Breaking Into the Scene as a Professional Bass Player

professional bass player

As you might imagine, it’s very difficult to jump in and start making money as a professional bass player. You need to be great at networking, have a large family of connections, and have a name for yourself when it comes to being reliable.

Despite how hard it is to break into the professional music scene, there are more ways to make money than you might imagine, and once you crack the code you’ll get to enjoy a career of doing what you love.

Below I’ll share some tips on how how to make a name for yourself and earn some cash in the process. It’s a long road to becoming a professional bassist, but it’s one that’s well worth going down if you want to follow your passion and not be stuck behind a desk all day.

Tips For Getting Your Foot In The Door

  • Play At Church Gigs – This one is really all about networking and finding a community to join up with. All it takes is visiting a few churches and talking to the music director to see if there are any open spots for you to join. Expect to make between roughly $75-$100 for each service. It’s not much, but the connections you can form here are invaluable.
  • Join A Working Band – Search Craigslist and forums for bands looking for bassists. The trick here is that you don’t want just any band – You are looking for cover bands who play at weddings, bars, and other big events.You are a professional bassist after all so you need to get paid for your work!
  • Become A Substitute – When you get to know a bunch of other working bassists, you form an amazing family that can depend on one another. Chances are, somebody will get double-booked at one point or another and be in search of a replacement. Here is your time to hop in and make a few dollars! Who knows, maybe the bassist for that band will quit a few months later and the band will come knocking at your door.
  • Go To Shows – Go to every show in town, and talk to every band and every bassist. Pick their brains about different things, and make sure they know your face. You can even opt to pay for a lesson to really get to know them. Not only do you form a connection with a working bassist and their band, but you have a chance at sitting in on a show down the road.

Ways To Make Money As a Bassist

  • Teaching – This one is all about reliable income, since that can be hard to come by as a working bassist. Almost every professional player teaches on the side, even if it’s just a few times a week.
  • Church Gigs – The pay for church gigs isn’t going to make you rich, but it’s a reliable and constant source of money each week. Once you get to know the music director of the church you’ll find it quite easy to receive constant weekly bookings. Make sure to bring your own amp and guitar because you never know the condition of the gear on-site.
  • Theater – Shows at theaters usually need live musicians, so here is your chance to hop in. Make sure you are up to par on your reading skills and that you know upright bass as well as electric. The pay here can be really good, so these are the gigs to watch out for.
  • Corporate Gigs – These types of parties tend to have live jazz bands as part of the background music. Generally one musician is contacted, and then they call up their network and find people to fill in the rest of the trio or quartet. You’ll be using an upright bass for these gigs 99% of the time and playing classic tunes.
  • Hired Gun – This is when a solo artist (usually a singer or guitarist) calls upon other musicians to join them on tour. The good thing is that the solo artist does all the leg-work like bringing in the fans and setting up the tour, but the bad news is that you can be easily replaced and nobody will notice. Still though, these are great opportunities and it’s one of the best ways to make yourself known in the industry.
  • Cover Bands – These are bands that regularly play at things like weddings and bars. The competition here is high, so either find a reliable and professional group to play around town with, or work as a sub using your network skills.

Don’t Work For Free! (Most Of The Time)

It’s often heavily debated whether working for free is worth it or a huge waste of time and effort.

I feel that playing unpaid gigs is never a good idea, UNLESS you do it strategically. For example, playing at a one-time event where you have no prospect of being hired afterwards is not going to be very beneficial toward your career. However, if you are giving a free lesson to a prospective student, playing at a gig in exchange for a few referrals, or playing in order to obtain promotional video for future events, then you have a good chance to turn those opportunities into money down the road.

It’s all about having a good long-term vision and being smart about your decisions with the ultimate goal of steady revenue in mind.

Final Thoughts

As you can see there are quite a few ways to make money as a bassist, but in the end it all revolves around forming a network.

Being on time is also a key point to being successful. If you show up late to a gig, or if you have drugs/alcohol in your system, chances are slim-to-none that you’ll be asked to come back.

Make sure you have a professional website for yourself, and make it seem like you are already making money (even if you aren’t). Sometimes just one gig is the difference between making it or not, so every little thing you can do to portray yourself as the ideal musician to hire, the better.

Becoming a working bassist is something that takes extreme discipline, hard work, and commitment, but when it works out you’ll see it was all worth it in the end.

About Ian R.

Ian R. is the founder of DrumRadar, a drum blog focused on providing buyer’s guide’s, how-to articles, and gear reviews for drummers across the world. He is also the founder of the popular bass guitar website, www.bassguitarguide.com, and piano website www.thrivepiano.com.

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