Writing A “Musicians Wanted” Ad

By Lis Lewis 

People are always asking me how to word an ad for a music magazine or online ad in order to find musicians.
‘Singer/songwriter seeks band to write and play gigs’ is not going to cut it. It tells nothing about the singer and nothing about the style of material. The answers you would get could be anything from a beginning jazz guitarist to a hard rock drummer. Or, more likely, you would get no answers at all. This is your first sales job. Learn how to present yourself and your music so others either choose you or realize they aren’t right for you, thereby saving you a lot of time and energy.

What makes you different, what kind of music are you playing, what band members do you want and what level of experience? Adjectives help. Try to steer clear of ones that give value judgements because no one will believe you anyway. ‘Talented, rock god’ might work if written by a reviewer but not when you write it about yourself.

Here’s one that I love that a client of mine wrote about herself:

Female vocalist with smarts, presence and sex appeal seeks guitarist for writing
collaboration/band project. Colbie Caillat with Radiohead angst. Demo and experience required.

Doesn’t that say it all? You know something about her, about what she’s looking for and about the project.

Writing musician Want ads

Try to give the reader a picture of the personality you will be projecting onstage and through the material. Be specific about what you are looking for: a rock band to write lyrics for? a person with a home studio to write bass and drum tracks with? a ten piece band with horns? Describe the kind of music you will be playing. And in this case she also limited those who respond to those with experience. You might want a garage band, or a working band making money, or a band that already has songs. The more specific you are, the less likely you are to get calls from someone who is totally wrong for you.

The next step is to screen those who call you. Ask many questions on the phone. Get the person to talk to you so you can find out what they are like. Are they flaky? arrogant? spacey? How long have they been playing? What kind of music do they like? Hopefully you have a demo to send them and they have one to send you. That will save lots of time. I can’t tell you the number of times a singer has gone out to sing an audition with a band that says they are just like U2 and turn out to me more like Metallica. The more you can find out on the phone the better.

After you hear the demo and they seem to be close to what you are looking for, it’s time to get together and play some music. You could choose a cover song that you both know and jam on it. Or one of you could send the other an original song to learn. Whatever works. Just try to set it up so you will sound your best. If you aren’t good at making up melodies on the spot, don’t have an audition where the band jams and you sing something you haven’t had a chance to work on. Prepare something to sing to a track if necessary so they will hear what your voice sounds like when you have had a chance to work on a song. Remember that you are auditioning them as well.

Ready to take your singing to the next level? Take private voice lessons in Los Angeles or online with Lis Lewis!
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A Chat With Musical Director, Freddie Ravel

Freddie Ravel is a multi-platinum composer, keyboardist, musical director and producer. At the time of this interview he was the musical director for Al Jarreau and was co-producing his new record. I asked him about the role of musical director and what it entails.

