Steve Lukathers Session Stories August 2010

GUITAR PLAYER’S FACEBOOK PAGE posted a question asking readers what they wanted me to talk about, and many of you said, “career advice.”

GUITAR PLAYER’S FACEBOOK PAGE posted a question asking readers what they wanted me to talk about, and many of you said, “career advice.” Unfortunately, it’s really tough to give career advice to a guitarist in 2010—especially if you’re looking to be a session player. That gig is almost non-existent. There are not many players who still do this sh*t, and those who do have to tap dance to keep things going. They have their own home studios with their gear all set up, and clients send them audio files. There’s less and less human contact. It’s really kind of scary.


The studio camaraderie of the ’70s and ’80s has disappeared, because recording budgets have disappeared. The record companies got hip to people making records at home, so they cut back the budgets. Now, by necessity, people have become very meticulous about recording costs. They’ll go, “Here’s what I can pay. Take your time and send me a couple of different solos, and a couple of different rhythm parts, and we’ll sift through it.” So everybody makes their own deals, and the rules change project by project.

For example, when I make my records, I hire guys for a live session and pay them what they’re worth. But I also use the barter system. You know, you sing on my record, I’ll play on yours, and we’re clean. No money changes hands. That’s a good approach because everyone is on a tight budget, and whatever you don’t spend, you get to keep, and that’s the money you use to eat with.

The days of the Musician’s Union guy checking up on a studio date are long over. They can’t police this sh*t! Everyone has a home studio, and they don’t know what is going on, and I don’t care. The union f**ked the record guys. The guys who play film-soundtrack dates got different deals, and they’ll get great pensions, but the union dropped the ball so poorly for the record guys that we don’t have any allegiance to them at all. The embarrassing amount of money I’ll get from the Musician’s Union when I reach pension age is a joke.

So I guess the best “career advice” for session-musician hopefuls is to be a movie guy, but the handful of guys who do film soundtracks will never leave that job. It’s a coveted position—almost like a lifetime gig—but it’s also an intense pressure reading job. There is no time to get anything together—you look at the dots and you read them—and even great players can fold under that kind of pressure. I think we’re talking about six guys who hold those positions. Dean Parks is probably the reigning king. He started out as a saxophone player, so he can read anything. He’s a quiet giant with a magical touch who doesn’t just read notes— he interprets the music. Now, a lot of players can methodically sit and look at the dots and play them, but can they put any emotion into it? That’s what you have to ask yourself if you really want to go after a movie gig. Chops alone won’t break you into that business.

Next issue: Reading and groove tips.