Hi Reddit, Kevin Kumar and Maia Jasper White here! Individually, we've played as session musicians on lots of movies, tv shows, and albums recorded in Hollywood. Together, we're the directors of Salastina, a non-profit concert series. We're here to answer any questions you might have about what it's like to be a studio musician. We're especially excited to tell you about our FREE weekly Happy Hours on Zoom. Past guests include Lindsey Stirling, Chris Thile, Caroline Shaw, etc and upcoming guests include Alan Menken, Elliot Goldenthal, and Augustin Hadelich/Orion Weiss live in recital tonight. You can register for any of them here!
Some things to know: - To date, we've held 43 free events since covid. It's the best decision we've made as an org - Seth Rogen performed on the very first Salastina concert - We got in trouble at a Star Wars session - We (the only five performers) once almost had to walk off-stage because we started laughing/crying after an audience member sneeze-farted twice during a performance - We commissioned a piece of music and recently invited the world to participate in the performance. There's still time!
Ask Us Anything!
How and who got you in trouble at the StarWars recording session??
Maia here: ok, perhaps I will get blacklisted forever from publicly telling this story, but it’s true, so... here goes!
In February of 2017, I was super pregnant with my first child, our son Galen. Kevin and I were at a Star Wars recording session. It was John Williams’ 85th birthday that day, and let’s just say his mood wasn’t exactly celebratory. The vibe at that session was much more tense than usual. Of course, everyone’s always on their best behavior for John Williams; this was different.
At one point, Kevin lightly tapped my knee with his bow. He had noticed a colleague and friend, who’d been out sick for a while, was finally back that day. I leaned forward to smile at her and give a little encouraging wave. The maestro immediately called us out in front of the whole orchestra for disrupting the session, pointing at us with his baton while sternly saying, “now’ s not the time for visiting!!”
He later had the contractor reprimand us, telling us it was a privilege to be breathing the same air as him. While that is, of course, true — and while that moment was certainly mortifying, in a way — I can’t say either of us truly felt ashamed of our actions. It was clear the reaction was more about the birthday blues than anything inappropriate we’d done. If anything, we felt a little like, “he knows us!”
Hi, Jani here. Big fan! Question...what’s the hardest thing about being a studio musician? I feel like on the one hand it’s easy because there can be multiple retakes, but on the other hand you might have to be a fast learner, a great site reader with no room for mistakes without everyone booing you if you mess up a take lol. Can you share more? It seems exciting like you might meet and work with uber famous ppl. Who have you met?
Maia here: hey Jani!! Thanks for coming by. I would say there are two hard things about being a studio musician. The first is that there is no job security. It is purely work-for-hire. You don’t “audition” to get in to anything stable or structured, and there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get called for anything ever again. It’s completely mysterious who gets called for what and why (or why not). As you can imagine, that creates a pretty... interesting work environment.
I personally have always looked at studio work as “icing on the cake,” even when —financially speaking — my bottom line is, like, 50% icing! This mentality is a way for me to not feel quite so “at the mercy” of invisible forces I can’t control. Now I can define myself as, in part, a studio musician and feel confident in that, but hardly like it’s the sole focus of my artistic life or identity.
In my twenties when I first started, I remember feeling like, “why’s everyone so stressed? What’s the big deal? All this music is *so easy!*” As classical musicians, we trained on much, much more challenging music than most scores present, so I didn’t understand why everyone seemed so stressed. The more I started doing studio work, and the higher the stakes were (financially and reputation-maintenance wise), I started to get it. If your chair moves, or your tummy grumbles, or you have a tickle in your throat, it’s easy to feel like, “THAT’S IT! I ruined it, I called negative attention to myself, and will never be asked to do this again.” Suddenly, the easiest note to play becomes a head-trip, because you feel like it has to be absolutely perfect. Something about the high financial stakes, lack of job security, need for silence and perfection, and in a way, even the less challenging music itself leaving room for a racing mind makes for this perfect cocktail of self-doubt.
It honestly took me until I was nearly thirty years old to feel more comfortable in that environment. I’m not really sure what changed for me! Probably just older and wiser, more perspective.
Wait wait, what is this story about an audience member sneeze-farting during a performance?
It was a disaster.
We were playing an incredibly beautiful piece of music (Schubert's Cello Quintet), and during the most delicate, whisper-like passage, this crazy sound came from the audience. Our best guess was that it was a sneeze-fart, but it really was such a weird, out of context, almost animal noise. We looked at each other and started giggling (I can't control it on-stage). 30 secs later, in the 2nd most quiet passage, it happened again. By this time, we were shaking and crying, barely holding on to our instruments. The audience started laughing, too.
We really should have left, but we weathered the 10 minutes hysteria. Afterwards, we looked for the audience member so we could apologize, but they (or it) left.
Jim McMillen here. My wife Kathy and I are big fans of Salistina, in fact Kevin was kind enough to include us as orchestrators for the hopefully soon upcoming O.C. fan Tutte! And recently we were fortunate to have placed 4 of our Vitamin String Quartet Arrangements in the hit Netflix series Bridgerton. I was wondering if you were familiar with our wonderful violinist Simon Orvista?