LL: What are you doing right now?
Freddie Ravel: Al Jarreau is coming over in about an hour and we’e going to finish putting together the pieces for the tour. Al has 15 albums so we’re digging all the way back to 1976 and up to his current new album and we’ll try to fit that into a 60 minute show.
LL: What does a musical director do?
FR: A musical director listens to every aspect of the sound like a producer, but you’re a live producer because you’re making decisions about arrangement, chord changes, starts and stops within a song.
LL: Aren’t those things arranged ahead of time?
FR: Oh yes they are, but let’s say if you’re doing a song that’s been done for a long time like “We’re In This Love Together” for example, a big Al Jarreau hit.? The artist has been doing that song for 20 years and he has to keep doing it. It’s a great song but he personally is tired of it. So instead of doing the standard groove that’s on the record, I changed it to a totally different kind of groove and slowed it down and created a whole new feel with it and I modified some changes so that it would be more current sounding.
LL: Being musical director involves mostly the live performance?
FR: Yes, it’s a live performance oriented gig. You have to write charts at times, you have to be totally prepared to make different arrangements even after you’ve written the charts because once you’re actually rehearsing it, you might find that you need a different connector to go from one song to the next and you have to write a different kind of segue. Or the artist might be a whole step lower now than they were when they sang it 20 years ago.
LL: How did your relationship with Al start?
FR: He used to come and hear me play with my band at La Ve Lee. The first call from Al was about getting together to write, to compose. It had nothing to do with musical directing or anything. He had a couple of ideas in his head about a Latin kind of song. At our first meeting we wrote a song together called “Tomorrow Today”? which we just got finished recording. Then Al said he was interested in having me put together a band for him and would I be musical director? He knew I had a solo career and knew my records. He knew I was musical director for Earth, Wind & Fire for four years; he knew I worked with Madonna. In other words he could just call me and say I trust your opinion. So I called up specific players, guys that I thought would really address his music the right way. Fortunately he was happy with my choices and we’ve all been doing it now for a little over a year.
LL: Do you sit down with the artist and work out the tunes, or take them off the record the way they are or what?
FR: Well, in the case of someone who is as established as Al, he has charts from other bands he’s had and sometimes I have access to those. But there’s a big Al Jarreau song that’s called, “Alonzo” – glorious piece of music – that’s in 6/4. So I showed him that there’s a way to treat that groove with sort of an African treatment of 6/4 and with the right kind of synthesizer sounds it can sound pretty primal. He had never heard that treatment of 6/4. And there’s an arrangement I did of “Stella by Starlight” in 6/4 that Al really likes which we are going to be doing on this tour. I showed him a way to connect these songs even though “Alonzo” and “Stella by Starlight” are really totally different worlds. But if you find the common notes in the harmony and you find a way to rhythmically treat the two, it can sound really fresh. That’s some of the things that I do and I guess that starts to blur the line between arranging and producing and musical directing.
LL: But the musical director’s work is generally after the record is done and the person’s going on tour.
FR: That’s correct.
LL: Do you rehearse the band without the artist?
FR: You try to get the band there to the rehearsal hall an hour before the artist shows up. The best thing is when the artist walks in the door and the band is grooving; you’re not sitting there having a conversation or at the snack bar having some coffee – that’s the worst thing that can happen.
LL: But generally speaking you don’t have rehearsals that are without the artist. You might come in an hour ahead and run through some stuff but basically you rehearse all together.
FR: That’s right.
LL: Have they gotten the charts ahead so they know what they’re playing?
FR: Most of the time. Sometimes the artist will tell the musical director “we really should do this song” and you have no time to put it together so you generate a chart very quickly and everyone plays it, right then and there.
LL: How much rehearsal do they generally get?
FR: In real life, most of the time the songs are put together at a sound check. If you have several days to rehearse in town you’re really lucky.
LL: You’re talking about before the tour starts.
FR: Before the tour starts. In this particular case, we have that window – we have five days. So we’re going to be able to kind of reinvent ourselves.
LL: When do these ideas like the 6/4 thing for “Stella By Starlight” happen? Is that in rehearsal or is that with just you and Al?
FR: “Stella By Starlight”? in 6/4 happened to me when I was playing solo piano at the New Otani Hotel in 1984.
LL: What about the idea of connecting it to “Alonzo”.
