It's been 11 days since I signed on to my 3rd cruise ship contract of 2013 and so far I have visited Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Denmark, Norway, UK, Canada and USA, which is quite the list now I look at it! I've had the privilege of playing with some fantastic musicians and making some great new friends along the way, which is really one of the best aspects of this job. In this blog I'd like to talk about a few of the lessons I've learned both musically and personally whilst sailing the high seas and playing bass!
Musically, the cruise ship gig is one of the most varied and sometimes challenging gigs available to bass players. I often get asked what kind of music I play onboard and its probably actually easier to answer with a list of music I don't play. Stylistically you could be expected to play everything from Lady Gaga to Rodgers and Hammerstein, possibly in the same show, and the performance situations vary from club style cover band to semi operatic orchestral accompaniment.
On the one hand this keeps the job interesting and varied, but on the other it can be tricky to wear so many different musical hats. However, there is help at hand in the form of the musical score. Reading music is a massive part of the gig and is essential to navigating all the different genres you'll find yourself playing, however, if you are unprepared it can be overwhelming. It's common to only see the music you will be performing on stage that night just a few hours before the show at the rehearsal. With any luck the charts will be well written, legible and not too difficult. Alas this isn't always the case and you may have to put it in a few more hours practice to get the parts down. On the plus side my sight reading has improved significantly, which really helps reduce the stress of the job. Coupled with a broad knowledge of musical genres, a versatile instrument and a positive work ethic, it's possible to enjoy performing in a professional, high quality setting night after night.
Of course, no matter how much you have your skill set together you are always at the mercy of the other band members. Luckily I've only had positive experiences with my fellow band mates and even encountered some truly incredible musicians. But just as important as the musical compatibility is the personal connection. I blogged about this topic previously and in this current situation I'm reminded of just how crucial good people skills are. For example, the accommodation is a small cabin with bunk bed. That is, you are sharing a living space not much larger than some people's bathroom with another person for up to 6 months at a time. Again, I've been lucky in that most of my cabin mates have turned into great friendships, and I've also kept my contracts to 4 months and below which helps.
Aside from the musical and interpersonal aspects, the cruise gig has a few more facets that are worth talking about: ports of call, and the crew bar. It's true that if you do this gig long enough you will probably end up visiting the four corners of the earth. It's also true that many musicians are too hungover to get out of bed and see them. Essentially it's a balancing act, the crew bar is an integral part of ship life; It's really the only place apart from your cabin where you can kick back and enjoy some normality after/during/before your shows, but it can also turn into the place you go whenever you're bored, and this can be detrimental in many ways, not least of all to your paycheck! I try to get out and see every port of call we visit, not just to try and find free wi fi and decent coffee (although for repeat ports of call this often the motivating factor) but also because I feel extremely privileged to be able to experience new places and cultures purely because I play bass! So many times I've found myself on a plane or in some great little bar in a city Ive never been to and thought to myself 'Someone is paying for me to experience this purely because I play bass.' This is both a humbling and inspiring notion that I try and remind myself of on a regular basis.
So there you have it. My experience working on ships in a (rather large, sorry!) nutshell. It's not my ideal job, but approached with the right mindset and surrounded by the right people, it can be a fantastic breeding ground for both musical and personal growth. And, the beer is ridiculously cheap....;)
"....take solace in the fact that no one else sounds exactly like you do, and make that your most attractive quality..."
So it's been nearly 16 months since I first arrived in Vancouver and I now have just under a week to say my goodbyes and prepare for my next adventure.
It has been a memorable period of time in my life on many fronts: I've made new lifelong friendships, I've travelled many thousands of miles across this great country playing music with some fantastic musicians, I've been inspired, demoralised, lost, found, fulfilled and emptied. But most importantly I have came out the other side a better musician and a stronger human being.
As this is my musical portal to the world, I will try and keep this blog entry focused on my growth and experiences as a musician, but inevitably it's hard to separate the music from the soul.
I'd say the biggest thing I have learned from my time here is the realisation that I do actually have something that people want. That is, people value my skills as a bass player and want to make music with me. This may sound somewhat naive or like something I should already be aware of, but it's taken 16 months of plugging away in this Canadian city for it to finally become something I'm convinced of. That feeling of security in what I have to offer as a musician is incredibly liberating and comforting. Knowing that I'm able to fulfil most of the musical situations I find myself in to such a level as to eventually be THE bass player that people would want for that gig is a very rewarding feeling.
I'm NOT saying that I am the baddest bass player in town, or that my chops blow all other bass players away, or that I'm gonna be getting a call from Prince for his next tour.... All I know is that I'm finally able to draw on such a wide array of experiences that I can quickly arrive at the best musical solution for most of the situations I will find myself in at this point in my career.
Aside from the continued development of my musical abilities, I've realised that possibly the most important (and overlooked) skill for this industry is being able to 'hang'. My good friend Steve Leske pointed this out to me many years ago and I finally realise the importance of it after spending more than half my time in 'musical situaitions' not actually playing. Canada is a big country....like, mind bendingly big. And as such, an 'out of town' gig can mean anything from 1.5-14hrs driving. That is a LOT of time spent in the company of your fellow bandmates and if you are the one causing tension, farting in the van and generally not pulling your weight, it really doesn't matter what you do on stage because you will not last long in that gig. Being able to make people laugh, know when the right and wrong time to talk about things is, offer solutions to problems outside what you've been hired for and turning up on time (that means early!) with good gear that looks and sounds the part, go hand in hand with nailing the gig and making the band leader sound good. Be the guy who buys the first round, does the late shift behind the wheel, skips date night to make that rehearsal you don't need but the new drummer does, and you're well on your way to being the best bass player those guys have ever had, regardless of your chops.
