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  • Anyone experienced in using session musicians?

    Up until now I've been recording and producing my own songs with my home setup but I think it's about time I took some of my best songs into a decent studio and created something a little more professional. I know a really good local studio with a renowned producer/engineer and a couple of excellent local musicians who've already said they'd be happy to work with me on this. We haven't yet discussed rates.

    Has anyone here been down this road? I don't want to make noobie mistakes in talking to these guys about how this is going to go down. Some questions:

    1. Would you normally provide a demo for the session guys prior to coming into the studio?

    2. I'd be happy for them to create their own parts - and I think in their shoes I'd be happier to create my own - is that the "normal" way of doing these things?

    3. Assuming they'd want some time to work out what they're going to play, would you normally expect to pay them for that time as well as the time they're going to spend in the studio itself?

    As an aside, these guys are very talented musicians and I suspect they could very easily just sit in and play something with no prep at all, but I'm assuming they'd rather have some time to get to know the songs.

    I'm guessing that there are many variations to the way this works, and perhaps there's no norm to conform to - but I'd be interested in how it's worked for others here so I don't come across as a complete dork.
    http://www.surrealisticpenguin.com

  • #2
    There are a million different ways to work.

    As far as rates go, frankly, there are a lot of great musicians that don't do regular studio work that are way thrilled to get the opportunity. I mean guys that have done lots, but usually work the nights gigging. The old musician adage, "I won't walk out the door for under 100." That holds true. You want someone who plays for a living. Not necessarily a "studio musician". Right? So figure a hundred bucks and up. Most guys are happy with a bill. Brit Ilse's may vary greatly from this.

    1. Would you normally provide a demo for the session guys prior to coming into the studio?


    Sure, but not so the guys can sit down "working it out." Only as an aide to put him at ease. I'm paying the guy to either be able to play what I hum, sing or play for him... or to be able to come up with a workable part on the spot. It's not magic and is well within the abilities of any good musician. Pick wisely.

    2. I'd be happy for them to create their own parts - and I think in their shoes I'd be happier to create my own - is that the "normal" way of doing these things?


    There is no normal way. At the end of the day, we're all just trying to create something. Get it done. If you have a part that going to get it done, you'd be crazy not to share with him. Will he be offended? Hell no. He'll be happy. But make it clear that if he has an idea to improve upon it, that he should be more the willing to share his ideas. You're paying him for that. Let him know you welcome it.

    If you don't have a part, if he's any good, he can pull from his arsenal if drum, bass or guitar parts to find something that will pull it together for you. Be prepared to give input. "Yeah, I like that, go with it!" or, maybe a little too rigid? Can you loosen that part up a little and make it a bit more jammy?"

    Input is good. But let him take a few minutes to assess and find what he think works. Minutes. It's not rocket science. First reactions are pretty solid.

    3. Assuming they'd want some time to work out what they're going to play, would you normally expect to pay them for that time as well as the time they're going to spend in the studio itself?


    No. It doesn't take but a ride in his car and a listen to know what he's going to play. His option.

    Although... if you're talking about a live on the floor basics tracking session. Drums, bass guitar and maybe keys concurrently, it might behoove you to get together before hand and lock in some ideas. And if that's the case, paying them for that time would be smart. Unless they're bros and just want to help out.

    If you're tapped, why not ask if they'd be willing to throw in a couple hours preproduction time for their studio fee?
    ___

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks Lee.


      Sure, but not so the guys can sit down "working it out." Only as an aide to put him at ease. I'm paying the guy to either be able to play what I hum, sing or play for him... or to be able to come up with a workable part on the spot. It's not magic and is well within the abilities of any good musician. Pick wisely.
      I'm certain that one of them (the bass player) will easily be able to come up with something on the spot. The guitarist, well, I know he's capable of doing that too but he's known as someone who generally likes things worked out to the smallest detail. He's a very nice guy, and technically out of this world, but he can be a little difficult

      I'm glad you concur with my thoughts that they shouldn't really need a lot of prep though. That's what I was hoping people would say.
      http://www.surrealisticpenguin.com

      Comment


      • #4
        No-one else have anything to add? No experience of doing this here?
        http://www.surrealisticpenguin.com

        Comment


        • #5


          Has anyone here been down this road?


          I haven't, no.

          I don't want to make noobie mistakes in talking to these guys about how this is going to go down. Some questions:

          1. Would you normally provide a demo for the session guys prior to coming into the studio?


          Yes. Or charts.


          2. I'd be happy for them to create their own parts - and I think in their shoes I'd be happier to create my own - is that the "normal" way of doing these things?


          You can tell them that your demo is a guideline but to add their own flavor or input. They'd probably appreciate that.

          3. Assuming they'd want some time to work out what they're going to play, would you normally expect to pay them for that time as well as the time they're going to spend in the studio itself?


