What is this the best way to go from an efficient intermediate bass player to a sought after, gigging musician? Also, I really want to get better at slap bass. Suggestions/insight?
- Practice. Also practice, and finally practice some more. For several years, Tom Morello practiced guitar at least eight hours a day, regardless of whether he needed sleep or anything else.
- Take lessons. And practice the things your teacher shows you.
- Get into a band - any band, it doesn't have to be a great band. Try to be the best musician in the band. Try out for and try to get into the bands with the best other musicians. Challenge yourself to be in a better band even if you think you can't handle it. The challenge to keep up with musicians who have a lot of skill and practice is a great motivator.
- Study musicians who you think are great. Read material on techniques, acoustics, music theory, etc., anything you can get your hands on. Watch YouTube videos of live performances and look for ideas you never thought of or techniques that you don't know yet. Listen to lots of music with the same things in mind.
Specifically for bass:
- You must be on time, musically speaking. Play along with drum tracks and strive to play exactly when the kick drum is playing. Listen to great bassists (Motown - for example) and pay careful attention to the exact timing. When are they playing ahead of the beat? Behind the beat? Locked with the kick? Freewheeling? If you can groove like "I Want You Back" (Jackson Five) or "Root Down" (Jimmy Smith), people will want to play with you.
- You must control your dynamics. That means playing with consistent and deliberate intensity across all notes and strings. This is a very overlooked skill when it comes to bass players, but if you listen closely to almost any famous bass player you'll realize this is a skill they almost all have. Learn which strings and notes are most sensitive on your bass, and play those notes more quietly. Learn which ones are least sensitive and give those more force. Learn the difference between how loud your different fingers sound and compensate. Play without a compressor of any kind and listen extremely closely to the intensity of each note. Slow it down and practice, practice, practice until you start to instinctively compensate for loudness changes. If you have access to a mixer or anything that has a loudness meter in it, plug right into that and practice while watching the meter, trying to keep the meter in the same place using just your fingers. A meter doesn't replace your ears, but it can help you learn to hear the loudness changes if you've never noticed them before.
- Carefully hone one great sound. A lot of bass players chase having more "low end". This is a mistake. The bass already has an octave below the guitar (unless it's a five string and that goes even lower), so there's no need to work for lower frequency sound - you've already got it! If you're playing through a bass amp or a decent PA, you're fine on low frequencies, and too much low will overpower the rest of the band in a bad way. The best bass tones have present and balanced mids, and a tasteful amount of highs. But the mids are where it's at for the bass. Exactly how to shape the mids depends on genre and/or the guitar and keyboard tones of the rest of the band. That said, there is a Fender P-bass with Ampeg SVT sound that is slightly overdriven and has rich low-mids that is not too honky sounding that is very versatile and popular. That doesn't mean you have to own Fender and Ampeg gear to get a good bass tone, it's just an idea of what to shoot for. Motown again is a good place to look for this kind of sound. If you're leaning towards the metal side, there is another popular sound usually involving a bass with active pickups, played with a pick, and with more of a scooped mids sound. You still need a bit of mid, just less than the other tones, and having active EQ with active pickups can help to dial in the right highs and lows for this sound. Finally, there is a new sound that has been popular for a while now which is more of a bass synth tone, using some combination of distortion and EQ or bass synth pedals. Getting a good set of pedals can be expensive. I would say if you can nail the Motown sound and you're looking for something else, this is a good one to shoot for. Check out Muse, NIN, Metric, and almost any modern band and listen for these kinds of tones.
Keep in mind that the tone chase should be your lowest priority. If you can play consistent intensity and at exactly the right time, then the tone part of it will be dead easy. If you build the greatest rig ever made and your playing is all over the place, it won't matter a bit because your playing will be impossible to work with and won't sound right. As a sound engineer, I can take a DI from a great bass player and make it sound amazing, but nothing in my toolbox can salvage bad playing.
One thing that has helped me a lot is playing in bands. Find a band with music you like (and musicians better than yourself) and play with them. This is one significant point in making yourself a better bass player.
Also, you can find some bass player you admire and learn his/her songs. Play them again and again until you play them as good as them!
Besides these generic guidelines, I'm not sure we can recommend much more. You can always find a teacher to guide you.
As the bass player you are part of the rhythm section so having good time and being able to lock in with the drummer is absolutely essential. How is your timing? Are you able to keep time with a metronome? Metronome practice is one of the best ways to improve your timing so this is a must.
If you're interested in slap bass, then try looking up some tutorials on youtube that teach slap bass licks and techniques and practice them. You will get a whole lot more from video lessons demonstrating and breaking down the licks than you will from written explanations so that's what I'd suggest. However, just make sure that you practice to a metronome at a slow enough tempo so that your playing is clean and in time. You do not want to learn at tempos faster than you can play them correctly...there is nothing appealing about sloppy slap bass! lol