FR: That happened last night before he arrived and rang my doorbell. I was noticing as I was playing through the songs myself that there was this really beautiful combination of chords that could easily get us to “Stella By Starligh” The way the keys and the notes worked it was just delicious to go from “Alonzo”? to “Stella”?. But what I thought would be better was to go from “Stella” to “Alonzo”?. Because everyone knows that “Stella By Starlight”? is a standard and then when you go to “Alonzo”?, which is? a big Al Jarreau hit, the audience would be thrilled to go from a standard to a classic of his.
LL: So this is before the rehearsal time with the band.
FR: Right, this is pre-production. The artist vetoes and approves what ideas I have that he likes or what ideas I have that he needs to modify and improve. When you have rehearsal you have about seven people you’re paying and a rehearsal hall and instrument rentals. It’s like a record date – you want to have your charts and your pre-production ready before you go into the studio.
LL: Is the record out yet?
FR: There’s a couple of finishing touches to do on it, so no. It should be released in February.
LL: Does it have a working title?
FR: Probably “Tomorrow Today”.
LL: How did you come to be the Musical Director for Earth, Wind & Fire for four years?
FR: My first album came out in 1989 in the old days when I used to play that club, Miami Spice which was in Marina Del Rey. We went to #6 on the national charts with that record – that was my debut album. Through that record Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire heard me on the radio and he saw me play at Bon Appetite, that little club in Westwood. After that he approached me at that club and said “Freddie I want you to meet my brother Maurice”? and I said “Man are you kidding me”?
LL: Yes… my heart would beat a little faster.
FR: Yes, I mean are you kidding? I’d love to meet, I mean, you know,? “God”. When? So a couple weeks I later met Maurice and we just hit it off. I took him some of the compositions I had written for my next record. About a month after that he invited me to join the band and serve as the musical director and do what I’ve already told you except that it was Earth, Wind & Fire so it also involved horns. Which is a whole other world. It was great. After 4 years with Earth, Wind & Fire, Maurice decided that he didn’t want to tour with the band any more and he wanted to start his own record label which he did. And he asked me to be the first artist on his label. The record that came out of that was “Sol to Soul”?. It was certainly one of the most profound professional experiences I’ve ever had. I was like a kid in a candy store working with him. That was basically my second solo album; there’s six different styles of music on that record which is really unusual. There’s a song I wrote with Deepak Chopra on that album, there’s stuff with Maurice, with Verdine White playing bass, with Peter Erskine on drums, with a salsa big band and a Latin singer from Nicaragua by the name of Luis Enrique. It’s a real highly diverse album.
LL: What work did you do with Madonna?
FR: There’s a particular cut on “Sol to Soul”? that Madonna heard called “Quedate Conmigo” which means “stay with me”. It’s a big salsa tune. My manager called me and said, “Fred you’re not going to believe this: Madonna heard “Quedate Conmigo”? and wants you to play piano on the track ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’ for the Evita movie.”? She did a kind of Miami dance track with it. We had a recording session and we had a great time, a fantastic time. After that she asked me if I’d be in a video with her and of course I said I’d be honored to. The video was an Andrew Lloyd Webber tune called “You Must Love Me”?. This girl works – all the stories you hear about a workaholic are totally true. I’ve never seen someone work so hard. She’s smart, she’s astute and she knows what she wants. I really respect her. I enjoyed working with her in the studio. And when I was playing the piano she said, “Freddie are you familiar with the music of Cachao” and I said, “Yes, I know who Cachao is” and she said, “Well that’s kind of what I’m looking for in the piano.”
LL: I don’t know who Cachao is.
FR: It’s a real insider musician kind of thing. He was the guy who invented the”discarga”, and discarga means jam. He’s the guy who came up with Mambo bass lines. In the 30’s and 4’s and 50’s, in the whole Cuban music thing. Gloria and Emilio Estephan and Andy Garcia, particularly Andy Garcia, made a documentary movie on Cachao’s life that I saw in the New Art theater in Santa Monica about five years ago. He’s an underground icon; it’s the kind of thing most Americans wouldn’t know about and she knew all about him. That immediately told me what she wanted. I started playing very authentic kind of piano against this London produced dance track that was exactly what she wanted. And that made it great. One more thing I did with her – she wanted me to play piano on another song called Buenos Aires which is also part of Evita so I did that as well.?
LL: I know your music, but I don’t know that I can describe it, so tell me in a nutshell what you would say your stylistic orientation is.
FR: Well, it’s kind of tricky but I would say that most of my music has a Latin/jazz element in it, but it also has elements that are funky and elements that are R&B.
LL: Is there a particular Latin orientation?
FR: I would say it’s Cuban and Brazilian.
LL: Well, you’ve been doing a lot. I’m impressed.
FR: No rest for the weary here.

