The OFFICIAL Bass Blog of Tony Grey


Unlocking the Musician's Mindset

Posted by: Tony Grey  /  Novemeber 25, 2016

The social media culture of hate and judgement has fueled the already debilitating insecurity of a musician. Everywhere we look there is someone doing better than we are; more popular, more loved, more gigs, more chops, more personality. Today, I’d like to share my story and I think a lot of you will be able to relate to my experience, which is why I was inspired to sit down and share my thoughts.

I’ve just finished reading Damian Erskine's article where he talks about "competing with the bass virtuosos”. It's a great article and indeed a fantastic subject. Throughout my entire career, right up until the present moment, I’ve been feeling the heat of brilliant musicians in my face everyday. On YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc… you name it, everywhere you look there are people doing better than you, even 8 year old kids who are out there kicking my ass. It's the society we live in today, you can't escape anything. As unbelievably inspiring as it can be, it’s also incredibly disheartening, especially when you’re having an off day. This predicament has both shaped and tortured me on many levels. As you may or may not know, I started playing bass at a very late age and went to join Berklee after only playing for a year or so at the most. I didn't join Berklee as a prodigy or someone who was extremely talented. Let’s just say it was the right time and I was in the right place. I was actually quite terrible, if I’m being honest. In my very first ensemble class the guitar player asked me to hand him my bass, as I couldn't even get through the Roots of the Chord. I felt like the worst bass player alive, and I probably was.

At that point, I had two choices, I could either keep my dream bigger than my fear or let my fears consume me to the point where I’d begin to create my own self imposed limitations. This is when I realized that everything moving forward would have to stem from a positive state of mind in order for me to reach and exceed my dreams. So, how do we achieve that when it’s so easy to get down on ourselves? What I did was develop a coping mechanism that has helped me to rise above the attachment I had (and still have) to praise and blame. There’s something very simple I always remember when faced with struggle in any area of my life and that is, understandings dictate feelings. If we change our understanding of a situation, we can change the way it makes us feel. So, if we’re impacted by something, say a video we just watched on Facebook that has us reflecting on ourselves, because naturally that’s what we do, we need to find a way of shifting our mindset into a positive and uplifting space. This way we can change the way it impacts us. It CAN inspire us. It doesn’t have to hold us back and ignite a chain reaction of fear. Change the way you look at it. It’s that simple. Fears can become our greatest allies if viewed properly.

In addition to shifting my understanding, I also had to find ways of shifting a few other things. There was the expectation I felt from other people, resting heavily on my shoulders. I couldn’t fail. Too many people were relying on me to succeed. Clearly still being affected by my attachment to praise and blame, I had to find a way of turning my fear into a positive. I used it to motivate and propel me forward. I was determined to become the best bass player I could be and prove that I was worthy of their support. The other huge factor in my development was the privilege and blessing of having a mentor to hold me accountable and guide me. Someone I could look up to and trust, someone who believed in me, someone I could talk to freely, someone who had been in my shoes who was able to truly understand my needs. I was beyond fortunate to have John McLaughlin as my mentor. I know that these opportunities don’t present themselves for 98% of players, but in truth, having a mentor in general provides 3 core things for you. It holds you accountable, gives you momentous confidence and creates a clear goal that you become responsible for creating a path towards. As I said before, I know that a lucky break is rare; however, if luck doesn’t come your way, you have to create these opportunities for yourself. Naturally the question remains, "how do we do that?".

First of all, become aware of what you want from music. What kind of player do you want to be? Without comparing yourself to anyone else, answer that question honestly. Just keep in mind that you can be whatever kind of musician you want to be, without limitations. Envision your dream. Here's one example of how I did that: I wrote down a list of every musician I wanted to play with, I listened to their music, I studied the musicians that played with these people, I transcribed their solos, I put myself in the mind space of why that musician would want to hire me. This was part of my vision. It helps to be very specific.

Next, be honest with where you’re at, allow yourself to be vulnerable and ask for constructive criticism from as many people as you can. You will find a lot of “jerks” (AKA haters) in this business who will be more than happy to tell you all of the things you’re not good at, but you’ll also find very inspiring people who will help to constructively criticize you from a place of love. There’s also the third type of critic who will only sing your praises, and this is the one you have to be most careful about. It’s easy for us to justify ourselves with reassuring words from other people. Carefully balance the feedback you receive and be really honest with yourself. In time you’ll find the right people to associate with and by being vulnerable you will eventually attract your true teachers. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Once you have a good feel for what you want and where you’re at, get out there and start looking. Reach out to your heroes on social media platforms, go to gigs and talk to people, join forums, ask questions, develop relationships with individuals who you look up to, but MOST IMPORTANTLY nurture your friendships and like-minded community because in your circle of friends you all have the same aspirations and it’s inevitable that someone is going to make it.  Eventually, that could become your gig and lead you to your true teacher and eventually to your dream or on the flip side, you could get the gig and help others. It doesn’t always come down to skill. Personality and likability has a lot to do with it too! I have friends who I grew up with that have gone on to play with Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Sting, The Roots, Michael Jackson, Prince, etc. It’s so important to make connections where you’re at rather than putting yourself on a pedestal. Remain humble and your family tree will only grow in size. This is how you create opportunities for yourself.

I understand your fears. I feel driven to help people as a way of giving back for all of the incredible opportunities that have come my way. I’ve developed an entire creative learning system based around all of the fears we face to give bass players a systematic, goal driven curriculum that will provide them with the confidence, direction and mentor-ship that we all need to succeed in today’s world as a musician. I’m determined to create a community of like-minded souls that want to eat, sleep and breathe music. Time constraints are no issue here. It’s not how long you practice, it’s what you practice and the frame of mind you commit to holding. It’s all about intention. What’s your intention? 😉 Stay inspired.


Leave Your Comments Below...