How Music Gear Endorsements Work…

It’s one of those perennial questions on bass forums and in emails I get – how do you get an endorsement deal with a bass company? The latest endorsement related discussion revolved around a very friendly chap on on of the bass forums I post on sending me a message to say he was friendly with the owners of a particular company and could put in a word for me for an endorsement deal with them.

Which was very nice buy wholly unnecessary, given that

  • a) I knew the company owner already,
  • b) don’t really like what they make b) wouldn’t switch from what I’m using now just because I was offered lots of money (something that’s really not going to happen to a player in my position) and
  • c) LOVE the stuff I’m using.

Let’s make it clear, getting paid to play someone’s particular product is very rare indeed. Becoming a demonstrator happens occasionally to lesser known players, but that’s just a job like any other – it’s not really a perk, more a cool job. It involves a lot of work, and usually pretty grueling sessions at trade shows. There’s rarely a retainer, and the rate of pay is pretty good, usually, but certainly not something most people could live on…

The Big Boys (probably about 5-10 of them in the world) are on a retainer – signature product sales often incur a royalty for the person whose name is on the front, and there are all kinds of deals struck to get HUGE name players using the gear, which range from split ad campaigns (promoting the gear and the artist’s new album) through to high profile clinic tours that follow the band’s tour, and even stands at arena shows for the company.

Next down are those that get instruments – these are rarely ‘free’, even if you don’t pay for them. They are in exchange for promotional services. They are usually there because the company in question can’t really afford to pay what you’re worth for clinics and appearances and being in ads, so instead they give you gear, which is worth a lot more in hard cash terms to you than it is to them. So I’ve had a few bits of free gear, and in exchange they get the exposure for me using the gear on clinics and masterclasses… it’s more of an acknowledgement thing for what actually happens – my students get to see the gear cos it’s what I play through…

When I left my previous amp deal, and started using AccuGroove, I was offered ‘deals’ of sorts with a host of companies. It was rather nice being courted (no one actually phoned me to schmooze me, but it happened to be around the time of a couple of trade shows and at those trade shows, word got round that I was no longer using the amp I had been using, and I was told by the owners and A & R people from about 6 companies that they would like to ‘work with me’. One of them offered a paid position as demo guy as well. Most of them were much higher profile than AccuGroove, but all had one thing in common – they didn’t get close to the sound I was looking for in my new rig. I knew it had to be stereo and MUCH higher fidelity than it was before. Add to that that I already knew the AccuGroove guys and was friends with them, knew what their speakers could do, I decided to go with quality and friendship over (potential) money and exposure.

Is this because I’m some kind of puritan? No, it’s as much a longer term commercial decision as it is one of ‘integrity’. The guys on the high dollar deals with companies that mass produce cheap crap in China tend to switch fairly often – when someone comes along offering more money, they jump ship, and every time they do, their reputation slides just that little bit further. If I was play in a Nu Metal band to 10s of thousands of people a night, that wouldn’t really filter through, the kidz would just go out and buy the new signature bass and all would be happy.

However, if you’re a solo bassist, you tend to be scrutinised more by the tech-heads. I got loads of emails when I changed my amp set up, asking me what was wrong with the old one, people who’d bought the old one because of me, and wondering if they’d make a mistake etc. The geeks were watching, and I realised that if I was changing every 18 months or so, my credibility was going to disappear pretty damn quick.

So I went with the one that offered me the best possible sound. To get any better, I’d have to go to the pro audio world, and start using studio monitors on stage. Problem with that is, they’d be WAY too heavy, and far too fragile. There genuinely is nothing that could do what I’m doing with these speakers. The nearest direct comparison would be PA companies like Mackie and JBL, but they both tend to optimise their speakers for vocal projection, sacrificing low end and tonal sweetness. They work fine as PAs, not so great as bass amps.

Same with Modulus – I’ve been playing a Modulus bass for over 13 years, the only non-Modulus bass I’ve owned (still own) in that time is my Rick Turner, and their instruments do just about everything I need them to do. They like what I do, I love what they do, and the relationship is mutually agreeable. Add to that that Modulus are, as far as I’m aware, the only bass building company who are striving to use 100% independently certified eco-friendly wood, and you’ve got yourself a match made in bass heaven. it’s the same all the way round.

So if you’re thinking about such things, have a bit of a profile and something to offer a company, my advice would be to forge a friendship with the people who make the gear that you LOVE, rather than just trying to schmooze the A and R people at companies that take out huge ads in magazines.

