“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy”
Ludwig Van Beethoven [Read more…]
“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy”
Ludwig Van Beethoven [Read more…]
This is a guest post from double bassist and educator Yoshi Horiguchi covering research that he did about Progressive Repertoire Book 1 by George Vance. Yoshi interviewed Nicholas Walker, Tracy Rowell, Martha Vance, and Johnny Hamil as part of his research. Check out complete videos from Progressive Repertoire Volumes 1 and 2 here.
Click here to download a PDF of Yoshiaki’s analysis with footnotes and visual examples!
I assign my double bass students a lot of pieces from George Vance’s Progressive Repertoire. It’s a fantastic teaching resource that I’ve used for years.
Yesterday, I was searching in vain for a good video of a piece I had just assigned, with amusingly bad results.
So I turned on the camera and recorded all of the pieces from Volumes 1 and 2 of George Vance’s wonderful books! [Read more…]
Auditions were held Sept. 10-12 for tenure-track Principal Bass and one-year Section Bass. Per union rules, a local audition was held for the one-year position prior to the national audition.
Sure, he records with Outkast and the Black Eyed Peas…but Brandino also writes pieces for students!
Here’s a recording I did on Brandino’s Concerto De Basso. Brandino has made this freely available–click here to download a copy!
I also did a great interview with Brandino back in January of 2017–check it out!
Recording the double bass — aka upright bass — takes more than throwing up the nearest mic in front of an f-hole. On its own, the bass isn’t overwhelmingly loud, particularly when compared with amped guitars and drum kits.
In the early days of rock and roll, when the primary playback system was an AM car radio, it didn’t matter much, as long as you caught some sort of low-frequency, rhythmic thump. The fundamentals of the bass were below the ability of a tinny car speaker to reproduce anyway.
Of course, in those days, electric basses were in their earliest evolutions, so the engineers of the day may have been stuck with uprights simply because there wasn’t a Fender Precision in the neighborhood. Today, if a double bass shows up on a session, it’s a deliberate choice and you owe it to the instrument to record with care.
Recommended Reading: Learning Double Bass Excerpts – online videos that can help
The first point to consider when faced with this behemoth stringed instrument is its place in the recording project. Here’s why — the upright bass is capable of deep, rich, warm sounds as well as articulated, clear and melodic tones. These characteristics depend on the instrument, the strings, the player, and the musical style.
In other words, a jazz trio that features the bass as a solo instrument is an entirely different recording challenge to the bass that’s an accompanist to a bluegrass or rockabilly ensemble. If the bassist plays arco — with a bow — rather than pizzicato — with their fingers — you have completely different tonal palettes. It’s fantastic for the listener, but a challenge for the engineer.
Another aspect of context is how the bass will be recorded. Do you have perfect isolation? If the bass is in its own space, with zero bleed from other sound sources, then you have lots of room to experiment. When the same bass is in a room with other instruments, spillover between microphones is a very real challenge.
For purposes of this article, let’s consider the bass, played pizzicato in its own space, as the the only consideration. If you’re recording a combo in one room, read up on how to maximize separation in shared space. This generally requires an understanding of microphone polar patterns and placement, as well as the use of baffles, and adapt the information presented here as required.
This is make-or-break point, part one. Unless you have access to a high-end ribbon microphone, stay away from dynamic mic designs, unless there’s nothing else available. Though dynamics are often the go-to choice for low-frequency sources like bass amps and bass drums, those instruments have, or can have, lots of middle and upper frequency definition, plenty for a dynamic mic to capture.
The upright bass, however, does not have a lot of audio information in those regions, and what there is can often be overpowered by the low frequency content.
As an acoustic instrument, the double bass usually has an intimate relationship with its player, particularly jazz soloists, so you’ll have happier clients if you’re reproducing the sound of their instrument faithfully.
These aspects point to condenser mics as your first choice for recording the bass. But that’s just the first consideration, of course.