Hi Jim and Kathy! I heard Simon Orvista is ten feet tall, shoots fireballs out of his ass, is so handsome that to look at him will boil your eyes, and also plays the violin. It's also a pseudonym for me. For anyone reading this, please look up James McMillen. I've worked with him on all kinds of stuff, including major label releases for pop stars. He and Kathy are the real deal. You need them for your next project, trust me. Congrats on the success of Bridgerton - or should I say, congrats to all 3 of us?
For those who don’t know, how much time do you get to rehearse a piece of music before recording in a pro session environment?
What is this thing you speak of, rehearsal?
Very, very few composers actually send out their music ahead of time. And even if they do, very few musicians have time to look at it. So we show up, there's music on the stand, we read it, they record it!
You get used to it quickly!
What was it like working with Seth Rogen??
Hi! This is Maia. Thanks for asking :) he was such a good sport — really humble, and really determined to nail it! I wrote the “script” of the story, Ferdinand the Bull, like a Hollywood movie script, complete with verbal descriptions of what he would hear before he had to come in. Like, “the flute will do this long windy thing, and when it’s done, you say ___”
Obviously, he has a great sense of humor and is super gracious. We loved that he improvised a little in the performance. It was obvious he got more comfortable in that setting as things went along!
Hi!!! What is your favorite thing to do to relax after a long day of working hard as a musician, and what do you do for a fun practice technique to jazz up a boring routine??
Maia here... favorite thing to do to relax: that’s tough since I’m an expert lounger when I get the chance. Knitting, a glass of wine, a bowl of candy cane ice cream with hot fudge leap to mind. Just chatting with my husband in our kitchen nook. Quality time together is at a premium with two toddlers at home! (They’re almost 4 and 2)
As far as practice techniques to jazz up a routine... oh, to have a routine anymore lol. When I did, I would definitely challenge myself by leaping into a run through and recording myself without warming up. It could be horrifying and extremely helpful at the same time.
Another one!- what’s the most overlooked piece of chamber music you’ve played(or studied!) and why should that be added to the list of today’s favorites? Also, what is the most impactful concert you’ve played or been to???
Maia here: I think Rebecca Clarke’s piano trio is a complete masterpiece. We programmed it without saying what it was or advertising the composer in any way, and had the audience guess. (Shocker, nobody guessed it could have been a woman, which was also a super interesting way to make a point about our implicit biases and assumptions without making anyone feel bad about it!) Her viola sonata gets all the love. It’s a great piece, but her trio is amazing too.
Most impactful concert I’ve played... oh boy. I loved playing Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in Salastina’s early days. That piece is just devastating, and we played with such wonderful musicians. It was one of our first experiences playing a “monster piece” on our series, so personally, that stands out as particularly wrenching. I’d also say that playing in the pit quartet for Vid Guerrerio’s adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro, Figaro!90210, was incredibly impactful. I went into it with the snobbery of a purist, but was humbled, amazed, and very entertained by his clever and loving adaptation. That was in 2014; in 2021, Salastina will premiere OC fan tutte, his adaptation of Cosi fan tutte. :)
Most impactful concert I’ve been to... also so hard!! Probably when I was a little girl and went to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with my dad to see Anne-Sophie Mutter play the complete Brahms violin sonatas in recital. She played piano four hands with Lambert Orkis for her encore. My mind was blown by her fierceness and poise.
So do you see parts of movies before anyone else? Or is that not how it works.
Maia here: we totally do! Sometimes, for the really big ones (like Star Wars), they’ll only allow the conductor to see the monitor for timing. Even so, some musicians can still see what’s happening. I remember in the case of Star Wars, the harpists were able to see some of the “spoiler” moments!
Sometimes, they give the really big movies a code name. It’s usually pretty obvious what the movie in question actually is, so the effort to keep it a “secret” somehow is kind of cute.
Do you ever hear a piece of violin music in an old film that piques your pallet, and you must then see if you can play it as good, if not better?
Yes. I grew up obsessed with violinists from the early 20th century. Their sound, charm, vibrato, musicality - it was just a language I could understand and speak.
If they do something very idiosyncratic, like a swoop between two notes, or have intensely fast vibrato, I do see if I can do it. Not so much as a competition, but because I appreciate it and want to knwo the mechanics behind it.
What’s been your favorite film and/or composer to work with?
Kevin: Gonna get us in trouble with this one haha!
Some composers are personal friends, so you're always happy to see them - and you know what their artistic goals are, so everyone is on the same page. For example, it was great to work on a couple of tracks from Crazy, Rich Asians with Christopher Tin. He's a friend, and we were so happy for his success. Also, Maia and I were in the principal chairs, so we could help in that way.
But zooming out a little...the first time Star Wars was recorded in Los Angeles for Force Awakens...sitting there and hearing the Force theme played by the french horns was incredible.
There are lots of great people in the industry. Working with Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) is always super fun, and he hangs out during the breaks with the musicians
Hello Kevin and Maya. Did you have any contact with the actors or actresses? And the second question I always wondered was how important you were to the show i mean did they appreciate u enough or u were a guy for who they easily can find a changer. And if so, were you valued like an actor? .Sorry for the dumb questions because I think people like you are not valued as much as they need to be. Thank you so much for the reply. It is very good to start such an interesting discussion.P.s sorry for the gramar
Maia here: hey! Yet another awesome username, lol.
