As singer/songwriter Matt Nathanson’s touring bassist for the past three years, Shiben Bhattacharya has performed in renowned venues across the country, appeared on major televised concerts and talk shows, and opened for stadium-sized artists like Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5. But he still remembers his earliest forays into music.

“I grew up in a very sports-oriented town in Texas,” he says, “and I thought if I went out for all the sports teams the girls would talk to me. But I wasn’t any good. Then I found my mom’s old Yamaha classical guitar in the closet and learned a few songs. And people responded a lot more to that. So I was like, ‘OK, this is much easier!’”

Bhattacharya began guitar lessons and started a high-school band. After a stint in art school, he moved to Austin and immersed himself in music. “I really dove into playing bass, mainly hip hop and salsa,” he says. “A friend and I ran this regular Wednesday night gig, kind of a Roots and Black Eyed Peas vibe. I met all these great rappers that would come through, and I ended up playing in a big salsa orchestra.”
But eventually Shiben began to feel the pull of a broader musical world. “The music scene in Austin is fantastic, but it is a small place, and there's definitely a limit to where you can go as sideman or a session player.”


So he set out for Los Angeles, bass in hand. “In my mind, I was like, ‘I’m going to play with Mary J. Blige,’” he laughs. “But those gigs weren’t readily available to me. So when I landed in LA I asked everyone, ‘Where do musicians hang out?’ And they all told me to go to this singer-songwriter venue in Hollywood, the Hotel Café. I basically went there every night for a year, asking people if I could play with them, desperately. And a couple of them said yes.”

LA can be a tough town to crack, Bhattacharya admits: “It really does take a few years to get your foot in the door. But I just wanted to work. I wanted to get onstage whenever I could.” As his circle of musical connections grew, he began to cross paths with higher-profile players. One night, while playing a gig with a singer-songwriter friend from Austin, he met Aaron Tap, Matt Nathanson’s music director and guitarist.

shiben“He was just filling in,” Shiben recalls. “We played this small club with like two people there, but the gig was really fun. And afterwards I just kept in touch. I didn’t flake—I called him up and said, ‘Hey, it was good to meet you. You sounded great.’”

A few years later, when Nathanson needed a new bass player, Bhattacharya’s name naturally came up. “The best gigs I’ve had came from friends or casual relationships instead of some kind of industry connection,” Shiben says. “It’s all the little relationships that you make and the people you run into. And luckily for me, I ran into Aaron Tap. It definitely changed my life. That one tiny gig in Santa Monica, and all of a sudden I’m on the tour bus.”

But there’s more to success than simple networking, Shiben notes—and without other qualities, even the most talented musician may not get the gig.

“I know 20 bass players who can play circles around me,” he says. “But so much of doing music has nothing to do with playing. It’s all those hours waiting for sound check, and rehearsal, and riding in buses, and waiting at the airport. I try to be the guy who shows up on time, isn’t dark, and is genuinely interested in what other people have to say. That really helps when you’re not playing music, which is about 23 hours a day.”

Matt Nathanson’s most recent tour showcased his eighth studio album, 2013’s Last of the Great Pretenders. The tour included a marathon run of 12 consecutive shows in 12 days—including the VH1 You Oughta Know concert in New York, which also featured rising stars such as Lorde, Haim and The Lumineers.

This time around, Shiben’s onstage duties expanded from bass and guitar to auxiliary keyboards. Just one problem: He didn’t own a keyboard! So after some research, Bhattacharya chose the Yamaha MX61, a versatile, ultra-portable keyboard that includes 1,000 Motif sounds, built-in effects, and a quality Yamaha keyboard.

“It’s working out great!” he says. “We’re playing some really big shows, and I need those professional sounds. But it’s pretty intimidating for a guitar player to get into playing a powerful stage synth with all the knobs and faders and programmable stuff. The piano on the MX61 sounds so real. And it’s really easy to tweak the sounds, add a little reverb, and hit save. I can get onstage with this keyboard and not feel overwhelmed. And it weighs nothing, so I love that aspect too.”

Bhattacharya is looking forward to the coming year’s musical adventures: “We’re doing a cruise ship tour with Train,” he says. “Then we might do another tour in the spring. I’m also writing some hip hop stuff with a producer friend. I’m super-excited about taking the MX61 into some writing sessions and my home studio and using those sounds to build tracks. That was definitely another impetus to get the small keyboard with all those great sounds in it. I’m loving this MX61. It’s fantastic!”