Many folks ask me about my writing of music books. Typical questions are:
What is your writing process?
How long does it take you to write a book?
Where do you get your ideas for books?
What is the hardest part of a writing a book?
How many books have you written?
What was the first book you wrote?
How do you publish a book?
Who publishes your books?
Where do you sell your books?
What do you like best about writing books.
What is the your favorite book you have written?
Do you have any advice for people wanting to write a book?
1. What is your writing process?
This is a big question as there are so many different aspects in the process. My first step is deciding on a topic. I normally choose topics that I know are necessary areas of study for most bassists. Because I have been playing and teaching the bass for over fifty years, I have a good perspective on the challenges most bass students face. I put myself in the student’s mindset and begin creating questions and answers.
I always have my bass in my hands. I create examples and assignments with notation and text that if the student will work to play correctly, will enhance their physical skills. I play each example over, and over, listening to the line and feeling the motions required. I do a lot of adjusting, so each example presents a challenge but is also accessible based on the skills learned in the previous example.
The most important aspect of my books is that they use a developmental process that allows successful progression. Finally, I create audio examples for the student to copy and play along with. The entire process is long.
2. How long does it take you to write a book?
This question makes me smile because there is no one answer fits all. I have written and published some books that took years to complete. Secret Chambers took seventeen years to write. I have also written as many as ten books in thirty days. I tend to become consumed in a project and can spend eighteen hours a day focused on writing.
I don’t think it would be helpful to find an average time for writing my books. The long time books and short time books are not outliers. Each book requires whatever time it takes to present the material in a thorough and yet concise product. During my forty years of writing books, I have taken long breaks. I have gone two or three years without writing. Then I might get excited about a specific topic and complete a number of books in a very short time. One specific writing experience comes to mind. I wrote the entire book, 12 Keys To Success, over a Christmas break, three weeks. I just recently completed three books on finger funk style playing in about three weeks.
Also, my available time for writing has not always been the same. As a nightly gigging musician and full time teacher for thirty years, I could simply not write each day. Sometimes I would go for a month or six months not writing. Since I have retired from public performance and teaching at Berklee, I have 24-7 to write. Sometimes I spend all day, and part of the night, for a few weeks in hot pursuit of a new book(s) project. As writing music books is my passion, I can get into it.
3. Where do you get your ideas for books?
When I first started writing, it was because I wanted to learn to play like Paul Chambers. That resulted in my first publication. At the same time I publish two additional books to use in my growing teaching practice. In general, my topics of books have always been driven by my students’ needs. When Mike Gordon needed to learn jazz so he could play in his high school band, I wrote Creating Jazz Bass Lines. Students at the same school needed to learn to read music so they could function in the school bands. I wrote Reading In Bass Clef.
I was studying classical music at NEC and wanted to work on Paul Chambers’ arco lines. This resulted in the book Arcology. At Berklee, my students needed accessible jazz models to copy. I wrote three books for that purpose. Rich Appleman asked me to teach slap bass for a summer semester. I wrote my own text, Slap Bass Workout. My son, Grant, needed to learn to read music and had just completed Reading In Bass Clef, so I wrote the book Integrated Reading Technique. A few years back I had a fleet of guys studying double bass. I wrote three method books for double bass, Strong Foundations, Build It Solid, and Fluency. I am proud to say Gary Karr speaks highly of these books.
In the past three years I have numerous students who have learned to play quite well, but I noticed they were weakest in the traditional jazz language. I wrote a series of six Jazz books in the past few months. As a result, each of these students are now playing “real” sounding jazz. I have a long list of books waiting to be written.
4. What is the hardest part of a writing a book?
That’s an easy one. The NOTATION. I have never been at a loss for words and musical notes. I have been notating music all of my life, and the physical act is still so much slower than my ear. I am not by nature a patient man, but I have learned to be dogged in the process of notation. Any weakness can become a strength with practice. I might also add that not allowing myself to put too much stuff in a single book is difficult. It can be easy to choke the student by giving them a drink of water with a fire hose. I learned a long time ago that the phrase, “This will keep you busy for years,” is not so good in relationship to music education.
5. How many books have you written?
To date, June 2020, I have published eighty-four books. I say published because I always have books in process. I would guess that I have three to six books 90% completed just waiting to be polished and edited.
6. What was the first book you wrote?
The Music Of Paul Chambers was my first book. Very quickly, I completed two more books and published the three books roughly at the same time.
I was fortunate enough to play some gigs with Red Garland and decided it was time I learned PC. I transcribed the solos for the book. It took about four months. That was in Texas. I moved to Boston soon after and wrote the three more books for my students, Fundamental Technique For Electric Bass, Reading In Bass Clef, and Creating Jazz Bass Lines. The Music Of Paul Chambers and two of the three other books were published at that time. The book, Fundamental Technique For Electric Bass, has yet to be published.
