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When to say ‘NO’ to gigs (Gigonomics 101)

The Agony of Choice In spite of advances in modern technology, it’s still not possible to be in two places at the same time. As a freelance musician — or…

The Agony of Choice

In spite of advances in modern technology, it’s still not possible to be in two places at the same time. As a freelance musician — or freelance anything, come to think of it —you have to constantly decide which gigs and projects to accept and which to decline. Sometimes, it can be difficult to make the right decision and it’s not always obvious which choice is the right one.

This is where a helpful tool called ‘The Gig Triangle’ comes in; this appeared in a column in Bass Player Magazine some years ago (I’ve searched for the original article, but to no avail) and has stuck with me ever since. It’s also proved to hold true on every gig I’ve ever been on.

What is the ‘Gig Triangle’?

Every gig or project on offer contains a balance of three areas; music, people, and money. Let’s take a closer look at each side:

1. The Music

This is a pretty basic thing, but is the music bearable? I’m not talking about whether or not you like the music that you have to play, because part of being a professional is being able to make it seem like everything you have to play is your favourite music in the whole world. Everyone also has notions of musical credibility until it’s time to pay their rent.

The real question is: can you do the gig without feeling like your soul is being eroded with every note that you play, or wishing for some apocalyptic event that would mean that the gig would be brought to a swift end? In a decade of freelance work, I’ve had this happen three times and it has never been worth it.

2. The People

Who’s on the gig? Are they going to be a pleasure to work with, or are you going to have to share a 4-hour journey to the gig with that creepy keyboard player who lacks any sense of personal hygiene?

So little of the time on a gig is spent actually playing that this is a serious issue and often has nothing to do with the musical skills of the people involved. The gig is not the music – a vast proportion of your time is spent travelling, loading in gear, setting up, and then hanging around waiting to play. You don’t want to spend all that non-playing time surrounded by people who drive you crazy, so if we assume that there’s a basic level of musicianship and everyone in the band can play then the main concern is what will the hang be like?

3. The Money

Obviously, this is why you’re doing the gig, because you need to earn a living and doing gigs sure beats working in Starbucks. But this side of the triangle is not always about how large or small the gig fee is; your time is a valuable, non-renewable resource, so you have to factor in how much prep work the gig requires and how much time you have to block out of your day in order to actually do the gig.

The Golden Rule of Gigging

So we have music, money and people on the gig triangle, and the golden rule is that there have to be two sides of the triangle in place for a gig to be worth saying yes to, which leaves us with these three scenarios:

Option 1

Gigs where there isn’t not really much money, but you enjoy the music and the people are great; this is basically every original band project ever.

Option 2

Gigs where there’s a decent fee and there’s a good hang, but the music isn’t your ideal choice; this is essentially most covers bands, unless you happen to really love playing ‘Wonderwall’ or ‘Valerie’ every week for the rest of your life (and there’s nothing wrong with that at all!).

Option 3

Gigs where the people are not enjoyable to work with, but you enjoy the music and there’s a good fee – this is probably the rarest scenario.

In most cases, you won’t need to go into this level of analysis, but it can help avoid situations where you make spur of the moment choices that make you resent the gig that you end up on. There’s nothing worse for the audience, the band, or the music itself than having someone on stage who really has somewhere better to be.

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Is the Boss OC-2 still the best analogue octave pedal?

Why would you want to use an octave pedal with your bass? If you want to be able to keep up with synths without having to go anywhere near a…

Why would you want to use an octave pedal with your bass? If you want to be able to keep up with synths without having to go anywhere near a keyboard, or you want to access lower notes without switching to a 5-string or detuning, then an octave pedal is the way to go.

Introduced in the early 1980s, the Boss OC-2 is still widely touted to be the best analogue octave out there; famous players like Pino Palladino, Tim Lefebvre, Juan Alderete, Jonathan Davis and Janek Gwizdala have all helped to maintain the popularity of this pedal long after it was discontinued and replaced by the more refined and much less enjoyable OC-3. In fact, many players swear that the ‘glitchy’ and imperfect nature of the OC-2 is the very reason that they love it so much.

Ever since the Boss OC-2 was released, other manufacturers have been trying to steal its crown. Some have added additional features to their pedals, while others opt for a no-frills emulation of the classic octave pedal sound.