          If they are good studio musicians, the time for this should be nominal, but sure, if they're figuring out parts - particularly if they're looking to you for approval since you want them to work out their own parts, then that would be only reasonable. Otherwise, if they are figuring out the parts you have on the demo, they should be able to figure that out extremely quickly and get on with it.
          Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

          Comment


          • #6
            I know a really good local studio with a renowned producer/engineer and a couple of excellent local musicians who've already said they'd be happy to work with me on this. We haven't yet discussed rates.

            Has anyone here been down this road? I don't want to make noobie mistakes in talking to these guys about how this is going to go down. Some questions:

            1. Would you normally provide a demo for the session guys prior to coming into the studio?


            It depends on the circumstances and to a degree, the music and musicians involved. Communication is key either way. I recommend you do give them a demo recording in advance, or better still, a rough mix of what you've got done so far on the actual song - assuming there's enough there for them to go on. It gives them an idea and allows them to think about the project in advance - that way, they're not coming in "cold" and will likely be more familiar with the song, and therefore be more time-efficient with recording their parts.

            If you know how to write out charts, then you might also want to have some prepped in advance. Even simple chord charts that show the changes and the number of measures and basically "block out" the arrangement are useful, and willl help the musicians follow along. If you have any specific lead lines or motifs you want someone to play, you should either write them out, include them on the demo (with instructions that they'll be performing those specific parts) or be ready to play / demonstrate them at the session. Obviously the third option is the most time-consuming. IOW, you want to do whatever you can to help the musicians to be prepared in advance. If they're exceptional session players, they may be able to come in, hear the song for the first time, do a run through or two and just nail it - but that's the exception, not the rule.

            2. I'd be happy for them to create their own parts - and I think in their shoes I'd be happier to create my own - is that the "normal" way of doing these things?


            There is no "normal" really. If you want their input, then tell them that. Of course, saying "just play" doesn't give them much in the way of guidance, but a generalized description of the type of sound, feel and parts you're looking for is generally enough for these sorts of circumstances. In other words, saying "I want a laid back shuffle feel, with some boogie-woogie type parts and a nice sassy, slightly distorted tone" gives the player something to go on. Playing some musical examples of the types of parts and sounds you're after is sometimes also helpful.

            3. Assuming they'd want some time to work out what they're going to play, would you normally expect to pay them for that time as well as the time they're going to spend in the studio itself?

            As an aside, these guys are very talented musicians and I suspect they could very easily just sit in and play something with no prep at all, but I'm assuming they'd rather have some time to get to know the songs.


            It's generally done one of three ways - you pay them per song, or per the session, or per hour. That's all negotiable, as are the rates. Some people will be willing to do it "for the experience", while some will want double or triple union scale for their time. Around here, $50-150 per song is fairly common for indie projects and demos, but again, that can vary dramatically.

            Normally their prep time is their responsibility, and you're not expected to pay them for it unless it's an organized pre-production rehearsal that you've set up for everyone. However, if you're going to be working with a band comprised of session players and doing rhythm section tracking dates, such rehearsals can be big time savers in the long run. Better to not have to pay for the studio time on top of the musician charges if you're just rehearsing and working things out...

            I'm guessing that there are many variations to the way this works, and perhaps there's no norm to conform to - but I'd be interested in how it's worked for others here so I don't come across as a complete dork.


            If the studio is referring you, ask them if they know what the going rate(s) are for the musicians in question. Normally I don't get involved with the pay negotiations unless I'm serving as producer on the album... I leave those negotiations up to the artist and the session cats, and just make the "introductions", but some studios may take a "referral fee" for hooking the players up. Personally I think that's a bit whacky though. Either way, the studio engineers will usually have at least a general idea of what session players normally charge in your area. You can also call around town and ask the studio managers of other local studios what the typical pay rates are like in your area. However, if you're on a budget, just be honest with the players and tell them. "Look, $100 a song is all I can afford to pay - are you interested?"

            Communication is critical. Be open and friendly, but make sure you communicate exactly what you want and what you're willing to pay to get it. Also, be prepared to have everyone sign a "work for hire" agreement - that agreement basically covers you and states that they have been fully compensated for their contributions to the song / recording, and that they relinquish any and all copyright claims for said work. You can probably find a boilerplate version of one with a quick Google search.
            **********

            "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

            - George Carlin

            "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

            - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

            "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

            - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

            Comment


            • #7
              Thanks guys - much appreciated. Not sure yet when this is going to happen but I'll let you know when it does. My main worry actually is making myself mentally prepared to work with these guys without being too much in awe of them. Luckily I know them fairly well so that'll help but when I look at the list of people they've worked with it's hard to avoid telling myself "I'm not worthy"
              http://www.surrealisticpenguin.com

              Comment


              • #8
                Focus on the song, not how great they are. You are the employer, they are the employees, and so while it's good to admire their talent, you of course want to make sure that you are really happy with how your song comes out.
                Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

                Comment


                • #9
                  Excellent advice Ken - the producer needs to have at least a general idea of what they want for the song - what they feel will best serve and support it. Then it's a matter of communicating that to the musicians as clearly as possible. Yes, you can (and IMHO SHOULD) take advantage of their ideas and suggestions, but in most cases, having some sort of outline or framework or at least a jumping off point to get them started will be very helpful.