Even though the reality is that string players are generally replaceable — meaning, no one would really miss me if I were replaced by, say, Kevin (although in that case, may be they would, hehe) — the composers and film crew always go above and beyond to express their appreciation. Sometimes it almost seems over-the-top! I think because the music is the last thing to be added, it brings the movie to life, so the people involved are super grateful and excited. To me, it sometimes seems like, “whoa, all I did was show up and sight read, but I’m glad you’re so happy and excited!”
We’ve definitely encountered actors and actresses over the years. I used to be more shy about approaching famous people to say hello. If someone is genuinely interesting to me and I have something nice to tell them, I won’t hold back.
For instance, I made a point to “thank” JJ Abrams for inadvertently introducing my husband and me to each other. We met scoring his show “Revolution.” He’s a big advocate for musicians in LA, and making sure music is recorded here. If not for that, I’m not sure when my husband and I would have had so many chances to flirt with each other!
When I went up to JJ to thank him for all of that, he was soooo sweet — he said I’d “made his day.” (!!) I was quite pregnant with our second child — this must have been the last Star Wars movie. He wrote something really sweet for my family — I think it’s on the inside of a Carl Flesch violin technique book I was carrying around at the time. That was definitely the most memorable celebrity/filmmaker appreciation encounter I’ve ever had!
What’s it like showing up to a studio and given a piece of music for an upcoming movie or album?
Kevin: We almost never see the music ahead of time, so we're sight-reading. I kind of divide the experience up into three categories.
sometimes you're just there to add to the atmosphere, so you're playing long slow notes and often doubling synths. These can be snoozefests, but we're happy for the work.
sometimes, the composer wants to use the violins/strings to be super active, with tons of moving figures. Since they've got a whole score to think of, it can be awkward and difficult to read and play. It's like the Tendonitis Olympics.
Beautiful melodies that ask us to do what we do best on the instrument
In the end, we know that it's not about what we want to do, but how the score serves the picture. And we're pretty friendly with our colleagues, so all in all it's a nice experience.
Favorite piece you’ve performed, or enjoy performing, professionally and non professionally?
Btw I love this ama and the work y’all do is 👌👌
kevin here: Hi bookworm02!
Thanks so much! Hope you'll check out our free weekly happy hours :)
I really like performing Scottish fiddle tunes. I don't have much experience with them and I'm clearly not Scottish, but I've had the opportunity to play some on stage and I've always had a blast. It's down to earth, has great melodies and rhythm, and just feels celebratory.
Non-professionally, I find Hindustani classical music incredible. I took some vocal lessons when the earth was still cooling, and fell in love.
Favorite piece: Any chamber music by Brahms. And Reena Esmail. And Derrick Spiva. The list goes on.
Aren't you just enjoying our glorious weather today?
Thanks for this AMA, And enjoy your kids, blink and they'll be gone. I think it's great they are growing up with musical parents!
I've recently discovered Samuel Kim as a musical arranger. Can you please give him a shout out to the Hollywood powers that be? I'm crying my eyes out to his interpretation of "Leaves from the Vine" from Avatar the last Airbender.
I'll check out your online stuff, sounds great!
Thanks so much! I often hear my kids humming or singing music that I'm working on. They don't realize they're doing it, but the osmosis is real.
I don't know Samuel, but I do know ATLA! Will look into Samuel :)
Envious of your talent. What does it feel like to do something you love and have mastered?
Kevin here - Hi afro-xuanyaun,
There was a period of time when I didn't really play the violin for about 9 years. I had an injury which basically didn't allow me to play for more than a few minutes at a time. I was devastated at first, gave up when rehab didn't work, went back to school, and did other things.
I came back to the violin almost by accident, and I just feel grateful. I think it changed a lot of things for me to approach it with gratitude rather than ambition. It's one of the reasons why I started Salastina with Maia!
why zoom? why not an existing live streaming service like twitch or youtube that is a) discoverable b) follow-able c) saves a recording for future viewing d) advertises for you to potential viewers and e) provides built in monetization options.
Kevin here! Good question. We thought about a lot of different options, and it really came down to being able to see people's faces. It may not be the best business move, but we wanted to do something specifically for this pandemic time. We saw how much the audience and the artists enjoyed seeing people's faces and reactions when a lot of people are feeling isolated.
Zoom saves the recording for future viewing, but the artists we engage don't necessarily want a live event to be online afterwards. And we don't want audience members who put their videos on to worry about their interactions being immortalized.
We've gotten a lot of positive feedback about how much the events mean to people. Sometimes there are sacrifices in video or audio resolution, but actually we're supposed to be running at 1080p and 44.1khz, which is pretty respectable. The artists aren't sound engineers and they usually don't have a team to help them, so those limitations would exist on any platform.
Which movie would you love to do the soundtrack ? How many days do you take for doing a soundtrack ?
The time it takes really depends on the movie. For a major picture that has music centered around an orchestra, it could take at least a week. Sometimes it can be just a day or two if there aren't many strings.