For the record, the companies that I have some kind of ‘deal’ with [as of Oct 7 2006] are:
AccuGroove Speakers
Modulus Basses
East UK Preamps
Bass Centre Elites Strings
Evidence Audio cables

Comments down…

Comments are down on this ‘ere blog at the moment. Problems caused by the scumbags who keep trying to spam it (the spam gets filtered, but it doesn’t stop them trying 100s of times a minute!)

So if you want to comment/discuss stuff on here, you’ll have to do it over in The forum – the new signup thing there is that you need to put the word ‘MODULUS’ in the space for the VIP code on the signup page. Another measure to stop spammers from signing up automatically…

see you over there…

Postcard from SF Airport

I’m officially on my way home, sat in San Francisco airport, waiting for my flight.

The last few days have been fantastic – catching up with friends around the bay area, and then Saturday’s masterclass and gig.

Friday night was spent firstly having dinner with Rick Turner and with two lovely new friends from Third World Guitars in the Dominican Republic. I also got to try out Rick’s brand new 6 string Renaissance bass, which was just as fantastic as you’d imagine (John Lester is going to be wanting one of these, for sure…)

Then it was out to see another friend’s band play – a rock/metal covers band called Mr Meanor – great players, who’ve clearly put a heck of a lot of time, energy and skill into what they do – it’s great to see a bar band that plays with such conviction. The weird thing was how few of the songs I knew – the US and UK rock charts in the 70s and 80s were clearly very different!

Onto Saturday – It’s the third time I’ve taught a masterclass here, and the biggest so far – I set a limit of 20 people and we had 20 people, which was good – two long sessions of almost three hours each with an hour off for lunch and trying eachother’s basses etc. it was, as is my usual teaching approach, a lot more about the mental approach to playing than it was about ‘licks to play over a D minor chord’ – I probably only played for about 15 minutes total in the class, but spent most of the time answering questions, and dealing with a lot of the misconceptions that we’ve all grown up with about the music making process. the feedback thus far from the people who came along has been great, and hopefully the discussions will continue on the forum.

From the masterclass, we headed over to the espresso garden – this was my fifth gig at the Espresso Garden, and possibly, sadly, my last, as the venue is being sold, but doesn’t have a buyer as yet. It’s a great venue that has hosted gigs by some of my favourite musicians – John Lester, Kris Delmhorst, Muriel Anderson, Martyn Joseph – a great listening room for acoustic music. It’s the fourth time that Michael and I had played there together, and the second time that we filled it, which felt good. We also had Jeff Schmidt along with us, who played a lovely opening set, and joined us for a cool improv at the end of the gig.

I think the most startling thing about the gig was Michael’s sound – due to the logistics of the gig, he had Mark Wright from Accugroove bring him a couple of speakers to use, which meant that all three of us were going through Accugroove stereo rigs – I’ve NEVER heard Michael’s bass sound that clear or focussed. It was incredible.

It was also a lot of fun for me to be using the Looperlative on a solo gig – it’s the first time I’ve done it, and it sounded great – I even tried a version of ‘Despite My Worst Intentions’, which I’ve never played with that box (and it has some pretty complex looping stuff going on with it) and it worked a treat, it made sense, and felt good.

All in, a marvellous day!

Yesterday was another magical day – the morning spent with Mark Wright, the afternoon with Michael Manring, the early evening teaching a great bassist called Arianne Cap, then dinner with Arianne, her husband Wolfgang, and with Jeff Schmidt and his wife Valerie, followed by late evening with Anderson Page from Modulus and his wife Laura – a day chock full of encounters with fantastic inspiring lovely friends. California is like that for me – I get to see so many great people, who energise me, inspire me musically, politically, spiritually… I really don’t think I could ever live out here (maybe that’ll change), but some of my favourite people in the whole world are here. Thanks to all of you for what you feed into my life.

California catch-up

So what have I missed from NAMM?

Well, I posted about Thursday night – that was fun.

Friday – er, can’t remember much about during the day, other than doing some Looperlative demos, and playing on the Accugroove stand. Oh, and did a set at Modulus as well, though where Modulus is stationed, it’s all but impossible to play anything due to them being flanked by hair-metal amp companies and opposite the Taylor booth who have a stage set up with acoustic bands playing all the time. Accugroove and Looperlative are both down in Hall E where the noise level is much lower, so more people could stop and listen to what’s being played. And on both those stands I had AccuGroove speakers to play through, which made all the difference. I just don’t like using regular bass amps any more. The only bass cabinet company that comes close to AccuGroove is Glokenklang – they make some really lovely uncoloured speaker cabs. Great stuff.

Anyway, what else? Ah, Friday evening, Sabian had a big show, featuring some celeb drummers – Dave Weckl, Terry Bozzio and Joey Heredia. Terry being the interest, not just because he’s already more interesting than the others, but because he had the wonderful Doug Lunn on bass. Doug’s one of my closest american friends, and him playing also meant that his wife Vida was at the show on Friday, so we had lunch – that’s what NAMM’s pretty much all about for me, catching up with the lovely people here that I only get to see once a year.

The gig itself started and was unintentionally funny – I was there with three lovely bass people – Peter Murray, Jeff Schmidt and Janek Gwizdala – Weckl came on and it took us a while to work out what it sounded like, but we hit the name on the head with ‘game show themes’ – not my bag at all, I’m just not into clever twiddly fusion like that…

So we wandered outside, and hung out, chatted, laughed a lot – all good.

Back inside for the Bozzio band, which was a whole different proposition. Some seriously dark, difficult music, that owed more to Pierre Boulez or Edgar Varese than to the usual guitar trio reference points. Alex Machacacek who wrote most of the material is a remarkable guitarist, writing incredibly dense structured music, with multiple time and tempo changes each bar. Scary stuff. Doug acquitted himself admirably, playing this scary mathematical music with a serious amount of groove and flair.

Saturday at NAMM is mayhem – way too many people there, lots of celebs showing up (eg Gene Simmons shows up with film crew in tow – I saw him there up close last year and he looks like a pile of offal from a butchers floor that someone has mushed together and re-animated. Not a good advert for ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ living.) So I stayed down in Hall E for a lot of the time, and escaped over to Subway for lunch. Didn’t even think about playing on the Modulus booth, but did a fair amount of stuff down at Looperlative, including some fun duets with Tal Wilkenfeld – a fab Australian bassist living in NYC – I blogged about seeing her play last year.

Saturday night at NAMM means ‘Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night’ – one of the best gigs of the show. Sadly this year, I missed a lot of it due to heading up to Hollywood to see Bozzio’s trio again at the Baked Potato. But not before I’d gone in to meet Patti Larkin – Patti’s a huge favourite of mine, a stunning singer/songwriter who has worked a lot with Michael Manring over the years and I’ve been wanting to meet for years. A few connections were used, and I got a chance to say hello and briefly discuss the possibility of her coming over to play in the UK – that’d be great!

then off up to Hollywood for more Bozzio/Lunn/Machacek craziness. top stuff, but a very late drive back to Bob and Alison’s in Costa Mesa.

And then Sunday – the quiet day, I arrived late at the show, and left early, but not before filming the Looperlative demo and saying goodbye to some lovely friends for another year. And I headed off into Hollywood again to see another old friend, Tanya, who I’d not seen for three years, feeling dried out and exhausted (me, not Tanni) by four days of vicious air conditioning and walking miles.

Soundtrack – in the car here, I’ve been listening to lots of music by friends of mine, to keep me from feeling homesick – Juliet Turner, BJ Cole, Mark Lockheart, Thomas Leeb… it works.

Day one of NAMM proper

So the mayhem started today. Having a US mobile phone has proved to be an absolute God-send, keeping me in touch with all the disparate groups of people I need to meet up with.

A mellow morning, wandering around, seeing friends, explaining the Looperlative to a few people, Lunch with Laurie and Janek, then back to do some playing, first on the Looperlative stand, then Accugroove. Headed up to Modulus to play too, but there was a guy playing Stick in the booth next door, so it wasn’t going to happen.

Then BassBash – v. nearly late getting their thanks to traffic, but we found a way through. Got there, set up and played some duet stuff with Trip, which went down great. Then had to run off to do my second gig of the evening with Jason Feddy – no rehearsal, really shitty charts, but a whole lot of fun. Jason’s songs are great, and he’s one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet (a Leeds lad living in Laguna Beach… oh yes.)

Jason’s set was v. late, and it meant that I was held up at the hotel til way later than expected, which lead to my first let down of NAMM – NAMM is all about let downs, people arranging to meet up and missing eachother etc. This one was that I was supposed to go and pick up Jeff Schmidt again from the BassBash, but couldn’t cos I was playing! Here’s hoping Jeff got back (it was walkable, but it’s a way!) – sorry Jeff!

And the evening ended watching Dave Pomeroy playing bass for Doyle Dykes. Great stuff.

The one stupid thing I forgot to do today was drink enough water, and I’m feeling a little dehydrated now. Must do better tomorrow.

The privilege of making gorgeous music for a living.