7. How do you publish a book?
Great question. It was quite unique, back in 1980, to publish your own book. In those days, your only option was to have a major publishing company publish your book. We, the general public, simply did not have access to the mechanisms for publishing a book, let alone distributing it. That has all changed, and today anyone can publish a book.
To summarize the process, you need to get material on paper, or a software file, make some copies, and call it a book. Ha! I understand all about e-books, etc. I am in the business of producing physical, tangible books. If you want to make a book, of course you will need a printer, either your own personal printer and computer, or a book publishing print company. I have seen photo copied, hand notated music books. I have seen photo copies of my books being sold illegally. It really all comes down to what you want your book to be. For years, bass players would say, “Wow Jim, you’ve got your own publishing company!” The reality was I hired a guy to draw the artwork for the cover. Jamie, my wife, typed the text. I hired a music copyist to draw the notes. I hired an artist to lay out the items on the page. I hired a copy/print business to make copies. Jamey Aebersold distributed my first books. "Ready, Fire, Aim," has always been my method.
8. Who publishes your books?
I do, Stinnett Music. Before I published my first book I was disappointed in most of the bass books I owned. Some of them had great information but very poorly laid out. Some of them were filled simply with bad content. Most of them were not conducive to learning. Some of us were hard headed enough to beat those book until we got what we were looking for. My desire to maintain the integrity of my work, my presentation, led me to publish my own books.
Stinnett Music is a small, “ma and pa” business, consisting of myself and my wife, Jamie. I have always been hampered by not enough capital to invest as I wanted, but I also have dogged determination to succeed. Where large publishers print ten thousand copies of a bass book and distribute it around the world, I print one hundred copies and sell on my website. One time only did I have and offer to let a company publish one of my books. I did not like “the deal.” Most authors of music books I know don’t like the typical publishing deal either. When I sell a book, I get all the profit. Of course, I bear all the costs as well. But still, I am sure I have done much better than if I had sold the rights to my work.
The biggest challenge today is piracy. I can enter the title of my popular books into google search and numerous sites pop up where folks have illegally copied my book and are giving it away as free download, or selling it for pennies. By the way, they do this in the name of educational sharing, they are “providing a great service for artists.” Bull! It’s stealing.
9. Where do you sell your books?
Today, most all sales come from my website: stinnettmusicbookstore.com. Aebersold still sells a few of my books. A few books are sold on Amazon, but Amazon take much of the profit and has ridiculous seller requirements. Stinnett Music ships all over the world daily. We ship every order within twenty-four hours and offer the lowest shipping cost. Some people ask how we can ship books to their country while charging such a low shipping fee. Figure it out…. ;)
10. What do you like best about writing books.
I like the challenge of putting myself in the student mindset, visualizing the challenges, and then coming up with an exercise that will build strength in that area. I also love the artwork on the book covers. It is difficult for me to really dig into a book if I don’t have the cover. Grant Stinnett does all my artwork. His eye and work are tremendous.
I also enjoy making the audio play-along tracks. It is a ton of work, but I get to play my beautiful basses and produce an effective learning tool. I choose very specific basses for each set of examples. I want each example to provide a sound to be emulated by the student. The drums, keyboard, and guitar parts are of the utmost importance on each track. The sound environment in which you are practicing determines how you react. In the past couple of years I have upped my game tremendously in my production of the audio examples and play-alongs. Many years ago I hired top notch players to record the parts on play-alongs for many of my books. My goal was to make the play-along enjoyable enough to listen to on its own. Today I play most of the parts on my own instruments. I am not as good sounding as the great players, but most of time more effective as a learning aid.
11. What is your favorite book you have written?
That is a difficult question. How many can I list? “Which one of your children is your favorite?” The Music Of Paul Chambers will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first, and because of the circumstance surrounding its conception. Slap Bass Workout was so special because of the guys on the play-along tracks. Rob Gourlay is the perfect partner for any project. His musical empathy is profound. He made this book fun to play and learn from. What Makes Motown Bass Motown? is so powerful because of Jamerson’s lines. Laser Practicing was so cool to write because I knew that most players have the same experiences and challenges as I did. I felt like with each line in this book I was talking intimately with every musician I have ever known. I do have a love affair with reading music so there are at least a dozen reading books that I absolutely treasure.
Which is my favorite? My newest one! I had a blast doing the six Jazz Bass books recently. Plus the Finger Funk series was very rewarding to write and play. I don’t think there is enough room on the page to describe the joy I get from writing books.
12. Do you have any advice for people wanting to write a book?
Yes! Don’t do it if you can’t play your instrument well. Most musicians have a desire to share “their” stuff. They want to be teachers. There are endless books written today by folks who are not really qualified. It is so easy to make a book today that writing the book is often the allure. The web “bass sites” are full of teaching and advice. Obviously, anyone can write anything they like. That does not mean it is good. That said, get started! Everything you write does not need to be made public. What a contrary idea today! Just like practicing your bass to become good enough to share in public, practicing writing is necessary to learn how to produce worthwhile material. Lastly, writing a good book becomes a sacrificial labor of love. It is typically not a good business model for success.