It also depends on the budget. There are have been some sessions where you're just ripping through music trying to record as many cues as possible. I can't remember if there are union rules around how much recorded music per session is allowed.
For your first question, a friend and composer named Javier Navarrete (Pan's Labyrinth) said he'd like to compose a solo violin film score. It'll probably never happen, but that would be a fun project!
I really enjoyed the concert tonight! Augustin and Orion were fantastic. I'd like to ask the same question to you guys that I had posted in the chat:
Do you have any advice for pre-professionals? I am a violinist about to graduate and I feel like a lot of us have missed out on networking and performance opportunities due to the pandemic.
Maia here: thank you for tuning in, and for asking :)
If there’s one demographic I feel so bummed for, it’s yours. Before I offer any advice, I’d like to attempt some consolation. Your generation is going to be so street-smart, resourceful, and resilient as a result of having gone through this time at this stage in life.
OK, some advice... I’d say keep an open mind. Have a broad view of what “musicianship” can mean. Think long and hard about your strengths, curiosities, and interests. Be honest about whether or not those align with your vision of your perfect career, or with who or how you “want” to be. Think about how your strengths, curiosities, and interests are aligned with what others find valuable. I think that’s where true success lies.
I know that’s abstract, but hope it helps!
(A bit late off the mark here, but if you're still around..!) - Any memorable/favourite recording location? Studio musicians fascinate me, because I keep assuming they get exposed to so many different types of music and have to be quite flexible!
Like Maia said, Sony feels historic. Some composers have their own smaller studios, and the sessions there are more fun and intimate. Marco Beltrami has a dope studio in the middle of nowhere.
For smaller ensembles, I love the sound of the Eastwood Stage at Warner Bros. After one session, I was walking back to the parking lot when a guy on a golf cart pulled up next to me. He said, "Coming back from a session? What do you think of the sound stage?" I told him I loved the sound. He smiled and said, "Good," then drove away. I realized afterwards that it was Clint Eastwood.
What "tools" do you use to help you stay creative?
Kevin here - great question. I think the greatest tool is something that Caroline Shaw put into words at one of our happy hours. She said that when she's not on her game, she creates for a specific other person. The act of creating for another human being is just incredibly powerful - not only for the receiver but for you.
It reframes the context, and it gives you useful boundaries. It can be hard to have a blank page in front of you, or to perform for a faceless audience. But doing something for someone I love, or maybe don't love, brings me into mental, spiritual, emotional alignment in the most important ways.
Btw, I think the above is great for stage fright.
Other ways - working with my hands in a non-musical way (not that way, perverts), reading, etc. There is so much great music at our fingertips, listening to other artists can be really inspiring.
Hope this answers your question!
We invited the world to participate in the performance. What is this about?
Why do so many Big Movies have such empty music? You’ve played on Marvel and DC where nobody can remember the music, but also on Star Wars and Pixar movies where the music is very important.
Does it affect how you experience your job, or how you enjoy the music in the rest of your life?
Maia here: this is such a great question. Another answer I hope I don’t get in trouble for...
One of the reasons big movie music can sound so derivative has to do with the filmmaking process before the composer even writes a note. A cut of the movie usually gets a “temporary score,” or “temp” as they call it. It’s so the creative team can have a sense of how the movie will “play” with appropriate music. They’ll use really popular scores, like “Dark Night” in the example of the comic book-type movies you mentioned, as the temp.
Here’s the thing: the creative team behind the movie can’t help but fall in love with the temp. (Composers even refer to this phenomenon as “temp love!”) It’s only human! More often than not, they’ll get so attached to the temp that they’ll then ask the composer to “make it sound like the temp.” These people are the composer’s bosses, and they are obligated to follow their direction. Sometimes they describe it as feeling like they want to have more creative leeway than they’re getting.
I’m sure you can imagine that this phenomenon creates things that inevitably all sound the same eventually. There are some composers (James Newton Howard comes to mind) who ask to write a “suite” upon reading a movie’s script so that the film is then temped with THEIR original music, which has truly been inspired by the content of the film itself. This is genius!! But not everyone has that kind of clout (meaning, not everyone gets signed on as a composer at the script stage).
As for your question about how “empty” music makes me experience work or enjoyment of music in the rest of life:
A lot of “empty” music quite literally affords me the luxury of throwing myself into music and projects that I love while maintaining a respectable quality of life. So at the very least, I’m thankful for that. There’s definitely some amount of cognitive dissonance that happens when you train and train for decades because you love this complicated, sublime art music, and then you show up for work to play some pretty easy, unmemorable, derivative stuff. But it also just feels nice to contribute in some small way to something millions of people find valuable, even if it’s not really my thing. In other words, comic book movies: not a fan, Beethoven: diehard fan. Somehow, I can hold those two things together in my life without having a complete existential breakdown. For whatever reason, I don’t feel a need to compartmentalize those areas of my musical life as much as I used to.
It kind of comes down to “different strokes for different folks,” plus the lifestyle benefits being a studio musician afford.
I hope that answers your question!
How did you start making money as musicians? How long did it take?
