Session Guitar: It's Career Re-Evaluation Time!
My recording schedule has been all over the map for the past few months, so I'm sorry for my absence here on GuitarWorld.com!
I've been doing marathon sessions to try and complete all of my current and past obligations. I'm cutting back on my studio work to make time for my own musical projects.
I still love session work, but it's good to re-evaluate priorities every once in a while.
Here's a story.
Back in October, I got hired to add guitar — and anything else I wanted — to 28 songs. Nice, right? Good money. Easy. I had probably played these songs, or recorded these songs several dozen times over the years. All cover tunes. Mostly from the Sixties. But not the groovy psychedelic Sixties. This was the music from Italian vocalists arranged in a very old-fashioned way.
Don't get me wrong — that could be some of the coolest, vibey, retro music you've ever heard. Picture James Bond meets Ennio Morricone meets Quentin Tarantino! But this was done with no imagination, no respect, no real anything but to get the music done. I could tell the vocalist hardly knew some of the songs and only wanted to get it done and out.
Wow. Not good. This was not only Muzak...it was BAD MUZAK! (Is there good Muzak? Does it still exist? I don't know. But this was it.) It made me sick. Really sick. I remember Jimmy Page talking about doing sessions and one day realizing that that's exactly what he was playing! Muzak!
I did some self-evaluation. I was becoming increasingly unhappy with the work. Some was great! Half was just for money. I began to see a trend happening in music. "Artists" were showing less and less respect for the product they released. Less and less respect for any talent, small as it might be, that they possessed.
They'd rather have the vocal tuned down than learn how to sing better. Loops replaced not only drummers, but even creative programming. (I love creative drum programming as much as real drums; there is thought and chops and work being done to create it.) Arrangements? All head arrangements.
This scenario became unacceptable to me. I do have some talent and some experience and too much love for music to be involved in projects where the artist cares more about it being done fast and cheap than EXCELLENT! And that should be the only choice! Ever! I had fallen into a trap and wanted out...at any cost!
So, in my personal evaluation, I realized my chops were fading from lack of use. My feelings about the very things I loved were waning due to lack of respect. I chose to muscle through, get it done and get out. Not get out of all sessions. Just the ones I deem wrong for me, wrong for my soul.
I literally told the producer that this was it. He's the guy who did it, the guy who made me want to stop doing work like this. He was insulted and couldn't understand what was wrong with the crap he gave me. I just laughed.
Do you have the same respect for yourself, the music, people and the life you love to make the hard decisions? And it is a hard decision. Turning down money can be very difficult. Walking away from security can be scary. But then I remembered we aren't guaranteed the next day of our lives. We only have today.
I will continue be a session guitarist, but I will have only quality recordings to write about. (I'm limiting my session work to 16 to 20 hours per week.) And I will be playing the notes I choose, or fall onto, with every last drop of emotion, on the music I choose. And I will have the time to complete as many personal projects as I can!
One last interesting note: On the very first day after I completed the old work, I started to practice again and play. And I can honestly say, I played with more heart, dedication and care than I had in years. It felt pretty damn good. Way better than becoming a musical whore. And my schedule is being filled with my own projects and playing guitar on work that is being created by people who care.
The rest have not heard from me in weeks. I won't even return the calls.
Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.
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