In Conversation with Ben Miller

In the Meet Our Musicians series, Jellynote introduces you to the Creators behind the sheet music on our platform. Discover their musical style and get to know them!

Ben Miller is a rare example of someone willing to risk it all, and an even rarer example of this paying off. In 2017, he was balancing a day job at a small software company with a music job, performing with artists all around Canada. It was a challenging period of his life, full of compromise, sacrifice and the occasional white lie. He recalls spending all his vacation days touring with local artists, calling in sick to catch flights to perform on the other side of the country, performing customer support while completing soundchecks for gigs. “It was a great job,” he says fondly, “and I loved it. But the two careers came to a head and I realised it wasn’t sustainable.” As 2018 came into focus, so did his life. He realised he wanted to be a musician and only a musician. And so, he took a leap of faith. Was it worth it? His 22.2K subscribers on YouTube would probably say yes.

So much of the music industry, Ben tells me, is predicated on being in the right place and the right time. You have to be focused, determined and committed. “The industry knows if you have one foot in and one foot out,” he says, “and until you’re 100% committed, you’ll never reach the success you want.”

Check out Ben’s bass score for “You’re All I Need To Get By”.

A Musical Education

Of course, Ben Miller had real-world examples of people making it work in music – his family. His late father was a professional musician, so is his mother and his two sisters, who both currently live and play in Sweden; it makes sense that he would follow in their footsteps. Coming from a family, who, in his words, “were definitely hippies”, Ben received a slightly unusual education. Attending an “alternative school” with “alternative teaching methods”, he found himself in an educational environment that valued individuality and creative thought over rope-learning. He recalls participating in an UN simulation, each student representing a country and giving a speech to the whole class on a certain issue. He speaks excitedly on the topic. It’s easy to see how this penchant for creative thought and curiosity have stayed with him over the years.

Another feature of the school was its emphasis on musical education, making each student learn an instrument. Ben, who couldn’t play anything at the time, was given the guitar to learn. Was it love at first sight?

Not exactly. “I knew I didn’t really love the guitar,” he admits, “in fact, I remember I got a band together in grade 8. Someone brought in a really big guitar…and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my life…” Larger than the model he had been playing, with four strings waiting to be plucked, Ben Miller knew instantly that the bass was the instrument for him. He played a few songs at the school talent competition with his band, though he admits, with a smirk, “it would have been the most awful sounding thing you could possibly imagine…”

Discovering the Bass

And so began a period of learning the bass parts of songs. He quickly realised, though, that he was more familiar with the bass parts than the actual melody itself, his brain seemingly filtering out everything but that one line of music. “That was a sign,” he says, “I had this realisation…I’m attracted to this in a really serious way.”

He describes the process of telling his father, who had already bought him a guitar, that he wanted to play bass, a moment that sounds so much like coming out, I can’t help but laugh. He agrees with the comparison:

“Yeah, kind of. Without any of the dangers or emotional hardships! The only emotional trauma I incurred was when my dad, a cello player, tried to teach me things on the bass,” he jokes.

His early years of bass playing were marked by lofty ambitions, as he found himself trying to learn entire albums before even taking a single class, including one of his all-time favourites, Red Hot Chilli Peppers Californication. Though these were by no means delusions of grandeur.

“I called my friend, who played guitar, and told him we should play the whole album front to back.” And they did.

Ben performing at Kira Isabella’s hometown show at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto

Check out our list of the Top 11 coolest bass guitar solos to learn.

His College Years

Ben Miller was admitted to Humber College in 2003 to study in their renowned jazz programme. He had also received a place to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts (alma mater of Jellynote’s own Sylvain Streiff), though prohibitively expensive fees prevented him from doing so. He has no regrets about where he ended up: “I loved it…almost all of it.” Ben did not actually graduate Humber, he is still two classes away from getting his degree, but he is not too concerned. For him, Humber was about learning and networking. “I didn’t care too much about the paper,” he admits.

Considering applying to a music college yourself? Check out our article on how to ace the audition for all our top tips.

YouTube Success

One of his proudest achievements is his YouTube channel, made up of videos of him playing a well-known tune, accompanied by the tabs. Nowadays, he releases a video a week with relative ease. It’s a fixture in his life, but this was not always the case.

“I definitely suffered initially from ‘analysis paralysis,” he begins, “everyone imagines that they’re going to release one video and it’s going to be the greatest video ever, that it’s going to change the world, which obviously it’s not. You have to get that out of the way – release it.”

