For the past six months or so I’ve been in and out of the studio working on my new funk project (out later this year). I just finished my final vocals last month and this thing is now off to the races! Well, off to the mixing races that is. I had the distinct honor and pleasure of working with some incredible musicians on this thing. Not least of all, 7 time Grammy award winning arranger, composer and trumpet player, Philip Lassiter.
We got to talking in the studio about hired guns and he was dropping some serious knowledge bombs about why some freelancers work a lot and others don’t.
If you’re a player looking for gigs, pay attention.
I’ll let Phil take it from here:
I’ve been doing sessions and working as an arranger & leader for many years now.
Through this experience I have had the pleasure of working w/ some amazing players. Often I find myself to be the weak link in the section. I say that with all sincerity. (I’m speaking of the physical aspect of playing, i.e. chops.)
In my experience, I have found that the level of playing & the level of professionalism do not always go hand in hand.
I’ve also noticed that, in this business, cats stand in their own way a lot. Like, A LOT, yo. I have seen some of the greatest players get passed up on sessions & gigs because of their lack of professionalism. I can honestly say that, even though I tend to put the music first, I will certainly pass on calling cats who can’t seem to fall in line & simply take care of business — no matter how great they play.
That being said, I have missed my fair share of opportunities as a result of my own lack of “turning pro.” So this is not meant to condescend, but, hopefully, shed light and wake up some sleepy little kitty cats.
Here goes, 14 Rules You Should Never Break:
1. Don’t Distract
Always, and I mean ALWAYS be aware of what is happening with the people who are leading the session (the producer / engineer / artist). Never do anything that detracts or distracts from the communication between those people or causes any confusion (playing, talking, joking, etc).
2. Know Who To Talk To
Direct your questions/needs/concerns to the section leader/MD (music director) not the producer or engineer, to avoid the “too many chefs in the kitchen” syndrome. Groups of people talking at the same time = BAD.
3. Come Prepared
If your sight-reading isn’t of the highest standard and you are given the music ahead of time, it might be a good idea to shed it. Like, A LOT. If you show up to a session missing stuff when the music was given out ahead of time you might not get called again.
4. Pay Attention to the Details
I made my name being overly concerned with details and I have been accused of being too picky. I’ll gladly wear that hat. It fits nice and snug on my cap and I like to hang it right next to my 7 arranger Grammys. 🙂
To elaborate: Articulation. Yeah, sax players that means you too. Pay attention to short notes, fall lengths, note lengths, cutoffs, for crying out loud like a newborn baby with severe diaper rash.
The saxophone is the easiest instrument in the section so don’t make too many mistakes, k?
And don’t try to HIDE in the section because your reading stinks because you would rather play along with whatever Nancy Pancy smooth jazz solo sax artist’s video & copy “poses” than work on sight reading.
In other words, GIVE to the section. BLOW up to the lead player when parts are forte.
5. Show Up Early and Be Warmed Up
Enough said. Moving on.
6. Looks Matter
Look nice for rehearsals & look SUPER FLY for the gig. Be stylish. Trust me. It matters.
7. Smells Matter
Don’t smell funky or eat anything super greasy before hand. K?
8. Keep Tempo
Drum stick holders — do NOT slow down on the soft sections (unless that has been discussed). Play fills that fit the style, tempo, groove of the song. Never interrupt the groove cuz you tryna implement your new Dave Weckyl lick. BOOOOO!
HAY! It’s not necessary for you to fill in the middle of the verse or EVERY 4 bars. Take some Ritalin and calm the F down. I just love it when drummers play fills in the middle of the verse & then neglect setting up the CHORUS. Ya know, the CHORUS? The MAIN section of the song? Gimme a crash or something.
9. Play The Room
Drum beaters — play the room. That means, if you’re at Pedro’s Spanish Tapas you might want to consider how loud you play and how that affects the overall vibe. This is such a problem with even the DOPEST drummers. Don’t treat a small room like you would treat an arena — unless of course you are in a heavy metal band, in that case, by all means enjoy hearing aids at 37.
10. Learn To Comp
Keyboard players, learn to comp. Do not over comp. Do not dictate where the soloist goes harmonically. Listen and COMP the soloist.
11. Check Your Ego
Guitar holders, I know you’re excited because all the “honeys” want to bone you cuz you have a phallic-esque instrument coming out the side of your groin, but I really think you are WAY FREAKING LOUDER than you realize.
TURN DOWN PLEASE. (unless you are playing a solo, then crank it up and proceed to copy all the great guitar players of the 20th century).
12. Don’t Be High Maintenance
Go with the flow and “make it work.” Don’t be needy or ask too many questions. Just pay attention and many times the answer you are looking for will appear without YOU asking the question and interrupting the flow, yo.
13. Have a Good Vibe
Always respond to the leaders with good vibe. “Ok” and “yessir” work as terrific responses.
14. Stop Politicking For Gigs
Just cuz you called me for a gig don’t mean I gotsta call you for a gig. Maybe I don’t dig your playing — that’s my Bobby Brown. Dig?
Nobody ever got a gig because they asked nicely for it.
Stop asking people for gigs. If you want more gigs play really well, follow these tips and network! Yeah I hate that word too. Somebody needs to come up with a new word for networking.