Had a fantastic studio session today – overdubbing bass parts on some new tunes by BJ Cole and Davy Spillane. The tracks so far feature BJ on pedal steel, Davy on a collection of low whistles and pipes, and Guy Jackson on piano and keys. The combination of just these three is pretty intoxicating – gorgeous evocative sounds whirling around each other, both Davy and BJ embellishing all the tunes so they weave in and out of each other’s space even when they are playing in ‘unison’.

It was really nice to have such a full canvass on which to put what I do – so many recording jobs are bass and drums first, so there’s no knowing what’s going to happen on top. Here, the arrangements are pretty fixed, so the spaces that I had to play in were already in place. I did some stuff where I was playing one note in a bar, just playing the roots deep down on the B string of my Renaissance fretless, and other places where I was playing melodic fills and nice twiddly stuff up the top end of my Modulus fretless 6. Much fun. Now I’m looking forward to the gigs, when they happen!

Soundtrack – The Cure, ‘Greatest Hits’.

I really need a 'important papers' folder

Just spent the last few days panicking about not being able to find the paper part of my driving licence. (for not UK readers, we have a two part driving licence – credit-card sized photo card like everyone else, and then a bigger paper bit that has loads more info on it, including any endorsements… so mine says ‘proudly uses modulus basses, accugroove amps and elites strings’ on it… or something.)

Anyway, the reason I was looking for it is that I’ve got a speeding fine, and need to send off my licence to have the points put on in (points being the real endorsements – they don’t really list your bass gear on your licence here… honest).

The way it works is that if it’s an ‘SP30’ offence (not very much over the speed limit) then you get a £60 fine and 3 points. If you get 12 points in 3 years, you get a ban, and I think, a £1000 fine. At the moment I’ve got 6 points on my licence, but they cease to be there after three years, so my first three are coming off, and the new ones are taking their place. So I’ll still have 6 after this. Which is OK. if I had 9, I’d be panicking a bit. And I was panicking, though not because of the points.

ah, we’re back to my lost driving licence. Yes, turned the room upside down… well, the room’s already upside-down, so I guess I just fluffed some bits of paper around a bit. But couldn’t find it. Then was thinking ‘when did I last have it’ which was clearly a trip to the States, which was before I bought my wallet, so what would it be kept in? My bag. I check all the pockets and there it is. So while I’ve been looking for it, I’ve been carrying it around with me.

So now I need a folder for such things – driving licence, passport, etc. Somewhere labeled clearly and easy for a loser like me to find.

At least I’ll know where it is for the next few weeks, while it’s off having the points added to it at the police station.

SoundtrackMartyn Joseph, ‘Whoever It Was Who Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home’ (what a great title. what great music!)

diminishing returns?

The law of diminishing returns suggests that the closer you get to the very top end of the pricing for any item, the less extra quality you get for your money. It’s something I often remind people of when they are looking for new basses and ask me ‘which is better brand A or brand B’. As a general rule, there are very very few basses beyond the 2 grand mark that aren’t any good. The companies wouldn’t stay in business for long if there were. There are some who charge a lot more for their name, and each of them have differences, for sure, but in terms of measurable quality, the differences are pretty minute.

And alongside this story of a violin worth 3.5 million pounds, 8 grand for a top end bass seems pretty reasonable. I mean, you can pay more for a bass – I’ve seen them for up to about 25,000 dollars, but normally that’s cos they are covered in hideous mother-of-pearl inlays, or made with some really rare wood that shouldn’t have been harvested in the first place, not because they actually sound any good.

I wonder what the most expensive bass guitar of all time is? Probably one of the ones said to have been owned by Jaco… I think his classic beaten up Jazz fretless went on sale at some point, but I can’t remember what it fetched at auction… tens rather than hundreds of thousands, I think… Some of the very early Fenders are of similar value…

So we’ve a long way to go to catch up with orchestral musicians, where even rank ‘n’ file section players will take out a mortgage on a new fiddle. I’ve heard a couple of great violins up close, and the difference is marked from a run of the mill 5K one, but we’re back to the diminishing returns. How much better would it have to sound for 3.5 million?

I guess the other big difference is that with any electric bass, you’re factoring in the electronics side of things – if your electronics are running on one or more 9V batteries, there’s a glass ceiling on the kind of quality you’re going to get… Maybe we can convince SSL or Neve to start making phantom powered onboard preamps for basses…

I’ve yet to hear a bass with a sound I like more than my 6 string Moduli, or one that plays as well, in any price range. I feel very fortunate to have such delicious instruments to make noises with.

Italy post no. 8

(written 24/7/05 17.18)

Well, despite starting almost an hour late, my gig went very well, thankfully. Another fabulously receptive Italian crowd, some of whom spoke good enough english to laugh at some of the bollocks I was talking between songs (cut down from the usual 40% of the set to just a short intro to each song).

