strive to inspire as an instructor; now you can inspire as an artist with a disability.

But nobody’s going to take me seriously when they find out I’m a pick player!…..

bobby vega… cody wright… chris squire…

Yeah, but THOSE guys are…

carol kaye… justin chancellor… tommy shannon…

Well, sure, but –

paul mccartney…  graham maby… jason newsted…

Okay, okay, I guess I get the –

matt freeman… anthony jackson…


watch it!

Oops…  sorry about that.

no worries, i saw it coming.

Well, thanks. Ummm… should I pray about this, do You think?

you mean this isn’t direct enough communication for you? do what you feel led to do, but i already know what you’re going to do about your bass playing.

Yeah… good point. Thanks for that.

hey, i’m here to help…

And so, the process of reconciling my physical and musical experiences has begun.  It’s time to own the fact that even though there are things I can’t do anymore, there are NEW things I can do BECAUSE I use a pick. It’s time to focus on my pick-using bass heroes and learn to emulate them as best I can, so that I can filter all of that through my bass-playing self and become ME all over again, but with a new twist. It’s time to bring a new sound into the bass tone library, for me as well as for those who hear me play. And it’s time to get off my own @$$, both figuratively AND literally. I will wield a pick with pride, stop longing for what I can’t do anymore, and learn NEW things that I CAN do with what I have. After all, the music is still inside me, and it must be unleashed upon the world… regardless of the method.

And thanks, God, for letting me STILL be a bass player.



Mobility issues stink.

That sentence deserves to be its very own paragraph. No embellishment is necessary to the meaning and truth of the above statement, nor could said embellishment be even remotely beneficial.  Although it could be argued that for someone with MS who’s trying to live an independent life as a self-employed musician, the level of “stink” increases exponentially in regards to those issues.

As someone whose right leg quit on him years ago, I have a few different ways that I get around: I have my powerchair, powerful and nimble but can be a pain to deal with when traveling if there’s no way to transport the chair in and out of vehicles; I have my scooter, nice for traveling because it breaks down into 5 easily packed pieces, but isn’t very fast and doesn’t turn around sharp corners well; finally, there’s the rollator, much easier to travel with, easy for someone to carry up/down stairs for me when that’s the only option, and excellent for stretching/exercise/creative maneuvers to get me up and down stairs, but very limited in distance before I have to stop and rest.

The combination of the three mean that I have various ways to achieve the things I need to get done during the course of my day. And if one (or even two) of them break down at a given point, well, I still have options.

When all three fail at the same time, it’s incredibly depressing.

This is the situation I find myself in as I sit at the computer this evening. Mostly anyway.

It all began with the powerchair:  A few weeks ago I had noticed that it was starting to make some funny noises on the left side (there are two “drive wheels”, one on each side, and each has its own motor). I happened to be taking the chair to Denver for a performance, and so I had my “chair tech” – a very nice man named Bob who has created a cottage business buying, selling, and repairing chairs and scooters – meet me at the venue so he could have a look and give it a test drive. He put the chair through its paces in the parking lot, made notes, said he was going to have to do some research on the matter and get back to me.  I used the chair that evening with no problems.

Over the next two weeks, the chair started acting up more and more often: one side or the other would partially or completely fail, and the chair would do slow circles forwards or backwards while a gear spun, desperate for purchase of its counterpart. Eventually a loud “clunk” would be heard and the gear would catch, and the chair would operate normally. So it wasn’t my imagination; something was clearly wrong and in need of attention.

In light of this situation, it was suggested by SWMBO that I take the scooter out for a spin to ensure that it was functioning well before Bob took the powerchair home to work his magic. However, upon attempting to get the scooter going, I had found that the battery compartment had failed, and wasn’t getting power to the scooter. Oh, goody; something else for Bob to fix.

If you’re keeping score, that’s one non-functional scooter and one semi-functional powerchair. It gets better….

When Bob and I finally made phone contact, he said he had business in my neck of the woods the following week, and that he would give me a call to set up a time when his schedule became clearer. He also said he’d bring up a spare battery compartment so I’d have something to get the scooter going.  Very good; I would look forward to his call. Meanwhile, the instances of the powerchair’s one-sided failure were increasing.

I had a doctor visit scheduled for late Friday afternoon, which is about 10 miles from my regular Friday gig.  The building is situated in such a way that there are exactly zero close parking spots, so we’re looking at 120 feet of walking (very close to my limit, depending on the day). Thankfully, I was feeling good that day. My naturpath is a brilliant, caring, honest man, and there really are none like him in the state; he’s worth the drive as well as the walk.

After I get done with the doc, I stand up and pull the rollator in front of me and take a step, and something didn’t feel right. Three more steps, and plop! – the frame had broken off where the leg attaches to the rest of the unit, and the part of the frame still attached to the wheel was now dragging on the ground.  For those of you who have broken aluminum bicycle frames (ow! Sucks to be you), you already know what I am about to say: This is unfixable, and the apparatus has ceased to be useful as a rollator.  I’m thinking this is the end of my day; as this is my only means of bodily transport, I’m hosed. Someone will have to push me to my van in a rolling office chair or something, I’ll drive home with a huge black cloud over my head, I’ll have to call a sub for the gig, and I’ll have to have SWMBO meet me at the van when I get home with… er… SOMETHING that will get me into the house. Defeat begins to ooze out of my pores…

While I mentally scramble to put together a mobility contingency plan, Doc comes up behind me, and says, “Wow, that’s not good. Hey, we got this freebie rollator over here that someone donated, you wanna use it?”

I COULD HAVE CRIED. “Holy cow, Doc, you sure?” “Oh yeah, it’s just been sitting in the way for a few months. Take it!”

This is what a good friend of mine would simply call a “God thing”. And I have no issues with that categorization whatsoever.

The rollator isn’t sized well for a man of my proportions (5’11”, 1/8 ton), it’s wiggly and rickety, the brakes have a strange habit of only functioning when locked, so it behaves like an old-style walker with the “skid skis” on the back and teeny wheels on the front, and it’s just on the useable side of dangerous.  It’s also infinitely better than the alternative, which would be trying to get by with the broken rollator. I will make it to the gig, and into the restaurant, and survive. (And get paid!) Huzzah! Praise God!

