Session Guitar: Technology Can't Help You Sound Better if Practice Is What You Really Need
A while ago, I was asked if I were interested in writing an article, possibly monthly, on technology. I declined.
Technology can certainly influence the sound of music. It also can influence the creation of music. But we have choices to make in our lives. A simple left or right turn can alter your future forever.
My choice was not an easy one (There was money involved), but my ultimate goal would not be compromised. I declined. Here's why:
I am in the studios. I am a musician. I know the realities intimately. I know that the 500 amps for sale are all basically the same. I know the current lineup of boutique, (EXPENSIVE) small amps are cool for some situations but are just another marketing fad! We've had small, 10-watt amps for years.
I know a guitar is a guitar, whether it has four, five, six, seven or eight strings. How are the notes you are playing ... the music? I do not believe Pro Tools is the best recording platform made. I do not believe a Mac or a PC will help you create better music. I do not believe Beat Detective should be used when a competent, inspired, grooving drummer is available. I do not believe perfect drum samples can replace the feel of a great drum track, even improperly recorded.
I do not believe amp modeling is "there" yet, but it is getting close. However, the best amp models will not make you a better musician. I know what is used in real studios with real budgets. Most of the technology that makes a sonic difference is 60 years old. But those pieces are used for sonic purposes.
A tube mic, in a tube pre, in a tube compressor will not make a vocalist sing in tune. (I have seen and used a vocal setup recently that you would have to mortgage your house to afford, only to have the track be tuned to death). I am never going to be a salesman. I'd be fired by lunch.
Get a good guitar and take lessons and practice. Buy yourself a laptop with an extra hard drive or two and get some software you can afford. THEY ALL DO THE SAME SHIT. Buy a mic or two. Whatever you can afford that is decent. If it is not perfect, maybe you will create a new sound. Get an amp or modeler. I personally do not care.
THE NOTES YOU PLAY AND THE SONG YOU WRITE MATTER WAY MORE! Get a keyboard controller or actual piano or synth. By the way, if the song and musicianship blows with drums, bass, piano, guitar and vocals, ALL THE SEXY PRODUCTION WILL NOT FIX IT. It may mask it. But will not make it better. THE SONG WILL CHALLENGE PHYSICS ITSELF AND SUCK AND BLOW AT THE SAME TIME.
Write a good song. Rewrite that song as many times as it takes to make it as good as you can. Then practice it. Learn the parts. Experiment. Play it live and see if it touches anyone. Experiment. Ask fellow musicians to play on the song. Collaborate. Have fun. Enjoy the process, the journey. It is a lifelong one.
No piece of modern technology will replace a well-crafted instrument played by a well-schooled musician who happens to possess a certain degree of creativity and inspiration. My contention is we have become a slave to the sexiness of technology!
Homework: Stop dreaming of that new amp, guitar, software, mic, whatever. Throw away those music catalogs you just received in the mail, and practice. Then dream. Then practice. Then create.
FINAL QUESTION: Please discuss below. How much of today's "music" will still be played as much as the music of the '40's to the '70s in 60 years?
Till next time ...
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.