I’m writing this after a few days of reflection on the London Bass Guitar Show 2015. It was my fifth year at the show, and my fourth as an exhibitor with my company Bassline Publishing. Like I suspect many of the other exhibitors do, every year I wonder if the show will be as successful as it’s been in previous years. Thankfully, for us the answer was a resounding YES this year, and this has given me cause to think back over the last few years and consider how far Bassline Publishing has come.
Back in 2011, I was moving into an area of publishing that I had not yet explored within my own company – tuition books. This was something that I had decided to focus on in order to move away from the frustrating and costly practice of writing transcription books (a topic for another time). I also wanted to write some books that could do double duty as teaching materials in my classes at BIMM Bristol. I decided that the focus of these new books would be split into two areas. The first of these would be the Bass Techniques Series, which would include my most popular book Ultimate Slap Bass, as well as some new titles that I had in mind covering tapping and plectrum playing. The second area was the Bass Essentials Series, which would cover what I consider essential concepts for bass players: theory, scales and modes, arpeggios, walking bass, reading music etc.
Throughout 2010, I wrote the first of these books, The Bass Player’s Guide to Scales and Modes. This was a book that I had wanted to write for many years since I felt that it was a topic that had never been handled particularly well in the limited number of other books available on the subject. My approach to scales and modes has always been to avoid box shapes and patterns completely and instead focus on the content – the notes themselves. My argument is that if you know which notes belong in each scale, you don’t need a box shape to play them. Instead, you can apply the scale to the whole fingerboard (providing you know your fingerboard of course). It’s not the quick-fix route to fingerboard mastery that most young players are looking for these days, but in my opinion it’s the only way to do it properly. It’s also a method that I’ve had great results with in my teaching and has proved extremely successful for students of mine who have persevered with it. Explaining all of this clearly and methodically took time to get right, but I was proud of the book when it was finished.
After generating a little interest online via various bass forums, I headed to the first show in 2011 armed with a couple of sample copies, as well as plenty of stock of my transcription books. To my surprise, I sold both sample copies within ten minutes of the show opening and I was asked about the book continuously for the rest of the weekend! In the weeks and months after the show the book sold well – far beyond my initial, rather pessimistic expectations – and to this day it remains one of our best-selling titles.
Enthused by the success of this book, I began planning the next part of the Bass Essentials series: a sight reading book. This was another tough book to get right and it went through many iterations before I was happy with it. When I finally finished it in late 2012 I had a HUGE book covering every aspect of reading music, from the absolute basics right through to challenging cut-common time big band tunes, odd meter lines and Jamerson-esque semiquaver grooves. Proud of my three-hundred page opus, I presented it to my wife for feedback. Now, I can write a good bass book, but back then I was far less clued-up on how best to present/market my work. My wife excels at this sort of thing and her advice was spot-on: the book was too big and would be a daunting prospect to anyone looking to get started with reading music – the very audience I wanted to attract. Her solution was to split the book down into three volumes: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. This would make for three far more appealing volumes and would allow for a lower, more attractive price point. As a bonus, readers with some experience would be able to jump in at the intermediate or advanced levels if they felt they already had the basics covered. Perfect.
I launched the three new books at the 2013 London Bass Guitar Show. Again, the response was overwhelmingly positive and I was delighted to see both young beginners as well as seasoned players picking up copies. Despite the earlier popularity of the Scales & Modes book, in way I was surprised by this level of interest – after all, reading music is not the easiest thing to get bass players interested in as most teachers will tell you.
In 2014 my focus at the bass show was on a new book in the Bass Techniques Series – Ultimate Tapping for Bass Guitar. This was a large, very comprehensive title that covered the tapping technique in exquisite detail. This was an area of the bass book market that was (and still is) largely untapped (pardon the dreadful pun), due to the fact that it’s a specialist technique that has a fairly small audience. The book was a big hit at the show and sold well alongside its partner in crime, Ultimate Slap Bass. However, the biggest surprise for me at that show was that my Reading Music series really took off and sold in unbelievable numbers – each edition sold out. As a consequence, the 2014 show was hugely successful show for us, and led me to put careful thought into what I could offer for 2015.
As discussed in my last blog entry, this year I released three new titles: Plectrum Technique for Bass Guitar, Advanced Studies for Bass Guitar and Level 42 – A Physical Presence Bass Transcriptions, which is a revamped edition of a book I first published in 2006. These brought the total number of books we have for sale up to eighteen (how did that happen?!) and meant that we had something for practically everyone. As a result, this was our most successful show to date. I was gobsmacked to be told by several customers that they had come to the show specifically to see me and buy some of my books – one customer had even come over from France to do so.
Of course, the London Bass Guitar Show isn’t just about selling – it’s also about networking, hanging with your fellow bass players and looking to the future of the instrument. This year seemed to be best yet in that regard too: we were graced with incredible performances from Federico Malaman and Cody Wright (two of the most exciting new players out there at the moment) as well as masterclasses and live shows from some of the biggest names in the business, Mark King, Stu Hamm and Billy Sheehan. As well as enjoying all of the above, I also came away from the show this year having discussed some potential collaborations with other exhibitors and with a very clear idea of what I should be offering for the 2016 show. There’s also the possibility of some further additions to our transcription series which I’m very excited about.
Having looked back over the last few years, I’m amazed at see what has grown from something that in all honesty, started out as a hobby. Many of the early books that I wrote were done purely for the enjoyment of writing a book, with the knowledge that if nothing else, they would always also be useful as teaching materials. Somewhere along the way, Bassline Publishing has evolved into something bigger than I ever imagined, something that now consumes 90% of my time. I’m honoured and humbled that people buy my books in the numbers that they now do and I’m grateful for every single customer and every single review. So will we be at the 2016 London Bass Show? You bet we will.