All your bass are belong to us
December 30, 2007 9:32 AM   Subscribe

How can I find the right bass player for my band in the Philadelphia area?

I'm getting frustrated trying to find a new bassist for my (indie pop) band. It has to be the right sort of person, but it shouldn't be that hard in a city like this, right? I grew up around here, but I went to college and formed my band/participated in the music scene elsewhere.

I've been posting to the Philly craigslist for weeks, and I can tell from my site's referral logs that a few people (around 70 this month) are clicking through to my web site from the postings. I've only gotten 4 or 5 responses, though, and no one has actually gotten to the point of auditioning. It makes sense that I don't hear from some people after I say "Learn these two songs for the audition, here are the chords and recordings," but I'm at a loss for why someone would read my ad, e-mail me about it, and then ignore my response.

Should I keep trying craigslist? I found my drummer quite easily six months ago from an ad on the Pittsburgh craigslist, and he's really awesome, and the Philly list seems more active. Is there something else I can do that will have a better effort/payoff ratio? A place I can post something where the right kind of people will see it? I'm not interested in wasting my time printing a bunch of tear-off flyers and hanging them in music stores where only pop-punkers and metal dudes will see them.

Here's the ad I've been posting so you can get a sense of what I'm looking for/tell me if there's something wrong with it that I'm not seeing. I don't want to waste my time on people who are not coming from the right place, but I also don't want to scare everyone away.
posted by ludwig_van to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about word of mouth? Personally, I absolutely dread the ads-and-audition route, and almost everyone I've ever played with I found through a real-life friend or acquaintance. Small-world phenomenon and all that.

It's not directly what you're asking, but I don't see you mentioning it, so here's just another data point.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:47 AM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: I hate it too, but if I knew someone, or if I knew someone who knew someone, I wouldn't be in this situation.

Another thing that occurred to me is playing at open mics and hoping to meet people that way, although I'm skeptical as to how worthwhile a route that is -- but can anyone recommend a good open mic? I went to the one at the World Cafe a couple of weeks ago, but never got to play on account of the gigantic line, and judging by what I saw and heard it wasn't the right kind of crowd for me.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2007

Yours is one of the better ads I've seen for a musician online. The only thing I could think that would be scaring people off is your seriousness about music--talking about your prior tours and your album release may make it seem like they're jumping into a much more full-time situation than joining your average local band. If your email reflects the same information and says something like "We hope to be touring again by xxx", people may be intimidated--who wants to go on the road with people they barely know? You may want to give a little less information, get them to audition with you and see you're not all raging egos and drug-addicted nuts, then convey just how serious you are about music to them.

As for posting flyers, it wouldn't hurt to post them wherever you can. Sure, the local guitar store may mostly be kids and aging burn-outs, but everyone has to buy strings and straps, right? But also post them at places where you or others in your band like to hang out--coffee shops, book stores, whatever--as whatever brings you there is going to bring people like you there, and some of them will be musicians. The return on flyers is poor, but if you make a stack and stick some wherever your day-to-day travels take you, you're not really wasting that much time.

Or you could move to Tennessee and let me play bass for you, though you'd have to put up with some raggedy baritone backing vocals.
posted by Benjy at 10:06 AM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback, Benjy. I feel like we're in an annoying middleground where we are more serious than your average local band but we aren't well-connected enough (at least in this area) that we know reliable people we can turn to. That's why I'm hoping some Philly folks will come in and recommend some good venues or people to talk to or something.

I've played with people before who seem good but then decide after a month or so that they're going to crap out, and that's what I want to avoid at all costs. I have been keeping it casual in my e-mails, but still no luck. I'll keep you in mind if we find ourselves in Tennessee, though ;)
posted by ludwig_van at 10:23 AM on December 30, 2007

Check your MefiMail.
posted by amro at 10:24 AM on December 30, 2007

but I'm at a loss for why someone would read my ad, e-mail me about it, and then ignore my response

I've found this is pretty typical of the responses I've gotten from Craigslist. Some people flake after giving it some further thought, or when the alcohol-fueled confidence wears off.

