Trombone careers and studio players

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tbdana
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Trombone careers and studio players

Post by tbdana »

What do you want to be when you grow up? Let's talk about being professional trombonists.

And in my continuing quest to start discussions about playing the trombone, I'll begin by calling attention to the studio players (most in NY and LA, but all over the world, actually), and suggest that it might be a good career path for the right player.

We hear people talk about becoming great classical players, and jazz players, and funk players, and dixieland players. We don't hear too much about folks wanting to have to play all those styles at a professional level and to sight read read fly paper to perfection day after day, which is exactly what studio players do.

I tell ya, if you want a trombone career playing different kinds music all the time rather than the same things over and over, and you want to play with the best musicians in the world, you might think about becoming a studio player.

Being a studio player usually requires that you be good at several different genres. Yeah, there are studio players who just do classical dates, or just do jazz dates. The current trend of Marvel Universe style orchestrations actually leans toward single genre players. But the real workhorses are those who can hold their own and sound great in any style. Often, they never see the music before they go to the gig (although it's becoming more common to get PDFs emailed ahead of time). Indeed, if you're going to be a studio player you pretty much have to bring a small bore tenor, large bore tenor, and a bass trombone to every gig, because you never know what you'll have to play. (And sometimes you can even talk them into giving you a double. $$ Yay!)

From Dick Nash, Lloyd Ulyate and George Roberts, to Alex Iles, Andy Martin and Bill Reichenbach, a small army of trombonists have spent much of their careers without an audience, in a recording studio, having to sight read any number of genres perfectly the first time through and every time thereafter, and do it all at the highest levels. These guys get recognition in the trombone world, but while all the young guys are talking about doing the audition circuit to try to get a symphony gig, or speculating on how to advance jazz on the trombone, we don't hear many folks say they want to be studio players, and purposefully developing the skills they need to make that a viable career option.

Of course, it's not easy and it's not for everyone. I wonder if we can appreciate just how hard it is getting up and driving to a studio in the morning only to have to play blazing fast chase music, followed by ominous low long tones, followed by big band swing dance music, followed by a romantic ballad, followed by intense double-tongued battle music, sometimes all on the same date, without ever seeing the music ahead of time, and without making a mistake.* And then doing it all again the next day, with completely different music and completely different demands.

*(Of course people make mistakes. But they are few, and when there are 40 musicians in a room, if everyone makes just one mistake can you imagine how much time it takes to get a good take...and studio time is expensive, and by the time they're recording music they're often behind schedule and over budget. So mistakes are...let's say discouraged. :) )

It takes a certain kind of talent to be a good studio player. One of my studio heroes is Alan Kaplan. The man is a machine. Anything you put in front of him, he's going to sight read perfectly, he's going to play it perfectly, and he's going to play it exactly the same every take. He's the most reliable player I've ever heard. I remember sitting next to him and thinking, "Wow, I don't think Al has missed a single note the whole gig, and this stuff is challenging. I need to up my game." I've heard others say similar things about working with him. He's a monster in the studio. But so are several others.

Rock bands will spend months in a studio recording 20 minutes worth of music. Studio musicians will do it better, and in do it three hours.

Perhaps few trombonists even want to be studio players. After all, it's stressful, it's uncertain, it's hard to break into, there's no audience, you rarely get to play an entire piece (it's like your whole career is excerpts), you have to be really good at a lot of different things, and there are always a hundred guys standing in line wanting your gig and every one of them plays as well as you do (and that guy over there is the contractor's brother-in-law).

But if that kind of work sounds exciting (it is), and you like playing with some of the best musicians in the world (you do), you young'uns might consider focusing on that as a possible career target.

How about them apples?

Okay, comment on that or make the case for other trombone careers. :)
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BGuttman
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by BGuttman »

There is no doubt that there are a number of very good jobs for trombonists. The problem is that there are very few of these compared with the number of people who want them. Thus the success bar is VERY high and hard to clear. In order to become part of this clique you need to have formidable skills and some luck on top of that.

That's why I tell young folks who want to be professional musicians that they should have no other career possibility. And that they should prefer playing to eating. And they should have a teacher tell them that they have the talent. Miss any one of the three and you won't succeed.
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WilliamLang
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by WilliamLang »

There's careers to be made in New Music Trombone. I think it's really exciting, and getting to focus on the potential of the art can be really rewarding. It's not all scratch and sniff new music either, so if dislike a style of piece, just commission someone who writes differently. There's as many styles and genres within the idiom as there are in the recording studio world.
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by OneTon »

I’m glad you like what you do and can make a living at it. Sam Burtis covers a lot of this in his book, “The American Trombonist.” Al Hermann got his trombone chops playing along side of Carl Fontana in New Orleans. Al was an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He did some session work and gigs outside of his day job. He is a very good player and can hold his own with about anyone. That is a valid career path. The Al Kaplan - Urbie Green club is exclusive. A few make it. Most will not.
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by EriKon »

I think Bruce and Richard covered this quite well, but this is one of the jobs I wouldn't ever recommend to anyone to aim for.

