How does a reclusive musician finally get out there?
July 28, 2013 12:41 AM   Subscribe

"When I grow up, I wanna be a pro bass player"...I've been playing since I was a teenager (I'm 40 now) entirely within the safe confines of my home. For 20 years I've wanted to play with others, but I have yet to do so.

I am Ultra-passionate about music, and my chosen (indeed absolute favourite) instrument is Bass.
I have zero idea if I am any good at all; I sometimes think I am, but I cannot confirm that. I have forever wanted to meet and play with musicians, go to open jams, join bands, and gig regularly, but never did. All I do is just noodle on my own or play along with records. It's very lonely.

Yes yes I have many hang-ups:
I do not know any musicians at all for some reason. I look at Craigslist ads constantly, but I'm too scared to contact anyone. I've considered posting my own, but I'm too afraid to do that too. The whole thing just freaks me out.
Every so often I go to some local bars for jam night...but it is just so intimidating, these guys are so good!
I have even taken my bass with me a few times with full intent of joining in, but every time I turn tail and leave. It's very upsetting.

Confidence is obviously an issue, I feel like since I have never played with anyone before, I thusly have no business trying to. But how can I get truly good playing all by myself? And if I never play with others, how will I ever be able to play with others? I have no idea at all how to be in a band.

I have wasted so many years not doing what I desire to do, I have missed out on what could have been a wonderful musical career. I don't have much time left to go pro, I really need to solve this.

Pro, semi-pro and even casual musicians got going somehow...what did they do differently? what am I missing?
posted by Soap D. Spencer to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered making a demo video and posting it to YouTube? You could then canvas for feedback and maybe get a better grasp of your skills without putting yourself up on a (physical) stage. You might also find that this is the gateway to an online community of supportive musicians.
posted by oclipa at 1:43 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

At the beginning of your question you're talking just about playing with others, but by the end you're saying things like 'going pro' and 'career'. I think you need to simplify and take some pressure off yourself. Start by looking for people like yourself who are nervous and would be happy to loosely jam over beers or whatever and work your way up to playing an open-mic night together. Forget about the rest.

Start by making a craigslist ad and be honest, say some of the things you said here, and look for one or two other like-minded people to start with.
posted by mannequito at 1:49 AM on July 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Pro, semi-pro and even casual musicians got going somehow...what did they do differently?

They played in public. And in doing so, learned how to suck and how to improve.

I used to work at a music school and one of our most popular classes was Ensemble. Here's an example of the sort of thing, from a random Google search for "Ensemble classes." They are great because everyone is nervous, and whether individual students are really great or really beginner matters less than the fact that everyone there needs to learn to play with others. Plus, paying the money really helps commit you to getting over yourself and going. Take an ensemble class!

(Or, really, any kind of group class that could take a bass, just to get you out of your living room and playing with other humans in proximity...)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:55 AM on July 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Its not too late to get out there and play. But it can't be about going pro. It has to be about just having fun wkth the music. Maybe something professional then comes from it. Or maybe not.

For me, it's all about having music buddies who egg me on, play with me, and get me out of my comfort zone without judging me. I've been fortunate to have people like that in my life. You need to find people like that - first to just play with, then to gig with. Where are you located? A lot of finding music buddies has to do with where you are and the music culture and community of that place. If you're in LA, come jam with me!
posted by The World Famous at 2:02 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mefi music! Put down a bass track and ask for others to add to it. Nobody starts out perfect (it's the enemy of GOOD). Go for it! We all love bass players.
posted by Kerasia at 2:18 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you have built up an unreasonably high idea of how much you have to prepare before you "have any business" playing out. A lot of people who play in bands really aren't very good. A lot of bass players spend all their effort learning flashy licks that they can't play in time, or use effectively in any musical setting except for showing off in Guitar Center. If you focus on the fundamentals - great time, great sound, simple parts with strong note choices - you will be ahead of the game, bass-wise, compared to most amateur players.
posted by thelonius at 4:21 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you considered a summer rock camp for adults? I've participated in adult summer chamber camps, and it really increased my confidence, as well as assigned me to different groups with different musicians. And usually you play with a coach, who can give you a sense of what to focus on when rehearsing with a small ensemble.
posted by Malla at 5:28 AM on July 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Could you take a few lessons? Your teacher will be able to tell you how objectively "good" you are. If you're really not that great, you'll learn how to improve. If you are already good, you'll get the confirmation you're looking for (plus there'll still be something you can learn).