Polar patterns are particularly useful in fulfilling a great recording of a double bass. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. Let’s look at the options, their strengths and drawbacks:
Many bassists will have pickups or microphones installed on their instruments for live performance. If you have the tracks, by all means, run a cable or DI box to capture its output, but remember, just because you record it, doesn’t mean you have to use it. That said, a touch of the onboard sound source often adds definition that’s lacking from the other mics.
There are an assortment of recorders available that will do a wonderful job. Our advice advice is to pick one that best suits your needs and budget.
This is make-or-break point, part two. If you set up a mic, listen to the sound and think to yourself, “it sounds great as it is,” you’re wrong. Mic placement is, simply put, the most important, sonically pure way to equalize anything you record. If you’re satisfied with the sound of a mic in the first place you put it, you’re lazy.
All of this is doubly true for upright bass. Those subtleties in the mids and highs are difficult to capture, and tiny changes in mic position often produce mega changes to the proportions and definition of the bass’s sound. Sure, the mic may end up back in the same place you started, but now you know with certainty it’s the best sound you can get.
When playing with placement, don’t forget the mic characteristic of off-axis frequency response changes. Generally, if you’re using a small capsule pencil condenser, you’ll only lose volume, but if you have a large diaphragm cardioid mic on the upright, rotating the microphone in its mount can also introduce subtle response changes. Usually, this tends to be a loss of brightness, which may be perfect if you’re trying to tame finger noise or slap sounds.
As a starting point, I usually begin with a cardioid mic between 12 and 18 inches away from and pointing directly at the bridge. Imagine a straight line coming up the bridge into the center of the mic, which is aligned with the imaginary line, on axis. There’s no secret formula to this alignment, only that it’s a known place to start.
Adjust the mic in and out to balance room sounds. Tip it toward the fingerboard for more definition and clarity, or turn it away for less. Move side-to-side to balance individual string volumes or to fight boomy resonance.
Avoid the f-holes. Like the plague. Trust me on this, but unless you’re aiming for a special effects sound, you’ll end up with a nasal, mushy mess.
Again in the if-you-have-the-tracks department, setting up a second mic is a great idea on upright bass. Observe the 3-to-1 rule of mic placement, and think strategically. Need a way to add more finger sounds under careful control? Go high with the second mic, pointing down.
Want to capture those deep lows that take space to develop? Place the mic several feet back. Be prepared to aggressively cut room frequencies out of that signal, but the second mic is just there for the lows, so no harm, no foul, you’re only using a portion of the audio spectrum in this case.
It’s almost reflex action to patch a compressor or compressor plug-in into an electric bass recording path. Though the double bass is a wildly dynamic instrument, I advise against compression at the recording stage.
If it’s possible, record at 24 bits and aim for an average level between -12 and -6 dB. You can accomplish a lot with compression and EQ, but do that at the mix stage. Get the best, purest sound off the studio floor, and you’ll have a much easier time when you get to your mix. This is true of absolutely every sound you will ever record, but it’s — pardon the pun — doubly important for the double bass.
Looking for the perfect double bass? Check out Double Bass Blog’s ‘Buying A Double Bass’ eBook for free!
Like most significant decisions in my life, bailing out of freelance life happened as a result of a conversation with my wife.
We were both freelancers.
Fairly successful freelancers, actually.
My wife’s music career had really taken off after getting her masters in harp.
As a freelancer, she was crushing it.
Putting it mildly, there aren’t a ton of full-time orchestra harp positions. During her five years of freelancing, only one job opened up…and that was for the Army Band!
But that ship seemed to have sailed. As I drifted through my twenties, the idea of a full-time job seemed more fantasy than reality.
I had settled into my freelance life. For a few years, I was paranoid that everything would fall apart and I’d never get called again.
My career karma had built up enough that I always ended up doing well, even though my schedule would look different from year to year.
My wife sent off her resume for the Army harp job. She made a tape and made it to the finals.
Before going to the finals, she had to go to an Army recruiting facility and stay overnight for a barrage of physical fitness tests.
Her roommate that night was a 17-year-old girl basically running away from home to join the Army.
She passed the tests, went to the audition, but didn’t get the gig. Surrounded by a pack of hyper-competitive harpists, she came to a realization.