Maia here: my first paid orchestra job was when I was a senior at Yale — I’d auditioned for the New Haven Symphony (in CT, and also across the street from my dorm). There were several grad students and recent graduates of grad school who were also in the orchestra. They were driving aaaaaall over the East Coast playing with various orchestras to make money because there wasn’t enough going on in New Haven to sustain them. They were doing orchestra auditions all over the country in the meantime. Seeing that totally informed my decision to only apply to graduate schools in major metropolitan areas, so that I’d be building connections and a name for myself while I was still in school in a place I could make a livable wage as a freelancer when I finished school. I give my students that piece of advice all the time — it really served me well.
But yeah, I did all kinds of bizarre things in music in my early twenties...
Hi! This question may have been asked already but I haven’t gone through all the posts... anyway, I’m a conservatory-trained cellist, and I’ve been wondering how one gets the studio gigs. Is it purely connections and luck? Or are there things I can do to get my foot in the door?
Maia here: I can certainly speak from my own experience here! What put me on the “radar” were two things: doing well at local auditions and publicly performing lots of chamber music. You don’t even need to win an audition — you just need to do well enough to show that you stack up favorably against your peers in a competitive context. Performing publicly a lot means people not only have the chance to hear you but also know that you are confident and comfortable putting yourself out there.
I know some people send audition tapes or go play in person for prominent section leaders. I personally never did that.
Once you’re on a list, what you can do to stay there is pretty obvious: be on time, be respectful, play well. Beyond that, you don’t have any control. I hope that helps, and good luck!
It's so shocking up see real musicians on Reddit for a change! (Or hell, anywhere in society.)
The thing I've been wondering is how remote recording has been working. You might not be able to answer this. I know the entire score for Star Trek Discovery was recorded remotely, with each musician's part combined electronically. While that thought makes me cringe, the end result was fantastic. Does a conductor just lay down an initial tempo track everyone else listens to while they play?
Do you feel the intrusion of all the electronics and audio mixing junk interfering with proper music making? The idea of someone other than the musicians and conductor controlling things like dynamics, pitch, etc. just makes my skin crawl.
Why don't you publish the YouTube Live streams publicly? I avoid the proprietary zoom app as much as possible and would hate to have to use it just to get a YouTube link. That's very inconvenient, especially to transfer the link to a TV.
Kevin here - Reddit's totally new to us, but we're glad to be here!
I could be wrong, but I think I've played on an earlier season of Star Trek Discovery. I didn't remote record for it, but I have done so for The Simpsons, Tenet, and some other things. Btw, I love not having to spend 4 hours in the car to and from the studio each day.
The composer or his team will create a click track (basically a metronome) for each cue, and we all individually record to it. Because the music is serving the picture, the levels are usually lower so that you can't hear as much detail - so the artifacts from recording at home, or maybe the less than ideal blend isn't too obvious.
To answer your second question - Joe Trapanese (scored Tron, Oblivion, Greatest Showman, etc) was a guest on a recent Salastina happy hour. We were talking about the reality that synths and electronics are a part of our lives, and they're just another tool or texture in an orchestra. Someone's probably already doing this, but there can be a way to incorporate electronics in a live orchestra that would only expand the sound worlds it can create. It just has to be done the right way!
Your third question: We no longer run YouTube live streams. This is partly because we want the audience comfy showing their videos on Zoom. We know it's not a perfect solution, but we wanted to preserve as much as we can of a live performance experience - and that means seeing people's faces. Hope this answers you!
how do songs get selected for tv/movies? whats the best way to get in front of music placement professionals?
What are your favourite classical music pieces to play for an audience? Which seem to get the best responses?
Hi ColdCamel7! I love playing for an audience in general, but to be more specific...often, the pieces that get the best responses aren't my favorites. Vivaldi's 4 Seasons always goes over so well - and we've developed a special way of presenting it - but it's not my favorite piece. But I love when people feel engaged in a concert beyond just appreciating pretty music.
As for what I connect to, I'm a sucker for Brahms. His string sextets, in particular. Beethoven is always a challenge in a different way. And there's so much high quality music being written right now that I love learning. One of my favorite things to do is premiere a new piece of music written by a friend! Hope that answers your question
Could you guys play a mean set of hot cross buns for the fans?
Ah, L_beano_bandito - if you had asked earlier, totally! My kids are sleeping, and I dread waking them up lol. Sorry!
Thanks for doing this! Has your relationship to music changed over the years? Surely on some level it has deepened and expanded, but are there ways that you feel like a different person from when you started out? For context, I’m interested in writing art-pop or art-rock songs, and I’m curious about the ways you felt prepared or unprepared for your music journey.
Kevin here - another great question! The answer is yes.
When I first started my career, years ago, music was about what it could do for me. I loved music for music's sake, but there was a big part of me that loved how people looked at me because of what I could do. I used music to put myself in states of mind that I enjoyed, to express what I felt I couldn't articulate, and as a tool to expand my sense of self.
It's not like I abandoned the above completely. But now I also see music as a way of engaging with people, of being able to tell a story about how beautiful life can and could be, and of affirming certain human values. I'm much more aware of how communal and community oriented music is now.
As a performer, it's easy to forget that you're actually creating a context for people to enjoy your music. Your demeanor, the things you say, your body language, etc all inform how people will receive it. The more you welcome people into your creative space, the longer they'll stay there. Hope this answers you!
