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Silent Sideman and the Lucky Break

  04/04/10 02:01, by , Categories: Ed Lapple, Take It From Me , Tags: background makes foreground, barefootmusicnews_com, edward lapple, robert evans, shane o_brien, sideman
Photo by wakitu

I hope that you have had the time to view the Shane O’Brien interview. Shane’s a great guy and he is the epitome of a working, local musician.

One of the concepts that Shane touched on was what he referred to as a “Silent Sideman.” The important information that he shared with us deserves some major elaboration. Why? Because the material that was covered in 180 seconds in our interview could mean the difference between a successful music career for you, or dozens of bitter disappointments when your opportunities don’t work out.

Click through to get prepared for your lucky break.

Many of you play in bands and don’t have to deal with sidemen very often, but this information is very handy when evaluating the contributions of other band members.

Do you solo folks think that band life is easy? A band can drag you through an emotional wringer and leave you burnt out and unhappy. Band practice can cause emotional confrontations, communication issues, financial problems, marital and family problems, job issues and you know the rest. These problems usually occur before you even start playing music.  All right, show of hands, how many of you have had the band break up right after the business cards arrived? Also, when the drummer leaves, he always seems to own the PA, right?

There are a lot of musicians that don’t join bands; they don’t need to earn a pay day blowing out cover tunes at the local pub. But they are passionate about their musical careers and their songs. When these people perform, they need to assemble a band to back them up. You can do this by asking your friends to come and play with you, but I don’t recommend it. If it’s your showcase and your future that’s on the line, you want control; you want people that you can count on. Most musicians go the route of hiring sidemen to back them up. The sideman comes to a few rehearsals and then plays the gig or recording date and then they are gone. They get paid every time they come and play.  In essence, they are your employees.

Of course, you could also look at them as hired gunslingers. They may be impetuous; they might quickly draw upon discovering a half-measure rest that can be filled by one of their tasty licks. There is where you have to take control and that may be difficult in a practice session. Musician’s have egos that can sometimes hardly squeeze through the door. When a rehearsal turns into “The Clash of the Giant Egos” it is just wasted time.

Photo by wakitu

What is a sideman’s job? Simply, they are there to enhance your music and its presentation. When they show up at rehearsal, they should have already learned the songs. The rehearsal is for organizing, not learning your part.

To quote Shane, “Never bury the messenger… understand what the lyrics are saying… if you understand what he’s saying you’ll understand better what your part, in the orchestra, will be. What your role is. You need to understand what the message of the song is. If you don’t, you will never deliver your part appropriately.” Take those words to heart, because that’s what you want from your sidemen.

In his book, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Robert Evans says, “Background makes foreground.” Always remember that one, because it is so true. Evans talks about attending a party and twenty people compliment him on his tie. When he gets home he runs the tie into his shredder. Why? Because, “Background makes foreground.” The tie is supposed to make him look good; he’s not there to make the tie look good. Just because some quick and cool licks can be crammed into pauses in your vocal, don’t allow them to be there unless they embellish your song. Remember, “Background makes foreground,” and “Never bury the messenger.”

I hope that you don’t think that, after you’ve hired these players, I don’t want them to play. I want them to fill your song with power, layers, orchestral depth, but it should never call attention to their particular performance. Again, I’m going to go with Shane’s description, “If he instantly stopped playing in the middle of the song, there would be a big hole there. Everybody who’s a non-musician would say, ‘Wow, what’s missing, something went away.’ That’s a Silent Sideman.”

You follow the above rules and you get the chance to perform at some local venue. Mr. Big is going to be there and he can set your career in motion. He sees your act, says, “Gosh, Golly and Gee,” and you go on to be a star. You were just lucky, right? Right!

Here’s another old bromide that I love, “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” This is important stuff. When the opportunity presents itself, you can get lucky if you are prepared.

Understand “Silent Sidemen” and that “Background makes foreground.” Be prepared to present your music in the very best way that you can. Then you will be ready for your lucky break.

Photo by wakitu



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Comment from: jill

love that the tie shouldn’t take center stage… now what am I going to wear!

04/07/10 @ 18:32
Lee Gattenby

I agree on most parts. From the perspective of a frontman, you want to surround yourself with ‘force multipliers’ that make you look and sound good. From the sideman perspective, if you do a good job.. you ensure yourself another source of revenue. However, there comes instances where the sideman is much more seasoned the self absorbed frontman. For instance, are you going to let a noob frontman stop a song everyone is rocking out and dancing too mid stride? For me, the answer is no.. I go into an extended solo. Do I like to do that.. no. Remember, its that fans that make the musician.. not the frontman.

07/06/10 @ 14:23

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