Session Guitar: Musicians Are in the Service Industry
Thank you for your patience and continued interest in my columns. My schedule has been busier than ever, and it's been hard to find time for this. So thanks for sticking with me.
I was asked a very important question by my friend Joe Hand. Joe happens to be an incredible songwriter, vocalist, engineer, producer and multi-instrumentalist.
The question was: How do we find our place in the sound, in the fabric of the musical/gig/studio/creative world? Playing an instrument is tough, and once you've learned something musically and muster enough nerve to share it with others, where do you go? To whom to you turn?
Great question! It has everything to do with the world of session guitar playing! We all must first truly know where our passion lies in the world of our own music. What got you started? Why guitar? What vision did you have of yourself as a musician? If you can answer these questions, and answer them honestly, you will have the answers to Joe's question. As for whom we turn can to for help, if you know who you are musically, you will know where to turn and whom to turn to!
We, as musicians, are in the service industry. When most people think of the service industry, they think of waiters, housekeepers, etc. But we are all in the service industry! First and foremost, we must be of service to ourselves! You cannot give your best to others till you have given your best to yourself. Have you truly been honest with yourself? Have you really done the work, practiced and paid your dues? Tried out various musical jobs, worn many hats, talked to people doing exactly what you want to do?
And why do you want to do this, anyway? Why do you want to be a musician or a session musician? To make money? To be famous? To play on hit records? If those are your reasons, money and fame, you will fail. Guaranteed. Even if you make a ton of money, I promise you won't be happy. Money has never been able to buy happiness. As a musician, the only way to personal happiness is to understand how your talent, your expertise, your years of practice, your songs, can be of service to others. Get it? Because now it is you. You are offering what is only yours to give: yourself. There is more behind music than notes. It is the person playing those notes. I believe we ask too many questions out of the frustration of not knowing our true path.
So what is the right question?
The right question is: To whom can I be of service? How can I best offer all I have to give, and who can really benefit from my unique musical view?
Put your passion where it belongs! Service is our true career. What is your passion? I see so many people trying to put their music and words and lives and souls into the wrong situations! They walk into a studio and decide they like the vibe and want to be part of it. Well, what can you offer? It's just a place that records things. It's the people themselves who make each moment unique!
If you want to find your place in the musical fiber, decide where your musical heart belongs. If you want to help others selflessly realize their dream, the studio is for you. Don't bring your dream anywhere near theirs unless it is to put yourself fully into fulfilling someone else's song. Their happiness is your happiness. If you can do that, you will be a successful studio musician.
If you like to show off, and insist that technique and speed are what the world needs, the studio is not for you! However, we need you too! If that is your passion, then you can be an inspiration! Show what we are capable of utilizing technique! And if you can be musical and have incredible technique, for God's sake, start a band! The guitar world needs more of this.
If you get easily frustrated and do not work well with other people, the studio world is not for you. Even if you work alone, it will be wrong. I've done sessions where the solo was just killing, only to have me asked to play something better, ya know, more Keith Richardsy! And I love Keith, but I also love Petrucci! But they wanted Keith, and that's what I had to give. Their dream, not mine, and that was fine.
So to sum up, be sure you know who you are musically and personally. The direction to go, and the people you seek will be right before your eyes. If you really want to entertain, write songs, be the boss, teach, win the record for most notes played, etc. Don't be a session player. You will only find frustration. Be something else. You will only be wasting your talent in a place it doesn't belong. And wasting time. The most valuable commodity we have.
Till next time…
Ron Zabrocki is a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. Says Ron: "I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just thought everyone started that way. I could sight read anything within a few years, and that helped me become a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could find and had some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played several jingle sessions (and have written a few along the way). I’ve “ghosted” for a few people who shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I get the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.