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  • Writer's pictureSteve Bryant

As I was asked to recall from sessions past details from by my cadre of bass students, other musicians, or fans of the artist I am tracking with.. I decided to blog about the craft of bass playing in the Studio. I've done this generically at times, and on my facebook page as well (

Here, I'm diving into specifics and discussing technical, musical, and social aspect of bass playing in the studio...

Artist: Gretchen Wilson

Song tracked: '' All Jacked Up'

Studio Location: The Rukkus Room in the Berry Hill area of Nashville...

'' All Jacked Up'' was released in 2005 on Epic Nashville. It debuted at number one in the Billboard 200 with 264,000 copies sold in its initial week.

This was a live tracking date ( All musicians playing together, overdubs added at the tracking date.. a completed track in one session)

If you are a bassist setting your sights for the Nashville Studios, the thing to remember is while technical ability is a given.. the more challenging aspect is '' getting a track '' by coming up with ideas and a bass line that will frame the song and '' build the house' .... this all has to pretty much happen on the fly. yes, there can be a few passes and modifying the parts of each musician as things get refined.. but doing this with a minimum amount of fuss is key.

As customary in the session scene here, number charts were handed out and we listened to a basic outline with just guitar /vocal in the control room in order to get a feel for the tune and discuss very briefly the arrangement and any specific parts that were asked for as a rough idea..

***BTW.. getting comfortable with reading and writing number charts is absolutely a skill you want to have in order to work.. it's not hard, really .. and it opens newly arriving bassists to much more work opportunities.. most certainly, get that together.. it allows specificity for a song , the '' road map'' .. and allows for quick changes to an arrangement on the fly.. THIS is why it is possible to get multiple songs ( 3 to 5 ) in a basic 3 hour demo session. In my private teaching via Skype or in person in my home studio here in Nashville .. I teach this very basic and most necessary skill.

This tracking date, however.. being a '' Master Session'' - a song that will be a commercially released song .. was going to be the single song for our three hour session.. allowing adequate time to do multiple takes, change entire sections of the song, different instrument parts, especially for experimenting with instrumental fills, specific parts etc.

I used my Sadowsky 24 fret quilted maple top 5 string with soapbar EMG's thru a Demeter VTBP-201 preamp and an Anthony Demaria 1000 tube compressor. Regardless of what gear a bassist uses in the studio... the less hum, noise, and easier to dial in a tone, the better! I alway tell my students the the tone is in their hands.. typically, I don't use a whole lot of eq, comp, or processing . I feel that the final tone shaping will be done in the mix and mastering ... giving an overall clean signal gives much more latitude for the final product to reflect the producer(s) vision.. Really, there is so much great gear out there it comes down to personal taste and a bit of trying out things. Many times the type of environment you are working in guide you in choice of gear.

As we got to work on the song.. we ran it down once.. reading the chart as it was laid out. We worked out parts very quickly and got immediate feedback from the control room/producer as to changes to feel, chords, dynamics etc.. it is all very rapid fire and it is very important to keep your ears open to what is being talked about... there were a couple of things I brought up that were adopted into the track.. everyone really got their two cents worth in .. conversations that sometimes sounds like a group of magpies ..Ha! that's how that session was .. and many I've worked on are like that.. However, there are occasions when the producer is very specific and the majority of the time the only one speaking... different production styles and it's all good.. Each an every player wants to get a good track and make the song '' tell the story'' :-)

We had fun doing this track!

Here's the video:

No, the band shown in the vid is not us studio guys... -)

Playing sessions is a combination of listening to the other players, and finding a bass line that snaps the tune in place.. it very much is a chemistry of hearing and producing your own part.. energy is really playing on the fly with emotion and preparation..

Being confident is important . Equally so with having a work ethic that says '' I'm prepared'' .. laugh a lot and be easy to get along with... music is a participation sport and putting your talent and ability to the service of the song and playing with your brothers and sisters in the studio is a very special thing. Nashville is still by and large a '' live tracking town'' ....

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  • Writer's pictureSteve Bryant

In the many years I've been working the Studios in Nashville, one thing stands out in the craft/art of recording and creating .. Listen and let the song tell you what to play! .. remember that craft is how we do something and art is why we do something..

Knowing your chordal patterns, progressions and functional harmony is a must.. and backed up by years of playing different genres of music..

Listen consistently to good music.. not only to analyze and yes, write number charts ( one of the very best ways to learn chordal function and the arrangement of a song that builds the '' hills and valleys '' of the song emotionally..

Even if you primarily don't read music on the job.. learn it! nothing illustrates understanding music better.. regardless of the style a bassist plays.. you are addressing the ability of '' that note at that time'' .. the very definition of a good performance and skill on your instrument...

P.M. me here and will send you a list of books I currently use in my private teaching .. the real deal stuff, not fluff..

Learn Craft and you open a window into your Art and it's expression..

Steve Bryant

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  • Writer's pictureSteve Bryant

Living the Dream!

Well, That's what I told myself as a young bassist making my first foray into getting paid for playing bass on a recording that would be released commercially and available to the public, heard on radio, t.v. etc..

However, there was much I did not know, and much I learned on the job.... sometimes in very hectic circumstances that pointed out to me very rapidly what I was doing wrong.

In my private teaching, I mention to my students who wish to become session musicians that great maxim of business philosophy.. '' If you can't demonstrate either with ability or reputation, you are dead in the water'' .. That may be jarring to hear , but the fact stands regardless!

As a session player, being musically prepared is vital .. but also true is the ability to produce your own part as well as listen to directions and comments by the producer, session leader, writer, or the other sidemen..

1) To a degree, it is less important as to what gear you have than it is to make sure everything works well and produces no buzz, noise or distractions.. deal with that before the downbeat ( start time) ... Your gear should be an extension of you and the music..anything less takes focus off of the music ..

2) Be open for anything.. sometimes, great music happens without overthinking..

Notice that this happens when you are prepared musically.. it is important to have a lifetime actionable goal to improve as a musician .. daily practice on music content does this.. also, a steady diet of listening to music as the emotional language that it is. I've pulled out some great playable ideas on a session from disparate sources and many genres of music .. and that means not listening to just other bass players.. My own goal is to always be a musician that happens to play bass.. be prepared and when you do, you will find your personality that is unique to you will come out in context of serving the song. Sometimes, one note can say what a hundred can't ..there are times when a whisper can do what shouting cannot.. At times, finding that one '' right'' note can build a mountain..

3.) How well you play determines how well you listen! Nuff said about that..

4) Be gracious and friendly.. and a bit of gratitude as well. Realize the guys around you in the studio made incredible sacrifices and faced difficulties to get where they are.. Talk about Blessed! I play with some of the best musicians in the world.. Nashville has an unbelievable talent pool and more coming everyday, it seems:-)

A particular skill that one develops as your tracking '' chops'' develop is the instinct for the song and what's it's trying to convey lyrically and emotionally.. that '' second sense'' is what really makes a great session musician.. chops at the service of the song... it makes it musical, appropriate, and makes the rest of the band sound great! In my private teaching, I always point this out to my students.

Tracking with Jonathan Cain of Journey at his Addiction Studio in Nashville.. Listening to a playback: Johnathan on the Left .... vocalist Perry Coleman on the right.. and behind them publisher Dan Hodges...

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