Also, I have played bass, in a band, in public. I was not very good at all, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, all I really did was hit the root notes of the chord on the first beat + whenever the chord changed. I was in time though. If you can do that (and it sounds like you can do that, and more!) you can play in a band. You just need to go find one. Good luck!
posted by pianissimo at 6:54 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Start going out more. Find a band that you like. Make friends. Ask if you can sit on on a practice session with them some time in exchange for you bringing the pizza.

Go to wherever you buy your strings and tell them your problem. The better stores are run by musicians. Musicians are generally nice people who are very welcoming. Someone may offer to let you play with them. Or, they may direct you to taking lessons, to flush you out and see if you are serious.

Talk to people at work, post a picture of yourself and your bass on fb, let people know of your passion. There are always 'closet' rock stars. You could form your own band with people you sort of know. Adult garage bands are super fun.
posted by myselfasme at 6:55 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

i agree that you're putting too much pressure on yourself!! i have seen a LOT of bands play, and lemme tell you, there are musicians who are booked every single weekend who objectively suck at their instruments.

you need a play list of "just get out there and fucking do it" music to listen to on your way to a class or jam space or whatever. here is my favorite to get you started - 15 minutes to rock - chomsky. you pretty much have to rock someone's face off after listening to that.
posted by nadawi at 7:01 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jam nights are going to be your best bet once you can get past the hump of getting up on the stage. Some thoughts that might boost your confidence:

1) you're a bass player. You're an extremely valuable commodity at a jam. Most jams are lousy with guitar players, so sometimes the house band's bassist and drummer have to stay up there all night without much of a break. They'll love you just for showing up.

2) most jams are usually built on pretty simple songs to make sure everybody knows what to play. If you've been playing for 20ish years you're probably greatly underestimating your abilities. Playing along with records you will have developed a solid sense of rhythm and timing. So when you're starting just focus on the beat and the root notes and you'll do fine. As you gain confidence you can get fancier.

3) the great thing about being a bass player is that you can hang back a little and hide in plain sight. You won't be center stage and you won't be singing so that should relieve some of the pressure.

4) the social pressure of just introducing yourself at a jam is really hard. Show up early. Don't introduce yourself to a whole group. Quietly approach ONE of the people running the jam. Be honest about yourself. Say you'd like to try a couple of songs. They're used to dealing with players a lot worse than you.

5) you'll do fine.
posted by wabbittwax at 7:08 AM on July 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I second the idea of having a lesson. You could tell the teacher you are a relative beginner, and so there will not be any expectation or pressure to perform. You would effectively be playing your first public performance, albeit to an audience of one, and you can work yourself up from there. If you choose, you could ask the teacher for objective feedback.

Another way to gauge your technique, to is pick a solo piece you have a recording of, and record your self playing that same piece (even an iphone would provide a passable recording) and then you can A/B test the two recordings. Sometimes technique can sound very different when recorded, and this can be a good learning aid to pick up on areas to focus on.
posted by molloy at 7:47 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jam nights are going to be your best bet once you can get past the hump of getting up on the stage.

An ex-BF of mine (a bassist) used to do this and really loved it. He was a known entity by the time we started dating so I'm not sure how he got started, but in addition to wabbitwax's advice you could also go to a few places without your bass and talk to some of the regulars first. I'd think it would be less intimidating than walking in cold with your bass.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:39 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

(By "known entity" I mean known by other local musicians, not that he was a famous bass player.)
posted by Room 641-A at 8:41 AM on July 28, 2013

Ensemble lessons may be the key to your lock.

I've played for myself for a lot longer than you have. Not very long ago I went to an open mike session near my house. It was a small affair and not very much populated. I sucked so bad it made my ears burn.

