The Sound Out There

by Chris Tarry on August 5, 2013

The following is a guest post by New York City bass player Chris Tarry.

If you put me in a room, say 14 x 10, give me an amp, a bass, and few minutes alone, I can come up with a pretty good bass sound. There’s control to be found in small places. It’s how we usually test our gear, in a confined space; studios, bedrooms, garages, and music stores. We’re in control and as bass players, that’s a good thing. The problems begin when we step onstage.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced over my career as a professional bass player is the struggle between my bass sound onstage, and the bass sound often rumpling from a house P.A. I play all kinds of music, but often I find myself on a quiet gig in a large venue, strapped to the misguided intentions of a rock & roll soundman; the kick drum and bass rattling the venue’s rafters in a kind of subterranean frenzy, my on-stage amp fighting to be heard and losing horribly.

It’s not just quiet gigs where this becomes a problem. Loud gigs that require accuracy of tone, precision of fingers, funkiness of line, are also at risk from an overzealous bottom-end-loving soundman. It can affect the way we touch our bass, infringe on our confidence, and make us second-guess our musical choices in a given moment. When I hear more bass coming from the audience that from behind me, I’m easily confused.

There’s a few ways I’ve tried to remedy this over the years. I’ve tied turning my amp up, which, inevitably results in a call from the soundman to turn down my stage volume. I’ve been immature and unplugged my line to the soundboard—I don’t recommend this, soundmen aren’t fun when they’re angry. I’ve tried turning down my amp in hopes of someone else in the band noticing, because there’s power in numbers. Alas, it is hard to compete with boom-shaking rafters. Shaking rafters feel good to anyone not holding a bass.

What has worked is to be direct. I often talk to the soundman beforehand, tell him how I enjoy hearing more bass on stage than from the front-of-the-house. They’re usually very receptive and often talk at length on the acoustic properties of bass in their venue. I sit, listen patiently, and try not to let my eyes glass over. Sometimes soundmen like to put bass in the onstage monitors. This is a no-no (unless you’re playing in an airline hanger), I often check to make sure this hasn’t happened.

When all else fails I cut the low end on my amp and try to blend what I hear coming from the audience with my amp and where I’m standing onstage. Another trick I’ll use is preparatory. At home in my studio I’ll practice playing with an unsatisfactory bass sound (either two bass-heavy or two much high-end), in order to train myself to play through the sound, to be confident in a stage mix I’m not happy with. In the end, I can’t stand in the audience and play (oh how I miss my eighties wireless setup), so I have to default to the soundman and hope they have everything sounding good.

One of the most effective ways to combat the Boomies can be to raise your amp off the stage, though this can sometimes cause a “too-much-information-moment”, pointing out inadequacies in our playing; when an amp is pointed at the back of my legs, I somehow sound better. Short of all of it, in-ear monitors, if your band uses them, can be an excellent investment. But even in-ear monitors lack that kind of ass-shaking-awesomeness that comes from an amp and me alone together in a room.

It’s a shame. We spend all this money and time picking out the perfect amp, the right bass and strings. We buy pedal boards, and cabinets that stack to the size of refrigerators, and in the end, the bass sound is often out of our control. But as professionals we must look past all of it. Our job is to make the artist we’re supporting feel supported regardless of our own issues. I find when I can do that, when I can put the Boomies at bay and keep smiling, that’s when the music really shines.

Chris Tarry is one of the busiest bass players in New York City, and the owner of, an interactive video bass learning site. Connect with Chris on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.


I’m going through withdrawal

by Paul Hardy on July 4, 2010

Ugh. I just checked out my gig calendar and realized I haven’t played a gig since June 12 and won’t play another until August 14. That’s more than two months without playing.  This ‘Gigging Bass Player’ is NOT gigging right now. Not cool.

Lucky for me, I don’t depend on gigs to make a living. The extra cash is nice, but isn’t enough to make a huge impact on my lifestyle.

Having said that, not gigging for this long certainly has other impacts. My callouses go soft. My chops get a little dull. And I start to lose my mind . . . just a little bit.

Playing live is such a release. It does wonders for my mental health. For bass players like me, who live an otherwise normal lifestyle (e.g. day job, family, etc.), performing is like therapy. No matter what life throws at you, you can forget about everything at the gig and just lose yourself in musical and bass nirvana.

So what is a bass-playin’ dude to do when going through this kind of dry spell? How do I keep my hands loose, chops sharp and sanity intact?

I’ve been giving this some thought over the last day or so and come up with the following list of things to do while waiting for the next gig to roll around.

How NOT to Lose Your Mind Because You Haven’t Played a Gig in Two Months:

Noodle: Yes, noodle, in verb form. Or doodle if you prefer. Noodling refers to what you do when you casually pick up your bass and mess around while doing something else, like watching TV or surfing the web. When I’m gigging regularly, I get my fill of playing and don’t really have any desire to noodle around just for the hell of it. My bass tends to spend most of its time inside the case, only seeing the light of day at gig time. But noodling, while not a very rigorous form of practice, is still helpful in keeping your chops up.

Study: Sometimes I forget how much my playing style was developed based on what I picked up by studying my favourite bass players back in my wood-shed days. It never hurts to go back to the well of inspiration and have a listen to some of the material that provided me with my earliest bass influences. My recent playlist includes old masterpieces such as: Appetite for Destruction (Guns ‘n Roses), Moving Pictures (Rush), Master of Puppets (Metallica) and Operation: Mindcrime (Queensryche).

Practice: Yes, sometimes an intentional practice session is just what the doctor ordered in terms of keeping those four-string skills polished and honed to a fine point. While I’ve never been very disciplined when it comes to structured practice (I’m more of a noodler — see above), I do find there is some advantage to sitting down and working through some area of my playing that’s not entirely up-to-snuff. For example, I alternate between playing with a pick and playing with my fingers. While fairly proficient with both, my finger-playing stamina is not quite what it should be, especially when speed is involved. So my structured practice sessions will focus on various exercises to improve that aspect of my playing.

Forget: Forget what? How about forgetting that you’re a bass player, that you’re in a band and that you’re a performing musician. Sound ridiculous? Maybe. But sometimes just forgetting about it for awhile is what you need to feel fresh and committed once you’re back into a regular playing schedule. As much as I love playing, sometimes it becomes a bit of a grind. When gigs become a little tedious, it’s easy to forget how important music and the bass is to you. A little break can do wonders. And sometimes it doesn’t hurt to remember that there are other things in your life worth spending time on . . .



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7 Ways To Improve Your Playing

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The Power of the Gig

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I’ve been playing bass for a long time — since I was 14. I’ve been playing gigs for almost as long. I haven’t kept count, but there have been a lot of them. Most of those gigs have been OK. Some have been kind of crappy. And some have been downright shitty and made me […]

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