Musicians, schedules don’t mix

Published 11:09 am Tuesday, July 10, 2012

For an upcoming jazz vocal record I’m producing for artist Michelle DeFrancisco, I’m preparing to lay out the final brush stroke with a broad tip: a 12-piece string section. The inspiration, Michelle’s voice, led me to find the strings around it — all I had to do was erase the silence and discover them there, waiting to be heard. I can hear so clearly the horsehair and rosin breathing breath into the notes, creating overtones that billow into the studio rafters, mixing with the room itself creating a blend of art and heart and space that make a sound no synthesizer could never duplicate. Ahhhh…

But make no mistake — that’s where the dream state ends. Here comes the work.

Have you ever tried to get 12 people together in the same place at the same time that don’t live under the same roof? I’m certain this is why classical composers all look ticked off and somewhat nuts in their portraits: trying to schedule string players to play their parts. Suddenly, I hear Vizzini from the “Princess Bride” laughing at me: “AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! YOU FOOL!”

When I first tried doing this in southwest Michigan, I had a rough start. First thing I found was that string players don’t tend to give up their phone numbers. They tend to circulate their emails. I’m kinda old school; I like to talk to musicians I work with and hire. I’m funny that way I guess. But if that’s how this group likes to communicate, OK, I’ll send out a mass email. So out goes an email to 15 people. Two or three people respond. As I later find out, three to four people never got the email, neither inbox nor spam folder. But what about the other 10? Well, they just didn’t respond at all. (Toto, I’m not booking sessions in L.A. anymore…) My first search for 10 players yielded six, and trying to communicate multiple session dates delayed my project by two months. Hmmm … How could I ever get my session numbers up to 40 for big artists?

At that point, my referral source followed up for me, and I got more responses. Do people only work with people they know these days? Do people not read their emails? Despite the recession, are people so busy they can’t fit in more work? And what about those that just couldn’t be bothered to return a correspondence from my referral source and me? If Beethoven had tried finding new musicians via email, I guarantee his bust would display bared teeth and curled upper lip.

So now, I’m dealing with this challenge in two ways: by searching for players in the South Bend, Valparaiso and Kalamazoo markets to increase my call lists to a much larger pool and by utilizing an online app that deals with this exact problem called Doodle ( Doodle allows “polling” of opinions in choosing a meeting time. Simply send an invite link via email, FB, Twitter and potential participants can check which of the multiple meeting times they can attend. There is no sign up, and no need to have a certain email server.

Unlike a symphony that plans its season out months and months in advance, session work typically has a short timeframe. Two or three days is most common, though it’s understandable that a large group takes longer. Two weeks, however, is a huge notice. My business can’t wait weeks and weeks to get everyone together, and the repeated contact must be frustrating on both sides of the communication I’m sure. But with Doodle, I can instantly set the session time based on any key player’s availability in conjunction with the highest number of attendees at any given time. And getting those logistics in harmony with Michelle’s voice will be the MOST beautiful music to my ears.

Dave Carlock is a 25-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.