Can you make a trip to nashville? There’s a live music broadcast studio that would love to have you! (No audience and strict covid protocols as long as you find a plane daring enough to land at BNA)
Kevin here - that sounds fun! We'd love to hear more about what's involved, maybe through private message?
It would have to be the rest of the Salastina crew. My wife is a healthcare professional who sees covid patients daily, so I'm always a risk. That's also why I haven't been on a soundstage for almost a year, only remote recording.
Do you truly need a degree if you wanna play in these sorts of projects, or if someone is dependable, can they join and play without a degree?
That's a tough question. If you play a wildly unconventional instrument, then maybe not - or if you're doing a lot of popular music or jazz.
If you're talking about playing an orchestral instrument, I'd say it's not technically a requirement if you can play at the same level as studio musicians. But...
The playing level is extremely high. And there are other considerations. You need to have experience playing in orchestras or chamber music. You need to know how to really blend and tune with others. You need to understand all of the musical jargon that is used, you need to know how to be a good stand partner, how to sight read anything. You need to know musical conventions. Some of this experience comes naturally in the course of getting a degree.
Because so many studio players have gone through conservatory or something equivalent, there's a shared musical culture and language. If the conductor talks about a specific type of articulation, you can't be asking "What's that?"
If you can learn all of this without getting a degree, then yes.
Has anyone here ever worked with Philip Glass?
Maia here: I have not, though we’ve played some of his string quartets.
Have any of you ever worked with Shie Rozow? He's been giving daily shutouts to studio musicians he's worked with (and not) and I just wondered if the world is that small or not. Also I'm a composer and I hope we will work together one day!
Kevin here - I remember almost working with Shie once, but I haven't had the pleasure yet. Yes, the studio community in Los Angeles is a small world, but there are lots of composers! Are you scoring films? Send a link!
Very late question here
I'm frequently frustrated that musicians are not named in the credits of a film, although I have seen this slightly change over the last decade. That oboist that plays the leit motif which identifies character x or theme y is such an integral part of the production that this seems wildly unfair.
Is there some reason for this? Is this changing?
Maia here: if memory serves, this was brought up in the recording musicians’ last contract negotiation. I think it was important to them precisely because of what you’re describing: being listed in the credits is a way of acknowledging creative contribution. So again, if memory serves, the reason the musicians aren’t credited is because doing so would sort of open the door conceptually to requests for more money. “We are credited as creators involved in this, you need to pay us accordingly!” So keeping the musicians out of that bracket is a way to strategically keep costs down.
Who knows, producers might also say “credits are long enough as they are!” And they’re right, haha.
I have gotten dozens of texts and messages about people seeing my name in the credits of the movie “The Biggest Little Farm,” which was a fun Jeff Beal score in which all the musicians were credited. Credit has never personally bugged me at all, but it was eye-opening how many people actually were like, “whoa hey I saw your name in the credits!!”
Hey! My husband recently started getting into mixing and editing audio, but then the pandemic hit and he doesn't have a way to get samples and stuff for a portfolio. Is there any possibility that you could record stuff and post it online so that new sound engineers have material to start practicing and creating a portfolio with?
If I'm understanding correctly, you're asking for individual instrumental tracks for sound engineers to work with? That's not something that we really do, sorry! Maybe you could visit some of the subs, like r/violinist or r/viola and ask there? I'm guessing you're looking for individual parts of the same piece, so there's a lot to coordinate there. Lmk if I'm misunderstanding!
So OF COURSE I miss this AMA because I have a dozen or so questions about LA sessions, etc. I'll keep it to two though: what year did you guys start sitting for film music sessions? And are there any particular ones that were particularly brutal / complicated to complete? (I distinctly remember Rick Baptist mentioning everyone's bleeding lips in the brass section on the Matrix sequel scores...)
Maia here: I started working in the studios in 2004. The toughest score to complete... a recent one stands out, that I recorded remotely this summer. It was Lorne Balfe’s score for “Rumble.”
Earlier in this thread, someone asked if it’s harder to record an orchestral part by yourself. My answer was sometimes, yes — really tricky passages that would normally blend with others, or be more about the effect when put together in context, have to be note perfect when you are recording by yourself. This score was a lot like that — super difficult to do by yourself!
I also had the privilege of my husband working as my recording engineer. A lot of our colleagues weren’t so lucky, so they were effectively doing both jobs on their own. While it “only” took me the equivalent of going into regular overtime, that was all because my husband was helping! If he hadn’t, I know it would have taken a whole lot longer.
Kevin here - So glad you'll be at the Happy Hour! Bruce Broughton's wife Belinda, a fellow studio violinist, was also a previous guest.
It's completely human to compare ourselves to others! That's not going to change. But if each time you pick up the instrument and think about playing specifically for someone you love, it takes you out of one mental groove and puts you in a better one. There's something about the act of consciously sharing something with another person that changes the context in the best way. Caroline Shaw articulated this perfectly in one of our happy hours.