The challenge was doing an entire set of songs on the fretless, something I haven’t done for a while (not counting the film gig on Friday). So the set list went

Grace And Gratitude
Amo Amatis Amare
Kindness Of Strangers segued into What A Wonderful World
No More Us And Them
Despite My Worst Intentions

Nice long versions of Kindness Of Strangers and No More Us And Them, and more succinct versions of the others. The Seque into What A Wonderful World fits better with the theme of Kindness… than the bastardised version of ‘What’s Going On’ did – will have to feed that back into the set as a stand-alone track, as I do like it, and the fact that very few people ever recognise it. :o)

So now I’m waiting to be involved in a larger ensemble improv, title ‘Jam For Klaus’ – Klaus is a local bassist who was killed in a car accident last year, so everyone is playing a piece together for him. It’s a really nice idea, and I hope it works and doesn’t descend into bass wankery.

Other than that, my work here is done – oh no, I’m lying, I’m doing a little AccuGrooveA/Modulus demo slot later on. The distributors of AccuGroove and Modulus here are lovely peoples, who hopefully I’ll get to work with again some time soon.

Anyway, time to get back to hawking my wares to the receptive CD buying Italian public. We like it here.

One busy day in the studio!

Had a really fun studio session today. It was with Andrew Buckton, a singer/songwriter who lives in Bath. I’ve played with Buck for years, and been on his last two albums. We did Greenbelt together last year.

This was his first recording project for about 4 years, and was designed to be very low maintainance – one day to record everything, just him, me, Jez on piano/keys and Tom Hooper on drums.

So we set up in Jez’ home studio this morning and got to work. We’d not heard any of the songs ahead of time, so the form with each track was for Buck to play it, or at least a bit of the verse and chorus, we chat about possible arrangement ideas, sometimes try out a few bars of a particular idea, then hit record and go. Lots of the tunes were first take, one take jobs, which is particularly satisfying. Only one actually had an edit in the middle – we re-did the instrumental playout on one song to change the chord progression we were playing to. On most of them, there’ll be the occasional bar of bass/guitar or keys that needs cutting ‘n’ copying from elsewhere in the song just to tidy up the timing, but for the most part it was all done there and then – solos were recorded live, Any track that needed bass note and chords from me was played that way in real time with no looping – i just came up with ways of voice the chords to be able to play both. It was a very fun challenge.

Bass-wise I used all three Moduluses, and just for fun wedged a bit of foam under the strings near the bridge on the four string – it sounded amazing! I’m definitely going to keep the foam in my bag for studio sessions in future. Made the bass feel very different to play, and the sound was fantastic – much more old-school sound.

A couple of the tracks had fun slidey fretless lines, one had a really incessant fast 16th not octave pattern (which was the first time I got to try out recording this thumb-down, thumb-up, index finger, middle finger sequence on someone else’s music, using it to play two notes on the low note then two on the octave, playing 16s at about 120bpm, which was harder than if we’d been doing it at 180, as it’s a technique that lends itself most readily to daft-fast playing.)

I took my whole live rig with me – loopers, mixing desk ‘n’ all. Didn’t use any of the loopage, but did need the mixing desk to set up monitoring for myself and buck, and used a couple of the channels on the desk as preamps for acoustic guitar and keyboard. The moral of the story is TAKE EVERYTHING to a studio session. I always take whatever I might possibly in my wildest imagination need. If you don’t use it, it’s good exercise carrying it to and from the car anyway. Be prepared – I was a cub-scout, and a crap one, but I do try and stick to that bit of the motto…

The arranging side of the session was as much fun as the playing – Buck, like most singer/songwriters, tends to favour certain kinds of feels and guitar strumming patterns, so the challenge is finding ways to subvert that into another style that a) suits his voice and the melody and b) says something about the subject matter. Buck’s songs are often pretty bleak, sometimes with a redemptive twist at the end. Others are more devotional spiritual songs. Lovely stuff that requires and deserves sensitive arrangements. I think today we did the best job we’ve done on any of his albums. Tom Hooper played beautifully on drums, and was a delight to play with – very relaxed feel, fantastic timimg and a great sound. And he’s a nice bloke – what more could one want from a drummer??

So now it’s down to jez to do the mixing – tidy up the audio files, get the levels sorted, add reverb, compression, EQ and any other processing that might need doing, and probably add a keyboard overdub or two. I’m really looking forward to hearing the finished product, and of course, I’ll let you know when it’s available!

Soundtrack – Lucy Kaplansky, ‘Ten Year Night’.