One of the other downsides to this particular unit, however, is that it requires twice the energy for me to get around on it, and by the end of the evening, I am spent. I did manage to get my gear inside and back out to the van with no assistance, which is no mean feat when you have to balance everything on the seat of the rollator and treat it like it’s the world’s most poorly designed shopping cart.

I drive home and pull out the loaner rollator, head towards the front door of my condo, and my 15 year old cat comes wandering down the breezeway towards me. The sound of the loaner (which for some unknown reason softly rings like a bell when it moves) makes him stop and run away before he hears my voice well enough to trust that it’s really me. Cats…

I get inside and safely transfer to the powerchair. Success! But now I have yet another broken unit to contend with. And there was a fair bit of custom work done on the brake system so that I’d be able to use it without the brakes failing after a week (the only under-engineered aspect of this model). The good news is that SWMBO purchased two of these particular units at the same time, and so it just needs to have the custom stuff transferred to the new unit. Now all I have to do is contact my “rollator tech” (a friend who builds and repairs bicycles), get him the pieces, and he can put Humpty Dumpty 2.0 back together again.

And wouldn’t you know, contacting him ALSO turned into a fiasco with a newly-failed piece of equipment. (“But wait! There’s MORE…”)

Called, left message, realized that I had called a business number that was out of service, contacted his fiancée on Facebook and left a message there. Great. Guy calls me the next day and leaves a message while I’m teaching a lesson. I return his call using my cell phone (no landline for years – it’s the 21st century, don’tcha know), and I get to leave my own message.  However…

…when I go to hang up the call, the screen fails to come back on so I can press the red hang up button on the touch screen. No response to buttons, pressing the screen, talking to it, shaking it and threatening to throw it across the room, nothing. I hear the voicemail asking “Are you still there?” repeatedly, and it can’t hear me or let me hang up the call.  AAUGH!….

After putting it on the charger and waiting over an hour, eventually the screen returned, and allowed me to do a hard reset, so the phone is working fine again.  And I’m sure many of you have had to deal with smartphone failure before, but for me, the notion of possibly being stuck with no way to get around and/or communicate with the outside world is rather scary and depressing. I’m sure it’s analogous to elderly folks being told they can’t drive their cars anymore. Yes, I have a less-than-ideal-but-functioning rollator, and my power chair hasn’t officially failed yet, but it’s enough to make me consider very hard what I would have to do and how I would contact people in an emergency.

Not that I really WANT to talk to you plebeians, but one must do what one must do for survival. (Can you say “holier-than-thou introvert”? Yeah, sure you can…)

It took a while to get things – HA! – rolling in the right direction, but one by one, things got fixed. Two refurb motors for the chair which allow it to max out at 10mph (!), new battery for the scooter, and old brakes on new rollator. And the phone has only had one slight hiccup since the previous incident. Let’s hope this latest epidemic has officially run its course… otherwise I’d be stuck in a chair in front of the computer doing…. something….



I have a regular weekly gig at a really nice restaurant an hour away from here. When we began (“we” = a piano player and myself), we were playing 3 nights a week; a few years ago it went down to two, and now it’s a single Friday night for me.  While I do like having the freedom to go do things with SWMBO (google it) on my now-free evenings, I also miss the larger paycheck – and, well, I LIKE my job, so ultimately I’d rather be playing than not playing. But I have opportunities to play elsewhere now, so it’s not so bad.  Having played with my pianist (hereafter referred to as “gig spouse”, or GS) over 1400 times on that same stage, you’d think I’d be sick of it. And you’d be ri…. uh, well, no, not rea… uh, well, it’s complicated.

The following is a blow-by-blow depiction of a typical Friday afternoon and evening:

Sometime around noon, I consider which bass I want to play that evening. I have several – dozens, actually – but I require a 5- or 6-string fretted bass for this gig, and I have 3 that meet those requirements. I also make sure that my trusty bass-playing chair – a $35 tall fold-up job from Bed Bath & Beyond – is in the van, ensuring that I will have something I can get onto and off of, and be able to play my bass while sitting on it (chairs with arms are impossible to use for guitarists), as well as my bag of cables and effect pedals. I get the van loaded up (don’t forget the bass, dude!), and then I’m free until about 3:30.

This is a classy joint, so it’s nice slacks for me, and an ironed shirt (not by me or SWMBO, though – I have my gig clothes picked up and delivered pressed). Now, buttons are evil as far as I’m concerned. I almost never wear them if I don’t have to, because trying to fiddle with tiny objects with a nearly-numb right hand is more punishment than challenge. Takes me a good 20 minutes to don shirt, pants, and shoes, partially because I’m also dressing my right leg, a body part that doesn’t move by itself anymore (or if it DOES move, it moves the opposite direction that I want at any given time). Putting on pants is like trying to dress an uncooperative mannequin.

I take the rollator to the gig; since I get the best parking spot in the lot, it’s a whole sixty feet from van to stage, and said stage is elevated about 10 inches, the powerchair would be pointless. Once I’m dressed, I park the chair in the front room, pull the rollator in front of me, push myself up to standing position, and head out to the van. Amazingly enough, it’s approximately 9 minutes from bedroom to driver’s seat, something that throws off my schedule more often than I’d care to admit.

Most folks in a similar situation to me would have electronic controls for their vehicle.  Well, I don’t.  You see, the state requires you to pay $400 to take a course to prove that you’re capable of running a vehicle with HC controls. Then you have to pay $800+ to purchase them, plus installation.  Well, state, I got news for you: I played video games throughout my childhood. I will have zero problems with these controls you want me to use. Can I skip the class? No? Fine, then, I’ll manage without, thank you very much…

Driving post-DX involved some retraining and reassignment for my 3 functioning limbs. My right leg is no longer part of Team Getaround, although it still tags along for moral support.  Once I’ve stowed my rollator behind the driver’s seat and shoved my body into place, my right leg gets to rest until I arrive at said destination. My left foot has been trained to use the brake, my right HAND holds a forearm crutch which pushes on the gas pedal, and my left hand holds a knob mounted at 10:00 on the steering wheel, like you’d see on a city bus.  I’ve gotten very good at reaching over and moving the gear lever with my left hand when necessary (i.e., backing up) and returning to the wheel.  When I’m on the freeway, cruise control is my friend, and is truly the only “electronic control” I need. I’ve driven this way since sometime in ‘09, and have never caused an accident or gotten a ticket in that time span. Interestingly, MS has made me a MUCH better driver, supporting the notion that you don’t drive with your hands and feet, but your eyes, ears, and brain.

