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Go Ahead, Start the Fire

Article by Jillian Mitchell // July 02 2007
Go Ahead, Start the Fire

"Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Dylan's got a winning team; John Mayer, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow's tour; SNL, Stevie Nicks, Rolling Stones greatest hits; Robert Cray, blown away (in a good way), what else do I have to say?"

I should probably mention that the above list—despite its notable Billy Joel parody—does not even begin to illustrate the awesomeness that is renowned session drummer, Steve Jordan. With both a sizzling catalogue and an unstoppable career under his belt, the man has it all, and it is no wonder that Jordan is of highest demand, hand-picked by music’s VIPs to generate the hottest grooves on the scene. Most recently recognized as one-third of the John Mayer Trio (a sultry blend of blues/soul) and as drummer extraordinaire for Clapton’s 2006-2007 world tour, Steve Jordan has conquered the world and has no plans of surrendering it anytime soon. Yes, the groove is in his heart, and it’s hotter than ever! With every pulsating, pocket-driven beat, this virtuoso rekindles that very necessary fire under the “arses” of drummers everywhere, as we are motivated by example to strive for Jordan-esque heights. So my suggestion this month is to think about a career in session drumming. I mean, come on! He gets to play with Clapton. “Wonderful Tonight”, “Layla”, “Sunshine of Your Love” Clapton! Need I say more?

By definition, session players are musicians available for hire, and are used in any situation where musical skills are needed on a short-term basis, ranging from a few hours to many months. It is important to note that session players are not your average, run-of-the-mill, security-driven musicians. For one, session musicians are not permanent fixtures in any one musical project; and, two, they are not exclusive to any one playing mode or venue, as opposed to studio musicians who tend to reside in studio environments (hence their title). These crazy cats keep the door open at all times. They crave adventure, variation, and, what’s more, freedom in their work. Oooh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world and the possibilities are indeed endless for a session musician. Here is a short list of the different venues accessible to the skilled session drummer: recording studios (soundtracks for film, television, and albums), backing (instrumental, or vocal) for established solo artists or groups both in the studio and in concerts and appearances, temporary replacements for permanent members of a band or ensemble, or a member of an ensemble for theatrical productions.

In order to be a supreme session musician, you need to possess the following attributes: efficiency, versatility, and determination. First, let’s talk efficiency. Point blank: no one will hire a player that proves to be a waste of their time and/or money. There you have it; the rest is up to you. Next, comes versatility. Familiarizing yourself with many different styles of playing will not only help to perfect your craft, but it will also help to acquire steady work. For instance, as an onine source suggests, “if you can do a pop session in the morning, a jingle in a reggae style in the afternoon, and an R&B gig in the evening then you’re on your way." However, if your specialty as a session drummer is death metal and death metal alone, then God speed! (I’ll super-size my fries, please). Along with brushing up on different groove prototypes, a very versatile musician should also brush up on reading music. Whether we like it or not, sheet music is big in the studio realm, and a familiarization of said lingo is essential to securing the big-time gigs. Thus, in accordance to The Black Page’s June article “To Read or Not to Read”, the answer to the proposed question is further reiterated—reading music will not only help your playing, but will also help jump start your career as a session musician. So get on it if you haven’t already. Lastly, some would attest that determination is the final piece of the session drummer’s puzzle. The biggest thing to remember is to play, play, play, and, when you’re done that, play some more! Oh, and schmoozing is a definite must. In other words, you must get in with the right peeps, if you know what I’m sayin’. Now listen closely. The person you most definitely want to get “in” with is what the music exec’s refer to as a “Session Fixer.” No, the Session Fixer is not some crazy, say-hello-to-my little-friend mob boss wannabe who will “rub out” competition players; the fixer is an agent that specializes in representing session players exclusively. This is the person responsible for fixing the sessions with its respective players. Needless to say, you want to be in said fixer’s book. Be determined and assertive to get there. Send this key player a promo package or press kit (as discussed in May’s issue of The Black Page) to get the ball rolling. If you desire a career like Steve Jordan’s, or even Steve Gadd’s for that matter, then the fixer can help, but you must also be efficient and versatile in your playing, and you must be determined to meet your goals. Either that, or you may want to change your name to “Steve” for good luck.

To be a session drummer of esteemed caliber, you need to have a healthy relationship with, let’s face it, lady luck. Indefinitely, it can be a long and tedious journey before you make a “name” for yourself, but as the saying goes, whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve. To close off, I will leave you with some suggestions—derived from B.B.C on-line—on how to get your session musician’s foot in the door. Good luck.

  • Look in papers carrying Musician Wanted adverts.
  • Call up local radio stations and find out who makes their jingles or adverts. See if they will employ you.
  • Check the credits of TV programs. Get some composers names and set about tracking them down.
  • Check out studio technology magazines. Mags like this often profile less well-known composers and writers. Skip all the obsessive details about what mixing desk they use and go straight for the stuff about musical styles and what work they have done. Try and get a hold of likely people. If you can’t trace them any other way, see if the magazine will forward your details on.
  • You can also try advertising in local music shops, rehearsal rooms and recording studios. If there are any local producers or songwriters looking for people to help demo their tunes you can do them a deal. You appear on their song in exchange for the use of the recordings for your demos.



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About the Author
Jillian Mitchell

As a professional vocalist (and self-professed grammar nerd), Jill brings a fresh perspective to The Black Page. In addition to earning a B.A. in music, creative writing and English, Jill has also studied vocals with Philadelphia-based vocal coach Owen Brown, known for his work with Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, and Wyclef Jean. Jill makes up the other half of world soul group The Mitchells, alongside Black Page creator, Sean Mitchell.

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