Victor Wooten, bass player, composer, author, producer, and recipient of five Grammy Awards was introduced to music at an early age. But the wisdom he’s gained translates beyond music. As you read his answers to our questions below, consider how they might apply to your own career path, musical or otherwise.
CES: What was your first (or an early) job that made an impact on you? What did you learn from that experience/how did it direct your career path?
Vic: I was fortunate enough to start playing in a band VERY early in my life. I started well before it was a “big deal” to be doing what I was doing. Starting at age 3 or 4, playing in a 5-piece band with my brothers was always so “natural” that I never really thought about it. It didn’t really hit me until the first time I played in a band without my brothers. Playing an unfamiliar style of music with a group of unfamiliar people – I found myself way outside of my comfort zone. It was like leaving home for the first time.
It was 1981, when I was 16, that I got a job playing in a country/bluegrass band at Busch Gardens The Old Country—a theme park in Williamsburg, VA. For my whole life I’d been playing with people that allowed me the freedom to interpret the music however I felt. Now, all of a sudden, I was in a band without my brothers and had to play in a particular, strict way, as well as repeat the same show four to eight times a day. We were instructed to perform each show exactly the same way. For me, it was either go crazy, or learn something. I chose to learn.
Being in this totally foreign atmosphere showed me that, although I was a pretty good bass player for my age, I was far from being a great musician. The strictness of the show taught me to pay attention to subtleties:
1. How could I play the same show over and over, but still change it and improve it in a way that didn’t diminish the essence of what the show was about?
2. Could I play part of the song on one string and have no one notice a difference?
3. How would changing the length of my notes change the feel of a song?
4. Could I play a whole summer without taking a solo?
My questioning mind, and other things, kept me interested in the music as well as the overall situation. And because of it, I learned a TON about myself, the bass, and Music in general. Because I paid attention to myself and music as a whole, and not just my bass part, I grew rapidly.
I worked at that park, on and off, from 1981 – 1987. I was blessed to meet and work with my future wife during my final year at the park. If it weren’t for those few years immersed in bluegrass and country music, I may not have been willing to join my friends on a four day trip to Nashville, TN where I just happened to meet a very good (and famous) banjo player. And, the rest would not be history.
CES: What advice do you have for college students about how to pursue their passion – or a career in the music industry?
Vic: I would, first, find out what it is about the music business (or any business) that makes you get excited – REALLY excited. Then, really look at it, dissect it, and figure out what it would take for you to be doing just that. In some cases, you may find that the process of getting there makes the end result seem less desirable. You may also find that the process is more desirable than the end result. Or, you may discover that your are already doing what you would like to be doing – you’d just like to be doing more of it or making more money doing it.
In either case, once you find your passion, start living that passion right then. Don’t wait ’till tomorrow. Even if it’s bed time, imagine what it would feel like going to bed just after you’d had a successful day living your passion. Close your eyes and feel the energy. How did your passion affect other people? How does it affect you?
Think about this: Do You, or other people decide whether you are successful or not? If the answer is “You”, then, no need to wait. Make your decision right now! Actually, you’ve been making your decisions all along. It’s just that they were probably based on the illusion that you are not successful. Change that thought and you are on your way.
My mom used to tell us, “You boys are already successful. The rest of the world just doesn’t know it yet.” Those are powerful words.
© 2011 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound
Photo courtesy of Victor Wooten