Arlen Roth on Studio Etiquette
Among the very first things one begins to notice when you start to do studio work is just how much the interaction (or non-interaction) between you, the players, artist and the producer really means. Of course, each situation is different and there are many different kinds of personalities you may come across in your career, but every time is also a time to make an impression, and if it’s good, it’ll lead to more work and more good times, for sure!
It’s a little different for a session player such as myself who always remained, in a sense, on the” fringe” of being a studio session “regular.” By this I mean that I was always much more of the “artistic” type who happened to be “called in” on a recording date, far more as a “specialist” than a studio regular. In our “put down” lingo in those early days we used to refer to those guys as “hacks.”
In truth, they weren’t “hacks” at all, but players who were able to come up with just the right parts for the right moments in the songs, and these were folks who did 4 or sometimes 5 sessions a day. Many of these guys especially in New York, were recording “jingles” for the advertising world, which is a very huge business in NYC, and these sessions are all practically “first take or nothing” types of dates. So very often, impeccable reading was also a key for these sessions, and I never felt cut out for them, since I was never a reader!
I began to notice certain protocols when I was in the studio at a very young age, as most of the players were far more experienced and quite a bit older than me. There was one session where I couldn’t read the parts at all (I was mis-booked!) and the guitar player who was next to me and who was supposed to play harmony to me immediately, and in lightning fashion was trying to show me what to play…literally AS it was being recorded! Talk about nerve-racking! Even once that grueling 5-minute session was over, he obliged the conductor and recording my part over his, so they did in fact have that 2-part harmony to work with. I had, by that point gone up to the conductor and excused myself for not being able to read, and told him it was a mistake that someone made in booking me. I guess “readers” assume everyone else is also a “reader” sometimes!
In any event, it’s great when the tables are turned, and now with me being a “seasoned old pro” it feels great to help younger players get “welcomed into” the fold as it were, either in the studio or on the stage. The torch gets passed always, so make sure you’re a good passer or receiver!