It was the clinic that truly lived up to its name, as the Changing Face of L.A. Session Bass was altered hours before commencing, when both Sean Hurley and Alex Al got sessions and couldn’t make their scheduled panel appearances. Neil Stubenhaus—a tireless advocate for musicians through his work with the Musician’s Union, and a session legend himself—jumped into the void, joining Bob Glaub and Chris Chaney, and off the trio went, discussing a variety of topics. After taking about when and how they each broke into the scene, and establishing that the days of a dozen records being cut daily has long passed, the three got into some of the nuances of the changes. Glaub and Stubenhaus remembered how the advent of the Linn Drum and synthesizers in the early-’80s altered the way records sounded. Neil recalled how he could no longer hear his bass in headphone mixes, as the timbre of the music got more dense and frequencies got doubled up, due to the layering of synths. Bob bemoaned how bassists were ruining vintage instruments to add bridge pickups in an effort to get more of a pointed tone that could be heard through the wall of sound. Both recalled how the financial reality of being able to make music more cheaply with machines, especially on smaller-budget projects, cost many musicians work.
Turning to the next major transformation—digital recording—Chaney noted that he did a fair amount of records on tape when he first entered the studio scene, and how that format required a level of musicianship and performance that was less necessary in the digital era, given the ease of making fixes via Pro Tools and other software. Another digital consequence, he added, is that on the majority of his sessions, he’s playing by himself or with a drummer. All three lamented the lack of interaction on those dates, and how creativity is greatly limited if you’re only the first or second instrument tracked and have little to react to. Following a discussion of the film session scene and a list of the main instruments and gear they bring to dates, each was asked to name his “Desert Island” bass, as Bob referred to it. This brought the conversation back to the universality of Fenders, even on today’s global session landcape. Offered Neil, “With some of the boutique basses, the builders are trying to do something unique or take it to the next level, and some of them are not players. So you end up with a bass that has too many frequencies. It sounds great by itself, but you bring in the other instruments and it has no distinct quality and it doesn’t work on the track. With Fenders, they have a limited frequency that’s in just the right place; it’s not getting buried or overwhelming anything; it has its own space.”
Additional questions covered internet sessions and getting subs, before steering back to the economic realities of the times. Chaney cited making less now then he did five years ago, as union rates are being bypassed by producers negotiating cheaper deals—adding, even meal money has largely disappeared. All agreed that you have to be your own business man now, and be prepared to take a pay cut if you really want to work with a certain an artist. The crux of it, stated Stubenhaus, is that due to piracy few people pay for music anymore. “There’s little money in the sale of recordings; the big money is all in touring, because people will pay to see live music, and in licensing your music to film or TV.” Chaney pointed out that while the amount of major label recordings is way down from the medium’s heyday, “There are actually more recordings than ever now due to home studios, so the industry is oversaturated.” He then paraphrased a statistic that said less than five percent of iTunes content sells more than a few copies. Glaub, brought the clinic to a positive conclusion in reminding that there’s always going to be recorded and live music made, from both major and new artists, and that will require bass players. The key is to do what bassists have always done: adapt.
Watch the clinic in its entirety here: