Bobby Nathan's

Keyboard Magazine "In The Studio"

Article # 31

Surviving in the Midi Era - Or How to get a Studio Tan

Getting work as a studio musician in today's Midi Era has to be one of the hardest tasks known to man. I've put together the following suggestions to help all those would-be hopefuls.


It today's world a good session player has to be well versed in all the areas of electronic music. That is he has to be a player, programmer and even some what of a sound engineer. He has to be the producers dream. Being able to leap tall bass lines in a jiffy, faster than a speeding disk drive and more powerful behind a sequencer and drum machine than a locomotive. In today's economy the ultimate session player has to be able cut a live acoustic piano track as well as all the midi related overdubs.

Get Educated!

It's most important today to be fluent in Midi. You've got to know the basics. This starts with a good understanding of what Midi is all about. Midi note and channel assignment are just the start. Be fluent in Midi system exclusive. Understanding Midi Clock, Program change and note velocity are essential.

The theory is important but hands on experience with the gear that is used on every midi session is everything. Learn how to operate Midi Patchbay's by a number of manufacturers. Learn all the popular Midi filtering devices that change note value, velocity and etc.

The ability to program a number of sequencers is the ticket. In this way you and the Artist or Producer speak the same language. If the track was already started at the artist's home on his favorite sequencer, you have to know enough about that model to transfer data into whatever sequencer you are most versed on to embellish or finish the started tracks. Sequencers have very much replaced the four track dem tapes that session players in the seventies used to listened to and re-cut the parts. Today we improve on the parts recorded in one's sequencer.

The more synthesizers you can program is like the clue to getting more sounds quickly. No one want's to wait around in the studio while you figure out how to change the envelope of a sound in the studio. Do your homework!

Having your own library of quality samples that no else is using is a definite advantage but clients do want what they have already heard too. So you have to have a well versed library of sampled sounds that you can just whip the right sample at the right moment.

If you think that all you're supposed to know is keyboards you had better get busy and study all the popular Drum machines. And I mean ALL! From the Cheesy cheapos to the expensive one's. A master session man has to have the knowledge.

The most important part to any education today is the word "Specialize"! It would help to be known for at least a one or more sought after expensive pieces of gear. Work out a deal that you can supply these sought after pieces as part of your package price. This is truly the reason why certain guys get hired for the gig.

Set it all up

Get all the gear you need. If not find a studio to work out of that has it all. Having all the gear means having the synthesizers, midi patchbays, channelizers, channel filters, effects (as digital delays/reverbs) and a good sub mixer. Your own mixer means you can cut down on setup time. You can have all your effects already routed to the synths, samplers and percussion instruments. A mixer with stereo or quad outputs will allow you to feed the studio's console with a quality stereo or quad output complete with or without effects. An audio patchbay would definitely make sense also. Making and having a multitude of snake cable to interface with most consoles audio patchbay's would really be smart too. The key words here are " Don't depend on anyone but yourself and maybe your Roadie(s)".

What next?

Well you've learned it all. You even know how to operate pieces of gear that aren't even released yet. You've gone into hook buying and building your racks. You just paid the insurance bill. But you still don't have any gigs. Don't get depressed. You have to build up a following. Well now you're ready to enter the vicious circle of reputation. You know: "I can't get any good gigs without album credits, and I can't get any album credits without any gigs". So you have make some decision. If this is happening to you you'll have to try another angle. Try to become a programmer for a really good session player that isn't up on this programming skills but has all the gigs. In becoming a team you guys could corner he market in a certain sense. Becoming a roadie or a protege' of a known working session player may not seem all that glamorous. Setting his gear up and lug his stuff is a drag but maybe one day if he get's sick you can sit in and get your chance. Doesn't sound too encouraging? Well, try becoming an assistant engineer. You can get to work with a number of clients and build a reputation. Engineers who can program and play keyboards and synthesizers are among the most popular and sought after commodities. I know you didn't spend all these years studying music to be a sound engineer. Another angle would be to work for a in house production facility. Once again the more hats you can wear the easier it will be to find a gig.

Or worse come to worse you could become so popular as a studio session player that your "Studio Tan" with be a proud whiter shade of pale.

And if all else fails try and sit in with me down at the Acme Blues Bar in NYC for the Wednesday nite Jam sessions.

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