But I met a guy who knows a guy who wanted to work on some stuff so we got together, and the labor, though of love, wasn't fruitful. As a group, we suck. However the guy I was introduced to led me to an ensemble jam session of fiddle players: two jams, one for beginners and those learning the songs, then after that a larger group, those who like to practice, or just play. They happened to belong to an even larger group of fiddle players, whose members engage all over this area of Oregon: gigs mostly with Senior Care establishments, but we also play at county fairs.

I already knew most of the stuff they play (bluegrass oriented, for the most part), so faking it amid a crew composed of five guitar players and three or four fiddle players, plus a guy with a stand-up bass, and sometimes a man-wife team with autoharp and fiddle.

Also, through a connection in this group, I was introduced to a lady in my area who holds monlthly jam sessions in her living room. They play popular music of various flavors; some of them are very good.

You can see the progression. I'm not really looking to play in a professional venue. My playing has improved by leaps during the few short months I've been doing this. I have even rethought my skill set, and have begun to study music notations again, so that I can pick out melodies and harmonies on my own, to prepare for the public sessions. I am happy to say that, as a second guitar, I can hold my own, and even carry some of the other players at times. I confidently do any number of run-outs and embellishments (when the occasion calls for them). Also, this is a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

By the way, I started my musical journey in grammar school, on the trumpet, then the tuba, but quit when I was in junior high school. I can't sight read, but I know what a dot means, and I remember EGBDF and FACE, so I'm able to pick my what through a score. I'm growing more facile with practice. I started guitar when I was about 14 years old, as a way to, well, get laid. I am here to report that it doesn't really work that way. However, the guitar gave me something as transcendent as good sex ever did. I should point out that, over the years, I had a few flashes of those sweet, sweet notions: performing professionally, making a living with my music. I am a good guitar player, but being merely good isn't what it takes. The thing is, good gets you into the band, and that's one of the places where the guitar genie will look when she wants to drop her magic into a mortal.

For your information, most jams would send out a team to kidnap a bass player for their sessions if they knew where he hangs out.
posted by mule98J at 9:07 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Playing with people is a different skill, one you need to learn, as is playing in front of an audience. You learn by doing. You will not be great at first, maybe even bad, then you will get better. The more you do it the better you will get. It’s no different than anything else.

You’re playing bass. Most bands will be glad to have you there. Most people will have no idea what you’re doing. You’re the foundation; if you play a wrong note everyone will look at the guitar player.
posted by bongo_x at 9:30 AM on July 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Don't worry so much about posting on Craigslist. Just be honest in your ad. The key here is finding people on the same page as you. (If they like similar music, so much the better.) Craigslist tends to be full of ads that are looking for professional musicians with a Look and an Image who have all kinds of experience, Pro Gear and Attitude a are not looking for those people. Somewhere in your city is a lonely guitarist who is looking for someone to play with and have a good time.

I always found jamming with more than a couple of people frustrating and stressful, but that's just me. You might love it! I played bass on my own for years, which was fun, but being in a band was so much more fun. I think it helped a lot that none of us were used to playing with other people and were able to kind of grow together in that way. Don't worry about going pro yet. Just focus on enjoying yourself.

Also: do not put up with jerks. There are--I'm not going to say that all of them are guitar players, because they're not--some really directive people who yell or are nasty if you're not reading their mind, but they are not representative of musicians as a whole. If you run into someone like that, don't let it shake your confidence. Just move on.

Have fun!
posted by corey flood at 9:55 AM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was in your exact position about eight years ago when the chance to join a band came up, and I'm really glad I did it. I have some great new friends that I get to write and play music with, and I have a creative outlet I never had before.

First of all, make sure any friends you have that play music know you're interested. The may know you play, but if they don't know you want to work with others they won't think of you when opportunities arise.

And they will think of you because bass players, especially ones who aren't just frustrated guitar players, are in HUGE demand. Vocals, drums & guitar are a dime a dozen, but any bass player that can keep time has bands to choose from.