The open mic strategy is a pretty good one, but yeah, you can get shut out of the popular ones if you don't claim a slot early. A key thing to remember is to announce from the stage that you're looking for players. Paul Roub's is an awesome resource for this.

Another strategy is to make a strong effort get to know other bands in your town. Bass players and drummers are usually in high demand, and some will play in several groups to keep busy. This is particularly true of singer-songwriter acts, who often don't have dedicated sidemen.

Good luck with your search. I'm planning to put together a group to play locally this year, and not looking forward to all the cat-herding :)
posted by scottandrew at 10:49 AM on December 30, 2007

Another strategy is to make a strong effort get to know other bands in your town.

Word, word, word. Particularly in Philly -- I'm not hooked into the musician network, but every other circle of folks I'm a part of, if the person you're looking for is more than two degrees away, they're trying really hard to hide. *Everything* in this town is who you know--it's definitely worth making those connections while you run ads and go down other routes to try to find someone.
posted by kalimac at 10:57 AM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: Concrete suggestions for "making connections" are certainly welcome. I haven't been booking local shows because we don't have a bassist. I'll check out, but I'd love to hear about one from someone that's attended.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:05 AM on December 30, 2007

Where do you guys rehearse? In Vancouver there are several 'jam-space' buildings filled with rehearsal studios. I think a large majority of local bands rehearse in such buildings. You could post your flyer in one of these if Philly has the equivalent.

How to make connections: go to shows. Lots of them. Especially if they are smallish venues with yet-to-be-discovered bands, so you can chat up the bands afterward. It's pretty much the same people going to each other's shows a lot of the time. The bloggers and music writers for local alt-weeklies will be here too. (Everyone's hoping to discover the next big thing before everyone else.) Somebody here will know somebody that's perfect for your band.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:21 AM on December 30, 2007

Okay, I had a big old long set of recommendations here, but I erased them once I listened to your songs. Do something like this:

Subject: Indie-pop bass player wanted

We are a regionally-touring band with a well-received album who have relocated to NJ and are looking for a bass player. We have many influences, but we sound more or less like a combination of Belle & Sebastian and The Wrens.

Please be reliable, over 21 and ready to make a committment to a working band. You should be able to harmonize on top and provide a solid backbone for the band.

You can listen to our songs here: LINK

Have a good day and we hope to hear from you!

...or something like that. You don't have to worry about pigeonholing yourself with the sound. Just give people something to go on and fill in the details when you talk to them.
posted by rhizome at 11:21 AM on December 30, 2007

Also, you should make your mp3s downloadable. I've left the little applet playing even though I'm done replying. :)
posted by rhizome at 11:28 AM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: Where do you guys rehearse? In Vancouver there are several 'jam-space' buildings filled with rehearsal studios. I think a large majority of local bands rehearse in such buildings. You could post your flyer in one of these if Philly has the equivalent.

That sounds like a good idea, I'll have to look into it.

How to make connections: go to shows. Lots of them.

Yeah, that'll probably work. It's just tough on my wallet :(

Rhizome: so do you think that the ad is too long/detailed, then? I'm confused when you say we shouldn't pigeonhole, but that we should describe ourselves as a combination of two bands. I'm trying to avoid pigeonholing by listing a bunch of bands I'm into and telling people to listen to us.

And our mp3s are downloadable from myspace and our domain -- I have no control over the fanaticpromotion doohickie, I just think it looks cool.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:08 PM on December 30, 2007

Best answer: The Fire has an open mic on Monday nights; I haven't been in a while.
posted by gac at 12:22 PM on December 30, 2007

I didn't say don't pigeonhole yourself, I said don't worry about it. :) That is, just give a little pigeonhole so that potential players can figure out if they jibe with your sound. Conceivably you want the player to like the music they're playing, right? My thought is that you should describe yourself the way you'd describe any other band you like. It's not all-encompassing, but nobody considers it to be anyway. I've never heard of anybody saying something like "Hey, you said you sounded like B&S and The Wrens, what's this Leonard Cohen influence doing here?" The sound is the important part, not the influences. People can arrive at your band's sound from a variety of directions and influences, but people can also take the influences you've listed and come up with a wildly-different sounding band, so I'd recommend going with what matters: how the band sounds now.