The gig starts at 6:30, so I try to leave the house by 4; Friday afternoon traffic means it will take me twice as long to get there as it would otherwise. Depending on the traffic reports, I have something on the order of 3 dozen shortcuts I can take to get to the gig on time.  It’s like Marc Cohn singing 29 Ways, tryin’ to get to his baby’s door.

Once I’m finally parked at the gig (HC spot, feet from the front door, like a rockstar), I pry myself out of the driver’s seat, stand up (carefully!), remove my rollator, and balance my bass, chair, and effects bag on top of it; then I push my way inside.  Most of the time, the valet on duty knows me, and will often offer to help and hold the door open.  Then it’s through the foyer and into the lounge, where I remove each item from the rollator and toss it onstage, lift the rollator onto the stage, then use the piano to push myself up and onto the stage. Onstage, I have an amp, a line to the mixing board, a microphone, and a stand for my bass waiting for me. Setup is 5 minutes max…. UNLESS…

….unless the waitstaff or the players who were there the night before left things in the way or moved things out of place. Often there’s a folding chair or a large barstool where I set up, and I have to ask for help getting it out of the way. Or someone will have moved the amp to where it’s nearly impossible to reach, and moving it back requires a fair bit of contortion (which uses energy that could have been saved for playing bass – google “spoon theory” sometime). It’s one more reminder of the fact that I am limited in my ability to do certain things, and frankly, it’s never welcome, no matter what my mood. It’s often a bad omen too: cables and batteries seem to fail more on nights where my space has been “temporarily repurposed”.

The gig itself is simple, and I’ve actually developed a technique specifically for certain songs we play in the duo:  I’ve learned to use my right thumb as a guitar pick, growing out the nail so I get a good attack with both downstroke and upstroke. If I’m careful, and I employ my index finger for popping certain notes on the upbeat, I can elicit what sounds a lot like a drum kit and bass playing in perfect sync. This gives certain songs more of a full band rock feel, and can cover more musical space without having to have a 3rd person on the gig to split the pot with.  I don’t do this on every song – I use various picks for others – but it’s been very useful to have around.

Sometimes, however, for whatever reason (too hot, too spent, can’t breathe, etc.), I have a very hard time playing and/or singing. Breathing issues make singing (usually backup, but sometimes lead) quite difficult, but I’ve gotten through gigs with laryngitis before. When my body turns traitor, however, fine motor control is the first to go; this means that my right hand, already quite compromised, is unable to hold onto a pick well and unable to be consistent with my thumb on the strings. If it gets bad enough, I have to resort to my “careersaver” pick, that has a loop that goes around my finger and is impossible to drop. It’s less than ideal, but it sounds okay, and it indeed gets me through the gig. Once again, however, the necessity of needing a “crutch” is rather depressing… some nights I just can’t get over myself, and I fail to remember that I’m still playing bass at a gig instead of lying in bed in the fetal position waiting to die. Even though this is old news, I don’t like it, and never will.

My gig spouse is quite the social butterfly, and knows 90% of the waitstaff as well as nearly half of the clientele.  I’m much more of an introvert; usually I’m content to sit in the foyer and phone-surf during breaks, but sometimes I’ll be invited to have a seat and visit with some of GS’s friends/acquaintances. In these cases, it’s a very rare person who isn’t gracious, accommodating, and willing to offer assistance should I need it; pushing the rollator around gets people’s attention, let’s face it, but I’m grateful that I rarely get those people who look away quickly and/or admonish their children not to stare. I sometimes wonder if they’d behave the same way towards me if I wasn’t GS’s bass player, but I guess I’ll never know.

Sometimes, having MS comes in handy:  one evening GS and I were visiting people at a nearby table, and one woman in the group apparently had way too many cosmopolitans and insisted on discussing underwear. She loudly demanded to know which of the men at the table preferred boxers over briefs. Each man was accosted in turn, being forced to defend their choice in undergarments while everyone else muttered to each other about how drunk the woman was. Finally, she came to me, stuck her finger in my face, and said, “Okay: boxers, or briefs?”

I smirked, narrowed my eyes, and replied, “Depends.”

It was incredible: her expression went from depends on what? to oh, THOSE depends! to oh my god I’m so embarrassed to that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard to I’m definitely going to hell for laughing at this man in the space of 3 seconds. The entire table got deathly quiet, then someone snorted, and you’d have thought a bomb went off as everyone busted a gut at the same time. I was sure I had ruptured an internal organ trying to keep it in. Ah, sweet pain….

For the record, I don’t wear Depends, but I do keep a stock of Poise pads for men just in case I expect to have a really bad day. Better safe than sorry, you know.

After the third and final set, it’s a quick pack-up-and-get-out-of-Dodge for me, as I rarely feel the need to hang around; I have an hour’s drive ahead of me and want to get home before the sleepies kick in. I’ve learned how to put everything away and push it to the edge of the stage, so I can place the rollator down on the main level, get myself there as well, and then start loading gear up for the trip back to the van. You learn to count pieces you bring in, and count them again on the way out before you start moving (not just at the gig, but every time I move); for me, I have the “big 4”, which means wallet, phone, keys, and mobility apparatus (either rollator or powerchair), and then I have the “small gig 3” which means bass, chair, and effects bag. Diligently counting the items I should have with me all but ensures that I’ll never have to retrace my steps looking for something I forgot. This is a big deal when every step means a push-up, and you’re on limited energy.

The drive home usually includes an egg & cheese burrito (protein is brain food!) and a Powerade from Del Taco or Sonic, as well as listening to a radio program called Coast To Coast, where some of the strangest people get interviewed for our entertainment. Good to have something to keep me awake on the drive home, where I usually arrive about half past midnight.

So there it is, folks; that’s how someone who can’t walk properly gets to, from, and through a performance.  It’s still worth it; there’s nothing I’d rather do for a living than play or teach bass lessons. As long as this is as tedious as it gets, I suppose I’ll continue to soldier on. Still beats Disability.




So after several years (and several people who were secretly reading my OLD blog had asked where it had gone), I have finally decided to renew my efforts. Partially because typing gives my right hand the exercise needed to keep those digits moving as much as possible for as long as possible, but also because I feel that there’s an interesting tale to be told regarding my life as 1) a professional bassist and instructor and 2) a man in my mid 40s with Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS for those who are curious).  And so the decision was made to litter cyberspace with more blather that hardly anybody else will ever read. You’re welcome. Consider yourself warned.

