Adam Nitti - November 2009
Merging components of funk, blues, rock, jazz, and fusion into an extraordinary compilation of contemporary instrumental tracks, Adam Nitti released, Liminal, his fourth project as an independent frontman in March, 2009. To provide an affordable and flexible means of music education to students, working adults, and professional musicians alike while eliminating the geographic and time constraints imposed by traditional music programs at colleges and universities, Nitti founded MusicDojo in 2003 where he serves as Chief Learning Officer. Located at MusicDojo.com and featuring a roster of renowned instructors along with a catalog of over 50 courses covering harmony and theory, technique, ear training, reading, improvisation, and musical styles, MusicDojo was one of the world's first online schools of music. From his studio located outside Nashville, Tennessee, Nitti produces remote recording sessions and teaches online via private webcam lessons. Having appeared on hundreds of recordings spanning pop, jazz, country, funk, and classical styles, Nitti has become a prolific studio bassist and is an active member of the Nashville recording scene. In addition to the dozens of clinics he has conducted at bass events and bass specialty shops in North American and abroad for manufacturers such as Aguilar Amplification, D'Addario Strings, and Essential Sound Products, Nitti is also a long-time staff instructor for both Victor Wooten's and Gerald Veasley's acclaimed bass camps. Nitti spent years touring the world with decorated Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman and has performed with a diverse listing of artists including Dave Weckl, Jeff Coffin, Mike Stern, Scott Henderson, Peter Erskine, Jimmy Herring, Kirk Covington, and Wayne Krantz among many others.
In this interview, Nitti discusses Liminal, producing recordings for other artists, teaching bass online through MusicDojo and webcams, releasing an instructional series on DVD, practicing, touring with Steven Curtis Chapman, and much more!
Can you tell us about Liminal and how it compares to your previous projects as a solo artist?
Those who are familiar with my earlier works will notice an even deeper emphasis on composition and groove, reflecting my growth and influences as a writer and player over the last seven years. There is a good bit of compositional variety, but at the same time, there is a cohesiveness to the theme of the album. There are a few "barnburner" tunes on it, but for the most part, listeners will hear that this is much more of a groove record compared to my past releases. As with my last album, Evidence, I didn't want Liminal to come across as a "bass player's record." The songs are more centered around ensemble performances as opposed to being just a landscape to feature my bass playing. What I love about the final result is that it sounds like a band record through and through, leaving room for all of the musicians to shine and bring the music to life. As the writer and producer, I provided the framework of the compositions, but I depended on the players to dynamically interpret and shape them. I really wanted this to be a record that music-lovers and musicians alike would listen to for enjoyment and inspiration and not just for a generous helping of riffs and licks. Liminal is probably also my best album to date with respect to sonic quality. We made every effort not to cut any corners during the recording process, and it really paid off once we reached the mixing and mastering stages of production.
The majority of the bass tracks were recorded using one of two basses including a Warrior custom 6-string and a Curbow prototype Retro II 5-string. I also used my Yamaha TRBII-P 5-string on "The Last Walk Home" which is one of the two solo bass pieces on the record. I utilized three different tracks of bass for each song, two D.I. sources and a mic'ed amp source. My fundamental signal chain for most of the bass tracks looked like this. I ran my bass into a T.L. Audio tube compressor which had two separate split outputs. The first output ran into a vintage Eclair Engineering Evil Twin tube D.I. and then into the recording interface. The second output ran into an Aguilar Tone Hammer preamp/D.I. then into the recording interface. I also used a third source which included mic'ing a bass amp with an Audio Technica ATM250 microphone. The amp used for most of the tracks was an Aguilar AG 500 head running through one or two Aguilar DB 112 cabinets. The microphone was run into a studio mic pre and then into a recording interface. During the mixdown process, for all of my bass tracks, I obsessively blended the three different sources together in an effort to reproduce my live tone as accurately as possible.
In terms of the artists featured on the new recording, I had Shane Theriot, Phil Keaggy, Marco Sfogli, and Tom Quayle on guitar. Steve Cunningham played lap steel guitar. The drummers were Marco Minnemann, Marcus Finnie, and Doug Belote. On keys, I had Mike Whittaker and Alex Argento. Johnny Neel played Hammond B-3, and Jeff Coffin played all of the sax parts. I wish to also acknowledge the talents of engineers Jack Miele and Dennis Gulley during the recording of many of the basic tracks as well as Russ Long for his incredible skill in mixing the record.
How have you grown as a musician over the past eight years since the release of Evidence, your last solo recording in 2001?
