Session Musician Gigs

Hey there crew.

I found myself with 3 recording sessions on the calendar this week, and wanted to just check in and holler to my bass family about it.

I’ve got a Honky-Tonk country record today and tomorrow, a single song ala Radiohead on Wednesday, and then a soul/Americana project Saturday Sunday.

I’d love to field any questions y’all may have for session recording.
Prep/gear/anything.

Most everything is playing from charts and with a short rehearsal.
The one-song, Radiohead-style session is no rehearsal, read down the part. I was sent the part in advance.

I’ll bring my trusty P-bass to everything, with a Jaguar (turned normal J bass) and a Modulus 5-string just in case things get wild.

I’ll bring a 1960s Ampeg B-15 to all sessions (that I borrow from a gear-collecting friend) because it has the ultimate tone in the known universe.

Happily, the Honky Tonk session will provide a flat-wound strung pre-CBS 1964(?) P bass for me to plunk on.

No upright on any of these, mercifully.

Wish me luck, and if you want any details or have questions about the process, please do holler!

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:drooling_face:

Good luck with your busy studio week. I’m sure a lot fo us would be interested to hear more about it - even if it’s not on our New Year resolution to start playing professionally.

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Best wishes man, this stuff is way beyond anything I know much about, but yeah, I’m gonna ask some questions, because you’re a wealth of info-

So when you say “playing from charts” and you were “sent the part in advance”, what does that mean? Do they send you actual sheet music with the bass clef and bass part written out already? Or do you have to figure out the bass part yourself, based on the other instrument’s part?

As far as prep, do you go over the music on your own at home first? Do you meet with the other musicians beforehand, or get to know their style, or personalities?

Thanks in advance, this is another good reference thread, I feel!

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Very cool, @Gio, and perhaps super timely (for me), as the band I play in has applied for some studio time. (The place we rehearse in is a kind of rehearsal hotel, and run like a “cooperative”, I guess, and they raffle away studio time every now and then - 2 days with a “producer”).

So, in case we get it, I could definitely use some pointers. Such as: a) any tips on how to deal with the nervousness once the “tape is rolling”? I hope to avoid being the guy that needs 25 takes to get his part recorded. And, incidentally, how to avoid that everything after take 5 gets progressively worse anyway? b) we play only original music - but how to react when the producer suggests/requests to play an entirely different/new bass part? Or even just a few changes here and there? Trust his experience and implement his suggestions, or refuse and remain “artistically authentic”??

Maybe these are hopelessly naive noob questions!? And yet, I am sure, I have more of those :joy: In any case: thanks so much for sharing your experience - like @Vik, I have a feeling this could turn into a really useful thread!!

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Wow I need to make a friend like that.

Honky f**kin’ tonk!

I still haven’t heard that singer-songwriter record we both played P basses on at Prairie Sun! I really want to hear the actual 60’s P you used against the '62 reissue I used!

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Hooray! Glad this was met with questions and interest. I know that some folks are not aiming for sessions at all, so I was hesitant to post this. Glad you groovy people are getting into it with me.

So. Day 1 is done, we got 3 tunes in about 5 hours (lots of set up, lots of arranging, since the songs aren’t fully formed yet and a lunch break). I used the '64 P bass with flats on all of it. All groovy honky tonk stuff. Lots of fun, and I’m real tired.

The questions:

The charts that I got just show bars and chords - a lot like the chord charts you’ll see in some of Josh’s Bass Buzz videos. I am expected to come up with all the bass parts. The band leader / session organizer / producer will be very quick to let me know if they like or don’t like something, or if they want to hear something specific. A few of the tunes in both the Honky Tonk and Americana session had pretty solid bass line ideas from old demo recordings that I was asked to learn.

For the Radiohead-esque piece on Wednesday, the whole piece is written out in notation, and my job is to play it down as written. I’m an OK reader, but it’s nice (when you’re in a situation where someone is paying for time in a studio) to get to look at the music in advance and practice it to minimize the time / mistakes that will happen in the studio.

For prep, I can only prep as much as the session-booker prepares me. For the session today and tomorrow, the organizer was good about sending out demo recordings and booking a rehearsal, and the following up with revised recordings from the rehearsal. I was able to practice material, then go to the rehearsal with the songs roughly learned. By the time we were in the studio today, we knew the material pretty well, and had it much more tightly arranged.

For the session Wednesday (Radiohead-esque) I’ll be prepared because the producer sent out a demo track and the sheet music, so I know exactly what I need to execute.

For the session this weekend (Americana) we’ll have rehearsed twice. This bandleader/producer is much more lax about demos / reference tracks / charts, trusting more to inspiration, the musicians, and (I can only assume) the energy from last-minute panic.

I wish. Do you have any for me? The best advice I got when I (just this past November) I was freaking out about a much higher-pressure/higher-profile session than my normal… relax. Just play. Trust that you can do it. I was on the phone multiple times with an experienced bass session guru, and he talked me out of my panic with a story about a bassist he knew from the LA session scene. A guy who was super nice, laid back… and never played anything fancy. Nothing crazy. Just good, solid, simple parts. And he worked more than any other player. That was (and is) still helpful. We all have limitations in our playing. Focusing on that will make you crazy. Just play a simple part that moves the song, and that you feel confident in executing.

Always oblige a producer. It’s their job to be in there and they are hearing things from their own perspective. It is hard to not be personally attached to the lines we play, but you have to be able to try other ideas without feeling threatened. Another lesson I learned the hard way. I remember showing up to a session where the songwriter and producer asked me to play differently, and did so with really extravagant, flowery, descriptive language. I was obviously and visibly put off and annoyed. They never called me again. Doh. Humor the ideas, and maybe they’re great. Maybe they’re not.

