Careers: Music School

Why do people get a music degree? Most aspiring musicians want to understand music better. How does it work? Why does it work? How did music evolve? We want to know the inner workings of music. Most of you have noticed that all pop music follows the same formula. Same chord progressions and same meters. You don’t need to go to music school to play popular music nor do you need to know how and why it works. Pop music is entertainment rather than art. It’s purpose is to become popular and make money. Ever notice that most pop “music artists” are one trick ponies and they borrow the same “ideas” from each other? More importantly, notice how many pop musicians are on welfare?

Do you need a music degree to become a musician?

You do not need a music degree to become a musician. There are many musicians that do fine without a music degree. The curriculum in music school will create the structure to learn things that a musician may not otherwise learn on their own. It will greatly enhance you as a musician and bassist. You will understand how music works and why. You learn about the Greats and what made them so great. It gives you ideas and opens up the musical universe for you. Without the education, you’re the guy at the telescope slowly finding and discovering things that have already been discovered centuries ago and already covered in astronomy 101.

Don’t Brag About Dropping Out Of School or Intending to Go

I’ve seen the bios of some bass players on the Internet and they would mention things such as “I attended music school” or “I intended to get a music degree”. “Attended music school” or “was a music major” is not the same as graduating with a music degree. I really don’t know why people think this fact is worth mentioning when they talk about themselves as musicians. Frankly, I think that some people use this as some sort of credibility thing, but to music graduates it shows insecurity. It’s okay if you didn’t go and are a fantastic musician, but it is actually better not to mention it at all.

Choosing A School

If you’re looking into choosing a music school right now, I would highly, highly recommend choosing one that is at an accredited university. That bachelors degree is still a bachelors degree at a university no matter where life takes you career-wise. It will open doors for a good paying job or more pay at a job as you begin your pursuit in your music career. A “degree” or “certificate” from an unaccredited “college” or “institute” puts you in the same category as someone who only graduated high school, by most employers. If you later choose to get a Masters or Ph.D in music, it will have to be from an accredited university if you want to attend an accredited university for that graduate degree.

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How to Make a Living (Part 1)

In my final semester as an undergrad, there was a mix of emotions. I was thrilled that I achieved my goal; I’ve completed the curriculum and was finally getting my Bachelors in Music as an Upright Bassist. It’s a fantastic goal for me since 90% of entering music students at most universities do not graduate. I also remembered that I was faced with the reality that I would need to start my career and make a living.

Years later, I never once ever regretted pursuing music and getting my bachelors in it. The wealth of skill, knowledge, and history in music that you get from immersing yourself all day, every day for 4-5 years is something that will serve you for a lifetime. I knew that if I didn’t, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. Even as my career deviated from music for certain years, the degree and the experience that came with it was always fond to me.

As great of a program that California State University, Long Beach’s (Bob Cole Conservatory of Music) program was, it’s just like any other liberal arts program; they develop you into an employable musician, but it’s up to you to create your career. Here’s where some of my fellow students and acquaintances that were bassists (upright and/or bass guitar) have landed. Each will be covered in future parts of this series.
  1. Performing Musician
  2. Music Educator
  3. Music Business
  4. Non-Music Related Fields
Many do not limit themselves to one of these career fields exclusively.

The String Emporium

Trying to navigate my way around in a rental car in Phoenix, Arizona after a long morning at a business meeting and being baked by the sun on a 100+ degree day, I muttered on the phone “I’m looking for a vintage bass, Steve”. Boy, did I deserve the ribbing for that one later in our meeting. I arrive and am greeted by Steve Koscica at The String Emporium (not to be confused with Bass Emporium). I will have to say that this has to be one of the better experiences in shopping for an upright bass.

For those not already familiar with The String Emporium, it is owned and run by Steve Koscica who is a long time Phoenix Symphony bassist by profession who runs a great upright bass merchant business on the side. Don’t let the side business aspect mislead you, Steve has a very impressive inventory of upright basses that rivals any other upright bass shop. The fact that he’s a highly talented and skilled professional is a very important thing, because this means that he assesses the basses that he adds to the collection as a player, not as a sales person. It’s kind of like taking a test drive with cars from a formula 1 driver’s garage, rather than visiting Bob the used car sales guy.