She can home and told me that she was quitting music to go to medical school.
Time to become a doctor.
At this point, we were both bringing in a decent combined income as freelancers. We had more or less “entered the middle class.”
A humble aspiration for sure.
But a real achievement for many musicians.
The path from musician to doctor is, to put it mildly, long:
We were looking at eight years of her earning little to no income, followed by six years of fairly modest income (good freelance income but horrible doctor income).
The realization that I’d be the breadwinner for the next decade got me thinking:
50,000 miles a year of driving.
Constant anxiety about slipping a few rings down the gig ladder.
Driving to a $75 gig in a snowstorm.
Working every evening, weekend, and holiday.
No health insurance.
I had just turned 30. I looked down the road at my 40-year-old self. Playing the same gigs. Hoping to impress the right contractor. Worried about losing my steady work.
The years went by. Wrinkles began to appear. Fresh faces kept appearing on my regular gigs. I used to be the first person at the hall and the last to pack up. Now I was one of the last to arrive and the first to get out of there.
I felt lost. I also felt the looming financial pressure. We had to pay our bills. That would be mostly on me. Our finances were about to take a dive.
For some reason, I went on the FBI website. Join the FBI! That sounds interesting.
I looked into it. Hmmm… maybe no FBI for me. That seemed a little intense.
I looked into some other jobs. Nothing seemed right.
OK–I wanted to do something else. But I didn’t want to start from scratch. I had expertise. How could I use that expertise?
Both my parents had taught in the public schools. I knew that world.
In a state of total doubt, I sent emails to two close friends who were music educators. “Does this make any sense for me?” That was my question.
Both responded enthusiastically. They were so encouraging. They pointed out all the benefits:
This sounded so appealing after years of freelancing. I met with the music admissions director at DePaul University.
He laid out a clear plan for me that would allow me to keep my freelance career going and finish off a music education degree in about two years.
I chatted with a couple other DePaul faculty members that day. I hopped on the train that afternoon with a clear plan and a genuine smile on my face for the first time in months.
Those feelings of anxiety about freelance work fizzled and died.
I stopped worrying about what everyone thought of my bass playing. Would I get called again? Did I use tooo much vibrato? Not enough vibrato? Too friendly to the contractor? Not friendly enough?
That was around the time that I realized this hard truth.
I was so worried about what people thought of me. Really, though, nobody was thinking anything about me at all.
This was hammered home when I started to tell my freelance colleagues that I was going back to school for education.
I was convinced that all the gig calls would dry up when people learned about my decision to go back to school. To quit. To admit defeat.
People’s reactions were quite the opposite, however:
I had started a blog around the same time as making this decision. It was basically a resource dump firmly students. At the time, I had nearly 50 private students at two colleges, three high schools, plus my private studio.
Organizing all of those students was super-challenging. The blog became a place to post lesson summaries, music to order, and favorite recordings to check out.
I started a links page. I started to write a few posts about advice for buying an instrument. Over time, I added posts about strings, extensions, summer camps, and the like.
People started to link to my site. They left comments. Offered recommendations for resources. Sent me messages. The trickle of web traffic became a steady flow.
As I prepared to go back to school, I began to write more and more. All that worry over auditions, freelancer hierarchy, and career uncertainty had stunted my creativity. Making the decision to change careers opened the creative floodgates.
Ideas were flowing like crazy. I became fascinated with two different creative threads:
Both of these resonated with people who found my blog. My readership began to grow exponentially. I began putting out more and more content.
At the same time, I was taking undergraduate music education courses and cramming in students and gigs in every spare moment. I was sleeping 4 hours a night at best and was running on coffee and junk food. The podcast and blog were eating up 20-30 hours a week on top of everything else.
Clearly, there was momentum behind the projects I’d started. The opportunities were increasing for me in this arena.
My concern was that this new path would just be a different form of freelancing. I had gone through such a cathartic moment giving up (in my mind, at least) the freelance thing. I was reluctant to chalk up the education degree as a mistake.
