The Playground

The Simply Music blog

Songwriters – Working With Other Musicians

Found in: The Music Business

musicians and instruments

Since Neil has so wonderfully helped us all understand the power and influence of arrangements, I am certain that when you write a song you envisage a lot more than just you at the piano and microphone. Working with other musicians can really allow your composition to blossom. It is important to find the right musicians. The best way to do this is with a few simple steps:

1) Have a clear vision of the type of sound you are going for. 
Do you want a hard rock drummer? A jazzy one? Do you want an upright bassist bowing, slapping, or an electric bass laying down the groove? What is your style? Be able to quickly describe your style as you will never be able to convince others of your vision if you give answers like “well, it’s a little of everything.” “I’m influenced by everyone, so….”. I was a victim of that and it never helped anybody. Instead, have a response like “outlaw country”, or “Norah Jones on Red Bull”.

2) Once you’re able to clearly define your style, go out to live shows in your area.
Not only is it great to support your local music scene, but that is where you’ll be able to quickly see for yourself what these guys and gals can do. There is nothing to hide with live players, unlike dressed up mp3s and websites. Have business cards handy with your name, phone number, email, Facebook, and website that is up to date. If you see a musician you like, introduce yourself after the show and ask them if they ever do any side projects. Most of them do and are always looking for work. Get their info and then follow up with an email music sample along with a description of why you want them to contribute, the vibe you’re going for, and how much you can pay them.

Money tends to be a word many artists shy away from, but you need to be the boss and be clear about what you can pay the musicians. Have a business plan written out that includes number of rehearsals, the date of the recording session, etc. They will respect you more and work within your timeline if you’re clear about it. Also, it makes their job easier and takes the mystery out. Since a copyrighted song is lyrics and melody, that part is already protected. The musicians you select are under the “work for hire” category. That means there are no future royalties paid to them of any kind, because they were paid for their time up front. I am not an attorney, but I have learned that a musician can’t be both “work for hire” and under future royalties. It’s one or the other, and I have found it much easier to just pay them first. Never pay cash, and always write in the memo of the check what the payment is for, for example: “recording of Midnight Mind tracks 1,2,4”. Once they cash the check, you have no future legal obligation to them. Again, I am not an attorney, so always consult your legal representative if you have questions about this or are unsure.

Just because you are the boss does not mean you tell them every single note to play.

Did you study drums and percussion at Berkeley? They probably did, therefore, respect their background by approaching the “what to play” with simply giving the vibe and dynamics you envision. I guarantee if they are professional they will have a few ideas and ask you which one you prefer. Give them the clean canvass of just the raw recording of you, along with printed lyrics, and let them enjoy creating their part of the story. Have them email samples online to you so you can get an idea on whether or not they are on track with your overall vision (so no one’s time is wasted). After that, one rehearsal is all you should need before recording day. Personally, I had my last few CDs recorded without any full group rehearsal and it worked out fine because they knew their part. Some met for the first time on recording day! You will see this every day in Nashville—it’s just what hired guns do. Pay them on recording day, right after they finish their parts. Always credit them in the liner notes, be gracious and respectful, and you will probably have the pleasure of playing with them again.