First of all, it's a very local thing. There are like three places that I've heard of where you can be as busy as a recording artist and those would be LA, NY and London. Maybe there are others? Of course there is a (very small, compared to those three) recording scene in Germany too, but it's super split up and not bundled like in LA or NY. So, one limiting factor is the local aspect.

But if you look out there, you'll see how many fine (trombone) players are out there. I mean, the numbers of music graduates have increased in the last few years by some hundreds of percents. So the amount of fully trained players with great technique, good sound and flexibility in styles has increased too. How many of those will be able to work in that recording scene? There are only so and so much positions for that work. And in addition as you mentioned: the pressure is pretty high set, I would argue much higher than in a steady employed orchestra/bigband or something like that.

And as mentioned before as well, being a good player only brings you for that much. At some point, connections are much more important and you simply need some luck. And for this jobs, I think, it requires even more luck than for many other jobs.

That said, I always enjoy the studio work that I do when I get the chance. It's really just a couple of dates in my calendar throughout the year, but those are great. And at some point I started dreaming of once doing one of those LA sessions, but this will stay a dream as I don't see myself moving or even going to US at some point.

One last thing that just came to mind: Don't know anything about it, but this might be a branch that won't have it easier with the increasing amount of AI being used and how quickly this develops, but I don't know enough about that.
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by SteveM »

tbdana, it would be interesting and provide some context if you could tell more about your studio work - some of the albums, movies, television shows, etc. that you've played on.
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by JohnL »

How would a young player (say, late high school or early college) go about preparing for a career as a studio musician? I mean, other than practicing sight reading every day until your eyes feel like they're gonna fall out?
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by ghmerrill »

JohnL wrote: Tue Apr 02, 2024 9:31 am How would a young player (say, late high school or early college) go about preparing for a career as a studio musician? I mean, other than practicing sight reading every day until your eyes feel like they're gonna fall out?
I recall some threads on this subject (and the related subjects of what music school to go to, what to study, and ... drum roll ... whether to even go to music school at all). There was some valuable insight offered by several very successful studio musicians (largely from NY and LA). I'm not sure how accessible those threads are in the old forum if they don't appear in the new incarnation (tubaforum.net). But they were very interesting reading from the people in the trenches.
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tbdana
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by tbdana »

SteveM wrote: Tue Apr 02, 2024 1:18 am tbdana, it would be interesting and provide some context if you could tell more about your studio work - some of the albums, movies, television shows, etc. that you've played on.
LOL! You don't want to use me as a model. All my studio work -- which is nowhere near as much as some folks, even perhaps some on this forum -- is from a time when we still rode a stegosaurus to work. :D It's actually hard to even remember. I think my last movie was one of the Naked Gun flicks, so that says how far back my work goes. I think my last live TV show was either the Tonight Show or the New Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and my last recorded TV show was probably either Warner Bros.' Tiny Toons or a Saban animated series like X-Men or Power Rangers, which I did a lot of. I did a couple hundred albums over the years that all kind of meld together in my two remaining brain cells, but I think my last one was some one-off Oscar Peterson thing that I can't recall the specifics of. None of this is relevant today, of course.

In any event, for relevance and context you should probably look to the players who are doing that work now. I am not doing, and never will do, that work again.
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by Bach5G »

Maybe Ido Meshulam will weigh in.
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by BGuttman »

Understand, Dana, that when we were coming up there were studio bands everywhere. Many TV shows had Big Band style orchestras sometimes including a small string section (2 violins, viola, cello). Networks had house bands as well. Lots of trombone jobs.

Move ahead a decade and suddenly most of those bands have been eliminated -- replaced by electronic stuff with two gee-tars, bass gee-tar, keyboards, and drums. Suddenly almost nobody uses trombones any more. I remember reading a biography of JJ Johnson. He had a "day job" as a drawing inspector at Sperry Instruments (a Government contractor) in Long Island for when the gigs dried up. Now if somebody like JJ Johnson needed to have a day job, what about us plebes? (Full disclosure: I found that I preferred to eat rather than play, I had a career choice other than music, and I was not among the super elite. I became a chemical engineer and kept music as an avocation.)
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by GGJazz »

Hi folks .