                  Look, I'm far from a great player. I get by, but I've worked with guys who absolutely clean my clock when it comes to technique... but that's okay. As long as you're good enough to give them a general idea of what you're looking for, while also being willing to consider whatever input and suggestions they may have, you should do just fine. It's your song, and your session, and you're paying the bill - no need to feel intimidated or uncomfortable.
                  **********

                  "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

                  - George Carlin

                  "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

                  - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

                  "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

                  - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Yeah. You, as the person footing the bill, are the boss. They are working for you.

                    Also, while it's great to admire people's talents, being so in awe of someone because they can play an instrument that you can't communicate with them effectively is sort of silly when you consider that a lot of us have a lot of pretty great talents, whether it's obvious or not, no matter that it's playing an instrument well, recording, writing, being a great parent, being a great teacher, making amazing websites, working well with other employees, organizing, working on cars, cooking, being a great friend or husband or wife or boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever, cleaning, arc-welding, starring in porn films or whatever.
                    Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      This will probably derail the thread. And I usually don't go too off-topic, but I want to make a point here that I feel might help someone.

                      Extending this idea about you being the boss, I want to also point out that when you go to a doctor, they're working for you. You are paying them money to do a job satisfactorily.

                      What do I mean exactly?

                      Some people treat them like their word is Gospel, like this is the word of the Almighty from on high because they may have a greater education than you. And so that may be true. But you are still the boss. You are the one hiring them to do a job. Therefore:
                      - If you don't like the way they are doing their job, whether it's the way they conduct their business, the lack of time they spend with you, the way they treat you, their ineffectiveness, etc., complain until they get it right or give your money to someone else who is willing to do the job right.
                      - They may offer an opinion as to what you should do concerning your health, your surgery, whatever. It's just that...it's an OPINION. And it may be wrong. Therefore, it's on YOU as a patient to be informed, and to make an informed choice. You don't have to be an expert. Just Google a little bit, talk to people, and get other opinions, particularly from other doctors. Doctors have varying opinions just like anyone else. And again, they are opinions.

                      You will hopefully see a parallel between going to a doctor and going to a studio.
                      Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Not OT in the least. And boy, do I agree.

                        Getting something from musicians isn't a dictatorial proposition. That doesn't work. But being lit about your subject, the song at hand, and communicating that fire to players? That's it. Otherwise they're in the dark. Just like the doctor I went to yesterday.
                        ___

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Ideally, it's a partnership, with you at the helm. You are both ideally interested in creating the best sounding song...or improving your health.
                          Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Thanks again guys. My comment about being in awe was slightly exaggerated, but I do have a lot of respect for these guys. Much of the reason for wanting to work with them is that I want them to bring something to the table that I can't, most obviously in the likes of bass and drums. I can (and usually do) program those but it's never quite the same as having a talented musician playing those parts, especially when I'm looking for a very organic, live feel to this.

                            BTW, I know exactly what you mean about Doctors & I've reminded myself of that very thing on numerous occasions sitting in the Doc's office.
                            http://www.surrealisticpenguin.com

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              No-one else have anything to add? No experience of doing this here?


                              I'd say there are no real rules. You can either give the guys some tracks before they turn up or leave it to them to jam through it.. I've tried it both ways and generally prefer to give them some sort of idea previously although I am talking from a engineer/producers point of view in general rather than purely a songwriters view point.

                              Some people might want to put them through intense rehearsals before recording. Depends on the material, the players (some people come up with amazing stuff during their first fiddlings) and you.

                              Some of the more experienced muso's i've knocked around with don't like having much information (chords etc..) before they play. Just an idea of what you're looking to achieve and/or maybe an idea of key structures etc.. I would recommend you don't get too hung on up on the whole idea. If in doubt, i'd start by giving them some idea of the tempo and feel of the material and then throwing them in the deep end, if they admit to being happy about working that way. From that point i'd tell them the bits that they played that I liked (providing there were any..!) and they may naturally start to play without the bits you don't. I always think that being positive with musicians during recording is the best way of getting rid of the junk. Keep them focused on the stuff that's right..

                              I've been working with a guy recently where we have drafted in variety of different musicians to play the same parts, or try to fill the gaps we want to fill. I never play them what the last guy did, if you know what I mean. Sometimes the results are interesting when you play them back together.

                              Having as much of a view of what you are finally hoping to end up with can help a lot. Too many "I don't know" answers to their questions wont help anyone out much.
                              <div class="signaturecontainer">"(The New Testament) is a work of crude carpentry, hammered together long after its purported events, and full of improvised attempts to make things come out right." Christopher Hitchens, R.I.P</div>

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