you ever wondered what it takes to be a studio musician?
Although it isn't exactly what you would call an "in
the spotlight" job, it can be very rewarding mentally,
creatively and financially. I'm going to take you through
the basics of being a hired gun in the music business.
The Reader - This is the stereotypical studio player
who can read anything upside down and backwards in his
sleep. This type of player usually gets calls for TV
or movie stuff that has been meticulously arranged and
doesn't call for much interpretation. If you want to
become this kind of studio cat, you are going to have
to get going on your reading chops. Get as much reading
material as you can and get your metronome out and start
don't just read guitar stuff; read as much treble clef
stuff as you can get your hands on. Because the guy
who arranged the music probably isn't a guitarist, the
part he has written for the guitar probably isn't guitar-friendly.
The arranger is usually a pianist who doesn't know too
much about the limitations of the guitar, so he might
write a guitar part that is awkward to play. It's important
to remember this: there aren't many guitarists who are
great readers. For this reason, these guys are really
busy. If you want to make a bunch of cash, get your
reading chops together.
The Player - This is the other kind of studio cat.
The player has decent reading skills but generally is
a great improviser and chord player. More so than notation,
he reads chord symbols well and can play a guitar solo
over anything you throw at him. He has an uncanny ability
to come up with the perfect rhythm and solo parts for
any tune. He gets in the studio and gets his chart,
listens to the track and comes up with a part within
a few minutes. Although there are probably guys who
can do both, I personally have never met any of them.
The Speed of Light
matter which player you wish to become, the most important
thing besides playing the perfect part is speed. You
hear guitarists always talking about speed, about playing
lightening fast. But to the studio musician, speed means
time is very expensive. The studio is being rented by
the hour and the engineer and assistant are also on
the clock, so the producer wants you in and out of the
studio as fast as possible. The whole thing is costing
somebody a bunch of cash. That's why if you are late
or take too much time to get your part together, you'll
never get a call back. Be there early with your stuff
set up, guitar tuned and have your track done in a take
you can't get it together or are playing something the
producer doesn't like, he will walk in from the mixing
room and give you a pep talk. This is the equivalent
of the baseball manager walking out to the mound. Consider
yourself in slight trouble. You will usually get paid
by the hour for studio work. Where I live, I usually
make about two or three hundred dollars per hour whether
I use the whole hour or not.
Two Battle Plans
trick is to make the producer happy, not yourself. On
one of my first studio jobs, I was lucky enough to get
the backing track for the solo part I was to record
a week ahead of time. It was this slow ballad type of
tune and I decided to do this crying, emotional type
of solo that I was sure would fit the song perfectly.
I worked it out and came up with the perfect solo. I
got to the studio early, set my stuff up, put the headphones
on and the tape started to roll. I played my solo exactly
like I planned it. For me, it was perfect! I took off
the headphones and walked back to the mixing room with
my head held high.
walked in thinking the producer was going to say he
loved me. But instead he said, "I have in mind
a different kind of thing, I want you to play a blazing,
super high speed, burning solo!" I was at a loss
for words; I had to rethink the whole thing from scratch.
Needless to say, I ended up playing this super fast,
mediocre guitar solo that nobody, including the producer,
liked very much. The thing I learned from this experience
is to plan two solos, one a complete extreme from the
other. I usually end up playing one or the other or
a combination of the two. Remember, don't assume anything,
and prepare two battle plans ahead of time.
you play counts. You may work out the perfect solo but
you'll ruin the whole thing if your vibrato is out of
whack or you bend your notes sharp or flat. Most guitarists
are so concerned with chops that they overlook the small
details. Make sure your guitar is in tune all over the
neck. Have your intonation checked. Or better yet, learn
how to set the intonation on your instrument yourself.
These days I've been using a Suhr guitar set up with
the Buzz Feiten tuning system, which ensures the guitar
is in perfect tune everywhere on the neck. You also
have to be careful with floating bridges because the
way you rest your hand on the bridge can cause your
guitar to go sharp. These small things may not bug you
when you are on a gig or practicing with your band but
they will make you cringe when you listen to the playback
in the studio.
by paying attention to everything, every small detail
of what you play, all the time. Whether you are in the
studio or not, focus on every single note you play,
every time you play your guitar, until perfection becomes
a habit. Even if you play everything perfect, it counts
for nothing if you are not in tune, so never be without
a good tuner.
The Fortune Cookie
I was about fifteen years old I got this fortune in
my fortune cookie: "Simplicity of character is
the natural result of profound thought." This statement
has helped guide me through all sorts of musical situations.
