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Stay In School mmmmkay

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Hey Willis, I am 16, and I have been playing a 4-string fretless Ibanez for about a year now. You are one of my four main influences, along with Jimmy Haslip, Rocco Prestia, and Jaco Pastorius. I am not very good at anything scholastic-y or business-y, but I CAN play the fretless bass guitar. My dad is a musician. Should I follow his footsteps and go professional? Do you have any other helpful advice for me? Anything would be highly useful and greatly appreciated. Thank you, Miles

Hey Miles,
It sounds like you have some good things going for you – first of all a cool first name, plus some great influences 😉 I’m sure you can list your dad as an influence unless your at that rebellious stage like every teenager goes through – rejecting all things related to parents – If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s still likely.

IMHO I think you’re too young to make the kind of pronouncements and judgments about yourself that you make. Of course I’m reading between the lines here, but you say that you’re not good at scholastic or business things. Unless there a lot of factors that I’m missing (bad school system, bad teachers, subtle undiagnosed learning disabilities) it seems like you’re asking for some approval to blow off the educational opportunities that are currently in front of you. Since I don’t know your situation first hand, it’s possible that yours is a legitimate request so I’m not just going to repeat to you the tired old line of “stay in school”. But, one of the most important attitudes that I’ve kept about life is this – if I ever stop learning – I’m dead, finished. I dropped out of university when I realized that two and a half more years of classical upright bowing lessons in order to get a “teaching” degree was not how I wanted to spend my immediate future. I was 23, and didn’t have any illusion of “going pro” – the next thing I did was join a top-40 band in order to make enough money to buy a ’65 Jazz bass in order to make it fretless . . . etc. I’m not going to bore you with the rest of my bio, but one thing for sure is that I kept making decisions based on the opportunities to improve, learn and get better – it just wasn’t in a structured school environment anymore.
Unless you’re some kind of super-gifted-prodigy-genius, a year of playing fretless doesn’t really qualify you to be able to make a decision about going pro. Playing bass well, and especially fretless, just isn’t enough anymore. There’s soooo much to learn (and I’m speaking for myself, too) about new ways to make music, write music, package music, sell yourself, sell a band, market yourself, start your own record label, incorporate other media elements, etc. And these are all changing super fast. You need to be a voracious learner of everything, and it needs continuous – it’s never finished.
The analog instrument that you and I play is over 50 years old and hasn’t changed that much. It’s been refined a lot and it’s still capable of expressing a lot but really, it’s a dinosaur and its days are numbered. It’s nothing compared to the instruments that are just around the corner (think iPhone with a touch screen the size and length of a fretless fingerboard).
I know It sounds corny – but if you make it your decision to become a “professional learner”, then go pro as soon as you want.
best of luck,
GW

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