I'll do that in performance sometimes. Maia or our resident artists may not realize it, but sometimes I play for one of them specifically in rehearsal and they respond unconsciously. It sounds fuzzy, but in reality so many musical issues are naturally solved this way. And it's like taking a mental bath.
What's the number one requested song to play?
Kevin here - Depends on the setting! At home I have to play My Neighbor Totoro or the Imperial March a gazillion times a day on the violin.
I haven't noticed one particular song getting a lot of requests. Like Maia said, it depends on the situation! Bach, as a composer, is pretty often requested.
For a distanced recording like Tenet, what do you get to see (in terms of your parts or where it will be used in the film)? and how difficult is it to record an orchestra piece by yourself?
Hello! Kevin here.
So for Tenet (Ludwig Göransson is so talented btw), we didn't get to see any film since we weren't on site.
Sorry if you already know this stuff...sometimes the cues (a small musical portion of the score) have titles, which may reveal where in the film it takes place. Ludwig may have said, "we need it to sound romantic, because people are romanticking here" or something. Remote recording is tough, because of the lack of context. In person, we try to blend with the violin section, tune with other instruments, match timing with percussion, etc even if we're working with a click track. You feel pretty vulnerable!
On the other hand, I remotely recorded some solos for a different show, and that was nice because I could keep working on it until I was happy, then submit it! Hope that answers your question
This is going to sound dumb, but have you ever played a piece during a recording session for a film's soundtrack and thought, "this piece is incredible. I can't wait to hear it in the finished product. The scene is going to be amazing with it playing." If so, which tracks come to mind?
I love soundtrack music and I can't wait for the Alan Menken concert. Thank you for creating Salastina.
Kevin here - Aw thanks for saying that! We're also excited about Alan Menken :)
That's actually a great question. Yes, absolutely! I feel that way about a lot of Randy Newman's music. (He's hysterically funny btw): Toy Story 4, Marriage Story, Cars 3, etc. I'm a sucker for the way he does things. I remember feeling that way about John Williams scoring The BFG. There were so many beautiful moments in that one, but I haven't gotten around to seeing the movie. Sorry, I can't remember exactly which scenes now, but it happens a lot.
I think all of the people involved with movie music are incredible. Our colleagues are amazing musicians who can bring to life beautiful scores by genius composers. There's so much talent there, and it's kind of a special artform...telling a story with the help of music! I think some of the great composers of the past would have jumped at the chance of scoring films.
Please say hi at a happy hour!
I don't know if you're still answering questions or not but as an amateur musician myself who has, from time to time, heard another player so something that really impressed me, I've always wondered: do you ever have times when recording something where you hear someone play something that just makes you think "wow, that was incredible!!"?
Maia here: FOR SURE! What leaps to mind is when Anne-Sophie Mutter was recording her John Williams album, Across the Stars. Take after take was perfect, all day. It was mind-blowing.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have been making waves in the soundtrack scene lately. Are there any bands or musicians that you’d like to see enter the space?
Kevin here! Oh yeah, there are tons, but none of them would probably mean more work for us lol. For example, I'd love to hear Crooked Still or D'Angelo write soundtracks.
Was there any noticeable differences between Marvel and DC in terms of collaboration style?
Kevin here. I'd say it's more about the way the individual composer works! For example, I think I've played on Deadpool, Spider-Man, and Venom - all Marvel, but all different composers, and they all work differently. The DC movie I remember being Hans Zimmer, and he also has his own way.
Those are big movies with big orchestras, so we're cogs in the machine - super fun, but we don't see too much how the director and composer work together.
Did you work on the interstellar soundtrack?
No, although I remember doing a live concert version of it with Joe Trapanese conducting.
1) do you still even like music at this point?
2) bet you dont have finger calluses, you re pro, you d be good at not developing those
3) do you get free popcorn?
What is your favorite mode?
Apple pie a la? Sorry.
Depends on my mood, but I have a soft spot for Lydian. Some beautiful songs in that mode. I was just commenting on a thread in r/classicalmusic about a movement from a late Beethoven quartet (Opus 132) titled "Holy Song of Thanksgiving from a Convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian Mode". It's dope.
Don't take this the wrong way .. but playing instruments seems kinda like reading a book out loud. Do you get any opportunity to add your own innovation or ideas or expression into the music? Or is it just 'read it and play it, rinse and repeat?'
I mean .. if the music states 'vibrato' or 'staccato' and you add vibrato and it sound good .. sure .. but it not YOU having any ideas you're just rolling with someone else's ideas? seems to me not very rewarding for you .... Like you're a CD player just following instruction, that's also alive?
Another analogy: Like if for a job I was just given a series of numbers printed out once a day and just told to read it them out loud, whispering some and shouting others and stuttering others, exactly as written on the paper?? Which would slowly drive me insane?
Maia here: what a great question, and I absolutely do not take it the wrong way. To continue with your analogy, I’d say it’s less like “reading a book out loud” and more like an actor interpreting/delivering what’s in a script to bring a character and a narrative to life.
Just like with acting, the quality of the written material has a lot to do with how creative the interpreter can be. I don’t think anyone would say a great actor is just “rolling with someone else’s ideas.” They absolutely are putting their instincts, tastes, intuitions, talent, and experience into their interpretation of the role.