Not sure what kind of music you're playing, but you shouldn't be afraid to try original music. In a lot of ways, it's actually easier than doing covers. You can write songs to emphasize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of the people in the band. There's a built in period of song development that puts off the day you finally perform in public, and helps you feel like you know what you're doing when it happens. And when people don't know the song, they don't notice mistakes as much - hey, I meant to do that!

Playing with people who are better than you is hands down the best way to get good fast, and they will appreciate you not trying to be flashy - that helps them sound good too. Lock in with the drummer, hit those root notes, and hold the groove - that's your job on bass.
posted by InfidelZombie at 11:37 AM on July 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Speaking as a musician who had the same hangups as you before finally putting myself out there, don't worry about the pro thing. Just get yourself the experience of playing with other musicians. Once you start doing that, you'll start to have a much better idea of your skill level and potential, how you work with others in that setting, and the best part is you'll no longer be able to say you've never played with other musicians before.

What I'd recommend is that you make some recordings of yourself playing bass. Put them up on YouTube or SoundCloud or something. Post an ad on Craigslist that you're a bass player looking for some like-minded people to make music with, but don't actually post the link to your music in the ad. This makes the whole process much less scary, because you are still anonymous at this point. If people are interested in hearing your playing based on what you say in your ad, they will contact you.

Mention in your ad what musicians inspire you, i.e. the type of stuff you play along to. This will give people an idea of the styles you play. Leave out the part where you've never played with anyone before, but you should mention that you've played bass for over 20 years.

When people respond to your ad, they might tell you about themselves and provide recordings of stuff they've played. If you get a good vibe from any of these people, just respond in a friendly manner and send them links to the recordings of your playing. This process is much like internet dating. You might meet some duds, you might meet some talented people that you don't get along with at all, but you might also meet some really cool people that you have a great time with, and then it gets a lot easier.

Every so often I go to some local bars for jam night...but it is just so intimidating, these guys are so good!
I have even taken my bass with me a few times with full intent of joining in, but every time I turn tail and leave. It's very upsetting.

This sounds terrifying! I'm pretty sure all those people jamming on stage have spent plenty of time in their lives practicing with other people in private settings. You need to do that before you should reasonably expect yourself to be able to perform with others on a stage in front of an audience.
posted by wondermouse at 11:52 AM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have gotten some really excellent advice so far, and I second what everyone else has said, and here's my 2 cents.

"When I grow up, I wanna be a pro bass player"

I have missed out on what could have been a wonderful musical career. I don't have much time left to go pro

Dude . . . .

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

I will guaran-damn-tee you that right now, at this very minute, there's a 40-year-old bass player flipping idly through the TV channels in a Motel 6 in Nowhere, Nebraska, bored out of his skull, killing time before an early evening set at the Podunk Corn Fest, thinking, "If only I'd stuck with getting that CS degree I could have a nice stable 9-to-5 70K job and see my kids on the weekend, instead of being here working for Asshole Washed-Up One-Hit-Wonder so I can get $200 to pay this month's electric bill. If that week of session work doesn't come through I'll either have to sell some gear or see if my cousin is willing to throw me some under-the-table work in his landscaping business."

My point being that part of your paralysis is, I think, because you have this picture in your head about how your life Could Have Been, but that picture is really a fantasy, and the realities of being a working pro or semi-pro musician are (often) very very very different from your fantasy.

So, as others have said, Step 1 is to let that fantasy go for now. Don't put additional pressure on yourself by thinking that playing in a band and in public is how you're gonna turn your life around. Don't freak yourself out worrying that if you don't wow everyone within earshot at your first couple outings, your plan for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE has gone to shit.

Let it go. Take a deep breath, relax, and simplify your goals.