At the same time, the education courses were bumming me out. It was frustrating working these creative new projects and sitting in elementary music education methods classes with 18-year-olds.
A conversation with my father talked me off the ledge. I decided to compromise. I dropped down to part-time at DePaul, which extended my coursework by six months but opened my schedule up a lot.
In the end, I decided to make a go of the education career. These reasons tipped me in that direction:
Did the education path work out for me like I’d anticipated? Next time!
Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear any thought you may have! Leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com.
Before I moved out to San Francisco, I wrote a post titled Unemployment Never Sounded so Sweet.
I did a follow-up post in August where I checked in to see how I was doing in terms of meeting these goals.
I’m planning on doing this self-evaluation on a regular basis.
A lot has happened in the past three months, including:
There’s something about this list that feels right to me. It still feels right eight months later.
So… how well am I meeting these goals here at the end of the year?
Obviously, living together in the same town is a huge improvement in terms of meeting this goal. My wife works a lot of hours and has a stressful job. Lots of overnight shifts, weeks of 12-hour night float shifts, and continual life-or-death decisions.
Our weekends consist of awesome adventures. We hike through prehistoric redwood forests overlooking craggy mountains and white sand beaches.
We explore the amazing breweries of Northern California.
Every weekend brings a new adventure. We could do something different every day and never run out of new adventures!
There are countless parks spread out all over town. Hiking along the Pacific Ocean or through Golden Gate Park is time well-spent for sure!
We still need to get out to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Big Sur, and countless locations in Southern California.
We’ve barely driven on Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast.
Lots of weekend adventures coming up!
I do a run or a long walk pretty much every day in San Francisco.
My school job consumed the hours of 6 am – 6 pm, meaning that I’d be leaving my home and arriving back in the dark.
While I can certainly run before or after dark, the idea of putting on my running gear to hit the icy predawn Chicago streets held little appeal.
The flatness of Chicago, combined with its excellent public transit options, opened up countless interesting walking possibilities. I’d usually head out for at least one 12-15 mile walk each weekend.
I find these runs critical for my productivity. They get the ideas flowing and keep me balanced.
I tend to over-plan things in my life. I waste a lot of time and energy making intricate plans farthings that really don’t need it. Sometimes this tendency serves me well. Often it doesn’t.
Once a week, I try to take an entire day and head out with absolutely no plan in mind.
I bring my laptop, my iPhone, and some headphones. The goal is to have no plan and let the day develop organically.
This has led to some really cool experiences. I find myself in some random neighborhood that I’ve never explored.
Maybe a particular coffeeshop beckons. I’ll stop in.
I’ll write. I might read. Maybe I’ll just people-watch for 20 minutes.
I head back to the street. If a noodle shop looks interesting, I’ll stop in.
If I see a cool-looking hill, I’ll climb it.
It’s also a way to celebrate the journey of life and not get bogged down in the day-to-day nature of things. Even though I’ve got the luxury of a flexible schedule, I still get wrapped up in whatever I’m working on and lose sight of the bigger picture.
Sad, but true.
I’m trying to enjoy the small things in life and give myself permission to be happy.
I have a love/hate relationship with writing. It’s creatively satisfying, and the more I do it, the more I want to do it.
Writing is such a solitary activity, though. It feels a bit narcissistic, even.
Honestly, I’ve fallen way short on my writing goal. I actually think that I spent more time writing while I was still at the full-time job. Much more of my time has been spent developing other skills and growing the podcast. Writing has become an occasional rather than a regular thing.
It’s just the way things have developed.
For me, podcasting is more social.
It connects me to other human beings. It’s a way for me to contribute something of value.
That’s why I’ve been focusing on it more.
I’m crushing my traveling goal this year.
Here’s food for thought:
Sure, there’s time off.
For example, even though I was a board member of the International Society of Bassists, I could never go to the ISB convention because it happened during finals week.
So far, I spent a week in Prague and part of another week in Los Angeles.
Next week, my wife and I head to Chicago.
I’ll be in New Orleans for a week in early 2017.
I’m planning a cross-country podcast tour in May on my way to the ISB convention in Ithaca.