So, I guess to sum up what I've been drivelling on about is this: keep your chops up, your head down, your ears, mind and eyes open and learn when to speak, to listen, to stand up and to walk away.
Next up: The Cruise Ship..... Thanks for reading!!
So A LOT has happened since my last blog post, including some really awesome things and some not so awesome...
Being new in town, I know I had to really hit the ground running when I arrived, and as such I spent a lot of time networking when I first got here.. I was searching Craigslist daily for bass player wanted ads, I was emailing bass players and bands round town letting them know I was available for gigs, I checked out various jams and also got the ball rolling on putting together my own band. 6 months later the emails and calls began to slowly filter in, and 90% of it was paid work! I'm glad to say that coupled with my private teaching I've been able to support myself purely through musical endeavours, which I know I'm very lucky to able to do in the current climate of this city.
So where's the negatives you ask? Well... Some months I'm able to support myself more than others, and being away from home every other week isn't always as much fun as it may sound. However, getting to see so much of this beautiful country and play great music with new friends soon makes it all worth while. I'm currently playing with www.pompadoors.com and
I've recently scored the bass chair with www.ettingerband.com and as such will be gigging very regularly all across Canada an even the USA! Vancouver is finally beginning to feel like it could become home, I'm making good friends and the musical future is looking bright.
So it's been just over 2 weeks since I arrived home after the mammoth cross Canadian tour with the Russ Rosen band. Over 10,000kms crossing every province between BC and Quebec totalling 130hrs of driving!
Post tour blues? Not really. I don't miss not being able to sleep on the bus as we hurtle through prairies in the middle of the night on the badly laid roads. I also don't miss having to load in, set up, and soundcheck our own PA system after said drive. I don't miss playing to 6 people at said gig after said drive... You get the idea. However it wasn't at all a bad experience, far from it. So here are some of the things I do miss about being on the road: meeting new people, seeing new places, playing music every other night, the odd free beer, the ban(d)ter etc And as a result of the tour I have a few more dates in the diary with guys, most recently playing at Canada Place for Canada day which was good fun!
Upon arriving back July has really picked up music wise with a bunch of gigs with new artists including Mojo Groovin' and Harry Calaway. Mojo Groovin play awesome jazz/funk with an emphasis on classic Hammond style RnB in th style of Jimmy Mcgriff and Grant Green. Harry Calaway is a well known face on the Vancouver and BC music scene with his fantastic Hendrix inspired rhythm n soul blues show. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming gigs with these guys and hope the August turns out to be just as busy!
I'm also in the process of putting together my own band with the aim of performing original material I have been working on over the last few years. I'm very excited about this and have some absolutely killer musicians lined up to help make it happen!
Thanks for reading!
So we/re now just over the half way point in the tour and we have travelled nearly 5000 kms across the vast and ever changing countryside of Canada. Our gigs have ranged from outdoor stages to intimate cafe gigs and the audiences have been equally as disparate! Highlights include driving through the Rockies, playing on national TV, catching up with old friends and family members, driving the bus through the prairies, cheap alcohol in Alberta, not so cheap alcohol in the hotel, and getting to spend the day exploring Toronto city! Musically I have tried to nail the material as best I can each gig, whilst helping to take some of the material to new places if required. One of the good things about Russ and his band are their openness to new musical ideas and extending tunes with jams when appropriate.
We have stayed with some fantastically generous people who have fed and sheltered us in some exquisite surroundings...pics to come!
We are currently spending a few days in and around the Toronto area, and I got the chance to explore some of the city in the glorious sunshine yesterday. It has a really great vibe, busy but not choked, with a definite sense of the arts and business prospering side by side. Our gig was in the very cool Kensington market area, surrounded by arts, clothing and food stalls in a strangely London terraced housing area of the city. Great vibe though!
The big discovery I made last night was that I play way better with my eyes closed! I guess it takes away any visual distractions and really helps me focus on the music and heightens my listening abilities. I will try to incorporate this in the upcoming gigs and also work on playing more relaxed to see what effects this has on my timing and concentration abilities.
Thanks for reading, I am looking forward to what the rest of the trip brings!
It feels good to be on the road, pitting your wits against whatever gets thrown your way musically and practically, and relying on all those hours of practice to get you through another night. Yesterday we made it from Vancouver to Kelowna in around 4hrs to play at the streaming cafe. Being a last minute gig, turn out expectations were low, but the place got pretty busy. Most importantly it was my first time playing with all the guys in the band and I didn't want to disappoint. Russ and I spent 15mins or so in the bus going over the set and the. It was time to play. Everyone in the band sounded great, and Chad the drummer has a great feel which made my job a lot easier and helped me relax into it. 2 hours later we finshed playing after 1 encore and a spontaneous guest guitar solo from the promoter! I even got a bit of a solo spot in one of the tunes so I guess I played ok...
Today is Calgary, no gig but 6hr drive. I guess my goal is to not make the same mistakes as tonight, and hopefully not make any new ones either! Stay tuned for some pics and hopefully some road shenanigans!
Hello! Welcome to my new site. I have made the move to Weebly in order to keep up with current trends in the online world and to enable me to update it more regularly with interesting content. Have a look around, let me know what you think and stay tuned for some more blog posts from the road as I head of on a Canada wide tour next week! :)