I was diagnosed in late ‘06, and since then I have had to contend with new physical challenges as they pertain to living my life, as well as playing my instrument at a high professional level.  Over the last 9 years I have dealt with severe muscle spasms, heat sensitivity, fatigue, double vision, numbness, cognitive issues, lost the use of my right leg, and partial use of my right hand, diaphragm, and sphincter (you WERE warned, remember?) to varying degrees and periods of time. Short distances can be traversed by use of a rolling walker (know in the biz as a “rollator”), but for me anything much farther than 150 feet requires a powerchair. My current ride is called a Quickie Pulse 6, and I’ve had it modified to fit my height and allow for ease of playing my bass. I have a chair lift built into the back of my van to get the chair in & out when necessary.

And if all of this sounds horrible to you and your eyes are filling up with tears, you can knock it off right now; the truth is that EVERYONE is handicapped in some way, and that my handicap simply happens to be more obvious than most. Just look at Peyton Manning; great athlete, talented tactician on the field, but then he walks to the sideline and takes off his helmet, and you see that awful red mark. Poor bloke….

I live less than a quarter mile from a shopping center where I can get groceries, do my banking, get my oil changed, have printing and shipping done, get a great espresso drink, have a whiskey or a pint, and even get a pedicure when I want (and I DO want…. always feels good to get the little piggies done)… and all without getting into the van. It’s terribly convenient. Somehow I had the good sense to buy this place shortly after my DX (that’s shorthand for “diagnosis”), and I’ve been here nearly 9 years.

As far as my bass playing goes, things have been rough.  By God’s grace, my fretting (left) hand is completely unaffected by the short circuitry in my head; otherwise, bass playing would have ceased long ago and I’d be a greeter at Walmart. On the other hand (see what I did there?), plucking strings is very slow, and lacks dexterity and power in a useful form.  So I have been forced to abandon the use of my fingertips in traditional bass playing technique in favor of….. ulp!…. PICKS.

Yep, that’s right; guitar picks.  Go ahead; give me your best bass pick joke. I’ve heard ’em all:  wanna-be guitarist, too lazy to have learned to play correctly, obvious sign of a stupid and mediocre musician, yeah, yeah, whatever.  Much as I hate to admit it, though, there’s a sliver of validity to one thing the haters say: picks just don’t sound like fingers.  They’re edgy and scrape-y sounding, they have more attack and less roundness to the tone, and they’re rather limiting compared to what a skilled fingerstyle bassist can achieve (Victor Wooten and Michael Manring, et al).

So I have been on a quest: to find picks that sound as much like fingers as possible, and that allow me to play nimbly. I must have spent close to a thousand dollars over the last few years trying new picks. I have picks made of nylon, delrin, steer horn, rubber, felt, plastic, biodegradable plastic, graphite, leather, faux tortoiseshell, brass, copper, some thinner than 1mm, some as thick as 6mm, and some that have a loop that goes around your finger – I even have one that hangs by a hinge from a strange apparatus that fits into your hand just so. And there ARE some decent picks for bassists out there.  A short list of what I like includes Mick’s Picks, Phat-Tone, V-Picks, and the Jim Dunlop 208. I’ve even created what I call The Careersaver out of an Orbit Gravity Pick, a Planet Waves Adjustable Insert Pick, and a JD Tortex Wedge (click here).

These picks give me a variety of sounds that I like, from warm and tubby to bright and aggressive. And I’m grateful that new products keep coming out that give me more options for tones. But the truth is: I MISS MY RIGHT HAND. Picks are great, but it’s just not the same… they physically come between the player and the instrument. If my right hand was healed tomorrow, and I never had to use a pick again, I’d be crying tears of joy for a month and a half at least. You can have my leg, I don’t care; heck, take ’em both if you want, but if I got my right hand and arm back in return, I’d forever claim that I got the better end of the deal.

Much of my bass playing career has been as a “hired gun” – a musician who can show up to a gig for an artist and nail it with little-to-no rehearsal.  And that usually means setting aside the creativity and individuality, and Doing My Job – playing my parts with a familiar, easily accessible sound and feel so the artist is comfortable with the music onstage.  Fingers, unfortunately, are part of that familiar sound…

Thus, my decision to reboot the blog has been made… with the focus on what someone like me has to go through to continue doing the only thing he loves doing, and the only thing he’s good at, and the only real job he’s ever known besides waiting tables.  Lots of people struggle with what they want to do versus what they’re able to do. For me, however, the “what I’m able to do” part keeps changing, and the list is inevitably going to shrink as I progress through this stupid disease. The gauntlet has been thrown; like so many others I’ve picked up over the last decade, I will meet this challenge one way or another.



Just got a message from a friend/student who told me what a very informative blog I have. Of course, my first thought was that I really need to keep that updated… but my second thought (because this is how my mind works!) was “Why bother? Who really reads that anyway?”

This, of course was followed by my third thought, which was: “Well? Who really DOES read this anyway?

So here’s what I want for you to do: If you’re reading this, and it’s before March 2011, EMAIL ME. Go ahead and use to get ahold of me (something seems to be wrong with the pointer from this website), and tell me that you’ve read this and other blogposts of mine. Tell me how much you enjoy my writing/ranting/general tomfoolery, and be sure to massage my ego a whole bunch when you do. Who knows… I might just start doing this on more of a weekly (weakly?) basis.

Bass MichaelOlsonBlog


Hey folks! Been a while, eh? I know, you missed me so – let’s not get mushy about it okay?

I’ve been meaning to get back into the land of blogging for a while, but a whole host of things stood in my way (or at least I allowed them to do so). So when they finally fell by the wayside and I wanted to do my first blog in at least a year, along comes an email from a big fan of my old band Wind Machine. Turns out he is a former DJ and a current fretless bass player and was looking for help with his tone, and as such had several questions for me.

