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What do Musical Directors look for when selecting musicians for their artists? (Part 1)

Are you struggling to find an artist to play for or unsure the steps you should take to make yourself more employable?

...Then you've come to the right place and hopefully this blog can help!

Recently, I took to interviewing some good friend's in the UK pop industry about what Musical Director's look for when selecting musicians for their artists; Due to the honesty behind some of this content, I've protected the identity of my sources, but rest in the knowledge they are amongst the top flight in the UK music scene.

What does an MD do and why?

The long and short of it: The MD is responsible for all elements of a live show, from who is appearing on stage, to what songs ultimately are being played and how they are being played...even down to who the Front of House sound engineer is going to be. All the elements that go around this combine to make for a fairly hefty job – there are a lot of moving parts.

It's important to understand this, simply because when you're looking at booking a band or musicians, you are essentially not going to be interested in anybody who would cause more stress or more work. I've booked people in the past who have sent me emails, texts or calls asking if their tube fare is going to be covered, or they tell me they can't get on the tube with their guitar for fear of it being damaged and therefore wanting me to find out if there is a budget for a taxi to the rehearsal; These are fairly inexperienced questions, but it puts me in a position where I think “I can't be dealing with this – I just need you to know your parts, turn up on time, play them well and go home – It really is that cut and dry to be honest.”

Be a good player

When you have that much responsibility for a show you don't have time really to be worrying about the tiny details you would expect a session musician to have covered. So really you are looking for a session musician who obviously needs to be a good player – that's a given. But by 'good' player, I don't mean Joe Satriani or Mike Portnoy! When you're talking about a good session player, you are talking about somebody who can perform proficiently; So for drummers, that is ability to play to a click track. For a guitarist, someone who has a very reliable sound and feel and can just play the parts as they appear on the record;

I think that's a very good rule for any session musician – PLAY WHAT'S THERE on the record; Do not play anything else! I'm not interested in guitar solos, gospel drum chops, irritating bass fill licks – Just play what's on the record and what the MD sends you on the stems! (If you work with a well organised MD they will probably send you these for the parts they want you to play. Stems are essentially isolated tracks. i.e. If you are a piano or keys player, it can often be confusing as to which parts you might be playing on a pop record – there might be synths, strings, pianos, organs...all sorts, so the MD will have decided ahead of time what parts he wants you to play.) Listen ahead of time and get your parts in order, but also be prepared to play, or at least be familiar with, the other parts you haven't been asked to! This way if things change, you can adapt!

Be Self Sufficient

As with all session musician's, you need to be self sufficient – bring your own gear and make sure it is of good quality! Don't turn up assuming everything will be ok on the day – even small things like guitarists with pedal boards forgetting extension cables and requiring one from the venue. Keyboard players without suitable stands for more than one piano at a time. Check ahead of time with the MD regarding your gear - tell them what you have and they will likely green light you or advise you on what else you may need. It sounds obvious, but these are things that really go against you. If you turn up to rehearsal and you have a very slick, tidy, self contained rig, where everything just comes out the box and it's set up in minutes where all you're saying is “I just need a plug socket” - that is the dream really and a very good first impression.

A note for guitarists and bassists – be realistic...We are not gonna be touring your 4x12 cab! It's actually pretty unusual for guitarists to be using amps on smaller gigs anyway. Usually you will just be DI'd, so make sure you have a good DI or Emulator for your sounds and tones. Alternatively have a smaller amp like a Fender Princeton...change the speakers in it so it sounds good. Don't rock up to a gig with just a pedal board expecting to plug into a house amp as your sound is going to be different every time. All of these factors add to being self contained unit and thus more employable!

Playability and Gear covered; Next on the agenda is:

Image; This comes in two forms – attire and personality.

There's that sickening session player look which is black skinny's, boots, a long black Tee and a leather jacket – This by default is the stereotypical session outfit. But, it's a good look because it's safe. You're not offending anyone by wearing a bright orange tee shirt with pink trainers and taking the attention away from the artist, which I think is an important mentality to have. You need to be able to blend in 90% of the time, causing no fuss, problems or having any big opinions, but when you get on stage you need to look slick and perform with lots of energy. I'm looking for session players who realise it's not about them – it's about the project, it's about the artist.

I've had players before who's ego has been greater of that of the artist and they've obviously been sacked as that is not what we want. It's not about you and your guitar solo; It's about coming in and playing the correct parts, being nice and polite, asking lots of questions about other people, rather than just telling everyone about your gear and parts and ideas. So from a personality point of view – we are looking for people who are very charming, very nice, very humble, honest and agreeable. Leave ego's at the door with and enter with your understated cool look!

Continued.... in PART 2 - enter your email address in the box below for your Free Chapter and I'll send it straight to your inbox :)


Taken from 'The Touring Musician's Survival Guide' - a complete guide of what to expect, to watch out for, to maintain, to do, to learn...all with the aims of making you a more well rounded, equipped and employable musician in today's industry - OUT NOW!

Written by musicians for musicians.

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