Having a set-up that isn’t locked to a specific location opens up a lot of interesting possibilities!
I’m definitely reading, but not as much as I thought I’d be doing. This is something that I want to incorporate more of in my life.
Reading books is more powerful for me than following along with blogs, news, television, social media, and podcasts.
I know that all too well from writing Winning the Audition!
Consuming complete ideas is a different experience than the endless stream of content from other channels.
My days are radically different now than when I was teaching public school.
I spend much more time dreaming up creative ideas. I wake up, make coffee, and start writing.
Then I make breakfast. Maybe work on a podcast. Flesh out a new idea that popped into my mind recently.
That physical change gets me out of my head and connects me with this beautiful place in which I live. I finish my run clear-headed and energized.
After lunch, I tend to do the less creative tasks, like answering email, engaging on social media, and scheduling interviews. I also teach lessons in the afternoon.
For me, mornings are my best time to create.
Afternoons are time to take care of business.
Dream in the mornings.
Work in the afternoons.
Entrepreneurial work is harder in so many ways than a traditional job because there’s no clear path. There are days when I wish that I could shut off my monkey mind and just do what someone was telling me to do.
I’ve tried my best to work when my wife is working and be “off the clock” when she’s not.
I feel like I’m doing a science experiment with my life.
I do feel like I’m making a contribution.
I feel that every time I put out a new podcast.
Putting out Winning the Audition felt like a contribution.
Teaching bass lessons feels like a contribution.
My life is much less hectic now.
I miss a lot about my old life for sure.
Much more of my day is spent in solitude now. There are positive aspects to this solitude, but I’m a social person and I loved being around those hundreds of students.
The future feels way less clear now than it did when I had the school job.
Nowadays, I don’t know what I’ll be doing in three months.
I used to know exactly what I’d be doing at any point during the year at the school job.
I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going, and I’m getting extremely dirty in the process, but I’m embracing the messiness and trying to enjoy the journey!
I hope you enjoyed this semi-regular self-scrutiny!
Feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org!
A year ago, there were maybe one or two classical music podcasts. Now there are over 20!
I realized that I left a few off of my list. Apologies to these folks:
I’ve been podcasting in this space for a decade with my show Contrabass Conversations. I’ve been amazed at the rapid growth this past year. Entrepreneurially focused shows like The Entrepreneurial Musician and The Portfolio Composer seek to provide career advice for musicians. Other shows like Clarineat are more instrument-specific. A Musical Life blends career advice and profiles of prominent artists into a highly engaging “NPR style” show.
I’ve been fascinated watching Seth Hanes leverage the classical music podcasting community for the launch of his book Break into the Scene. Seth appeared on 10 podcasts to promote his new book. The book hit #1 in music business on Amazon the first day it was released.
I talked with Seth about why he focused on this classical music podcasting community for his book launch. Here’s the video of our conversation:
Here’s a highlight from our conversation about Seth’s podcast strategy:
SH: Any form of marketing, you’re essentially trying to figure out, “where is my audience and how can I reach the most amount of those people at the highest leverage point and the lowest investment.”
You want the marketing to not cost you a lot of money, but you want to reach a lot of people. Podcasting is not terribly new, but it’s still a very young medium. It has been around for 10 years give or take, but it’s not always been as accessible as it has been now.
I’ve been following book marketing strategies for several years now in preparation for knowing that I was eventually going to do my own project. One thing that I’ve seen with every single huge successful launch is doing a podcast tour.
Seth may be the first in the classical music podcasting space to do a podcast tour to promote his book, but he certainly won’t be the last. I am being approached by more and more people looking to appear on Contrabass Conversations to promote their album, book, or event. I’m sure that the other classical music podcasters are experiencing this as well.
I’ve been a guest on several of these other shows! Here are some links if you’d like to year me rant about freelancing, exploding cars, teaching high school, and other such topics:
Let me know if you’re thinking of starting a classical music podcast!
If you just launched, let me know for sure! I’d love to add you to my list. Email me at email@example.com and I’ll help spread the word.