The studio guitarist’s guide to happiness and personal fulfilment, as related to us by Mitch Dalton This month: Studio sessions and how to survive them - part the third.
The story so far. Our hero has emerged from his first live TV date, damaged, disorientated and demoralised, into the cold night air of the Real World. If one can so describe Borehamwood. Let us assume for this article’s sake that the experience has not necessarily driven him to renounce all material possessions and seek refuge in the nearest Monastery Of Sound. And perhaps he has performed to a standard barely adequate enough to produce an invitation to participate in the recording of a movie soundtrack. Which brings us clunkily on to...
Film Sessions. First off, the good news, of which there is more than a modicum. Say “hello” to an environment dedicated to the express purpose of capturing perfection in musical sound, almost regardless of expense and time. The building will likely have a famous name like ‘Abbey Road’ and a history to accompany it, evoking memories of The Beatles and Cliff and The Shadows (Studio 2) or even Yehudi Menuhin and the first recording of The Elgar Violin Concerto under the baton of the maestro himself (Studio 1).
Nostalgic photos of iconic albums, film posters and memorabilia adorn the walls. Famous faces drift by at reception. Occasionally, they may even scowl at you. In short, a musician gets the distinct feeling that he is less of an unwanted inconvenience and more a minute part of the fabric of music history. For a morning or a week, at least. Plus, there’s breakfast. Even if there is still nowhere to park.
As is the way of the modern movie, nine times out of 10 your plucking mission will involve coming up with a sound that augments the emotional needs of what’s up there on the screen. Often the composer may have very specific ideas. In my time I have been asked in advance to provide an exact make and model of guitar and amplifier and a specific digital delay pedal calibrated in milliseconds. As were the other seven guitarists on the session that afternoon*. And you read that sentence correctly, just for the sake of collective reassurance. On the other hand you might be asked to come up with a sonic sensation that evokes suitable shades of fear, suspense or violence. Personally I find I do my best work while visualising my tax return. That’s just me. Or it may turn out to be a collaboration between composer, director and guitarist.
However, whichever way the compressed chorus crumbles, you’ll find yourself most likely replicating that self same sound all week. The cues will have creative titles like 1M3 or 3M7. They may be five seconds or eight minutes in duration. The tempi and dynamics may fluctuate. But that signature sound you came up with at 10.05am on a wet and wild Monday morning will come back to haunt you. Especially if they like it. At this point I should give fair warning that almost all modern scoring is recorded to a click track, which eases the composer’s problem of hitting the dramatic points along the celluloid continuum. However, do not think that you have parted company with your marbles if you begin to believe that the click is speeding or slowing, sometimes subtly. Because it happens. Often it’s marked on the score. But sometimes, well...it ain’t. And, with the red light glowing, a hundred musicians blowing and just you and a TV monitor incarcerated in an adjacent isolation booth, a chap can begin to question his own sanity.
Anyway. Just when you think that you may have this movie malarkey nailed, the film location will switch capriciously to Brazil. Or Mexico. Or wherever the production team fancied their vacation last year. So do be prepared for requests to bring your Charango (Peru) to the session. Or your Requinto (anywhere Portuguese speaking). Or your Saz (Turkey). Or your Oud (Google it). Which, by the way, is where I happen to draw my personal line in the soundtrack sand.
Next month - Commercials, Record Dates and much, much more! Order your copy now!
JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE THIS MOVIE MARLAKEY NAILED, THEY SWITCH THE LOCATION TO BRAZIL
Mitch loves movie dates, even if there’s still nowhere to park