What Every Songwriter Should Know About Working With Sidemen

Time Is On Your Side

Videos by American Songwriter

“Make sure you have all your tempos before we start,” says Zummo. “If the tempos have been decided in rehearsal and documented by the drummer trust that,” adds Shulman. “If we allow ourselves to be led by our metabolism we risk sabotaging the music. You stop at Starbucks on the way to soundcheck and all of a sudden all the tempos are too slow. Or, you have a glass of red wine and it’s, ‘You guys are rushing! It’s way too fast.’ The metronome doesn’t lie.” How you feel in the moment is important, but it is also crucial to realize parts players have carefully crafted for your music at one tempo may not work as well, or at all, at a different one.

Pitch Perfect   

Whether you rehearse for weeks or not at all, one essential thing is tuning. “Take the time to get it right,” says Shulman. “The audience isn’t going to leave.” Tune after you put on a capo, not before. Almost every capo will pull the tuning a little sharp when you put it on. If you have to move the capo, the tuning needs to be checked and corrected as the tension on the strings changes as you move it up the neck. Nothing drives accompanists crazier than chasing your tuning.


A few final words from these players, who have added so much color and character to the music of world-class songwriters. “The best experiences I’ve had are when people tell me everything about the gig up front,” says Saltzman. (An opinion echoed by all the interviewees). “If the tone of your interaction with the musicians is one of gratitude and appreciation, the cats will dig deeper, want to do a better job, and feel better about their participation, about your music,” says Shulman.

“When introducing the band in performance please do not take it as an opportunity to joke around with our name or call us by an alias for humorous effect,” Zummo adds. “We work hard all night to play your music and that few seconds of audience applause makes us feel good. Have a little respect for what we do. We are not machines. I will always go the extra yard for an artist if I am treated with respect.”


Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

PRO’s: The Breakdown