Needless to say, this greatly appealed to the teacher in me. :-)

So a two-hour email was returned to him, and upon completion of said email, I re-read what I sent and decided that it would make a fine “first blog back”. So, without further ado…

Allow me to give you a somewhat detailed dissertation on my view of all things fretless in the land of Michael O:

* FINGERBOARDS. I am a big fan of coated fingerboards. The basses I played in the WM days were Tobias 5- and 6-strings built in the early 90′s in Burbank, CA. And as perfect as Michael Tobias’ craftsmanship was, it still didn’t yield the glassy consistency I was looking for, and I found that the issue was in the fingerboard – pau ferro rosewood just absorbed too much of the energy for me. So off I went to Harry Fleishman (he’s a guitar builder of some renown in CA these days), who made a very thick epoxy coating for my board, and it made all the difference. The woodiness of the tone wasn’t compromised, nor was the wood itself – when the epoxy wore down, it was either sanded flat or removed to put a fresh coat on, thereby preserving the wood and preventing string damage. It’s not for everyone, and not all of my current fretless basses have the coating, but it helped me dial in my sound very quickly by giving me a consistent surface to play on.

* PLUCKING TECHNIQUE. One of the things the coating did was highlight my subpar technique, though, so off I went to the woodshed to manually fix my tone. I found that hard calluses on my plucking hand fingers got in the way and would create a light “tic” just before the attack of each note, like the sound made by someone just learning to use a pick. (You can hear a bit of this in the first few records I played on – or a lot of it, if you happen to be ME.) I used to sand them down like you would use a pumice stone to remove your heel calluses – sometimes I’d overdo it and be REALLY uncomfortable during tracking :-/ . Later on I discovered that pulling straight across the strings cleaned up a lot of my tone, as did timing my pluck with the release of the note in my left hand, and I stopped having to sand off my calluses. Thank goodness!

* FINGERING TECHNIQUE. Another major aid to the tone was playing on the very tips of my left hand fingers so I got the best leverage on the string possible without having to squeeze the note; this let me make my “affectations” (slides, smears, vibrato, etc.) with ease without compromising the tone. Means your thumb needs to be on the BOTTOM HALF of the neck – make a “thumbs up” sign with your left hand, place your thumb on the neck where you could push the neck up with your thumb if you wanted, and bring your fingers around. If you already do this, great – if you don’t, it will feel WEIRD. Keep your arm and wrist relaxed and try to get used to it. (Practicing with an unsharpened pencil in the left hand is helpful: hold the pencil with your thumb in the middle on one side and all four fingers on the other, spread out as far as they can go – then try to break the pencil between your fingers. It works!)

* RIGHT HAND LOCATION. Along with pulling across the strings, location made a big difference for me regarding my plucking hand. I usually play groove lines with my hand between the two pickups (assuming you’re playing a jazz bass-like instrument), but when it comes time for the solo, my hand moves to the end of the fingerboard – usually around the 22nd fret on my 2 octave neck. This makes the high notes sound bigger than they would have otherwise, and also forces me to pull the string parallel to the string plane, making the notes blossom nicely. (Yes, this slowed me down a bit, but WM wasn’t really about blazing speed, was it? ;-) ) A bassist named Gary Willis has taken this concept to the next level – google “Willis Ramp” and you’ll see what I mean. I have played a few basses with said ramp, and it does indeed make a difference.

* PICKUPS. I’ve had the best luck with the bridge pickup soloed – just like Jaco did. I like the other tones a jazz bass affords me, but for solos I stick to the bridge for the most part.

* BOLT-ONS. About 10 years ago I became disenchanted with neck-through basses – they seemed to all have a natural “dip” in the upper mids (1-1.5 kHz). And the more I played well built bolt on basses, the happier I became with their tone. For many years I played an Ibanez Prestige 6 fretless – mahogany body, wenge neck – and I wish I had had that bass in the 90′s. It was definitely the sound I was looking for all that time. Not to mention the fact that upper-end Ibanez basses often have my favorite preamp in the world – the “Vari-Mid III”, which had a 3 band eq with a sweepable midrange, so I could always find the sweet spot (most often a good bump at about 1.3 kHz – BOY did this help a lot!). That bass was stolen out of my van about 3 years ago. Hopefully some kid in Guatemala has ended up with it and will be the next big thing in about 6 years…

* SETUP. I used to have really high action to get as clean of a tone as I could – I even had Harry make a wooden “bridge pedestal” to take up space between the bridge and the body so I could get higher action for a while. Eventually, though, reason won me over (as well as tendonitis in the left wrist!) and I learned to go for a lighter touch and much lower action. Being gentle was a hard lesson to learn, but it helped a LOT. I now go for a nearly flat board (almost no relief in the neck – ALMOST) and fairly low action.

* STRINGS. Steel strings have great top end but get “clacky” and feel sticky; nickel strings feel nice but sound a little dull. GHS Boomers are nickel plated steel – kind of the best of both worlds. But my REAL favorite lately are Elixir Polywebs. The polymer coating is GREAT for never again having to worry about string slide sounds, and the strings sound good and last much longer than uncoated strings – I had one particular set on an oft-used fretless for nearly two years! I wish I knew more about the strings UNDER the coating, though – I’ve always thought that coating a nickel-plated steel string in the Polyweb (thicker) coating might be the ultimate string. Elixirs are pricey compared to normal strings, but for the tone you get and the life you get out of the string, they’re worth it.

* EFFECTS. I like a little reverb on fretless solos. Not much. And not much else, either. I always considered using chorus on fretless “cheating”. It’s just not right to have to use an effect to cover up poor intonation, as many people do. Chorus in the reverb, maybe, but not on the bass itself… it’s cheating! :-)

* DISCLAIMER. After all that, it’s worth considering that given your physical makeup, your instrument, effects, amplifier, ears, brain, and political leaning, all of the above may do BUPKES for your tone. But I hope not. :-D



Here’s how to have the same kind of “wake-up” call I did while performing one of the 4 S’s – the one you usually do sitting down with your underoos at your ankles. It’s really quite simple….

-Lean forwards as you normally would.

-Have your quads spasm so your legs tuck under the bowl up in the air.

-Go down on your knees with your underoos wrapped around your ankles.

-Have your quads spasm from the TOP of the thigh this time so your legs straighten out and shove your head under the rollator, whose wheels are now covered in kitty litter (just like you) because your cat was practicing his long-snapping skills overnight.

-THEN have your left quad only re-spasm and tuck your leg underneath so your legs are trying to tie themselves in a knot.

-Follow with entrance of cat giving you a disapproving look.

-Wait 5 minutes for everything to relax, then push your way back to your knees and do your best to clean up (because there’s no way you’re sitting on the stool again). Thank goodness for moistened Cottonelle!