But yeah, simplify. Figure that everybody who likes and will play your sound will be OK with The Beatles as an influence. Heck, my rule/law is "The Beatles Are Implied," meaning that nobody who plays western pop music ever has to list The Beatles as an influence. It's built-in.
posted by rhizome at 12:30 PM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: Ah, I see what you mean rhizome, thanks for clarifying.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:57 PM on December 30, 2007

Agree that the ad is too long and detailed. The longer the ad, the less likely a person is to make it to the end and think "Hey that's me!" So, short and pithy wins the race. Same holds true for follow-up emails. I've never met a chatty bass player or one who self-describes with "moxie"; and besides, the most important thing is that they like your music. Maybe something like this:

Bouncy baroque pop band needs dedicated bassist for tours and more.

If you can keep a groove while I sing "Julia, I love your uvula", you'll fit right in. Backup vox also important.

Here's our myspace site:
posted by danblaker at 2:14 PM on December 30, 2007

hey, i own a nice (electric) bass, i'm near philly, and i'm at least familiar with every artist you listed. i don't wanna hurt your feelings but here's why i, personally, wouldn't bite:

1. you're obviously a SOLO ARTIST plus band. this is pretty common on craigslist- you can't really expect quality people to be chomping at the bit for a background role. it's also really a challenge to find people to agree to be in a backing band when there's no money involved and you're not 'someone.' (sorry.) generally speaking, backing bands get paid. if you're in a position to start paying people, put that in the ad and you'll have you'll have your pick- no shortage of pro/music school-educated musicians in philly.

2. upright bass.... i know ALOT of musicians, at least 20-30 bass players, and like, 3 with upright basses- they're both involved in multiple projects, recording sessions, etc. it would take great shows or money to get them to come out for a single gig, let alone 'joining the band.' honestly, more often then not most 'bass players' i know didn't own a bass and especially amp before they joined whatever band... they borrowed or had the band provide it.

3. vocals.... look, another tall order that's going to turn people away. 'some background vox a plus' is reasonable, "Ability to confidently sing harmonies (alto/tenor)" sounds like a pre-requisite for choir college. or Queen. and shit dogg, i like robert schneider too! and i don't think your vocals are horrible, and they're a style, no doubt, but confident? really? like, that particular word? it just seems like if you're not a professional vocalist yourself you should ease up a bit on what you'd want from others. i'd start with 'willing to try and sing along.'

4. craigslist.... well, it generally sucks for finding people. you lucked out with the drummer. every craigslist/stranger musical encounter i've had has SUCKED. the ones that are any fun (and coincidentally, productive in the slightest) are people i knew, or knew through friends, and ideally- people i was already friends with. it just cuts out alot of the weirdness of trying to form bonds with people, to create by committee- if thats what you want. course, pro sidemen can show up and not even converse with the 'frontman' etc and nail everything the first time. that's why they get paid. everyone else has to make friends, weed out who sucks and who likes shitty music, and try to go from there.
posted by tremspeed at 6:17 PM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: Agree that the ad is too long and detailed.

Ok, I'll definitely try to edit it down some more.

you're obviously a SOLO ARTIST plus band

No, not really. And I don't want a bassist who can't sing. And it's cool, you didn't hurt my feelings.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:03 AM on December 31, 2007

you're obviously a SOLO ARTIST plus band

No, not really.

You're seriously going to argue that the name of your band ISN'T "YOUR NAME AND THE XXXXs"?
posted by tremspeed at 4:11 PM on January 1, 2008

Response by poster: Well, this isn't an appropriate venue for arguing. I read your comment and will take it into consideration. Cheers.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:59 PM on January 1, 2008

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