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Tips for Up-and-Coming Bassists with Carl Dawkins: Thoughts & Building Confidence

Meet Carl Dawkins –

While deciding which topic to focus on next, I hit a bit of a fork in the road. There were several options I considered as far as where to take these columns. Many of them overlapped to a point, but all drew from different criteria I always find circumstantial to the individual. Faced with this dilemma, I decided to call Jake Kot (BMM editor) to discuss my role in the magazine and what I might offer as far as my articles are concerned. After a lengthy discussion, it was left up to me…that’s right, total control.

This however made things a bit more difficult as far as what topics to address and whether they would be beneficial for you, the reader. To cut a long story short, I’m not one for wasting time or using unnecessary minutes solely on deciding what to write about. So in great British form, I’m winging it, which ironically is the whole point of this article.

There will be situations in your career where you are caught off guard, or thrown into unusual situations where all of a sudden you’re called to do some playing, but the fact is you haven’t practiced in a while. These things happen to every musician, and these are the situations that define us as players.

So how do we get around these situations? We can always prepare for the unexpected, but that takes time away from preparing for the expected, not to mention there are so many different scenarios that can arise it would be almost impossible to prepare for all of them. With all of this in mind, you may now be thinking twice before stepping out of your door to take your dog for a walk contemplating what might show up seconds later.

With so many working musicians in the industry, and taking into account that I said every musician encounters situations such as these, you might be coming to the conclusion that there might be some “trick” to handling them. The truth is, it comes down to one thing…confidence. Some of you might know the illusionist Darren Brown. A lot of his work and his stunts are based around the confidence he has, and the tone in his voice that may make for example a bookie to pay out on a losing betting slip. The same principle applies to us as musicians. When faced with precarious situations, just try to be confident in your decisions, which might involve your attitude, your note choice, or section changes (in a song).

A motto I’ve always tried to follow is, “be loud–be confident–be wrong—in that order”. When you’re on stage, you’re all relying on each other to be confident. If you’re loud, and confident, and wrong the first time, the next time you’ll cut that scenario back because then you’ll be more confident about handling the correction.

Imagine this scenario: You haven’t played for a week due to the strains of life, and you go to watch a gig with a friend. Your friend pushes you to go up and sit in. Instantly you’re nervous, anxious, and thinking to yourself, why did I come up here? This will unequivocally show up in your body language, which instantly gives off bad vibes to the audience. When you’ve gained everyone’s attention, what you want to try to do is project feelings of relaxation and confidence. Don’t slouch, look around the venue, make eye contact, and clear your head. Just be a solid player, trust your instincts, and be confident.

I never suggest turning down gigs, but if you’re seriously under-qualified, it might be wise to tell them your busy and recommend someone you know that might be able to handle the gig—then get “right to work” so you don’t have to do a replay of that the next time the phone rings. Or you can just go for it, show them you’re not a bedroom warrior[1] and learn from the experience.

Confidence, being able and willing to wing it, as well as playing a simple solid line if asked to are the keys to handling any situation. Your look /image and your body language on and off stage are very important as well, as you are trying to create a good impression. They say the first 10 seconds after you’ve walked into a room are the most important, and leave the biggest impression.

We gain power through experience, and although you may have some hiccups, and may regret certain actions, that experience is still invaluable. The more people know about you in a positive light, the quicker word gets out, meaning your phone will start ringing and the emails will flood in!

Like David Gilmour once said “bass players are ten a penny, but one with a good wit is hard to find”. The point is, it’s not just your playing that counts, it’s everything about you, especially if you’re auditioning for a full time member slot, or auditioning for a touring band. Be yourself, be confident, and be professional.

[1] If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s basically a musician that spends a lot of time in his room practicing and learning all the unnecessary bitts you wouldn’t use in a song – so they post videos on the internet.

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