Empty PocketsThe day I sold my bass was a good day.

I had a problem.

See, I assumed that simply because I was capable of recording all the instruments on my recording projects that I should.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I bought that little Fender Jazz bass, thinking to myself, “Wow, Joe. You’re so impressive. Imagine how it’s gonna feel when you tell someone, ‘Yeah, I played all the instruments on this song.’ They’ll think you’re amazing. Heck, you’re like Dave Grohl.”

I’m not like Dave Grohl. If you’re dripping with THAT much talent, then yes, you can probably pull off playing everything on the record.

I’m not Dave Grohl, and chances are neither are you.

I sold my bass once I realized that I suck at playing bass. Sure I can get the notes out, but I don’t think like a bass player, and I sure don’t play like one.

Rather than agonizing for 3 hours over a bass line, my brother-in-law Joel Bezaire can lay it down in 10 minutes, and it sounds awesome.

Just because I CAN play the bass doesn’t mean I should.

“But Joe, I can’t pay people to play on my projects.”

Really? REALLY?

If you don’t have the cash to pay someone, that doesn’t categorically mean that you cannot pay them in some other way.

Enter the barter system.

Sometimes I wish I lived back in the day where I could take one of my goats into town and come back with a loaf of bread, a wheel of cheese, and a basket of eggs. Ah…the good ol’ days.

We don’t do a lot of bartering anymore. We buy things with money. We do work for money. But there is still real value in a fair trade.

Trading Skills for Skills

What are your skills? What are you good at? What would people pay you to do? There’s a good chance you can offer those skills as a form of payment.

I do this all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I still 100% agree that you should charge for your work, but sometimes charging can come in the form of trading something other than cash for your service.

Are you good at graphic design or photography? Maybe you could hire a local drummer to play on your tracks, and in exchange you’ll do the photography and album artwork on his band’s next album. You’re both getting something valuable, without spending money.

That’s what my buddy David Dewese did for me. I hired him to design the album artwork for my album Out of Indiana, and instead of payment, he asked me to mix one of his songs. (See, he’s a musician, too.)

My bro-in-law Joel plays bass on all my projects. Sometimes I simply write him a check. Other times he has me track some guitars or vocals on one of his projects. (I’m a singer/guitarist, he’s a bass player…another nice trade.)

Or take my buddy Tim Horsley for example. Monster drummer here in Nashville. He’s starting to offer drum tracking to clients through the internet. I need a drummer on my next album project. So? He’s offering me a discounted rate in exchange for help building up his online business. (He’s a drummer, I run HomeStudioCorner…yet another fair trade of skills.)

I could share a bunch more examples, but you get the point. Sometimes you just pay the guy. Other times you can negotiate a nice trade that leaves all parties happy.

What do you think? Is this something you already do? Tell us about it. If not, tell us how you’re going to try it on your next project. What gear or instruments do you need to sell and start “hiring” other people to play/work on your projects?

  • Pingback: Why Being a Well Rounded Musician Isn’t Always the Best Attribute()

  • Xan

    Yeah, I agree about doing a trade but sometimes just the interest you have shown in that person to be on your release is enough. But I guess that depends largely on whether you have the goods..!

    My band – Beltane – is hardly a well known band in the metal scene, it’s probably not even one ov the bigger underground bands either, but it IS bigger than MOST underground metal bands/projects out there. Enough so that if we ask someone do do a guest drums/keyboard/vocal part nine times out ov ten they say yes. All it costs us is a copy ov the release they played on sent to them.

    Ov course if they turn around and ask me to do some guitar or vocals on their stuff I will agree, and expect a copy ov the CD too..! 🙂

    However, when it comes to home recording and your own projects I disagree that you have to me the master ov an instrument to record it. Because you do have hours to muck around if necessary and you can easily edit stuff.

    I am no keyboardist but I have played many, many keyboard parts on our tracks and often they are better than a real keyboardist because they are simpler and more appropriate for the track.

    So that is something to think about. And besides, if you can play guitar you can play bass. It is definitely true that a guitarist-on-bass does not play quite like a real dedicated bassist, but surely enough to get by..! 😉

  • Bob

    Yessireee!

    I’ve been doing that for YEARS, in fact, being raised on the farm we bartered or shared a LOT of work and machinery.

    I am a guitarist, and a fairly decent bassist as well, but only a fair drummer, and a very mediocre keyboardist. I have a buddy that has a home studio as well, and we share talent with each other all the time. We call it borrowing a cup of tracks. LOL

    I’ll lay down some drum tracks or keyboard to give him the general idea of what I have in mind, and he will run with it from there, vice versa. We’ll send processed and dry tracks in wave (he doesn’t use Protools) and we can use them as is, add more processing, or process the dry track as we wish.

    If the project that either of us is working on winds up being big money maker, (not so far unfortunately)we have agreed to compensate the other accordingly. Otherwise, we just borrow a cup of tracks.

  • malbert

    yes indeed. I’ve done that already in my past projects. hahahaa!..I paid the musician by giving him my un-used mixer and he was very happy.

  • I know how to play bass too but just like you, I’ve spent more than 3 hours making the bass line sound good but it’s nothing that a sound of an amateurs…

  • I love this headline 🙂

  • Stephen Cross

    This is a great idea, I’ve tried to search the net to find people willing to help eachother and so far turned up empty. If you can provide a place for such people to meet, it will be a great service to us all!!

  • Carlos Mitil

    Dude, Seriously… You should totally get more than a loaf of bread, a wheel of cheese, and a basket of eggs for a goat.

  • larry wiggins

    THAT IS A GOOD IDEA.I AM TRYING TO LRAEN HOW TO PLAY THE BASS.I WOULD LIKE TO PURCHASE A MULTIPLE IN-PUT INTERFACE SO I CNA HAVE THE CAPACITY TO RECORD AT LEAST A GUITAR AND BASS GUITAR AT THE SAME TIME.THE SKILLS FOR SKILLS TRADE IS A EXCELLENT IDEA.

  • Bob Sorace

    Perfect timing for the article Joe! I’m about to meet with someone in about 45 minutes to talk about mastering my new EP. Now he’s a home recordist as well, and from what I hear doesn’t really get into charging a lot of money, and since I don’t have hardly any money, maybe a trade can be worked out! Didn’t even think about it, great post and perfect timing!!!

  • Ralph Feaster

    Excellent advice, Joe. This country could certainly use more thinking like that!

    I’ll be recording a singer-songwriter-pianist next month for free, but in return, she will play and sing with my grandkids on some tracks. I can’t wait!

  • That is great advice! Thanks!

  • Great point. Also a great way to increase your recording network. When I bought a bass so I could add to my recording projects I ended up being more of a bass player than a Gtr player. Do you have any columns on recording bass guitar direct? as comparison to micing an amp? Thanks again, JP Columbia, SC