As time goes on, I find that my music seems to be more influenced by my life experiences than my direct musical experiences. Liminal is a perfect example of a musical work that was shaped by the different seasons I was walking through in my life over the last eight years. With each successive album I have released so far, I have attempted to paint a compositional picture reflecting my growth as a musician and as a person. I have also come to learn that my most transparent and deeply-communicating music has been created when I have surrendered my expectations and allowed my compositions to evolve more naturally. In a sense, I now try to let each tune evolve into what it wants to become on its own. It's a bit of an intangible process, but it takes a lot of discipline and ultimately really challenges my pride and judgment. In my younger and admittedly less-mature years, making music was about trying to figure out what music could effectively do for me. Now it's all about figuring out what my music can do to benefit others. That change of perspective literally changed my life years ago and allowed me to find fulfillment again in music at a time when I had lost all faith in it.
Why did you decide to relocate from Atlanta to Nashville?
In the Spring of 2004, I auditioned for Steven Curtis Chapman and ended up joining his band. Being that he was based out of Nashville, the commute back and forth from Atlanta for rehearsals and tour legs got pretty old pretty quick. We ended up relocating to Nashville about six months later, and in December, I will have been here five years. It's a beautiful place to live with a vibe quite different from Atlanta's. It has been referred to as "Little Big Town" since it has a small town feel coupled with the presence of a huge corporate music scene.
When did you start producing projects and recording bass tracks for other artists?
I had dabbled in some production when I lived in Atlanta but didn't get really serious about it until I moved to Nashville. To date, the majority of artists I have worked with have been instrumental artists, but I have also produced several singer/songwriter projects as well. All of them have been independent projects, and it has been a great learning experience for me approaching the process start to finish from the music, business, and marketing angles, collectively. The last two projects I produced were jazz/fusion albums led by fantastic bass players including Bernhard Lackner from Austria and Enrico Galetta from Italy. I'm currently working on completing a project for a singer/songwriter based out of Nashville named Chris Chesbro. Anyone who is interested in having me get involved in the production of their project can go to my website to find out more information, AdamNitti.com.
Recording bass tracks for other artists has been a part of my career since I started playing professionally many years ago, but after moving to Nashville and working with Steven Curtis Chapman, I started to get hired to do more contemporary Christian and gospel recordings. Nashville is certainly a hub for that genre, and many of those artists are based out of here as well. Some of the artists I've recorded for since moving here have been Steven Curtis Chapman, Casting Crowns, Heather Headley, and Avalon to name a few. However, my custom and indie project recording work has increased as well, now that remote sessions are becoming a more viable and convenient way to exchange tracks.
The way these custom sessions work is very simple. First, I discuss the tracks with the artist in detail over the phone or through e-mail along with my rates and the timeline for completion. Then, the artist sends me their guide tracks minus bass for me to record with. Next, I create a scratch mix MP3 for the artist to check out with my bass part added. If the artist is happy with the part, they pay me via PayPal or mail me a check, and then I send them the full resolution bass tracks. Although the majority of these sessions come from out of town, I have found myself doing more and more remote sessions for local producers here in Nashville who are working with limited budgets and time constraints. It's fantastic for me because I get to have my entire equipment arsenal at my disposal in my own recording room and get to work the sessions around my other commitments at my own pace. My most recently completed remote projects include albums from guitarists Shane Theriot, Andy Wood, and Michael Harris.
How is MusicDojo different from other online music schools?
MusicDojo is an interactive, online music school. One of our unique primary strengths is that we offer daily interaction between students and instructors in each of our virtual classrooms. An added bonus is that each instructor is the actual author of the curriculum he or she is teaching. As opposed to an educational archive site in which all of the information is simply posted on web pages or in forums, we give each student the unique opportunity to share their assignments with their instructor for individual critique and feedback on a daily basis. Although I still feel one of the most beneficial ways to learn is by working one-on-one in person with a qualified instructor, MusicDojo offers a fantastic alternative, especially for those students who live in an area which doesn't provide local access to excellent private instructors or music schools. Most of our courses are four weeks in length and consist of downloadable materials, online message boards, and weekly scheduled, live instructor "office hours."
Which courses do you teach at MusicDojo?
I currently am teaching courses in right and left hand technique, walking bass, jazz improvisation, and two-handed tapping. Some of the other bass instructors currently teaching at MusicDojo are Anthony Wellington (Victor Wooten Band), Dave LaRue (Steve Morse Band, Joe Satriani), Dave Dyson (Me'Shell N'degeocello), Norm Stockton (Lincoln Brewster), and Joseph Patrick Moore (Col. Bruce Hampton).
How do your live webcam lessons work?
My webcam lessons are live, one-on-one bass lessons which are taught in real time. Students book a weekly lesson time with me, and I work with them in the same way I would work with a private student at my home studio. I offer 30, 45, and 60 minute time slots and use the free Skype software to video chat live with each student. In terms of equipment, all you need is a computer with a broadband connection, a webcam, and either a built-in or external microphone. It really is that simple. I literally use nothing more than my laptop's built in camera and microphone, and the sound and video quality is excellent. The majority of private students I have now are being taught via webcam.
Have you ever considered filming a DVD series or writing instructional books to document your methods and techniques?
The timing of your questions is perfect. I am, as we speak, doing all of the pre-production recordings for my first ever instructional DVD series. This is something I have been wanting to do for a very long time, and now that my new album is completed, I am finally in a position to make this a priority. I will be covering everything from my hand techniques to improvisational concepts and practice strategies. I am really excited about sharing this information with the bass playing community, and I hope it will help out a lot of players. I don't have an official release date yet for the first DVD, but I will post details on my website as we get closer.
Can you give us some insight to what you devoted the most time to practicing as a student, and are there particular aspects of music that you feel every bassist seeking to play professionally should study?
When I was first starting out, I wasn't the best at establishing a practice routine because I did not have a bass instructor or mentor to help lead me in the right direction. Consequently, I devoted most of my time then to pursuing technique and speed at the expense of my groove development and other disciplines. It wasn't until I started lessons with a bass instructor that I was made aware of things like the importance of understanding harmony, establishing a great pocket, and making an effort to get as great a tone as possible. Once I started to mature a bit more as a player, I became much more serious with my studies and invested much more time in a well-balanced practice routine. I became a sponge in trying to soak up everything I could from all types of musicians, learning as much from guitar players, piano players, and sax players as I was from bassists. I got more serious about learning to read and even tried my hand at some composing. My first tunes sounded very contrived and mathematic, but as I grew more as a player, my compositions grew as well. I really started to notice big improvements in my musicianship once I got serious about transcription and ear training. I learned that I had to get outside of my own head before I could really get to the next step. The act of precisely emulating the phrasing of my musician heroes, especially those that were so skilled at improvising, helped me to gain a new sensitivity to the music and started me on the road to becoming a stylist myself. I believe it is so important for aspiring players to be as disciplined as possible when it comes to practicing. So many players I know tend to stay in a comfort zone, never venturing out from where they feel the most confident. If you don't spend the majority of your practice time working on things that are unfamiliar to you, you are going to have a very hard time growing your sound at all. Unfortunately, I've had many students over the years come to me for help in this department, only to ultimately discontinue their studies out of frustration and a lack of discipline. It takes a lot of work and dedication if you want to continue to grow as a player and as a person.
As for topics of importance to study, I think there are some major ones that should be incorporated on a regular basis including groove/timekeeping, applied harmony and theory, technique, ear training/transcription, styles/repertoire, and reading. Sticking to a daily routine like this is challenging, but it offers tremendous rewards.
Do you ever find yourself stuck in a rut with your playing or experience periods of burn out, and if so, what helps energize your playing?
Absolutely. To be completely honest, I go through cycles with it. When music changed from being a passion-driven hobby to becoming a source of financial dependence for me, things really changed. For most professional musicians, it is impossible to find fulfillment from every single gig or musical experience you are involved with. On top of that, every gig has a finite lifespan or can eventually reach a point at which it starts to feel mundane or uninspiring. Often times, the music we would prefer to play for our own enjoyment is not the music that is necessarily going to pay our bills so you have to take the good with the not as good. Also, the fact that you are dealing with the business side of music means that you have to grow thick skin. The music industry can offer its fair share of disappointments and missed expectations. All of these factors can build up and lead to burnout or frustration.
I have found that for me, occupying much of my free time with non-musical hobbies, family time, or other interests really helps to recharge my batteries and allows me to return to music with a renewed vigor. Sometimes, just taking some time off from playing can be a good thing as well. When I'm looking for specific musical inspiration, I will sometimes dive into a completely different genre or practice on an instrument that challenges me in some way. I actually wrote a column about this very topic years ago when I was searching for motivation and was surprised to find that the very act of getting my thoughts and feelings on paper was rejuvenating in itself.
As an instructor and clinician, do you see common weaknesses in students?
In my observation, one of the biggest problems that plagues most bass players or most stringed instrument players for that matter is the fact that they play more with their eyes than their ears. To state it another way, they depend more on rehearsed shapes and patterns to navigate the fingerboard than they do an actual, spontaneously heard or inspired idea. The irony in this is that we typically practice patterns and shapes in order to learn the fingerboard better. However, once we reach the point of tackling the muscle-memory challenge associated with mastering a pattern, then we experience diminishing returns with respect to true musical development. This is because when we transition from the learning state into a state of executing rehearsed repetitive motions, we reach the end of our learning capacity within those exercises. This is the reason that I have, in my studies and with my students, essentially redefined the purpose and use for patterns. Instead of treating them as a sort of academic musical foundation from which we build our musical ideas, I initially use them as introductory muscle-memory development exercises. However, once the student has established a level of facility in this way, they are then used exclusively to train his or her ear and to help establish a direct correspondence between what they hear and how it would look on the fingerboard. By this definition, the ear leads the shape as opposed to the shape leading the ear.
