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. . . .