Matt Beck on Steady Sideman Work

September 1, 2009

Plenty of guitarists say they have a lot going on, Matt Beck is someone who actually does. Since 2001, Beck has worked with Lisa Loeb, Matchbox 20, Rob Thomas, and Rod Stewart, and he was recently picked by Bono and the Edge to play guitar in the upcoming Spider Man musical. —Matt Blackett

How does your role differ in your various gigs?

I’m the musical director for Rob Thomas, so I’m responsible for more than just my playing. I make sure all the music is sounding right and all the players are playing what they should from day to day. I also help with arrangements, set lists, etc. In Matchbox 20, I’m basically the utility guy, so I handle guitar, keyboards, backing vocals, mandolin, and lap-steel. With Rod Stewart, I was more of a keyboardist who played guitar or mandolin on a few songs.

What’s the biggest challenge with each?

With Matchbox, the challenge is to find the part or instrument that isn’t being covered already by anyone else, as well as the right sound for each part that I’m covering from the record. With Rob Thomas, the challenge is to always be listening to the big picture— what everyone else is doing—so I can make sure everything is sounding the way it’s supposed to. With Lisa, it’s trying to collapse all the parts on the record—multiple guitars, strings, keyboards— as most of the time we were just a four-piece. With Rod, the challenge is to know how to fit in, because it’s a big band, with two guitars, two keyboards, bass, violin, pedal-steel, sax, and singers.

What advice can you give utility players who are having a tough time breaking in?

Simple: Play with anybody and everybody you can possibly play with. If you’ve got what it takes, your name will get out there eventually. It’s a game of persistence and dedication. It also really helps to be in or near a big city with a scene, like New York, L.A., or Nashville.

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