In part 2 of her interview with MSH, Audrey Riley talks about building relationships, tweeting versus the human touch and what it’s like having a world famous orchestra at your fingertips…
Audrey Riley trained at the Guildhall School Of Music, London with Leonard Stehn. As an award-winning arranger and improvising ‘cellist she has recorded for over two decades with groups including Dave Matthews and The Smashing Pumpkins. With her own orchestra she has contributed arrangements to countless albums, including two for Coldplay, three for Muse, Feeder, Moloko, Amy MacDonald, Brendan Benson, Spandau Ballet, Birdy and James Blunt. Three of her arrangements have featured on Grammy award winning singles.
As a ‘cellist she has performed with many dance companies: Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Random, Dance, Siobhan Davies Dance Company, and Merce Cunningham Dance Company, in works by Kevin Volans, Michael Gordon and David Lang, and most recently with Jacky Lansley.
In 2003 she began her own project, A Change Of Light, with Andrew Zolinsky, James Woodrow, drummers Nick and Rob Allum, and artist Philip Riley. It creates new works for cello in collaboration with composers and the visual arts. She also recently completed her first film score, “The Third Letter”.
She is a tutor in composition and arranging for Bmus degree at The Institute For Contemporary Music Performance, tutor in Instrumental Ensemble Studies at Brunel University, and regularly gives or takes part in composition and performance workshops in colleges.
What would you suggest those who want to break into session work do to build up their CV?
Play as much as you can, at first you may not be into all of the music you’re playing. But if you’re good, and humble about it, pretty soon it’ll be noticed what music really hits the spot with you and then it will settle down. And it’s all a learning experience. Be objective but critical about what you add to your showreel and social networking sites. Be nice, not competitive, make friends with everyone, it’s good for the rest of your life too!
Do you use social media and is it useful to you?
I do, a bit, but probably not enough. I can see its use, but I also think it can get a bit oversaturated, I prefer a good chat in person myself. I tend to use it a lot if I’m working with young bands as that’s really where they live and you can’t talk to them otherwise!
Can you tell us something about building relationships with producers and those who employ you as a session musician? How important is that relationship, and where do you start creating it?
I think it’s very important. It might have been a band who first invited me to a recording studio for that first session, but it was impressing the producer that led to the next one. Over the years I’ve been asked to do sessions and make arrangements by artists, record companies and producers. I’ve made many great long term friends with record company folk, managers and some fantastic artists, and this has led to some amazing gigs and live playing. But it’s the producers that I’ve built up long term working relationships with as an arranger and session musician. Record companies will move through phases and high turnover, artists may move on to a different style, work with other people. But producers have a similar path to session musicians, working with many and varied artists. They need to have a reliable team to take with them which can be engineer, programmer, arranger, fixer, session players. The relationship you build up with individual producers is crucial then. Over time of course they turn into long term friends. But in the studio the role is ultra professional, the job is to carry off the producers end game vision for the work. Even if that means tearing up the chorus that you were so proud of. The balancing act is that both you and the producer also have to carry off the artist’s vision at the same time and the whole team have to be as one. If everyone’s on the same page then it’s truly heaven.
Tell us about the best/worst sessions you have done.
I’d rather not answer this question. They’ve really all been the best, honestly, and I haven’t had any bad experiences. And if there were to have been a couple which weren’t that great then maybe that was just for me, to some one else it may have been fantastic.
But if one special moment springs to mind I think perhaps standing in front of the strings of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (Dave Matthews, Some Devil album arrangements), actually being allowed to shape their playing with my hands, watching them warm to the arrangement I’d made, and then seeing the look on Dave’s face. The icing on the cake being the next day watching him sing and play guitar in a recording of Baby with my arrangement for string quartet. As they say, priceless.
Every session musician will have a different interpretation of their role, what is yours?
Interpreter, I think, working with creative vision and the sonics of the piece, the sound. Divining what the producer and artist are hearing, would like to add to the track, adding a bit of myself and making that happen in the most professional and easy way possible. Goal: no hassle, no problems, exactly the right parts fantastically played and a result which is more than the sum of the parts. That’s the goal anyway. Take some weight off the producers shoulders, give some life to the bands artistic vision and ultimately understand that it’s not about you, in the end, for the record company you’re providing a service to an industry so if they quibble your invoice and don’t jump up and down and tell you you’re a star, it’s still a good day because you did a good job behind the scenes. But ultimately a noise maker that’s all because for me it begins with the sound.
The MU’s Session Section deals with the special interests of MU members working as session musicians and is a benefit of MU membership. You can find out more about the Session Section and useful events on the MU’s website.
For advice on using twitter in the music industry, see the latest issue of The Musician.
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