Studio Singers

by Ann Johns Ruckert

Being a studio singer is a wondrous thing but it seems to be as hard a field to get into as being an artist with a label deal. So decide which you want to do and begin your preparation.

Learning Your Craft Skills

Number one is the voice. Aside from the standard vocalese training and bel canto, developing muscle memory is essential. Muscle memory is the ability of your voice, on command, to produce the sound in tune and on time that it sees and/or hears (as in sightsinging). More precisely, muscle memory is your voice doing what you tell it to do – without fail. Much the same as a piano player uses the Hanon Book of Exercises, the singer should be developing the voice with studies of intervals. Sightsinging is also essential. Sightsinging means that when you pick up a written piece of music, you can sing it the first time through – perfectly, even though you haven’t ever heard it. A very good singing teacher is a wonderful asset as a mentor and teacher. He/she will also help you with health tips that singers need.

Another skill that is important is being able to play the piano. I have been on numerous sessions where someone says, “Ann, take the singers to the piano and ‘woodshed’ while we set up.”..No one has ever asked me if I play piano. It is assumed that if you are working at this level, and you are not someone’s girlfriend or boyfriend, your skills must be as sharp as a tack.

Now that all of your craft skills are perfect, how do you let the vocal contractors know that you are ready?

You can make a demo reel. A demo reel is a demonstration of your singing abilities which shows you can sing in different styles: effectively in a group, that you can blend, that you phrase properly for different genres of music (jazz to opera to country), etc. In one week, here in New York City a few years ago, I sang on an Aretha Franklin session, a guide tape for Sarah Vaughn, and I sang in “The Soldiers Chorus” for the New York City Opera recording of Faust. So you see that being flexible is very important.

Joining the unions, AFTRA/SAG and Local 47, is required. Attending the meetings is a good way to meet other singers doing studio work. I only do union work, so I cannot hire nonunion singers. Other singers are not the enemy. We recommend each other for work and most singers are our friends. When I write a vocal chart, and if I hire Emily Bindiger, it does not mean that I do not adore the way Carmen Twilly sings. It is not about the person. It’s the music that matters. A cardinal rule is: Never Confront Someone, or ask, “Why didn’t you hire me for that gig?” This makes people uncomfortable. Someone once asked me this question, but I had been instructed by the orchestrater to not hire that singer. I would have lost the job as contractor in the future if I told that singer in question the reason. This is a very sensitive issue.

I have a rule that works for me. When I get called to work, I go and when I don’t get called, I don’t go….and I don’t think about it, that’s counterproductive. My personal philosophy is, “If you don’t love me, you are wrong. (I know that I am lovable and would never hurt anyone. Not on purpose ) and I refuse to be offended,” That also is a pure waste of time. No one ever means to be mean, so let it go. Attitude is important in working in studios.

After you have your head on straight and you have all your skills sharp and you have joined the unions and gone to the meetings, now what?

Start sending tapes out and make a list of the busy session singers in your town. It could be as simple as turning your compact discs over, or reading the liner notes, and seeing who the vocal contractor was. You will see that the same names come up again and again. There is a radio registry/artists service in New York City and in Los Angeles there is a directory called L.A. Singers United. [See listing at end of article-ed.] By the way, if you can’t find a singers service, start one yourself. If there is no written singer’s directory you can find, start that one too. (That’s a good excuse to call every singer known to mankind in LA and find out who is doing studio work, what their vocal range is, and what level their skills are at. You can just ask them. If you want to meet singers, that’s a good way to do it.)

Start a vocal group, just to keep your chops up, get some Morgan Ames charts, “woodshed”, and hire out for parties, etc. All great writers like Morgan Ames, Take 6 and Manhattan Transfer publish their charts.

Call Songwriters Guild of America. They run many workshops filled with songwriters, all whom are looking for singers for their demos (one hundred dollars a song or an hour whichever is higher). Doing a couple of these a week, is better than a kick in the head. And, its the beginning of what is called studio work. As you improve, better songwriters call you and recommend you.

Do not forget church gigs. Many big churches have paid choirs. It is a chance to keep your reading chops up. I could do three to four services a day as a swing girl.