That being said, when the “music” we have to play is particularly uninspired, it can indeed feel a lot like reading a series of numbers. That’s when it’s quite literally your job to just get over it and bring your best to it anyway.
In fact, I’ve had to record “sample libraries” before. That is nearly exactly what you’ve described: “OK, play every single note in your range in the following ways:
Not only does that sort of thing drive you insane, it also inevitably puts you out of a job! The purpose of a sample library is so composers can create “fake orchestras” that sound as real as possible.
Another thing that can effect how much of “you” you can bring to performance is the artistic leadership and context of any given musical situation. When you’re playing in an orchestra, you need to blend in with the section, and follow the conductor’s interpretation of tempos, etc. There’s definitely less room for individual expression in that context.
That’s what I love most about chamber music! If I’m replaced by someone else in a giant orchestra, no one will really miss me. But the Beatles was an entirely different band with Pete Best... then they got Ringo Starr, and the rest was history. Chemistry and leadership are everything in a small chamber music/band context.
Since I really love this question I’m going to drop one more answer in here. Even if you look at playing music as simply “doing exactly what’s on the page,” there’s a million ways one can do that — especially the better the source material is! By way of an example... last night, we had Augustin Hadelich and Orion Weiss play Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata live. The tempo marking for the part right after the short intro says “Presto,” which basically means “as fast as possible.” He slayed (of course). But a player like Patricia Kopatchinskaja is much more literal in her interpretation of “Presto.” It sounds like a completely different piece for so many reasons — first and foremost because the tempos they each chose are so wildly different! For the record, I love them both, and both of their interpretations. I don’t think one is “better” or inherently “more accurate.” That’s the beauty of the art form :)
Lux Aeterna by Clint Mansell and Kronos Quartet (Requiem for a Dream soundtrack) pops into my ear all these years later at random points in my life. Do you have any insight as to why this piece in particular resonated so strongly with people?
There's something about the combination of high strings playing declarative motives on top of a slowly moving bass line that's attractive!
Classical singer here who salutes you! Orchestral soundtracks are my favorite thing to listen to. Who are your favorite composers in the genre. And who do you see as up and coming talent that I can check out?
Maia here: John Williams (duh), John Powell, Tom Newman, Randy Newman, Alexandre Desplat, Dario Marianelli, Javier Navarette, Joel McNeely, James Newton Howard, Ben Wallfisch (semi-up-and-coming), and of course, shameless stage-wife plug for my husband Philip White ;-)
What's the weirdest notation/non-standard sheet music convention you've seen for a movie score (e.g. scrape bow at a 30 deg angle in a counter-clockwise direction while sliding on E string)?
Maia here: paperclips on the strings.
My musical heroes!!! Do you also play the soundtracks live for movie showings (when we’re not busy with pandemics and such)??? Our local orchestra did to Empire Strikes Back! Incredible!!
Maia here: I used to! Lots of LA Phil/Hollywood Bowl play-alongs over the summer. When I was in the Pacific Symphony, we did a lot of those too — sometimes things like “Psycho.”
How does one become a studio musician? I want to get into producing, composing, and being a live and studio musician, but i lack the connections and knowledge of the industry.
The best way is to play with studio musicians in a different environment.
Some advice: Make sure you're at their level of playing first. Then find a way to make music with them. You'd be surprised at where studio musicians play live some place to help out or for their own enjoyment.
if all else fails, you can call them up and ask to play for them. If they think you're someone they'd like to sit next to for hours and days at a time, they may recommend you when a spot opens up on a job. It doesn't happen all at once!
Hi, this question is very late so I do apologise for that. As a fellow musician I’m curious how COVID has impacted your career and how you have adapted to the current times?
We're hugely impacted. Out of choice, I personally haven't stepped into a studio for a year, even if some sessions are still taking place. My wife is around covid patients daily, which makes me a constant risk. While I've done some remote recording, my income from new session work has basically disappeared. But I'm much more involved with raising my kids.
Salastina was celebrating its 10th anniversary...we had to cancel all of our live performances, along with the premiere of an opera. I'm incredibly proud of the way we adapted by creating an entirely new series of concerts online. We moved much more quickly than a lot of other non-profit arts organizations, and consequently have been able to serve thousands of households. And our audience has responded generously with donations.
Pre-covid we were holding somewhere around 20 events a year. Now it's about 50 events a year. Organizationally, we bloomed.
which are your favorite pieces to play that are specifically designed to work with videoconferencing lag (so that each instrument can be played remotely)?
Maia here: bleh... can’t say I have any. We just invested in these “Jacktrip” kits so we can try to play with as little latency as possible.
Can you play Irish Washerwoman?
Sorry, don't know that one - will put it on the list of music to learn :)
Play on any good movies? :P
kevin here: I don't know why your question reminded me of this...
I once recorded a lengthy violin solo with orchestra for a movie. For some reason, everything clicked and I was so happy and proud of what I'd recorded. I wasn't sure where in the movie it would be, so I forced my family to watch the entire thing just to hear the solo. It never came.
I found out later that the director thought the violin was too romantic for that scene, so they used kazoo or something. The movie kind of sucked, and my family never forgave me for forcing them to watch it.