-Push rollator against the wall opposite you, lock wheels, and attempt to stand up using several different arm/leg combinations and leverage points. Allow 5+ minutes for this step, all the while conisidering very seriously the LifeAlert system in your near future.

-Once finally on your feet + four wheels, flush, pull up underoos, get to powerchair and transfer. Take pulse (120!); consider the last time you were over 120 for any length of time and how much more fun you were having then. Wipe a tear from your eye as you marvel at how the years have passed (carefully – you need to get back and wash your hands).

-Go to internet and whine about it to all your friends. Lather, rinse, try not to repeat.



Not too long ago I was sent the following link:

If you’re not a link kind of person, here’s the text of the link:

Aug 19, 2008
Exploring Why Physical Activity is Reduced in People with MS: Society-funded Investigators Seek Participants

Investigators funded by the National MS Society are seeking people with MS to participate in a study exploring whether the frequency and severity of MS-related symptoms influence physical activity. Robert W. Motl, PhD (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and colleagues are tracking changes in activity over three years in 250 individuals with relapsing-remitting MS, a course of MS characterized by flare-ups followed by complete or partial remissions. This study could improve our knowledge of the factors that reduce physical activity in people with MS, and help design programs to increase it.

Physical activity is being measured by an accelerometer, a device worn around the waist that measures movements throughout the day. Participants will complete questionnaires and wear the accelerometer for 7 days, and then will repeat this process every six months for three years. The results are being correlated with clinical measures of disease activity and patient reports of symptoms.

All materials will be delivered and returned pre-paid through the United States Postal Service. Participants in this study will be paid $120.

Anyone interested in more information about this study should contact Elise McAuley via email at, or via telephone, toll-free, at (888) 796-7966.

The following is my reply to their “study”:


Allow me to express my disappointment in the study I’ve just read about regarding physical activity in MS patients.

I find it very difficult to believe that so little is known about MS that a multi-million dollar study is required to find out if it affects sufferers physically. Allow me to save you some time and money. YES.

Are we really so far behind that we essentially have to start at the very beginning?

In the two years since my diagnosis, I have been reduced to using a walker or a scooter to get around; on the rare occasions when I am able to amble down my hallway unassisted, my girlfriend refers to me as “Lurch”… and it’s not because I have a great baritone.

Any time I have to stretch to reach something, my muscles all fire at once sending my arms off in wild, unintended directions. If I want to move my feet while sitting in a chair, any “over-stimulation” of the muscles (by way of a signal from my porous brain) sends me into a spasm that has twice literally thrown me from my chair.

I know my experiences aren’t unique to PWMS, and the disease has been around for a good long time – officially recognized for well over a century, and who knows for how long before that (it’s been postulated that the apostle Paul had MS – worth a google if you have the time).

And $120 for 3 years worth of dealing with a belt – even if it’s only a week at a time every 6 months – is ridiculous.

If there’s no way to use information already previously gathered to come to a conclusion, I see no reason to hope for any significant advancements in the fight for a cure over the next 10-20 years. At least this study has given me the freedom from waiting for things to change for me, and force me to accept things as they are and move on… and for that I thank you.

If this is the state of studies regarding MS, you won’t have me as a test subject… or a financial contributor. All the best to your research.

Michael Olson

In response, I got a form email reply thanking me for my interest in the study. *sigh*



I simply don’t understand why brewers who care about their product continue to use green bottles. Since not everyone reading this knows what green bottles do to beer, allow me to explain – they let light in that interacts with the hops in such a way as to render what might have been a decent beer at one point nearly undrinkable and smelling of skunkbutt. There are several beers that are highly respected – Pilsner Urquell and Dinkel-Acker among them – who continue to use the green bottles in the hopes that more Americans will buy them simply because of the color of the bottle. (OK, there are a lot of my fellow countrymen who are like that; these fine folk, however, are also the ones who like the skunky taste, thinking that they taste “imported”.) I can’t imagine that esteemed European brewers don’t mind that their product ends up tasting like an unhappy dog who lost a fight in the woods… could it be that the profit they get from the American market overrides their natural desire to produce a quality product? Yes, we all know that money talk$, but this is really ridiculous. I’d buy these beers in the light-sealed 12 packs, but alas, I just don’t drink enough to warrant buying that much of one beer at a time.

Don’t believe me? Okay, try this. Pick a beer you know to be in a green bottle that happens to be sold in a light-sealed pack (Pilsner Urquell does this with their 12-packs). Stick the beer in the fridge, still in the light sealed pack, and wait for a nice sunny day. Pull out two of the beers, set one on the counter, and the other in direct sunlight for about 15 minutes. Pour both and compare. Amazing, isn’t it?

Now take that same green bottle, and put it in a sixer at your local beer store with the fluorescent lights shining on it noon and night… lovely, eh?

It’s not just the European brewers that are guilty, either – Rolling Rock does the same thing. The bottles (painted instead of labeled) are impressive, and so is the aroma – but not in the way that they’d like, I’m sure. It’s sad to see that a brewery has to resort to selling their product on the basis of the color of their beers. Why brag about the “glass-lined” tanks at your brewery when you’re going to put your product in a green bottle and negate any flavor advantage you might have gained? And Moosehead, Dos Equis? You ought to be equally ashamed of yourselves.

I’ve also heard (but not found out for sure) that green bottles are harder to recycle than brown or white. I’m not sure why this would be, but if it’s true, it would be one more reason to stop doing this.

It would be a sad state of affairs indeed if the only things propping up these breweries in question was the extra profit they incurred from duping the American public into thinking that the beer was special simply because of the color of the bottle, wouldn’t it? Frustrating…

So when you go to buy beer, and you’ve decided on a beer that comes in a green bottle, you can always ask for a fresh 6er from the back cooler, or if they’re stacked up in a pyramid for the big holiday coming up, pull a few out and take one from the inside if you can. Save yourself the aggravation. And be sure to tell the pimply-chinned stock boy with the bewildered facial expression precisely what you’re doing… and why.



Been a while since I updated this. At some point I’ll get more regular about it, when there’s actually something exciting going on and I’m not mentally bogged down with everything. In the meantime, while cleaning out old word docs, I found this “interview” I gave to a student doing a project. He emailed me the questions, and I typed my overly-wordy responses. Thought you might like to read them. Here goes:

What are the major responsibilities/duties associated with your job?

