This is my April column as it appears in Blues-e-News.com
Session Work: 3 Important Things to Consider
I’ve often hired people to lay tracks for me on various projects. And sometimes I’ve been the hire-ee in other studios. So I have developed some opinions that I felt like writing down, and I hope you’ll enjoy them or maybe benefit from them. Recording for film and TV is now my main gig, so by necessity I’ve had to learn these things.
1. Work for hire agreements. This is an easy step, and if you do it, you’ll end up with complete control over your recordings. Say you hire a harmonica player to knock out a solo for you for 75 bucks. The day of the session is the best time to have him sign it. Mention it beforehand so there’s no confusion. That way if the tune is going to be used on a TV show or movie, or if you get a publishing deal of some kind, you can say you own all the tracks free and clear. It’s much easier to do it right then, than to go tracking people down a year later when you may be about to license the tune. “Uh, hey can you sign this thing for that track you did a year ago? You know, that way you have no rights to the song…” It’s way more awkward after the fact.
It is possible to register the player as an “artist” on with your BMI or ASCAP registration, without cutting him in on any of the profit. So you can use that as more bargaining power. His name will appear on the credits wherever it’s used. So maybe he’ll give you bro-rate, or severe bro-rate.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t ever share the royalties. I do it all the time. I have co-writers, and depending on the amount of work needed by each person involved, you can divide the royalties up to whatever exact percentages you agree upon. With my usual co-writer Steve, I end up putting more time in, overall. But most of the work we’ve been doing has been for libraries that happen to need world stuff, which he’s really good at writing. So he writes up a composition in a couple of minutes, rotates around to each instrument laying tracks, while I engineer, produce, and suggest a chord or a tempo here and there. I’ll be mixing the tune for another two hours in my own time and space. Then we call it even. But you can chop it up any way you both agree upon.
If you haven’t registered with a performing rights organization, it’s really easy. And one thing I should mention is that royalties come in a total of 200 percent. The writers share is 100 and the publisher’s share is 100. But if you write and record, and release it yourself, nowadays they have it set up that you just take 200 percent as a writer. It used to be that you had to form a publishing company to get that other 100. It’s just way easier now.
2. Charts. Learning how to use charts in the studio can be a huge time saver. What I’ve discovered is, the ability to read charts is pretty much the same as the the willingness to simply say, “I can follow charts”. To use them, it doesn’t take a huge amount of learning, but it does take a small amount of commitment. For most styles, a studio chart may have 10 percent or less actual notation. The rest of it is “time” (4 slashes indicating that a measure is going by) and what I call “traffic signs”. These would be repeat signs, first and second endings, DC Al Coda, DS Al Coda… They sound confusing at first, but usually after 1/2 hour I can have a person understanding them and using them. Notation (reading music) takes quite a bit longer to learn. But if you can get an understanding of the song overview, that’s the most important aspect of charts in the studio. It’s really just a map that saves everyone time. You don’t have to try to explain anything. Just say “Take it from letter C”, and there is a universal knowledge of where you are in the the song. When you’re paying for studio time, this will save you money.
And of course it matters what type of song you’re going to record. For some sessions it won’t matter much, like of you’re just going to knock out a couple of 12-bar blues songs. But at noon today I have a session with three people, and they are all chart players. It was necessary to get readers because these songs are in a more jazzy vein. If you want a great way to learn reading charts and notation, I wrote a book for guitarists called “The Guitarist’s Link to Sight Reading”, and the same title for drummers, and one for bassists. You kind find them on my site (below).
3. Lose the Ego. I’m not talking about being a prima donna. I mean, even if you just spent a couple of hours, and got paid really well, and the artist who’s paying you really likes the track, you may find out a week from now that he dumped it. It hurts. But you move on. Because his investment in you wasn’t a waste. He may have a very specific vision on, not just what will work for YOUR part, but what the gel is of all the players. I know the way I am. I will reshoot my own guitar part 150 times, and then a week later go, aaah I think I’m going to try a banjo instead. But no feelings are hurt, because it’s ME dumping ME. If I hire you to lay a conga track, I don’t want to feel trapped by that decision forever. I’m going to treat it like it was me that laid the track. I’m going to say, cha… you know what? I’m not really digging congas on this song. Then I’ll run into you a week from now and go, hey, no I kind of switched directions on that tune. And just plan on there being a small sting, but not a bad one. Hey, we have to get our way if it’s going to be art, right? I mean I figure if I do a great job of guitar playing on a track, I might look like a star if I keep it. But I don’t care about that. I care about what the song needs. I’m looking for magic. And I’m not going to quit trying things until I find it. I’d say I end up scrapping about nine out of ten tracks I lay down. So if I scrap yours, just pretend I’m scrapping another one of mine, because that’s the way I’m looking at it.
Now, all of that being said, your track could have just sucked. You hope that’s not the case. But you’ll never know if it is. So just always work on tightening up your chops, and learning as much as you can about music. That’s about all you can do for that particular problem. That, and make sure you’re feeling up to the session, as in, you’ve been hitting the gym, getting good sleep, eating well, getting some practice time… just everything that keeps you on top of your game. If any health factors are out of whack, such as your blood sugar is wacky, from living on Jack in the Box, that will affect what you’re able to deliver.
Thanks, hope you all enjoyed the info. J
Jerry Jennings is a jazz-rock fusion recording artist, an author of music instruction books, and an advocate of freedom.
Music in a Nutshell - Beginner | Intermediate | Pro
Beginner Guitar Package - 32 Week Curriculum
Triad Magic - An Introduction to Guitar Chord Theory
Guitar 1 Start Out Jammin' - Beginner Guitar Book & DVD
Classic Rock Rudiments for Lead Guitar Book & DVD
Guitarist's Link to Sight Reading - #1 Guide to Understanding Studio Charts
Bassist's Link to Sight Reading - #1 Guide to Understanding Studio Charts
Drummer's Link to Sight Reading - #1 Guide to Understanding Studio Charts