Session Sensei Don39t Let Em See You Sweat Part I

March 1, 2010

In the studio you need to focus and play great, while doing business, networking, and maintaining the vibe that keeps a client calling you back. This is even harder if you’re at the edge of your comfort zone as a player. I was recommended last week to lay down an accordion track on a band’s new record, and the accordion and a mic in the same room makes me nervous. I’ve done a fair amount of recording accordion, but it’s not my first instrument, and still makes me feel like a nervous kid. But I do have some coping strategies that help me maintain my cool studio veneer.

Homework. The producer had told me the tune was Rockabilly with a Tex-Mex flavor. “Think Flaco (Jiménez). Think Conjunto.” I hung up the phone, hit iTunes and YouTube, and started to study one of the world’s greatest recording and performing artists. I grabbed my squeezebox, hit the woodshed, and tried to cop the basic feel.

Show ’em what you got, not what you don’t. I brought three accordions, each with a distinctive sound — giving a client a choice breaks the ice and gets them listening. When asked “Which one gets the sound I want?” I could’ve launched into a lecture about the difference between an authentic button box and the piano accordion I play, but I just presented my trusty little Hohner, which comes close. The client loved it, and that was that.

Don’t panic. The tune was fast, long, multi-sectional, and very grooving. There was no chart, so I grabbed a piece of paper and made myself a roadmap: Intro, verse, chorus? No, pre-chorus, then chorus — second time through the verse is a bar shorter (good to know). I tried to get the form right and understand the energy and arc of the song. No one has noticed that I’m just hanging on; on the contrary, they’re impressed that I’m transcribing a tune in real time, something my Nashville friends can all do in their sleep.

A little showmanship goes a long way. Turns out feel was more Rockabilly than Conjunto; the chords were bluesy, so I could do my rootsy Americana thing, mix in a Tex-Mex turn, and it would work just fine. As I donned the headphones I looked up. Through the glass I could see my audience: the band, engineer and producer, plus their friends and family eagerly anticipating my performance — gulp! This was beginning to feel like a show, and I was act one. Now how does this tune go again? Tune in next month to see how the story ends. . . .

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