Session Guitar: A Week in the Life of a Busy Session Guitarist
In this blog post, I'd like to open up my book and show what a typical (if there is such a thing!) scheduled week looks like for me!
Each day typically begins around 5 a.m. That's when I get my personal time to exercise, walk, plan meals, etc. Take care of yourself first! When the real work day starts, it can be difficult to halt the momentum and take time out for exercising and eating healthy. I learned this the hard way. Enough said.
I also like to take time in the morning to practice! Sessions are usually not demanding. Ninety-five percent of the time they require easy, if creative, guitar playing. But you must be prepared for the challenging pieces of music. Use it or lose it!
Here's a recent week:
Fun day. A full day of playing guitar and various other instruments on six oldies songs! Many of the oldies groups are friends of mine and now perform with tracks. This typically requires no reading, writing my own charts and recreating the sounds and styles of days gone by. I take this seriously because these songs carry a lifetime of memories for the audiences, and they want to hear it the way they remember it. A Strat stays in my hand all day. More time is spent charting and listening than playing. But it is fun and all involved are happy.
Songwriter from Florida. He sends me the tracks he is working on as stereo mixes and the tempo. I import the songs into Nuendo and all will line up perfectly when I send them back. I use yousendit.com to send large WAV files. This day I receive a Christmas song, a country song and a bluesy song. Nice. I am asked to play whatever guitar parts I feel are needed. Basic chord charts are included. Christmas gets two acoustic guitars and one lead electric (and sleigh bells). The other two get five tracks each. Strat on country and Les Paul on bluesy. The Strat is recorded DI through a cool UA 6176 pre. CLEAN! Blues song gets recorded with a Peavey ValveKing combo amp mic'ed with a Royer Ribbon.
Off to Astoria, New York, to record guitars on a pop session. Full day. Drive for 2.5 hours each way and play for nine hours. Bring five guitars, a Fender combo amp and my Pod XTlive. Always a fun day to play with other musicians and not have to be the engineer and secretary too! Casual, fun, but still need to do some serious pocket playing. When you play with others, there is a sway to the rhythm that develops and gives life to the music. Go with the flow, don't fight the groove, and dig in.
Florida client from Tuesday requests a few more parts on the country song. I also include some pedal steel parts that I played on a keyboard! He loves it. Move on to next session. A Broadway composer wants me to not only play guitar but also add bass and several other percussion and keyboard instruments to two songs being shopped for a potential show. Tough day. I am only playing to a piano track with no click, and the timing changes every section. Hey, it's Broadway! You can have every style known to man in one song! A lot of starts and stops and punch-ins. Oh, I also snapped the neck on my favorite acoustic ... no time to cry. Just kept on going till it was all done. 10 HARD hours.
I have been listening to a few tracks sent up from Trinidad for me to add whatever I feel like. These tracks are basically a beat, some bass and some chords. The producers in the Islands send snippets of each part and assemble it in the computer in small pieces. It always sounds simple and basic when I get it, and AMAZING when they are done with it. I decide to tackle two "songs" today. They are each about one minute long. I add octave grooves, chords, lead lines and hooks. All on an acoustic guitar. After about four hours my hand is fried. Acoustic can be a bit harder on the hands ... and my favorite has a snapped headstock. (see Thursday) Stick a fork in me, I'm done.
A quick final note. Typically, I am looking at 20 sessions or so at a time. I try to do them in the order they come in. But sometimes I get the feeling to do 1 before the other. Then you must follow your muse!
Till next week…
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.