Singing in commercials: Look in a Billboard reference book (Billboard, one of many music publications, publishes many reference books for performers, musicians and agencies. Contact Billboard, or www.Billboard.com, for a full list of their publications and prices) Send your short, snappy, properly packaged tape or CD to each. A properly packaged tape or CD is one that is packaged with bright colors, your name in a very large font on inserts in all packages. Your name, address and phone number should be on every part of the tape or CD. A demo tape should be no longer than five minutes… and remember, a jingle lasts no longer than sixty seconds. Follow up with a call, “Did you receive it.” Never say, “Did you listen?” Be nice to the person who answers the phone. Good manners will move your tape to the top of the list faster.

Film Work: Get to know the folks who compose or orchestrate for films. I have made many of those contacts in college or through NARAS (the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences – the Grammy people; NARAS is the professional organization for people who make records) and while attending ASCAP, BMI and SESAC seminars. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are performance rights organizations which represent publishers as well as songwriters – all of whom are looking for singers on an everyday basis.

Off stage singing for shows or T.V. shows: Rely on your knowing the music director. I met most music directors through friends and my teachers. Keep expanding your circle of business acquaintances and friends. People like to be recognized. Failing to do so can jeopardize potential jobs and offend people. One tool I use is self-made flash cards with peoples faces on one side, and their professional data on the other side. I’m not above taking a meeting with Clive Davis and wearing a Harvard blazer. (First of all, I know who Clive Davis is, and second, I know he went to Harvard. You need to do your homework.)

Although I do have a business manager, Managers & Agents are not relevant in session work. No manager or agent can take a percentile of scale because it violates union law.

Attorney: I have a fabulous attorney, but he is important only when a contract is needed. Studio work is a verbal agreement based on union scale.

Essential Career Tools: Answering service or machine, pager and cell phone; appointment book or palm pilot; fax machine; some sound equipment: CD burner, CD player, cassette player system; audition tapes and demos tapes.

Work Habits: Always be on time. There are no excuses. If you are late and the session goes over time you are legally responsible for the over time expenses.

Attitude: Be pleasant and agreeable. Until you have been on the scene for a while, be quiet and observe.

Practice Daily

First I do a vocal warm-up and a stretch. Then I play and sing scales;, major, minor, modes repeating minor seconds, then Nadia Boulanger sequential exercises. I finish with some sightsinging. I sing the numbers on car license plates while I drive, and recite triads while waiting on line at the bank, etc. Focus and discipline are good habits to develop for any career in or out of music.

If someone asks you if you can sightsing never say, “No but I have great ears.” It sounds like an amateur. All the pro’s just roll their eyes. What if you said I do not read or write English, I do it all by ear. You would not have a great job in the civilian world and it is this way also in music.The more skills you have the more you work.

In conclusion, I would like to say, I have never been unemployed as a studio musician much to the amazement of a lot of my friends who are technically better singers, more beautiful, and certainly younger. My working is not dependent on my university degrees, but on my kindergarten report card that said, “Works Well With Others.”

Ann Johns Ruckert is an award winning studio musician and singer, with over 3,000 commercially released jingles and recordings.

BMI (310) 659-9109

ASCAP (323) 883-1000

SESAC (310) 393-9671

Songwriter’s Guild (323) 462-1108

NARAS, L.A. Chapter (310) 392-3777

SAG (323) 954-1600

AFTRA (323) 634-8100

L.A. Singers United listing of singers (818) 712-9369

Morgan Ames
Jazz charts published through University of N. Colorado Press

Darlene Koldenhoven
Seminars on how to make a demo tape for jingle, demo, studio work sightreading, ear training studio singing terminology (818) 760-4954

Ready to take your singing to the next level? Take private voice lessons in Los Angeles or online with Lis Lewis!
Learn More.

Vocal Health

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

By Lis Lewis

Keeping your voice healthy through thick and thin is an ongoing task. At a music conference last weekend I was asked ‘what are the two most important things for singers to do to take care of themselves’ and the answer was easy: sleep and water.

All singers know what happens if you don’t get enough sleep. Forget it! All the muscles that aren’t supposed to work when you sing jump in to help you compensate for your lack of energy. You will find your voice gets tired sooner and won’t be as flexible. Also you will tend to overdrive the air pressure to correct any sound problems. Slamming extra air into your vocal cords will make them tense which can cause you to sing flat. If you have to sing after not getting enough sleep, try to relax and not overdrive. Warm up carefully and fully, which may take longer then usual. Please don’t drink coffee! It will only succeed in depriving you of the next most important thing: water.