Your first goal is to start playing with other people. Not necessarily in public. Because it's fun, and because playing with actual real live humans takes a slightly different skill set than playing along with records, and that's a skill set you want to develop. Private lessons or group lessons can be a great way to begin to develop this skill set. A private teacher will be (well, should be, and if they're not, dump 'em and find another teacher) very encouraging and accommodating and will not judge you for whatever skill or experience you lack. Group lessons will of course be more public, but there'll probably be a pretty wide variety of skill levels in the group, and I really doubt you'll be the "worst", so you don't have to worry that your inexperience in playing with other people will sink you. A good way to find teachers or lessons is through your local music instrument store, or "continuing education" or "adult education" at your local YMCA or community college.

I do not know any musicians at all

I bet you do.

Seriously. Musicians are everywhere. And you are FAR from the only bedroom musician who has rarely (if ever) played with others or in public, but who would love to.

Do your friends/acquaintances/co-workers know you play? When someone asks, "Hey Soap, how was your weekend?" have you ever answered, "Well, I didn't really have anything going on, so I pretty much stayed home and learned the bass parts to Tales From Topographic Oceans?"

You don't have to make a big deal about "I AM A BASS PLAYER", but if you let the word out, you will find other musicians, often in places you least expect.

Pro, semi-pro and even casual musicians got going somehow.

An awful lot of them get going by doing something that's, frankly, a helluva lot easier to do when you're 20 than when you're 40 - go to a lot of live shows. Especially smaller genre-specific shows; Yo La Tengo at the 300-capacity local rock bar rather than Nickelback at the Enormo-Dome, Coco Montoya at the blues club rather than Buddy Guy at Huge Blues Festival, etc etc etc. A significant number of people at shows like this are there because they like to or want to play similar music. Go to a bunch of shows, start to recognize the same faces, start to have conversations with these familiar faces ("Boy that opening band really sucked, huh?"), and eventually it's, "Oh, you play bass? My buddy's a drummer. Hey Chris, c'mere and meet Soap the bass player." Introductions get made, phone numbers get traded, eventually somebody calls somebody else and then it's a handful of guys in a practice space or a garage or a basement trying to work out the arrangement for "Born Under A Bad Sign."

So, yeah, it's easier to do this when you're young, and don't much care if you show up for your day job with 4 hours of sleep, and don't much care if your rent is late because you blew all your money going to 4 shows last week.

But you can still do this at 40 - maybe a milder version, two shows a week and home by 11 pm, say. Whatever works with your life.

Is there a particular genre or style of music you like a lot? Find the places in your town where that music gets played and start going regularly.

Go to jam nights. Don't bring your bass, don't worry about comparing yourself with the people playing. Just go, and listen, and meet people and talk to them. Become a familiar face. Sooner or later you'll meet other musicians in the same boat as you - they'd LOVE to join the jam, but lack the confidence to get up in public. But they'd be down with some small group or individual private jams. Do that. Make time to make that happen. Maybe you're starting a band, maybe you're just working on your skills and confidence so you & the others you're playing with will feel better about actually playing jam nights.

It's perfectly OK to be nervous about playing in public. It's natural. You only get less nervous from experience, and for a lot of musicians it never really goes away. But playing can still be fun & rewarding.

2 more things:

You WILL fuck up.

It will NOT be the end of the world.

Every single solitary pro, semi-pro, and casual musician who has every played anywhere in public will have story upon story about Horrible On-Stage Trainwrecks. Mostly, with time and a little distance, they're funny stories.

I'm not a pro musician, I am a pro soundguy, and I regularly work with a group that's been going in one incarnation or another for 30+ years, and to this day the leader will bring a song to a screeching halt onstage right in the middle of the show and start the song over if he feels it's gone too far off the rails.

That's, admittedly, pretty extreme, and not everyone can pull it off, but it's an example of how you may have some assumptions about how skilled or competent or talented working musicians are that just don't line up with the real world. So don't let those assumptions stop you from finding other musicians to play with or from playing in public.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:36 PM on July 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh, and if you don't currently have the ability to record yourself playing bass, that's something you should definitely learn how to do. That makes it easier to display your abilities to others before you're nervous in a room with them, and it opens you up to the world of being able to record bass parts for other people's projects, which you might even prefer to performing live. It will also allow you to listen more objectively to the quality of your playing while you're not focusing on playing it.