As a performer, the duties are twofold: setup/teardown and performance. Setup involves arriving to the venue or studio in enough time to set my equipment up and have it in working order, and also enough time to change clothes if need be. Performance is about playing the right notes at the right time, which can be dictated by a piece of sheet music or determined by what I am hearing other musicians play and my own creativity. As a teacher, my main focus is to provide the student with as many tools as possible for them to become a better musician. But for any instance where I am asked to play my bass in a professional setting, the most important thing that I can do is make things fun for myself and my fellow musicians and/or students – this is WAY too much work to do if you’re not enjoying yourself!

A colleague of mine is fond of saying, “We get paid to show up, set up, and tear down… we play for free.”

Do you have a formal job description?

Hmmm… bassist, private teacher, that’s about it. The only thing formal about me is the tuxedo I sometimes wear to wedding gigs.

How long have you been on this job or in this career area?

I have been playing professionally (live and studio) and giving private instruction for about 15 years. (Ed. note: this was a few years back; I started playing professionally in 1990.)

What interested you in this field/job?

Chicks, mostly. (JUST KIDDING.) Actually, I had been playing any instrument I could get my hands on for as long as I can remember – I used to spend hours on end sitting on the left side of the piano bench, pounding on the low notes. What it was that made me gravitate towards the piano, and specifically the bass notes, is anybody’s guess, but it seemed to foretell my future in a way. One day when I was about 10, my brother came home with an electric bass and an electric guitar, announcing that he and his friend were going to form a band and he was to be the bassist. After hearing him play a bit, I simply loved the tone and asked my mom if I could play bass, too. I was informed that I was not going to be allowed to play the same instrument as my brother because my mom didn’t want us fighting over the things. So I got to be a guitarist for about a year, which I enjoyed, but I would always try to sneak into my brother’s room and play his bass when he wasn’t around. And every so often he’d walk in on me playing his bass and beat the tar out of me, and I’d learn my lesson, and 4-5 weeks later I’d get brave again, and the cycle would repeat itself. Then, one day I came home from school to hear my brother plunking away in his room in the basement, and I thought that sounded like a good idea, so I decided to go downstairs to where my guitar and amplifier stood. But when I approached the stairs that led down to the basement, I looked down to see an electric bass flying UP the stairs! I quickly backed out of the way, and the bass made a noise somewhere between a thud and a clang as it hit the ground. I turned to look down the stairs at my brother, and I saw him stomping off towards his room. I called to him, “Uhh… do you want this anymore?” He shouted, “NOOO!!!” and slammed the door behind him. I looked at the bass, realization slowly dawning on me, said, “Great!”, grabbed the bass and ran downstairs to plug it into my amp. For the first time, I was able to play that bass without looking over my shoulder to see who might catch me; it was unbelievable! When I recall this moment, I can see a light shining down upon me in my mind’s eye, and can clearly remember hearing an unearthly voice in my head that said You remember this momemt, because this is what you’re going to be doing with the rest of your life. To the best of my knowledge I can only explain this as the voice of God.

25 minutes later, my brother came out and started walking towards me, and said, “Gimme my damn bass back.” Seeing as how he was twice my size, there was no arguing with him, so back it went, but I immediately went up to my mom and explained what had happened… and that Christmas there was a nice new bass waiting under the tree for me. Things just sort of went on in a wonderland sort of way after that.

What do you like most about your job? (Creativity, freedom etc.)

Yes and yes. And so much more, really. Being an artist (which, in the end, is what a musician really is) means that not only do you get to be creative in your work, it also means that you’re your own boss – you choose what gigs you want to take, how much (or how little) you’re willing to play for, who you want to play with and who you don’t. Now, you could be “free and creative” with just about any occupation that fits under the Artist umbrella, but the best part about being a bassist, for me, is that I’d be doing this ANYWAY – whether I got paid or not. I basically make my living doing something I’d do for free in my living room every night. What could be better than that?

What is the most difficult part of your job?

There are two things that come to mind: First, there’s a LOT of prep work in becoming a competent pro player. When I first began getting serious about electric bass, I played my bass for about 7 hours a day for the first 5 years (from 8th grade until graduation and 1 year of music school). Now, I loved doing it, but I also recognized that there was a big difference between the player who put the hours in and the player who simply relied on his natural ability and didn’t practice as much. This meant that I didn’t see a lot of my friends (of course I made new ones as a musician), but in the end it was worth it to me. I still rely on the things I learned as a young musician every day of my bass playing life. Second, there’s often a LOT of gear to haul around, especially if you play in really loud bands – those amps are heavy, and until you can hire roadies to carry everything for you, you’re on your own. Sure hope you like trucks, vans, and station wagons, ‘cause that’s what you’re going to get to drive for most of your life…

What qualification/ training/ education/ experience is required for this position?

To be really honest, none. If someone is willing to pay you to do what you do, they’re not going to ask you for your college degree or demand a letter of recommendation from someone you’ve worked with in the past – it’s even pretty rare that they ask for a resume. More often than not, they’ve either heard you play before, or they got your information from someone they trust, and usually little more than a short rehearsal to make sure you’re able to play the material is all that’s needed. What this means, however, is that if you’re going to take a gig, you’d better be prepared – word gets around fast about who’s good and who’s not, and your reputation for your musicianship as well as your professionalism will precede you. Obviously the more experience you get, the better, but it’s a rare gig that requires you to have proof of having played for so many years or provide documentation of a degree. It comes down to basic American capitalistic principles: create a demand, provide a service, and charge a fee.

What are the most important skills needed/ used in this position?

On a personality level, being able to get along with different types of players is a must. You’ve got to be open to other people’s ideas of how a song should go, and how you ought to play it. More often than not, you’re the one being hired instead of doing the hiring, so you’re at the mercy of someone else who is calling songs and running the show. This means, very simply: check your ego at the door.

On an ability level, you need to know your instrument. If you’re joining a band that is willing to rehearse with you until you get up to speed, you’re very lucky; you owe them the best that you can do, which usually means hours of practice on your own. But if you tend to be more of a “hired gun” (meaning that you play with whoever calls you for a gig), you don’t have the luxury of a rehearsal – you should probably be able to read chord charts at the very least, and standard notation is always a good skill to have. But learning your fingerboard ought to come first – imagine the humiliation and indignity of having to ask the bandleader where Eb is on the G string so you can play “Take Five” properly.