Analogue Octave Pedal Shootout

This video gives an overview of 5 different analogue octave pedals to see if anything comes close to the classic sound of the OC-2. Although each unit is capable of producing multiple tones, this octave pedal comparison focuses on the 1-octave down 100% wet signal sound that the OC-2 excels at:

  • Boss OC-2
  • MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe
  • EBS Octabass
  • 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre
  • Iron Ether Subterranea

Tone is in the ear of the beholder, and every viewer will have their opinion on which octave pedal sounds best. For the curious, my go-to octave pedal for gigs is the 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre; it does a great impression of the OC-2 while adding some useful features, particularly the ability to switch between a blended dry/wet sound and a solo’d sub bass octave with a simple tap of a footswitch (you can hear a practical demo of multiple pedal settings within the same song here).

Although I still keep my 1986 Boss OC-2 in the studio for recording (and nostalgia) purposes, it isn’t robust enough for live use and has a habit of falling apart on gigs.

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“No Need for 5-Strings if You’re Good Enough.”

Occasionally, I see things on the Internet that are so insanely idiotic that I feel compelled to set the record straight. Here’s a Facebook comment on a fellow bassist’s page…

Occasionally, I see things on the Internet that are so insanely idiotic that I feel compelled to set the record straight. Here’s a Facebook comment on a fellow bassist’s page that made me despair for the future of humanity:

The reason that this incensed me so much – aside from the lack of grammatical awareness displayed by the author – is that it represents a narrow-minded point of view and attempts to draw a correlation between the type of instrument being played and the ability level of the person playing it, which is completely misguided.

Should I Switch to a 5-String Bass?

Here’s how to work out how many strings are right for you:

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DOD FX25 Envelope Filter

The DOD FX25 envelope filter pedal has become something of a cult classic – a simple, two-knob auto wah that gives bass players a variety of tones ranging from subtle…

The DOD FX25 envelope filter pedal has become something of a cult classic – a simple, two-knob auto wah that gives bass players a variety of tones ranging from subtle vowel sounds to a full-on funk ‘quack’. The straightforward user interface and low price point make the FX25 a good starting point for bassists looking to experiment with envelope filters. 

There are only two controls on the FX25:

  • Range controls the intensity of the filter effect
  • Sensitivity affects the point at which the effect becomes active (frequently labelled as ‘threshold’ on other envelope filters)

The sensitivity control allows the user to dial-in how subtle (or otherwise) they want the effect to be; as with all envelope filters, the FX25 responds to changes in your plucking hand dynamics and for this reason it’s wise to place it towards the front of your signal chain if you’re using multiple pedals. As all envelope filters and autowah effects react to changes in playing dynamics it’s important that any compression happens after the effect.

The FX25 was manufactured between 1982 and 1997, after which it was replaced by the FX25B; the main difference between the two is that the FX25B has an additional ‘blend’ knob.

The DOD FX25 is now sadly discontinued, but there are plenty floating about on eBay and other second hand gear sites. Here’s an overview of the pedal’s features and a demo of some of the sounds that it’s capable of producing, both on its own and in conjuction with other pedals including octave, fuzz, and distortion:

Part of the pedal’s popularity can be attributed to the fact that Flea used an FX25 during part of his ‘Adventures in Spontaneous Jamming and Techinques’ instructional video. It can be heard here during a jam with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith:

 


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Electro Harmonix Bass Micro Synth

The Electro Harmonix Bass Micro Synth gives bass players who are looking to dive into the murky waters of synth bass sounds an opportunity to access a range of classic…

The Electro Harmonix Bass Micro Synth gives bass players who are looking to dive into the murky waters of synth bass sounds an opportunity to access a range of classic synth tones without having to go anywhere near a keyboard. Although far more limited in its scope than more recent synth pedals, like the Future Impact or the Source Audio C4, the intuitive control layout of the Bass Micro Synth means that bass players can start experimenting with sounds almost instantly without having to delve into complex sub-menus:

The Bass Micro Synth is controlled by numerous sliders that govern the following parameters:

  • Trigger affects the dynamic level at which the effect is triggered; this can be thought of as ‘sensitivity’ or ‘threshold’. The trigger only affects parameters in the filter sweep section of the pedal
  • Sub Octave controls the level of the 1-octave down signal
  • Guitar affects the dry signal volume of the bass
  • Octave controls the volume of the 1-octave up signal (the octave above signal is slightly distorted to provide a richer tone)
  • Square Wave affects the volume of the square wave distortion
  • Attack Delay increases or decreases the time taken for a note to reach full volume. Higher settings can remove the intial attack from notes, resulting in a ‘bowed’ sound
  • Resonance controls the intensity of the filter sweep
  • Start Frequency and Stop Frequency govern the frequencies at which the filter sweep starts and stops; different settings can result in ‘up’ or ‘down’ sweeps
  • Rate controls the speed at which the filter sweeps between the start and stop frequencies