Don't worry about being 40. It seems clear by this question and the last question you asked here that your anxiety/depression about things is the main thing holding you back. Now your anxiety about the fact that you're 40 is competing with your anxiety about playing your bass in front of people. Stop letting anxiety dictate your life. Start taking steps to do what you want to do. It is really that simple. It will always seem impossible and crazy until you start taking actual steps to accomplish this.

Look at it this way: you already have a bass and know how to play it. The vast majority of humans do not have basses and certainly haven't been playing them for over 20 years. I take pride in playing a few different musical instruments reasonably well, and I've never even held a bass. I wish I could play bass, but I've never even tried. Your bass playing puts you at an advantage plenty of people don't have. Don't devalue the skill and playing experience you already have.
posted by wondermouse at 12:40 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and those teachers who will give you private or group lessons?

They're pro musicians.

Lessons and teaching are how a hell of a lot of pro musicians keep a steady enough income to ensure they've got food on the table and a roof over their heads. Thursday through Sunday they may be on the road playing gigs backing up an artist whose records you own, but Monday afternoon they're in a 10' x 10' room demonstrating how to play "Crazy Train" to a fifteen-year-old.

And it's a noble endeavor, and many of them love teaching, but there's another example of how your dreams of turning pro might not be in sync with how things really are, and may actually be holding you back.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:55 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am Ultra-passionate about music

That's enough reason to do something scary.

I've considered posting my own

I think if you already have a bunch of people engaging with you about the mere prospect of your music being heard (see all comments above) then you have found an excellent place to start.

I have zero idea if I am any good at all

I have loved a lot of music that I know other people think is complete garbage. There is a lot of well loved music that I despise. There are plenty of opposing ideas of what makes a bass player good. I'm pretty sure that a passionate player of many years is bound to have something that will be welcomed and admired somewhere.

posted by current occupation: at 3:25 PM on July 28, 2013

If you are in or near NYC, there's The Jam.
posted by bunderful at 5:19 PM on July 28, 2013

A lot of people have covered the bases here. I was a relatively locally established person in a music scene and ended up moving a few hundred miles away in my mid thirties. It was a little odd to "start" over looking for a new group of people at that point.

The most important thing is to enjoy seeing live music. Honestly, you have to enjoy music that, to a general audience, isn't really that great most of the time. You're only going to meet hipsters at a Yo La Tengo show, think even smaller than that. Go to very small shows. Listen to the bands on Band Camp in your area. Ask the guy at the record store if there are any new interesting bands playing out. The smaller shows are usually mostly populated with the local musicians supporting each other. These are the people to start to meet. When there's only 10 to 20 people there, it's a lot easier to get a chance to start up a conversation. If you can't find something you like about at least some of these bands...playing original music is not for you. A lot of them are terrible but there's always going to be a handful in every town that have an interesting idea. Get out and find them.

Get on Craig's List; play with anyone anywhere near your wheelhouse. These will normally be just a small practice at someone's house so the pressure's lower than an open jam. Often they'll have an amp or something on hand so you won't even need to lug a lot of stuff all over. It's a good time to ask them whose shows they go out to as well. They're going to be part of a community that you have an "in" to now that you've met them.

I can tell you, just from reading your post here, if you were local, I'd be interested in playing with you. People are really a lot easier to win over than you might think.

Don't be afraid of trying something new. MetaFilter is all new to me too.

-Long time reader, First time poster
posted by zero point zero at 9:30 PM on July 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everybody for your insights, it really is much appreciated. So much to chew on...

My number one reason for wanting this is for musical interaction...I have actually made many private recordings, original or otherwise; they just seem so...I don't know, hypothetical, if that makes any sense. I do indeed want to lock in with a real drummer (for instance) and create that groove.
I go to quite a few shows, matter-of-fact. I enjoy watching a tight band lay it down, and that is what I want to be a part of. I gotta get over myself first, this is the hardest thing. I think maybe I suffer outsider's syndrome; since I feel like I don't belong, then I really do not belong.