It is way better to play something you can pull off
than struggle with something you can't. As I said before,
speed is the name of the game in the studio. Think simple.
You can sometimes say a lot more with something simple
than something overly complicated. Technique is only
important if it helps you play what you have in your
head. Don't play to show what chops you have. Speed
should be used for contrast. A good guitar solo should
be a song within a song, with a story all its own. It
should have a beginning, a climax and a clear ending.
Where to Stand
are basically two places to do your tracks. Some guys
prefer to sit in the control room and run a line to
an amp in the next room. The advantage of this is that
you don't have to wear headphones and you can have your
amp up as loud as you want. You don't need headphones
because you can listen to what you play through the
studio monitors. You can also talk freely to the engineer
or the producer or the pretty girl that may be hanging
around. The only disadvantage is that you are completely
isolated from your amp. You can't make your guitar feedback
(the good kind) and you tend to lose sustain. Although
it is uncomfortable, and the headphones make my ears
hurt, I prefer to play in the same room as the amp.
Some players may disagree but I think you get a much
are really only three types of electric guitars in my
book. A Stratocaster, Telecaster and a Les Paul are
pretty much the only kinds of guitars there are. I'm
not talking about shapes or brands; I mean sounds. Although
I play a Suhr, and a 1960 Strat, I can get a Les Paul
type of tone from the Suhr because of the vintage-type
humbuckers I use in both the neck and bridge positions.
I tend to use the humbuckers for rock and jazz. I use
the Strat for blues and classic rock. If I need an even
bluesier or country tone I have to bring a Telecaster.
and Fender are the two basic sounds. I've been using
a Fender Dual Professional and a fifty-watt Marshall
half stack for most of my recording these days. Most
other amps are usually based of one of the two sounds.
I generally use the Marshall for hard or classic rock
and the Fender for the other stuff. If you donft know
what amps the studio has, bring your own. It's a safe
bet to always bring your own amp anyway. Even if the
studio has some good amps, you never know what kind
of condition they are kept in. The tubes could be five
more word of advice. It comes in handy to carry around
with you some overdrive boxes just in case you can't
get the tone you want from the amps available. I have
been using some stomp boxes made by a Japanese maker
called HAO. They make handmade units that can duplicate
vintage Marshall and Fender amps. I also recorded a
CD for them to demonstrate their products. If you are
interested, go to the HAO
website. The CD is also available from my website.
Dry As a Desert
studio is a really dry-sounding room. There are most
likely no reflective materials in the room, so the sound
from your amp doesn't bounce around at all. What you
get is a super dry sound that makes it hard to play.
We guitarists love reverb and delay and anything else
we can get our hands on. But unfortunately, when you're
recording it is a better idea to put that on later.
One reason is that once you record the track, you can't
change the speed or depth of the effects, so you're
stuck with a sound you may not like. It's better to
put the effects on later and tweak them to your liking.
reason is that the stomp boxes we guitarists use are
usually cheap and therefore noisy, while the gear in
the studio is way more expensive and sounds much better.
So, you're stuck in this dry-sounding room with no reverb
or anything else on your guitar and youfre hating life.
But the good news is that the engineer can put all the
effects you want in your headphone mix. Don't be afraid
Get Things Straight Ahead of Time
are two ways to record your rhythm tracks and it's best
to get this straight ahead of time. The first is pretty
simple: you play the rhythm part and youfre done. The
other is more difficult: you record one track and the
engineer pans it right, then you record the exact same
track and pan it left. The engineer may want you to
use a different amp and/or guitar for the second track.
The thinking is that the two parts are slightly different
in tone and will sound super fat. The problem is that
the two tracks have to be identical, a mirror image.
once had the experience of recording my rhythm track
only to be asked to play the exact track one more time.
I wasn't prepared to do the same track again because
I wasn't really sure what I had just played. I apologized
and started over again. If the tracks don't match up
perfectly, the effect will be lost and you'll get this
cloudy sounding track that will sound terrible. Ask
the producer ahead of time how he wants to record the
tracks and if he wants them doubled. If he wants them
doubled, make sure you play something that you can play
twice exactly the same.
I record using two amps at the same time. You can get
a similar effect this way. The other kind of doubled
track is more like what Ron Wood and Keith Richards
usually play: intertwined rhythm tracks that are nothing
alike. Both the rhythm tracks are tonally and rhythmically
completely different. They mesh nicely together. Before
you do anything, make sure to get all the information
you need before the tape rolls.
really enjoy the time I spend recording in the studio.
It not only keeps me on my toes but also keeps me connected
with various people from the biz. It also keeps me prepared
for doing my own stuff, which is the most rewarding
part of one's career.