Is it important for a bassist to develop his own style or sound to set him apart from other players?
In my opinion, I do think this is important if a player aspires to do more than just emulate others or just learn a repertoire of songs in a cover band setting, for example. I frequently run into bass players at NAMM shows and clinics who have invested most of their time on the bass following in the footsteps of their bass hero, learning their songs and solos note-for-note and even succeeding at duplicating their tone. While they possess the ability to impress other players who likewise are fans of those bass heroes, many of them haven't yet grown to develop their own personality on the bass. At the end of the day, if they want to be hired in a setting that requires them to have their own voice, they are going to have a really hard time with it. Having said that, the goal of becoming what I refer to as a "stylist" is really only reached after a player has invested years in the study of different idioms or the unique voices of other stylist's. The moral of the story is that you have to learn a language before you can communicate fluently with it.
Do you follow a particular process to familiarize yourself with chord changes when soloing?
I don't really use any particular process other than practicing until I can hear the changes naturally in my head and play through them by ear. However, if I am soloing through something unfamiliar or if I'm put in an impromptu situation, I may have to memorize the changes at first or just read them on the spot if there is no time for that so as to not lose touch with the movement of the harmony during a performance.
How important is it for bassists to learn how to read standard notation and navigate charts?
Unfortunately, I don't think enough bass players take reading seriously. Many players will argue that if they don't aspire to do sessions or play intricate music, then it's not a necessary skill for them to develop. It is true that there have been many legendary players who have earned a great deal of success and admiration without having had to read notation or charts. However, I believe that learning to read and understand music on the written page expands your knowledge and understanding of the language, itself. Even if you don't plan on having to sight read on gigs on a regular basis, practicing this skill gives you a huge advantage when working towards mastery of your fingerboard in its entire range. I have always been an average reader at best, but I have found that the time I spent working on it in the past has paid off immensely in both boosting my confidence on the gig and also allowing me to take jobs that I might have otherwise been intimidated by if I knew that charts were going to be involved. Plus, it opened the door for me to become involved in master recording sessions and jingle sessions which have become a significant part of my income as a musician. Even if you only learn how to navigate chord charts, you will be at a tremendous advantage over the average player with no reading chops, whatsoever.
Are there any plans to tour with your own group to promote your music or would you prefer to gig as a sideman?
Now that my new album is finished, I would love to do more touring with my own band and am working with some different organizations right now to try to put together more shows both in the States and overseas. Being a sideman is great, but I also feel a responsibility and calling to share my music with more of the world. I have always thrived on variety in my career as it always presents new challenges and gives you new things to look forward to.
What were you able to take away after touring with Steven Curtis Chapman for so many years?
Working with Steven has been a really positive experience. He is an incredible artist and songwriter, and his entire organization is filled with talented people who are a lot of fun to work with. Through touring with him, I've also met some fantastic musicians that have become some of my closest friends off the road as well.
When did you make the switch to Aguilar Amplification?
I officially became involved with Aguilar in January, 2009. They have one of the best products out there, and I have had a friendship with them for many years. We share a common vision with respect to excellence in both artistry and education, and they have consistently been a generous supporter of my bass clinics since we joined forces. After enjoying 12 fantastic years with SWR, I reached a point at which I was looking for some new inspiration in terms of my live sound. In deciding to change things up a bit, I looked at several different companies, but in the end, I was convinced that Aguilar was the best fit for me both sonically and on a personal level.
I am currently using their DB 750, DB 751, and AG 500 heads as well as two DB 410 and two DB 112 cabinets. I also regularly use their Tone Hammer preamp/D.I. in both my live and recording signal chains. All of these pieces sound amazing and offer great versatility in the various settings I work in.
Where would you recommend people go to purchase your recordings?
They can be ordered directly from my website, AdamNitti.com. My music can also be purchased from several online retailers including CDBaby.com, AbstractLogix.com, AudiophileImports.com, Guitar9.com, iTunes, Napster, and Rhapsody.
Adam Nitti & Liquid Blue
Warrior Custom 6-String
Curbow Prototype Retro II 5-String
Yamaha TRBII-P 5-String
Mike Lull Modern 5-String
'64 Fender Jazz 4-String
'77 Fender Jazz 4-String
'57 Fender Reissue Precision 4-String
Music Man StingRay 5-String
Aguilar DB 751 Amplifier
Aguilar DB 750 Amplifier
Aguilar AG 500 Amplifier
2 Aguilar DB 410 Cabinets
2 Aguilar DB 112 Cabinets
Aguilar Tone Hammer Preamp/D.I.
D'Addario EXL170-6 (.032, .045, .065, .080, .100, .130)