The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Hello everyone, welcome to my new blog, “A Chameleon’s Life.” Every week I am going to be sharing my stories from my journey as a horn player, a studio recording artist, and most importantly, as a musician.
Becoming a studio musician is no easy task because there is no way to audition for it. You get a phone call telling you where to be, when to be there, and that’s it. The toughest part is getting the call. How do you audition for people if there’s no audition system? How does anyone get to hear you play? Unlike the symphonic world, where people can look at your resume (and personnel managers and audition committees DO look at resumes) and inevitably this has an impact on the decision made by the music director whether to accept you for an audition or not.
The process of becoming a recording musician is a little less defined, and far more elusive because it’s not based upon a resume. You CAN send your resume to contractors, but they may or may not read it. My own personal experience was that a couple of people did, but most did not. Why would you when you get fifty a week? It’s all based on word of mouth. Some people would be cynical enough to say it’s “who you know.” I tend to think that it’s more along the lines of who has heard you play and who have you played with. Who have you read chamber music with, or played a gig or two here with? Are any of those people ever in a position to be able to recommend you for something? That’s really how it all begins. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard this player play, he/she is pretty good! Let’s give them a chance.” Then you go to the job.
The job is your audition, as is every other job you ever get hired for, for the rest of your career. That probably is the biggest difference between being a contract member of the symphony orchestra and being a freelance artist.
I remember my first job was at Universal Studios. I had been principal horn of the New Orleans orchestra when I was 22 and resigned from the orchestra when I was 24. I chose not to be a full-time symphony orchestra player at that point. I had many more musical interests other than symphonic music. Of course, that doesn’t diminish my adoration of orchestral music, but I knew that I needed more for myself.
The contractor at Universal Studios was a woman named Sandy DeCrescent. She then went on to become the busies contractor in Hollywood. When I resigned from New Orleans and went back to Los Angeles, the Union and the musicians were involved in a strike against the motion picture producers, so there was basically no work for the first four months I was in LA. At this point I was just trying to make friends, meet new people, sit in on brass quintets, and whatever else I could find. After the strike was settled, there was a huge backlog of work that needed to be done. Sandy DeCrescent was overheard at a recording session by a couple of people (including Jim Decker, if you don’t know who he is go look up his bio).
“I don’t know what to do, I just had another TV show come in for next week, all of my principal horns are busy!”
Each contractor has their list of people that they like to hire, that they are familiar with. That’s one of the things about recording work; composers and contractors are comfortable with what they see in front of them because they have heard them before – they know the work. Whenever they see new people, it makes them nervous because their reputation is at stake. If a composer’s music isn’t played well, they won’t get hired back.
“I don’t have a first horn for this session coming up! It’s for Billy Goldenberg… he can be really particular.” Jim Decker then told Sandy, “There’s this new kid. He just moved back- he went to school at USC, I knew him as a student, he’s really good, he’s reliable, you ought to give him a shot.” This was then echoed by a couple of other people who happened to be standing nearby. Sandy vaguely remembered seeing my resume at some point, so she hired me!
That meant my very first job in Hollywood was as principal horn on a TV session. That’s incredibly unusual, normally you hired as a section player. In the studios, you are either principal or you are in the section, unlike getting hired as second, third or fourth horn in an orchestra.
We did the session, the composer seemed happy with what I did, and before I left the studio Sandy DeCrescent came over to me and said, “We are going to be seeing a LOT of you around here.”