If the range of controls on the bass microsynth seems daunting then don’t panic; EHX also publish a pdf of sample settings (link here: EHX Micro Synth Sample Templates PDF) that lets you get straight to the good stuff without hours of unnecessary knob-twiddling. I went through all their tone templates to see what the pedal is capable of:

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The Gear Paradox (feat. Fight Club)

Uh-oh, it’s another post about gear. The main questions that you might have are: Why are you trying to use a Whammy pedal as a pillow? What the hell does…

Uh-oh, it’s another post about gear.

The main questions that you might have are:

  1. Why are you trying to use a Whammy pedal as a pillow?
  2. What the hell does this have to do with Fight Club?

Both of these can be answered by watching the following gear-orientated soliloquy:

T.H.Palmer’s famous self-esteem poem advises ‘If at first you don’t succeed then try, try again’, which is exactly what I’m doing in an attempt to confront my own gear addiction. For the back story on my struggles with gear hoarding, take a look at the post that started it all, The Gear Fallacy.

Having failed spectacularly to keep my 2016 resolution of not purchasing any new equipment I decided to give it another shot and, at the time of writing, I’ve been ‘clean’ for almost 6 months.

But I haven’t won my battle yet. I’m still confounded by what I’ve named ‘The Gear Paradox’.

What the hell is ‘The Gear Paradox’?

Just when you thought that I couldn’t be any more pretentious I drop this on you. I’m sorry.

Simply put, The Gear Paradox expresses the difficulty in reconciling the knowledge that fixating over gear is a waste of time with the desire to have an appropriate sound for every musical situation, which necessitates a certain amount of attention to detail when it comes to equipment.

I don’t yet have a solution to this conundrum, but here are some facts ideas that have helped me to work out how I feel about gear and manage my addictive, equipment-hoarding tendencies. Maybe some of these will ring true for you:

  • 90% of ‘your’ sound is down to you: your fingers, your technique, your sense of time, your harmonic knowledge and how ‘big’ your ears are. Gear accounts for only 10%. Many players invert these percentages and perpetually change their basses/strings/pickups/amps/pedals in an attempt to solve problems in their playing.
  • There is a perception that possessing rare or expensive gear somehow makes you a better player. This is exacerbated by the superficial nature of image-based social media platforms that allow us to engage in a perpetual show of one-upmanship and endlessly fixate on what others have rather than focusing on our own progress.
  • Your band and your audience don’t care about your gear – they want you to show up on time, play the right notes and make everyone in the room feel good; if you can’t fulfil those 3 objectives then the type of magnets used in your pickups really pales into insignificance.

One analogy about the importance of gear (or lack thereof) is from world class producer/arranger/writer/educator Richard Niles (I couldn’t find the original quote so I’m paraphrasing, but the essence is the same):

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re making music with a guitar, a bass or a computer – it’s the music that’s important. It’s like having a delicious meal in a restaurant and asking the chef what sort of spoon they used to stir the soup.”

Stop worrying about spoons and instead work out what ingredients are missing from your soup.

(Your soup might already have all the right ingredients, it just needs to simmer for longer).

What’s The Best Bass For Metal?

This nebulous question (and others in a similar vein) crops up again and again across the length and breadth of the internet. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen the comments underneath virtuoso bass performances asking questions about what brand of strings or which pickups the player is using – the phrase ‘barking up the wrong tree’ doesn’t even come close.

Sax supremo Bob Reynolds deals with this far more eloquently than I ever will:

The War of Art‘ is well worth it, by the way.

Contrary to what the internet would like you to believe you don’t become a great Gospel player because your headstock has ‘MTD’ on it, you don’t get the bass chair on a show in a London theatre by owning an Overwater and having a multi-scale fanned-fret Dingwall won’t make your metal playing any heavier.

There is no substitute for doing the work; I say this as someone who, in spite of 17 years of playing, still has a TON of work to do and avoids doing it by writing blog posts and filming silly videos. Do as I say, not as I do.

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