The song is “Finally Made ‘Em Dance,” a ballad sung by a musician to his inspirational mother. I had never been able to record it satisfactorily on the $400 eight-track home digital recorder I bought last year. As an amateur songwriter I love my eight-track because it lets me perform all the parts: no arguments in this band. But I am a sub-amateur musician who knows, at best, nine guitar chords. I can create a song of potential beauty, but after years in denial I admitted I needed cosmetic song surgery to realize that beauty.
And so, at 58, I shifted some retirement money to the life’s-too-short side of the ledger and headed from Los Angeles to Nashville, carrying a CD of “Dance” and four other songs. I would make a demo that sounded professional, right down to my singing. I kept my expectations low; I’d be happy if one pro said, “Good song.”
My guru on this journey was Steve Tveit, general manager of Omnisound Studios, housed in a small, boxy, steel-blue-painted brick building on a plain street a few blocks from Music Row. Tveit is one of my favorite in-laws (he’s married to my wife’s niece) because he’s been able to make a living in the music business, even if it means driving a ’97 Dodge Neon without a CD player.
I had joked for years about recording in Nashville with my own band of earnest L.A. amateurs. But this time, perhaps because I sounded serious, he suggested: Just bring yourself. You can hire the same session men the record companies use.
Which was how I found myself sitting in a studio conference room at 9:15 on a Saturday morning with Chris Leuzinger, a touring and session guitarist who has played with country artists from Garth Brooks to Shania Twain to Tim McGraw to George Strait. Leuzinger, the hired bandleader, had received my CD via Tveit. On a legal pad he had “charted” the five songs, using what’s called the Nashville number system, a time-saving trick that assigns a number to each chord in the do-re-mi musical scale, making it easier for musicians to change keys without rewriting the chart. We listened to my originals one by one.
Leuzinger, a friendly, soft-spoken man with short, gray-tinged hair, turned off the CD player and asked me to sing the bridge of “Finally Made ‘Em Dance” while he strummed his acoustic guitar. He wanted to recommend a change: “I held the end of the bridge at G instead of E minor because the next verse starts with E minor.” I nodded knowingly, unable to remember the chord progression of my own song.
Any of Nashville’s smaller studios increasingly record recreational or aspiring musicians like me. It’s an outgrowth of several trends. In the days when country music was dominant, and record labels were setting up offices in Nashville and spending heavily, studios had plenty of work. But when country sales began to fall a half-dozen years ago, and digital equipment let many people construct home studios, there was not enough record label work to go around. Studios had to cut their day rates and engineering fees to keep business. Today, Tveit said, 20 to 25 percent of his business is “custom.”
And so here we were in the studio. The other musicians trickled in for the three-hour 10 a.m. session: the veteran keyboardist Bob Patin, who uses a computerized rig that can replicate endless instruments; the electric guitarist Mike Durham; the bassist Dow Tomlin; and the drummer Wayne Killius. I was paying them each $181 for the session, the American Federation of Musicians’ scale. (As bandleader, Leuzinger received $332.) They set up their instruments, then funneled into a conference room to read Leuzinger’s charts and listen to the homemade version of my first song, an angst-filled rocker called “I Breathe Your Name.”
There was little discussion once my version ended. The musicians simply headed around the corner into the studio. The band got the song on the second take.
link to original article:
Hiring studio musicians in Nashville – International Herald Tribune