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Serve the Song - Serve the Singer: Advice from Legendary Bass Player, Mike Chapman
September 1, 2013

Serve the Song – Serve the Singer: Advice from Legendary Bass Player Mike Chapman

By Amanda Williams - September 1, 2013 - Published by Hillbilly Culture LLC



A write up of the Nashville Berklee Jam featuring Eric Normand and guest speaker, session bass player Mike Chapman at The Rutledge August 26, 2013





The Nashville Berklee Jam hosted and organized by Eric Normand is a themed evening of learning, networking and yes, jamming, by Berklee College of Music (Boston) alumni and renowned music industry guests from all walks of Nashville’s thriving music metropolis. 


Every other month Eric brings together the Nashville Berklee community to the Rutledge where we enjoy a talk with a luminary industry guest followed by jamming with Eric and his pals.


In the past, he’s hosted hit songwriters Dallas Davidson and Rhett Akins, marketing guru Mark Montgomery, and AFM President Dave Pomeroy just to name a few.


This month was special, because instead of just introducing the guest and going out to sit in the audience, Eric started the evening with a talk from his book, the Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide followed by a co-interview Q&A session with fantastically brilliant session bassist Mr. Mike Chapman. 


Since he was going to be so intrinsically involved in the evening’s events, Eric asked me to guest blog, because, though he usually does the write ups himself (along with Shantell Ogden’s fantastic blog) he thought a record of the evening would be better coming from “not him.”


When I arrived, Eric was beginning his talk, which, as I said was taken from his book Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide. 


Now, mind you, Eric is from the North.





He moved down here after graduating Berklee as a guitar player and worked his way into the musician’s scene as “an outsider.”


At the time he moved here, he had researched Nashville on the web and found nothing that spoke to him as a musician trying to learn the ropes in Music City. 


So after he got some experience under his belt as a touring musician for Toby Keith, Rhett Akins, and player/band leader for Vern Gosden, he wrote the book he wishes he had found when he first moved here.


Listening to Eric’s talk was interesting to hear for a couple of reasons. 


First – he is so from the North that it’s hilarious as a Southerner to hear him talk about us from his "yankee" point of view.


And second – he comes at his information from a guitar player angle, which is a lot different from the singer-songwriter artist angle you normally hear.


Overall, listening to Eric talk made me want to read his book to learn more about:


               ·    Science of the tip jar

               ·      Gherm (if you don’t know what that is, you may be one)

               ·      And the Nashville 100, Eric’s “must know” cover tunes to play here.


After Eric’s talk, he introduced us to Mike Chapman, who is an expert in bass playing and in the art of being a Nashville session player in general, having played for Garth Brooks and countless others.


Mike’s wisdom was evident, and shone from him like beams streaming off an electric light as he ambled up to the stage and said, “Here’s what it takes to be successful as a studio musician in Nashville; three things:




                ·      Be talented

                ·      Be a good business man

                ·      Be a nice guy (or gal)”


He went on to clarify these three things.


To be talented means to know your instrument, be versed in multiple genres, know the Nashville numbers system, and be able to play a “Ray Price shuffle.”


The reason for knowing multiple genres is simple.  According to Mike, “You might come in on a songwriter session and he’s got a song he wants to pitch to Aerosmith, and another one he wants for Beyonce, and then another song he wants to pitch to Jason Aldean.  You’ve got to be able to cover all of that.”


Speaking about the importance of knowing the Nashville numbers system, he says, “Every day you don’t know it, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  Once you know it, you’ll think it’s the best thing in the world – best for changing keys.”


Point two, “Be a good business man” is simply because, “Musicians are self employed.   If you’re self-employed, you’re a small business man.  Pay attention to what you need to do to take care of business.”


Mike went on to list a few practices that help him be a better businessman.





Here are the key features of good business according to Mike Chapman:


              ·      Always be on time

              ·      Stay late

              ·      Do what you say you’re going to do

              ·      Have a good reputation

              ·      Remind yourself that you’re in the service industry


Mike’s motto?  “Serve the song – serve the singer.” 


“You’re not a cool esoteric artist,” says Mike about being one of the highest paid, consistently working session bass players in Nashville, “they’re not going to be happy with whatever you play.   You have to play something simple; something obvious.  Be a journeyman; do your job.” 


