Trying to “survive” vs. wanting to have fun

There’s so much to know… or is there?

By Jon Liebman
Week of September 20, 2021

Try to imagine life as a young, up-and-coming bass player today. You’ve got your sights set on a career as a professional musician. You’re eager and hungry to learn everything you need to know. Not to say that breaking in was easy when we were younger, but the demands placed on career-focused bass players today are almost unfathomable.

I talked about the subject during a great conversation I had with my old friend Matt Bissonette a couple weeks ago, published as this week’s FBPO interview. In the interview, Matt looks back on the early days of his career in the ‘80s, frequently alongside his older brother, drummer Gregg Bissonette. Matt just shakes his head at how much is required for today’s up-and-comer bass players.

As you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure you’re not trying to become a rock star or set the world on fire with your musicianship. My hunch is that you just want to learn bass so you can get together with your music-loving friends, play some classic rock, maybe some blues, whatever… and just have fun. If that sounds like you, then then I think you’ll really appreciate what Matt has to say.

As you find yourself imagining trying to make it as a bass player in today’s world, consider what all you’d have to do. “The landscape has changed so much,” says Matt. “You’re going to have to adapt to what’s going on. You have to be able to play bass, you have to sing, you have to write, you have to learn piano, you have to learn guitar…”

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, there’s more. Don’t forget all the technology that didn’t exist when we were younger. These days, it’s just assumed that you’re proficient with Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, and all the other DAWs, as well as the ins and outs of social media, marketing on YouTube, and so much more. 

The good news is that you don’t have to let any of that stuff detract from the actual love of music you feel, and your love of learning bass. 

Matt still recalls the day his parents surprised him with his first bass. “That moment,” he says, “the light went on from something I didn’t even know existed to ‘This is really, really fun!’ and ‘This is really, really cool!’” 

That’s it right there. That should be at the core of why anyone would want to learn bass. It’s really, really fun and it’s really, really cool.

“It’s the actual, physical playing of music. That’s that thrill that never goes away,” Matt continues. “I mean, it might get dampened later down on the road, through experience and stuff, but to this day, every time I pick up my bass, I still really love it.”

So let’s keep things in perspective. Today, there’s a lot you’d need to do to just to survive. In your case, though? Are you trying to “survive,” or do you just want to learn bass and have fun?

“What I would say to anybody starting out,” Matt says, “especially if they’re in their 50s, 60s, 70s, is to jam with people as much as you can. Get a drummer and just play and have fun. Get a gig at a local bar and play cover tunes and sing cover tunes.”

As live performances are starting to happen again, Matt finds himself reliving the experience he’s loved ever since that day he first discovered the bass. “When I finally played the show with our band, the Reddcoats, in front of 500 people,” he says, “I almost peed my pants because it was so fun!”

If you’ve ever played in front of a live audience, you know how exhilarating that feeling can be. “That energy that you get back from people looking at you and clapping and whatever,” Matt says, “that’s the joy of music to me.”

As for the young people trying to make it in today’s world, I encourage them wholeheartedly. They probably don’t even mind all the extra “work,” much of which undoubtedly comes naturally to them. I only hope they remember that the underlying goal is to make music and to enjoy it.

“I don’t care how good anybody plays or how proficient they are,” Matt says. “You’ll get that feeling, and that’s what it’s all about. To me, that’s the joy of music, just playing songs that you love and playing in front of other people.”

What about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Matt here.

Comments on Trying to “survive” vs. wanting to have fun

  1. Charlie Irwin says:

    Re: the change in the music business/environment: this has happened before. Check out “How The Beatles Destroyed Rock And Roll” by Elijah Wald. He describes the changes in the music industry and their effects on musicians from the early 1900’s to 1960’s with the advent on radio and recording.

  2. Ted says:

    Thanks for helping me develop a healthy perspective.

  3. Brad says:

    I really enjoyed this interview, especially him talking about late-starters in music. Encouraging us to just get together and have fun is great.

  4. Kevin MacDonald says:

    I’m 66 and I retired from the day job so I have tons of time to play.That said after carful planning and the kids and mortgage gone I can finally own some of the gear I lusted after when I had a ton of gigs and no mad money for gear.Now I’m the epitome of “all dressed up with no where to go”
    Most of my peers have quit playing or sadly passed away.I play for hours each day in my man cave studio and occasionally get to jam with others.I’d give my eye teeth to find a semi steady situation and dream about playing gigs once more.Unfortuneately the lockdown has all but destroyed the live music scene in my state and the demand for 66 yr.old bassists is low.

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      Stick with it, Kevin. You’re not alone. A lot of other folks have told me the same thing. Hopefully, the world is on its way back to “normal.” In the meantime, the ability to communicate (and even jam!) online has never been better than it is right now. Despite the obvious disappointments, I hope you’re finding some joy in your playing. Thanks for reaching out!

  5. Kim says:

    I’m with you Kevin …..
    Great reply you did. I dream of my time to play most of my day soon when I retire! I will seek out a jam band ! I will also be 66 when I quit the day job. If I could nail a audition at 21with no formal training, I’m anxious to see what can happen now that I have. I plan to have fun !

    1. Jon Liebman says:

      You’re doing great, Kim! Keep it up!

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