What is something that you’ve found interesting or surprising about this job, or something that most people really don’t know about this occupation? Any myths?

The big thing that people don’t really get is that this is work. This is really hard to do; if we make it look easy, it’s a credit to us, but it doesn’t mean that we didn’t spend hours upon hours getting to the point where we could make it look that easy. It’s much the same as an athlete and the work he/she might do to get to the point of name recognition: for all his natural ability, Wayne Gretzky probably spent more time on the ice practicing than his buddies did when he was growing up, but few people heard of him until he was winning Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the same with musicians (although very few of us make Wayne Gretzky money) – we’re getting paid now for the work we did in our early playing days. People think that because we’re “playing” that it’s not hard to do; truth be told, this is WAY too much work for something that you don’t love with all your heart and soul.

Myths? There are still a few people out there that think that all professional musicians who aren’t employed by the symphony are drug addicts or alcoholics. The truth is that these days it’s just as common to see someone you work with on a daily basis battle drug and alcohol addiction as it is to see a musician in the same boat. And the players, like their “real job” counterparts, usually don’t last too long as professionals in that condition. Even in the 21st century, my long hair still sets a few people off until they get to know me better. I can’t say that I ever caught someone looking for needle tracks on my arms, but I’d be surprised if it hasn’t happened.

What is the typical salary range for this occupation?

No such thing. Different parts of the country will get you different levels of pay for the same work. It’s certainly tied to the economy of an area – basically, any money you get for what you do has to eventually come from someone who had money left over after bills were paid to buy a ticket to your concert or purchase your album. Certain areas of the country that have an overload of musicians, such as Los Angeles or Nashville, don’t pay very well for small live performances due to the number of people wanting to play, and last I was in LA most clubs in Hollywood were working on a “pay-to-play” basis: your band would get booked by a club for a one-hour set, and you’d pay $500 for 100 tickets that you could turn around and sell if you chose, or give them away if you were willing to pay for the exposure. Stuff like that only seems to work if your band is “swinging for the fences” and trying to hit the big time, and it’s pretty expen$ive in the meantime.

In the Front Range, studio players can make as much as $500+ per day – it’s all up to the person hiring them. Often, a few songs’ worth of work will cause the musician to ask to be paid by the song, which I’ve seen to be as much as $100 per. Again, it’s all about agreement on a price – ultimately, we are worth what someone else is willing to pay us to hear us play.

Private instruction in the Fort Collins area is averaging out to be about $20 for a ½ hour lesson.

What is the future outlook for this occupation?

As long as there are people out there wanting to be entertained, there will be a market for musicians and live performance. Could you imagine your life without music – no radio, no muzak coming over the speakers in the grocery store, no CD stores? This is why I still have a job. 

What with the rising gas prices, however, I am concerned that more people than I would like will decide not to take lessons as they prioritize where their money goes.

What is the competition like for this kind of job?

Well, it’s interesting… playing bass just doesn’t have the “glamour” that a lot of other instrumentalists enjoy, namely guitarists and solo pianists. It’s kind of like growing up dreaming of driving a bus; very few people have this aspiration with a great deal of passion at any age. For this reason, bassists tend to be few and far between; there is probably a 10 to 1 ratio from guitarists to bassists. This means that there’s a fair amount of job security in playing bass (if you’re good and you’re interested in working a lot), and there will be a demand for it so long as there are people willing to pay to be entertained. You don’t even have to be a terrific player to get work – really, all you have to do is be competent, know the material (or be able to read it on the gig), have your gear in working order, show up on time, and don’t insult the bandleader’s mother and you’ll most likely get called back for another gig.

What are the opportunities for career advancement?

Being a professional musician means that you’re the captain of your own ship – you are bound only by the limits you place upon yourself. If you want to play 7 days a week and do studio work all day (assuming you can land the jobs in the first place), and you can keep that workload up for an extended period of time, people will certainly begin to notice you – and that’s a good thing for a good bass player.

What is the typical “career path” for this type of position?

It’s really different for everybody. Lots of people start out playing in clubs and bars – it’s not the most “family-oriented” environment, but it does offer a chance to play in front of others and get paid for it. It’s wonderful experience, but many players choose to keep this as their livelihood for many years. There are, however, other places to play, and the bigger and more popular bands are able to pick up better gigs. Cities have programs where they put on free concerts for the residents, and pay for bands with taxpayer money; larger concert halls offer an opportunity for a band to bring in a larger audience and charge admission; festivals all over the world of varying shapes and sizes have bands going on day and night; private citizens have need for entertainment on occasion (weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, holiday parties, etc.) Also, most big cities have agencies that will have musicians on call to send to particular gigs.

As a studio player, it’s much more difficult. Perfect listening environments show off flaws in your playing that you never would have noticed otherwise, and only a select few players are able to overcome this. Getting started usually involves a recommendation from someone else (usually someone who can’t take the gig for one reason or another), and the pay once again depends on the client and the agreed upon price.

Private students came to me purely by accident – I used to hang out at a music store here in town and play the basses for fun. One day one of the employees said, “We just got two requests for bass lessons – feel like giving it a try?” I do know, however, that I never would have been offered the position had the employees not respected my playing.

Was this job/career what you expected it to be? Why or why not?

Really, I had no expectations. I simply looked for ways to play out with other people and get paid to do it. And it’s like the weather in Colorado – it’s rarely the same thing twice in a row. Depending on your personality, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. Personally, I enjoy the variety – even though my current “main gig” is playing 3 nights a week at the same place, the clientele is different every night, and it keeps things interesting.

What advice would you offer to someone interested in this occupation?

Most important: you better love it. You better love to play for other people, you better love to make other people happy with the way you play, and you better learn to find ways to enjoy what you’re doing even in the worst of circumstances. You need to understand that this is not a way to “get rich”, unless you plan on joining the Rolling Stones. This is a means to do what you love and get paid for it. And if you have a problem with being told what to play, you can start your own band, but there’s no guarantee that anyone is going to like it. At that point it becomes a labor of love, and it’s no longer a profession unless your band catches on. What I’m getting at is, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be allowed total musical freedom and be paid well for it – but the rewards of this vocation far exceed any amount of money you’ll probably ever get paid for it. Sure, it’s a lot of work getting good enough to be able to do this, and you probably won’t be driving around in your Lexus anytime soon, but come Monday morning all my friends go off to work… I go off to play.