From when I was 20 years old until I was around 36 , I worked a lot as studio player. Playing on TV Shows ( both recorded and live) , recording albums for Italian Pop singers , etc . I worked on the RAI ( National Italian Broadcast Company) Orchestras ( both Symphonic and Commercial ) and for Recording Label as CBS , BMG , CGD East West , etc.

Now I mainly work at Studios for Jazz / Funk recording .

The studio work bring you very good money , but the job is preatty heavy : sometimes you have to be ready at 08:00 am to play ; or starting at 10:00 am , then 1 hour break for lunch at 02:00 pm , then playing again until 08:00 pm , then 1 hour break for dinner , then playing until 11:30 pm ...

More , you have to move where the work it is . Here i n Italy , you have to move on Rome or Milano .And you have to be always ready for a call . So pay attention hangin out with friends for a beer , because a call for a last- minute substitution can happen from nowhere ...

To me , these were really good exeriences , but on the long way , I think that can be really heavy .
Also because I remenber that when I was under a 4/5 months contract , I probably had just one or two opportunities to play live Music outside the Studio , because you are really busy on that .

Regards
Giancarlo
Last edited by GGJazz on Tue Apr 02, 2024 1:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by SwissTbone »

Giancarlo, how's the situation in Italy? Is there still a living to be made as a studio musician? Does the RAI still have it's orchestras?
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by GGJazz »

Hi SwissTbone !

Well , right now there is only one RAI Symphonic Orchestra , in Torino . Years ago there was three Symphonic Orchestras ( Rome , Milano , Torino ) and two Commercial Big Band (Rome , Milano) .
About to make a full time Studio works nowadays , if you move to Rome you can have some opportunities of this kind of career , in particular if you are a very good lead trumpet player . Anyway , I know some really good trombone players working succesfully as studio players here in Italy !

Regards
Giancarlo
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by MStarke »

When I was younger (:-D 40 next year!) I saw a good orchestra job as the only option. As this wasn't too realistic for me, at the end I took a totally different career path.

From today's perspective and if just talking about a wishlist AND not considering family and other "restrictions", I would probably love to be playing a broad mix of orchestral, jazz/bigband, studio, chamber music etc. I am trying to realize this now on a lower scale as a somewhat semi-professional. I really enjoy the variety of music, being able to play with different people and in different settings. I think in a classical orchestra job, I would probably get really bored at some point.
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by Cmillar »

'Full-time' studio work of any kind is a very localized situation, and pretty rare.

We all know the the big recording locations (LA, Nashville, NYC, London, Sydney) are known for the big work... like films, big music album dates, TV shows and that you have to be very lucky to get into that work through either having grown up there, really knowing someone in the business, or getting into the scene through word of mouth and really paying your dues for a few years doing any and all kinds of music work possible that allows you to meet other musicians.

A lot of musicians used to be busy in studios, like in Toronto. But I know fantastic musicians there, who used to 'never see daylight', that now depend on playing in 'tribute bands' and traveling all over North America just to get any work. They can't rely on studio work or even live shows any more to supply any consistent income. Or any teaching. Regular studio work in some big cities is extremely rare now.

Some horn players are busy doing horn section overdubbing and live in small towns. Some musicians play for local rock bands that all want to add various sections or overdubs to their demos or whatever. Some people produce radio jingles or whatever with samplers/etc. and want to overdub real musicians.

Everywhere is different. But we all still have to play at a high level of musicianship with great sound and technique no matter the call, no matter where we live.

I say....we should always just practice and play as if we aspire to be 'in the big leagues' no matter where we live. Treat every gig like it's a 'big league' gig.

That way, we keep up the musical standards and are always helping to raise them no matter where we live.
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by SwissTbone »

Cmillar wrote: Wed Apr 03, 2024 6:16 am 'Full-time' studio work of any kind is a very localized situation, and pretty rare.

We all know the the big recording locations (LA, Nashville, NYC, London, Sydney)...
I'm wondering where the music for non English speaking films is recorded. We know a little about Rome for Italian. Is there something comparable in Germany, France, Spain? What about eastern Europe and Asia?
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Re: Trombone careers and studio players

Post by LeTromboniste »

Eastern Europe has become a big center for studio work. LOTS of movies and video games send their composers and sound producers to Prague and Budapest. Labour costs are way cheaper, and they've developed a expertise.
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