Another piece of advice Mr. Chapman had for us in regards to being a good business person is to be honest when paying taxes.  His reasons were several.  For one thing, it’s just the right thing to do.  For another thing, if you underreport your earnings, your taxes may be lower, but when it comes time to buy the house you’ve always wanted, you won’t be able to get the financing you need because your income tax returns will not show you’re making enough money.


As for the third point, “Be a nice guy,” Mike says it’s the most important of the three criteria for success.  If you don’t have this qualification, you can throw the other two out the window.


His for instance story was about being in the studio with a client and having them ask you to play something “stupid” on the track. 


“There are a couple of ways to handle that,” says Mike.  “You can tactfully tell the client, ‘Yeah we can try that, or we can do this,’ and play them something different that you think will be more appropriate.  Now, there are two things that can happen.  One is he’ll love what you played and forget about his idea, or two he’ll say, ‘Yeah, but I still want to hear it this way.’  At that point, the client wins.  You play it his way regardless of what you think.”




Mike says handling a client in this way is giving them what they want, and even though you have to play a part you aren’t happy with, at the end of the day, you have to remember that it’s a service industry we’re in, and in order to keep the client happy, you will sometimes have to give in to odd requests in your playing.


Mike went on to give an analogy about hiring a deck builder.  If you hire a company to come install a new deck on your house, you’ll be open to listening to their ideas about where and how they think the deck should go, but at the end of the day, you’re the one paying for the deck and you want it to be the way you say.   You wouldn’t be happy with a deck builder who insisted on building the deck as he saw fit, would you?  It’s your house!  So why would you be happy with a musician who wouldn’t play what you told them to play?


A couple of things really stand out about Mike Chapman.  For one, he not only radiates wisdom, but also kindness.  His kindness, his willingness to teach us, his patience, and his integrity were palatable and kept us hanging on every word.


On a humorous note, Mike has a peculiar way of saying the word “studio.”  It comes out sounding like “stew”dio every time, and would make a great drinking game if anyone was into that sort of thing…


In closing, here are a few quotes – Chapmanisms to take with you:


“If I hadn’t had a low string, it wouldn’t have been cool” – Mike says about playing with Garth.


“Most musicians will play the song best in the first two takes.”


“A numbers chart is your generic roadmap to the song.”


“You don’t always have to do the same thing everybody has always done.”


“Learn to be good and be good right now.”


PS – At one point Eric said something about how you don’t have need for a lot of Jimi Hendrix licks in Nashville.  Actually, Jimi’s first studio session was in Nashville in November 1962.  Jimi might agree with Eric’s statement, because he had to leave here and go to London via NYC before he actually got his record deal and became “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” we know today. 


You can order the Kindle edition of Eric’s book Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide here.


 Or the physical book here: http://nashvillemusicianssurvivalmanual.com/


Connect with Mike Chapman here: http://www.mikechapmanmusic.com/







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Amanda Williams
June 15, 2016, 2:21 p.m.
Sharing Mike's formal obituary:

Michael “Mike” Leo Chapman, age 63 of Franklin, TN passed away June 13, 2016 at his home. Mike’s greatest joy was his family. Among his many achievements Mike was a National Guardsman, received his BS in Business from Athens State University, was an accomplished musician and a world renowned bass player, he recorded over 30 #1 Hits and played on over 170 million records sold. Mike is a 2016 inductee of the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum with musical credits too numerous to list. His contribution as a musician, husband, father, papaw, friend and his talent is legendary. His Christian walk was evident to all who knew him, and his life was truly a witness to the Glory of God.

Preceded in death by his parents, Mabin & Mable Brown Chapman. Survived by wife, Connie Chapman of Franklin, TN; sons, Lee (Sara) Sartin of Franklin, TN and Clinton Chapman of Denver, CO; daughter, Allison Chapman of Franklin, TN; sister, Faye (Cliff) Wise of Sterling, IL; grandson, Wyatt Sartin. Celebration of Life will be held 2:00PM Friday, June 17, 2016 at Church of the City Franklin (formerly the Peoples Church) 828 Murfreesboro Rd. Franklin, TN. Pastor Jay Strother officiating. Visitation will be 4-8PM Thursday at the church and one hour prior to the service. Private Interment will be 10:00AM Monday, June 20, 2016 in Williamson Memorial Gardens. Donations for Meals for Heath & Healing and the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum can be sent to Williamson Memorial, 615-794-2289. www.williamsonmemorial.com.

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