1- THE TONE IS IN YOUR HANDS!
We hear that a lot, and it is NOT a myth, IF we are talking about experienced pro bassists. They have their sound in their head, and a huge arsenal to shape the sound from left and right hand technique, they are able to deliver consistent sound with almost any gear without even thinking about it. However, for a less experienced bassist, good gear can deliver great tone with the technique he/she already has. For a beginner it is a good approach to try as many instruments as possible, find one that feels easy to play and deliver good consistent sound, stick with it and make music.
It was a quote on a jazz method I studied, in the preface- "Buy the most expensive instrument you can afford" I think this is a great advice for somebody trying to take bass playing to a little more serious level. This approach helped me for sure in the beginning, while I have to admit it happened more than once to track bass for major radio releases using a less stellar bass I happened to have in my home studio at the time.
TIP: Look for a bass that feels easy to play, even if it doesn't have a great setup. This is usually a sign that you have a good match, and you are creating a good sound without strain.
2- YOU HAVE TO DEVELOP PERFECT TIMING
This is true, it is a measure of your accuracy, it helps you be a better player. However in the real world of bass playing, the real skill is to "breathe" together with the band. There is no such thing as "perfect timing" most of the musicians I know have their own way of playing, and our role as bassists is to understand that and follow their lead. Especially drummer's lead. Drummers often have their own repetitive way of attacking notes, sometimes before the beat, sometimes after. Many times they will slow down a bit before a part of the song changes, and the measure of your skills is not how perfect you play in time, but how tight you play with the drummer.
TIP: Pay attention to drummer's hi hat. That's the only element in the drum kit that has a controlled note length. Try as much as possible to match your note length with the way the hi hat opens close.
Or how a friend explained to me once: If the HH goes "ts ts tssssssss ts" you go "boom boom boooooooom boom"
3- YOU HAVE TO CUT THROUGH THE MIX
This is true. The bass is a very important instrument in a band. It makes people dance, and if you are creating smart basslines, it can bring a sweet counter melody to the vocals, in most bands being the only other "single note" instrument (try to see that as a strength)
However, be aware that the bass is probably the biggest/ fullest instrument in your band. It is all over the place, so it is probably the hardest instrument to mix. It is best to leave this decisions to the only guy that has an overall view of the band's sound- and that is the sound/mixing engineer. He/she will make sure the lows blends in nicely with the kick, the low mids are not overwhelming other instruments that have the fundamentals there, and the high mids will not fight with the vocals. And to make things worse, there are different approaches to different venues, the main goal being in the end to have a great sounding voice, with a great full band to support it. While being a very important instrument, bass guitar is pretty low in the food chain when taking about sound placement. It has to do his part, and create space for the rest of the band.
What to do? Make sure you deliver a clean full sound, with no drastic changes that can be undone as overcompressing, overboosting frequencies, etc. So you give to the mixing guy the full spectrum to work with. Use your amp to feel comfortable on stage, but deliver a "workable" sound to the engineer, otherwise you will be the first one to be burried in the mix.
TIP: If your style is requiring a distorted sound, make sure the engineer receives clean full sound below 170- 140 HZ. Split the signal in two with a crossover, leave the lows clean, distort the mids and highs only. Or send two channels, a clean and a distorted one, so the engineer can do the same thing with Lo Passing the clean signal and Hi Passing the distorted signal. You don't want both- clean and distorted signal in the lows area, and most likely the distorted sound will sound weaker than the clean one in the lows. The sound engineer will appreciate the liberty he has now to match the kick with the bass, which many times is the hardest part of the mix, and will make you sound better in the mix.
Please let me know, if you agree or disagree with this in the comments below, and share your insights, I want to learn from your experience.