I’ve been looking for a road warrior upright bass for jazz, versus my $20k bass which was ideal for arco/orchestral when I was in undergrad, but just didn’t have the jazz sound that I was looking for. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to spend that much on an upright bass, since gigging with an upright usually means that the bass will be knocked an bumped even with the best of care. I started looking for an upright bass in the $7,500 to $10,000 price range, since that’s about the entry point that I’ve been seeing for quality instruments. Basses like all things in economics have a point of diminishing return. For a jazz upright bass, my perception is that it is at the $10,000 point where you’re pay more but netting less for each dollar.

When I arrive, Steve already has about a dozen upright basses in a room preselected from his inventory based on the basses that I mentioned I was interested in. I’ve been to the big name shops and this level of attention and service was unique. Even when I was shopping for a much more expensive upright bass in the past, I didn’t get this level of attention. Steve introduced me to the basses let me settle in and checked in periodically to make sure that I was doing fine. After narrowing down the basses that I considered buying down to three, here’s where Steve was completely patient and gave me the attention I needed to select the right bass for me. He’d play the basses for me so that I could hear how they sounded at a distance. He also a personable guy; we chatted about bass, life, careers, education, etc. After he got to know me better an where I am as a bassist, we were joking and ribbing each other. He knows his instruments and he doesn’t B.S. about the basses. I asked him which bass on the list was the nice German bass that I tried, and on his list it was listed as “Nice German Bass ….”.

Steve’s inventory is a mix of nicer Chinese upright basses through renowned basses from the 18th century. What I found unique about Steve’s inventory was that he carried a very good selection of basses in the entry level range. Some of these may not catch the eye or be of interest to collectors, but they played and sounded like a more expensive bass to the ear and are healthy basses. I’d encourage anyone who is on a tight budget to take advantage of these basses. I appreciate the fact that he’ll not only show pristine basses, but workhorses too. Steve was honest in his evaluations on the basses, if it had a new back or anything not original, he would say so. If the bass was of unknown origins and ambiguous, he would tell me his opinion, but wouldn’t swear by it as if it was the law. Lets face it, a lot of appraisals of unlabeled basses are just guesses on paper that were written to inflate a price on a bass. His prices are fair, which says a lot since a lot of dealer’s prices are outrageously high. Don’t think of it as fair compared to other shops, because his prices are better than others out there. Think of it as in fair, in value to monetary terms, so every time you pick up a bass your financial brain would say, “I like that bass and the price is good”. There were also a few basses that were impressive deals. There weren’t any prices on any bass that I thought was a ripoff. Straight-forward and priced competitive.

Choosing between the last three was a grind, but Steve endured through with me. It took a few more hours from selecting the three to finally choosing one. Most of his basses had orchestral strings, so I wasn’t 100% sure which one I would like better, so he did the favor of switching strings on the upright basses to Spirocores for me. After listening to them, playing them, listening to them with the Spiros, one stood out very clearly to be my jazz/experimental music bass. There’s a level of service there that can’t be beat. I felt like a fellow bassist with Steve, rather than a customer. Let’s face it, some of those upright bass shops make you feel like you’ve stepped into a used car lot, but not here. Steve has had customers of so many bassists of different levels and backgrounds, which he accommodates. It’s worth the trip there and you’ll feel comfortable at any level as a bassist. No snobbery there, except the ribbing about me calling old basses vintage ;-). For more information, see their website at www.stringemporium.com/basscafe.htm

Bass Solos – Not a Filibuster

“Two people go to a marriage guidance counsellor. He tries to work with them, but they absolutely refuse to talk about anything in front of each other. The counsellor gets fed up, gets

his bass out and starts playing it. The couple get angry at him for wasting their time, then they start shouting at each other, and pretty soon a lot of their problems are out in the open. The counsellor can then get them to address these issues. At the end of the session, the couple thank him for a stunningly good session, and ask “So where does the bass come in?” “Ah”, says the counsellor, “people always talk during a bass solo.”

—————

I remember this hearing this old joke on several occasions over the years, and while it’s a joke, there is some truth to it. If people are not enjoying bass solos, then we either need to stop doing it or do it right.