The thing about the jams that I go to and have gone to is everyone appears very confident and seems to know each other...there are always a lot of acts and the host keeps the night going smoothly. I have yet to understand how to break in, the whole thing is like some secret society and I don't have the right password.
posted by Soap D. Spencer at 10:42 PM on July 28, 2013

Response by poster: A few more notes:
Going pro - by that I mean truly entertaining folks on a regular basis and making (at least part of) a living from it...yes I know it's completely unrealistic and I should forget about that. It's just been my dream for so long...

Someone mention what I'm into - I'm a believer that every genre, from Bluegrass to Hip Hop to Death metal, has something to offer. For the record, I lean heavily towards the Jazz and Funk side of life.

And, the MeFi Music thing - I don't yet understand how it works, but I will look at that, great idea!
posted by Soap D. Spencer at 11:00 PM on July 28, 2013

You sound like me, including the experience at a jam session. Please let us know how things go.
posted by tommasz at 9:49 AM on July 29, 2013

I'd suggest playing with musician friends, too. That way, you don't have anything to prove, they'll be honest with you if they aren't 'feeling it', and you can hopefully communicate the way that good friends do, to create the music you're all envisioning!

I've been playing for over half my life, and that is how I started out (in high school) - recently I moved across the country and haven't had as many chances to play or be in a band, and yeah - solo playing/recording is WAYYYYY less fun. I wish you the best of luck!

Also, don't worry about not being as good as other people - playing with others that you consider to be 'better' than you is the fastest way to get there, too ;)
posted by destructive cactus at 4:54 PM on July 29, 2013

I'm late to the party! I am a pseudo-professional musician, by which I mean that I have been paid money to perform in front of people - but fairly infrequently; music largely remains a hobby for me.

Jam sessions can be tricky, because each one has its own personality (and sometimes you do encounter ones that are billed as "jam sessions" but are more like a practice session for the house band, who form a tiny circle and make it clear they don't really want anyone else playing), and I totally get the intimidation factor there.

I'm with everyone who recommends looking around for "community lessons" - I'm not sure how common that might be for bass, but if you find an group guitar class, you might contact the teacher and inquire about the possibility of joining with your bass. I did some group guitar lessons some years back and everyone was happy to have me play banjo on a couple of tunes, so you'll never know until you ask.

If you can't find a group class, go to a music store and ask whether they have any teachers who play both bass and guitar (or heck, bass and drums!) book some lessons, and tell the teacher basically what you've said here; that you've been playing for a long time and now you want to start playing with others. A multi-instrumental teacher will be able to give you relevant bass-specific pointers, but also provide you with a guitar or drum part that you can get comfortable playing along with. A good teacher will be able to assess your level, and adjust to it.

Whether you find a group lesson, or go one on one with a teacher, a lesson environment will be great for getting over that initial hump of self-doubt, and getting used to playing with another musician; there's no audience to stress about, and a teacher will encourage you past the occasional flub and get you used to just playing through them. (My experience has been that unless you really crash and burn so badly that you stop playing, nobody notices the occasional missed or sour note, not even other musicians.)

From there? Try the craigslist thing and see what happens.
Going pro - by that I mean truly entertaining folks on a regular basis and making (at least part of) a living from it...yes I know it's completely unrealistic and I should forget about that.
Don't even worry about the "making (at least part of) a living" part of the equation right now; I think you've got two big anxieties wrapped up into one monolithic obstacle that's keeping you from taking the next step. First things first: get used to playing with someone else (via lessons), and then find some folks to play with (via craigslist). If you start playing regularly with a circle of contacts however informally, you'll organically start to meet other musicians, and eventually something can click that leads to an honest to goodness paying gig. (Anecdote: I had a paid gig drop into my lap because I was playing some 19th century banjo tunes with a bones player at the farmer's market... it was the first time I'd met him. But someone else heard us and put us in touch with a guy looking for musicians for a civil war reenactment, and boom... our first gig! I don't make any money if I go play at the farmer's market, but if I hadn't been there that day I wouldn't have gotten hired for that event.)
posted by usonian at 6:52 PM on August 19, 2013

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