I peruse his YouTube channel and scroll back to the older videos to see for myself. His first video, released 18th January 2018, is certainly strong technically, as Ben offers an informative instructional guide on how to play Charlie Puth’s Attention, yet it lacks the polish and self-assurance of his recent additions. Over the course of the next three years, it’s clear to see how much he gains, both in exposure and in experience. I watch his recent Q&A. Smiling at the camera; greeting each individual fan; answering their questions (even the ones asked multiple times); offering advice on playing specific songs and techniques; sharing personal details of his life; his attitude to lockdown, he is performing for his audience.  Part silly, part serious, I feel like I know him even better watching it than actually speaking to him. This is where he is meant to be; the voice of a community of musicians that is growing by the day.

He takes a relaxed attitude towards his channel, placing a strong emphasis in “organic, results-based growth.” In other words, he doesn’t try too hard to force anything by buying advertising or anything like that. He has also chosen not to make money off the YouTube channel as he believes that having the original track playing behind the bass is more important, adding context to the piece. He has a group of committed, loyal fans who appreciate what he creates. And that is enough for him.

Check out Ben’s bass score for “My Baby Just Cares For Me”.

Making it in Music

We discuss the industry, in particular, networking, and Ben Miller speaks with stark honest: “I’m not a good networker in the sense that I’m not a schmoozer,” he tells me with an acute self-awareness, “I’m one of those guys where, when you meet someone new for the first time, you just want to tell them your life story.”

“The schmooze at an industry event – I avoid like crazy. I’m terrible at it. I put my foot in my mouth all the time. In general, my approach is to be a good, helpful and nice person and show people that I am grateful for everything I do, and that goes a long way. I just try to show that I’m positively invested. Networking is entirely word of mouth…so don’t give anyone a reason to talk negatively about you,” he says wisely.

Clearly his method is paying off. In his impressive resume, Ben lists the numerous well-known artists he regularly gigs with, such as Kira Isabella (the 2013 Canadian Country Music Awards Female Artist of the Year) and David Boyd Janes (Warner Music Recording Artist).

Check out Ben’s score for “Spain” for bass

And his relationship with Jellynote?

Ben Miller is a voracious transcriber. We discuss his transcription of Come On, Come Over, “a tune that [he] fell in love with right from the beginning – it’s the 2nd track on Jaco Pastorius’ self-titled album and such a cool transition from his soloistic ability (Donna Lee, track 1) to this funk masterpiece.”

Also among his favourites is American Pie. “It’s a tune with an endlessly creative baseline that’s never the same twice,” he raves, “the chords and general structure remain the same, but Rob Stoner’s musicality was such that he wove a constantly evolving line throughout each verse and chorus, always supporting the energy and the vocal, and virtually never repeating himself. It’s a real masterclass in folky, supportive bass playing, and I guarantee that if you ask 100 bassists what their favourite part of that line is, you’d get 100 different answers. Better get 100% of it right then…”

Ben Miller speaks with excitement about Do I Do, which he describes as “candy for any bass player.” “It’s all about the bass in this one,” he tells me, “I picked this song because the whole thing from top to bottom is like overdosing on sugar – sugar that only us bassists can taste! Also taking the time to understand how Watts was thinking at the time (down-tuned to Eb and used a lot of those open strings for very cool percussive fills – in Eb tuning, the open “A” string is the 6th of the key, and the open “E” is the major 3rd, so you can do a lot of cool licks in the key of C) was super eye-opening for me, as I’m sure it will be for those of you who check out the chart!”

We’re pleased to be working with him and so, apparently, is he: “To have someone like Ben from Jellynote reach out and ask to partner – it was an incredible sense of accomplishment and validation for me. It was an indication that the hard work was being noticed and appreciated and it really means a lot to me,” he tells me, “the staff at Jellynote treat their creators as they themselves would want to be treated, and the agreements are respectful and fair. Everyone I’ve spoken with over Skype is someone I’d want to be friends with in real life! That’s a real privilege.”

Visit Ben’s Creator page and play his favourite songs!

49 posts

About author
William Ridd is a writer based in London. After a messy divorce from the clarinet, William decided that playing music wasn’t for him, but he continues to appreciate it and likes writing about it.
Related posts

In Conversation with Oriol López Calle


How to Hold a Bass Guitar : A Guide for Beginners


How to Tune a Bass Guitar: A Guide for Beginners

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *