If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s no such thing as a small gig. Every job you ever take has its repercussions, positive or negative. Rarely are they neutral. And the fact is, in my experience, I’ve found that the gigs which may seem less significant often are much more significant than I’d ever imagined.
A perfect example of this is what happened soon after I’d moved from LA to Nashville. Of course, I was trying to establish myself and get work. Things were going ok, but I needed a decent bump in my work. One spring day, I was at home and the phone rang. On the line was an old buddy, Bob Parr from LA. He’d moved here a few years before. We were friends but had never worked together. After a minute of catching up, he said he needed some simple engineering work and wondered if I’d mind coming down for a few hours.
Frankly, I wasn’t that excited about it. It was a nice day, and I had ideas of grilling and a nice cabernet to wind up the evening. But I thought I might as well, even if it was for not that much money and no offerings of anything beyond that. So I came down and we recorded Bob playing bass for a few hours. I thought that would be it. Just fill-in work for someone else.
Well, the one afternoon of work turned into two months. I was busy with my old LA buddy almost every day.
When that project finally finished, I found myself working as Bob’s main guy and filling in for other sessions that came to his studio. Fast-forward another few weeks. Bob called and said he was doing a quick sound-alike for a client. He needed to make an instrumental version of the Beatles’ song “Revolution” and asked if I could I come in right away. Once again, I had soft plans for the evening, but now I was beginning to learn: Always take the gig!
So I grabbed my Neve 1073s, thinking the distortion those puppies could make would be perfect for what was needed. When I arrived, another old friend, Chris Rodriguez, was there to play guitar. It wasn’t rocket science. I’d read how Geoff Emerick made that sound. We just plugged in direct and I turned the mic preamp ALL the way up....and there was that great sound! A few hours later, I mixed it and we were done.
Two days later, Chris called and told me he was about to make an album of his own and asked me to take on the project. Clearly I’d made an impression on him with those guitar tones. Of course I wanted to do it! Chris is a great talent and it would be great fun and a great project. Little did I know that the co-producer on the album would be a fellow who was an A&R guy for one of the major labels in town. Through that, I became HIS main guy and worked on every project he did for the next three years. After that, he left the label and moved to California to pursue other things. But the fallout of this was that I became well-established in Nashville. And all because I decided to forgo an evening cookout!
I’ve worked with many major artists as well as on #1 Billboard songs. But as great as those gigs were, none of them have generated even a smidgen of the work that came from that little bass overdub for Bob.
A footnote on this story is two-fold. One, always take the gig! And always, ALWAYS show up with your game-face on, a great attitude and no matter if it’s a first-time artist who knows nothing, or a well-established legend you always wanted to work with, give it your all. No half measures. And always work with one mentality...that it’s the best job you can possibly do. It may turn out to be something great, or not. But plant the seeds of good work and people will notice.
The flipside of this is true as well. Back when I was in LA, I began to get calls to do some sessions from someone I knew a bit, but not very well. The gigs were studio orchestra dates and I knew the engineer who was normally called for these sessions. This engineer is one of the very best in LA for such a call and a mentor to me. Frankly, I wondered why they called me. I soon found out why. The reason was this fellow, despite his immense abilities, had serious problems with his people skills. His attitude was so poor that the composer told the contractor he never wanted to see him again. So from that, there was a lot of work with them for the remaining time I was in LA.
The subject of people skills is worthy of another blog post which I’ll do soon. But suffice to say, what I said in the beginning is the lesson. Every session you take will have its repercussions, positive or negative. So my advice is what I’ve stated. There are no small gigs. You never know what small session could end up allowing you to meet someone, or do something that changes your professional life. And never work in half measures. Take the gig and give it all you got. Such efforts are how careers are made.
David Schober is an Engineer/Producer with 20-plus years working with the best in the biz, here to help with your recording and production needs. Find him at his website and on Twitter, or leave a comment below.