Not. At. All.
These are things I think and struggle with every session. It is a huge psychological battle to sit, play, and then listen back and judge “is this a good enough take?” Every time I’m in the studio I have brutal moments of “I am sucking, and what am I even doing here”. It’s been nice having other players and session musicians that I really admire let me know that that’s pretty normal, and to just relax and take it easier on myself.

Holler with any and all questions, and I’ll let you know how all this goes… if I survive my week.

Also, @JoshFossgreen - yes: I only make friends based off of what gear they can lend me. And yeahhh… what happened to that record?? … and what was the dude’s name even so we can look for it??

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How much of that time were you involved? I ask because I recently saw something with Carol Kaye where she said the hardest part of the job was all the time you spend doing nothing but waiting.

Also, how well do you know a piece before going into the studio? Good enough to play it in concert the next day?

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Us newbies always want to know way more than we can use - it’s all fascinating. Right?

I’ve read long threads about electronics that I simply cannot understand, but you never know when you might stumble upon something you didn’t know you wanted to know. :thinking:

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Good question. For this, aside from the set up and tone checking / level checking of the other instruments, I was involved the whole time. The way this project (and most others I work on) operates is they bring in drums and bass to get them recorded well together. Then they usually keep those and overdub everything else on top.
Carol was in a room with a full orchestra, and they probably had singers come in as well. I can imagine there was a LOT of time where she was waiting for a correction in the horn arrangements, or the glockenshpiel and percussion section were doing an overdub, or the singers were working out a harmony, etc.
But for these sessions, it’s all rhythm section all the time.

Yep. Same.
My friend in college was at MIT for chemistry, while I was studying bass. We would have long long talks on the phone about what we were up to, not understanding any specifics, but still ‘getting’ it.

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Ok gang.

Update time.

I had my Radiohead, alt-indy rock song session yesterday. I brought my Japanese Fender Jaguar Reissue (with EMG pickups instead of the ridiculous stock set up they ship with), my Modulus and my P-bass.

It was a song in D, and needed some dropped D.
Producer wanted the Jaguar sound - classic proto-punk, kinda janky picked bass sound.
I sent a DI signal, and then we mic-ed up the B-15, and cranked it up till it distorted.
We recorded 4 or 5 passes in the guitar register (an octave up), then tuned the Jaguar down to dropped D.
I did about 3 or 4 passes there.
Then, just to make sure there was substantial beef on the low end, we did 2-3 passes on the Modulus 5 string.

Lots of bass tracks, lots to play with.

Rehearsal tonight for the Americana session this weekend. I anticipate mostly P-bass.

It’s been a good week for playing here.

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P and B15 territory obviously :grin:

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Thanks for these updates, @Gio - much appreciated! It is basically like our own private blog/diary into the recording/studio world.

So, another question from me: once you are actually in the studio, how much time is used on fine-tuning, sound shaping, final rehearsal, agreeing on what to play when exactly etc, and how much time is actually going into the playing/recording? I guess this all also depends on who is actually being recorded and who is “just” there to provide a live track and who will record overdubs later (at home?).

Again, I obviously have little to no clue how this all works, but is there additional stress because of the limited time you have in the studio?? And, if so, how to best deal with the issue of time pressure?

Thanks for taking the time to answer (especially considering your tight schedule here)!

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Oh man. There’s just no real formula for this, and it’s really up to the band/producer/session leader.

For the session at the top of the week - the Honky Tonk tunes - we spent a lot of time dialing in parts. I’d say upwards of an hour or two on some of the less-rehearsed songs before we tracked. The focus here was on getting real cool, tightly arranged parts.

Going into this weekend, the leader is very different. Much more of a “we’ll feel it out, sounds good, go with it” type. Aiming for 10 songs in less than 2 days, and we haven’t even rehearsed some of them yet. I doubt he’ll rehearse much in the studio.

In general, folks try and rehearse before they’re on the studio clock. That’s always preferred - either that, or you rehearse to a pretty-much-how-it-will-sound demo so that you’re coming into the session clear on what to play. But you’re exactly right, that it does all depend, and it mostly depends on who is running things.

When I go in with a band, there’s usually a week of real heavy rehearsal / practice going in to make sure everyone knows what to do. For sessions where I’m hired I’m really at the mercy of the session leader, and that is as different as can be.

The only tried and true rule is to prepare as much as you can. The more comfortable I feel with the material, the better I am, the faster I can get the part, etc. Much better to sit there comfortably and wait for the drummer to figure out where the bridge is supposed to happen than sit there and be sweating it!

Simply put, yes.
Everyone feels it. So, again, you just prepare as best you can. If you’re recording to a click, practice to a click. And practice relaxing to a click.
Sometimes a studio / click track / feeling-of-pressure acts as an evil, destabilizing, tension-inducing force on your playing.
Having tools for observing your body, checking in with yourself for levels of tension, comfort - that’s HUGE. If you need a 5 minute break to stretch, breath, and if that can help you find your groove-center, it’s nice to know it going in.

Preparation.
Relaxation.
And the tools to prepare correctly (ie Josh’s bass lessons, this forum, etc) and the tools to check in to your body and relax (ie body work / yoga / meditation / self-awareness, etc) are the indispensable things for me.

This weekend will be funny.
I’ll send an update Monday. 10 songs, some not rehearsed, none really fully arranged, and a real tight time schedule.

… that’s where I’ll be. My natural environment.

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Thanks so much for sharing your insight here, @Gio - very rewarding for us!!

I dread the day I will have to record to a click track :grimacing::sob:

Good luck with the weekend sessions!

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