Singers must be hydrated. (Double that if you have asthma.) Your vocal cords are surrounded by a mucous membrane (don’t be disgusted – it’s important). This mucous membrane must stay very wet and fluid for your vocal cords to operate properly. When you feel like you have phlegm in your throat or you have to clear your throat all the time, it’s not because you have mucous; it’s because the mucous is too thick. You need more water in your body to thin the mucous membrane out.

Remember that you have two tubes going from the back of your throat: one that sends food to your stomach and one that sends air to your lungs. Your vocal cords are in the tube that sends air to your lungs. Therefore, just drinking water doesn’t immediately solve the problem. The water has to go through your digestive system before it hydrates your vocal cords. You should be drinking an enormous amount of water every day to keep your cords in the best possible shape.

There are lots of ways to get dehydrated. Here are some of them: not enough water, smoke (yours or anyone else’s), salt, caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.), alcohol, recreational drugs, diuretics, over the counter anti-histamines and decongestants (the newer prescription ones seem to be less drying), air travel over 35,000 feet and PMS. Lovely, eh? About the last two: part of jet lag is your body’s reaction to high cabin pressure and very dry cabin air causing swelling and dehydration. That’s why you shouldn’t take off your shoes on a long flight (your feet will swell up and you won’t be able to put them back on) and you shouldn’t drink alcohol or eat salty food while flying. When your feet or hands swell, so do your vocal cords, making them harder to move. The same happens with PMS. You swell because you retain water which is your body’s response to not having enough. Water, water, water.

Another big no-no is dairy which doesn’t exactly dry you out but it does make your mucous thicker. That means milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter. This is the end of the cheese pizza or the late night quart of Haagen Daz. I’m sure you remember how excited Celine Dionne was when she took a break from her singing career to have a baby and said in an interview “finally, I can have dairy again!”.

An overheated house, for instance when you turn the heat on in winter, can dry your vocal cords out especially while you’re sleeping. The same is true if you live in a dry climate or even more so if you fly into a dry climate (hence the expression “Vegas throat”). One of the great solutions to this and other dehydration issues is to run a humidifier at night while sleeping (these are available at drug stores and bed and bath stores everywhere). This is not a vaporizer which is noisy and puts enough water in the air to drench the sheets. It is a larger floor model which puts small droplets of water in the air quietly. It will save your life. It even helps your immune system fight off colds. There are also small personal steamers available at drug stores that are easily packed. They look like the product used for giving yourself a facial steam but they only cover your mouth. You put water in them and plug them in and they produce steam in a few minutes. Steam is great for getting the water more directly to your cords (remember the two tubes) because you can inhale it without drowning.

Finally (I’m sure I’m forgetting something; forgive me in advance) there’s good old fashioned vocal abuse. Bad. If you ever shout again, you will be punished. Of course, vocal abuse will make you hoarse, eventually give you a good case of nodes (vocal calluses) and limit your range, flexibility and tone. Think of your vocal cords like a pianist thinks of his/her hands. They are precious. Maybe you should even insure them. (I’m kidding.) But treat them with respect – they are your livelihood. Don’t scream when you’re mad or excited, even when the Yankees lose the Pennant. Don’t shout to be heard over the drummer. Get a decent monitor system so you can hear yourself. Teach the band dynamics. Warm up your voice before you sing to remind yourself of the healthy way to make sound. You have a physical instrument and it needs stretching out before you use it just like an athlete.

Since your body is your instrument, you have to keep it healthy, so diet and exercise play an important part in the daily regimen.There are also lots of wonderful sprays, lozenges and herbs that will help you maintain your voice and your health. Don’t be overwhelmed by all these restrictions. Just do what you can little by little and you’ll see the improvement. You’ll be able to sing longer, with more ease and flexibility. And one day. far in the future, when you retire, you’ll be able to crack open a quart of Haagen Daz again.