In our U.S. Congress, if a minority party wants to tie up an impending passage of a bill, they will “filibuster”, which is to have members stand at the podium and ramble about anything that comes to mind for hours and days to stall for time. There really is no relevance or purpose for the speech, since its only purpose is to fill time.

Like congressional filibusters, a lot of bassists play random, nonsensical pitches to fill up the 16 bars that are designated for bass solos. They play a lot of chromatics, a bunch of 16th notes, slide up and down the fingerboard and play variety of scales. Let’s face it; who wants to hear that? Other instruments play melodic line during their solos; they quote, they phrase, and they make their instruments sing, yet when it’s our turn bassists filibuster. There is a place for everything, so I wouldn’t say to completely take those elements out of your solo if they are relevant, but relevance is the key determinant.

Next time you think about bass solos, think about how your audience is reacting to your solos versus their reaction to good solos on other instruments. Are they connecting with you and intently enjoying your solo, or do they look lost or bored. Listen to recording of your own solos and evaluate yourself. Listening to yourself is hard for a many musicians, but if you can’t listen to yourself, why should anyone else listen to you. Listen to solo on other instruments by musicians that you like and think about why you like them.

By improving your solo, you will improve people’s perception of you as a bassist. You will know that you are doing it right when some random stranger walks up to you after a gig and tell you how they enjoyed your solo. Other instrumentalists have enjoyed that compliment, so should you.

A little lnspiration to Practice

A very hot solo by Brian Bromberg. Don’t ever think that an Upright Bass has limits.

Goldstar Discount Event Tickets

I’ve been using Goldstar to purchase tickets for various events and have been pleased with the service and savings. They make arrangements with venues and performers to sell tickets at 1/2 off. They are a discount ticket seller, which means that you won’t get tickets for events that are highly in demand, but they do have many quality events. Sometimes I’ll find tickets for concerts that I was going to purchase anyhow. Paying less for concerts means that my concert budget goes further.

This is an cost saver not only for concert goers, but for sports and taking out the ms. for a show. They can be found at www.goldstar.com

The Soloist (2009) – Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Bassist

the-soloist-movieHollywood has a reputation of changing around real life stories to do whatever it they think it takes to make a story more dramatic and marketable, for the sake of maximizing box office revenue. The 2009 movie titled The Soloist is a movie about Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a Julliard Musician who ends up living in the streets of Los Angeles. Nathaniel Anthony Ayers is actually a bassist and studied it for most of his life. He received his scholarship to Julliard as a bassist.

Ayers’ real-life story, though, started out quite ordinary. Like many kids, Ayers wasn’t studious when he took up the double bass, his initial instrument, according to Harry Barnoff, his first teacher at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, a community school. “In the first year, he fooled around,” Barnoff says. “But later, he suddenly got a fever and said, ‘I want to be a bass player like you.’”

Ayers began practicing diligently even though, Barnoff recalls, his natural ability meant that “he could be without a bass for a month and then pick it up and you’d think he’d practiced every day.” Barnoff says both he and colleagues, upon hearing Ayers play, agreed that the teenager had the potential to join any of the Big Five. But several years later, while on scholarship at Juilliard to study with the late Homer Mensch, Ayers started showing symptoms of schizophrenia. Dropping out, Ayers bounced to Ohio, Colorado, and eventually Los Angeles, sometimes calling his former teacher collect to talk about music and bass repertoire, Barnoff says.

Except of from All Things Strings

Harry Barnoff, Nathaniel’s mentor at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, tells us about his protégé’s talent (and about his early approach to honing skills).  Though initially unfocused, the young double bass player was able to perform well even when he ignored assignments and skipped practice.

Barnoff, a  Juilliard-educated bassist with the Cleveland Orchestra, urged Ayers (who was born on the 22nd of January, 1951) to recognize and develop his gift.

Excerpt from Awesome Stories

Once again, the public limelight is taken away from bassists and what we are capable of. Imagine if they kept true to the story and had shown some virtuoso bass solos and excerpts, how it would have increased awareness of what we can do. Would the story  have been less marketable if he were portrayed as he really is in real life? I say that it’s less marketable to classical musicians and audiences, but it makes no difference to the general masses. Since Hollywood has zero pause about changing facts, why not make him a Jazz bassist, while we are at it?