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Frequently Asked Questions

The following Saxophone Related Questions are common questions that I receive in emails all the time or have answered on Forums online for nearly a decade now.


Q: What Saxophones are the modern Saxophonist using?
A: Extra Shiny! Well, not really. Survey says - More than half the pro sax players are still blowing older Selmer Saxes. From there, 80% of the total are playing Saxes from the Big 4 (Selmer, Yamaha, Keilwerth and Yanagisawa). The remaining 20% of pros represent players that really love some of these new Saxes, but also include players using other vintage saxes or players that wanted an endorsement "that bad"; paid endorsements, often by big names that never are seen with the Saxes they are listed as endorsing. Survey says - If it works for you - COOL! If you are not sure - stick with the saxophone big names and play it safe for now.

Q: What about electronics and mics when playing live shows?
A: For live playing you have the choice of stand mics or sax clips. The Stand Mics sound better overall but limit motion and many sax players suck at staying on the mic. The Clip-On Mics need a little tweaking but work well live. I use Clips live as do most the Pop Sax guys. My favorite Clip Mic is the ATM 35 in wired and wireless. The Sampson/Roam and Shure are also cool. Some like the AKG Clips but I don't care for the tone on them. On all Clip-on Mics, the lows need to be cut or key noise will compete with the Bass Drum in the house speakers, and I tend to roll the highs a bit too.
Stand Mics for live playing can include a basic Shure 57 or 58 or more specific EV RE 20 and Sennheiser 421.
Studio Mics can be very debated as any of this can, but my favorites would go to vintage and ribbon mics. Ribbon favorite is the AEA R84, Nuemann U87, U47 are standards, and the newer tube and solid state mics all seem to sound pretty good these days. A good Guitar Center Sale can get you a really nice recording mic for a couple of hundred dollars now; unheard of a few years ago.

Q: How do you set up electronics for use with Saxophone?
A: Greg Vail gear pages have Electronics for Saxophones, Diagram of Effects Rack for Sax and basic Sax Rack set up and helps. The concept is to think more vocal processing and less Guitar-ish. I like the sax thru a little system with a mixer. There are lots of reasons for this, covered in the linked article above. Bottom line is - You should think about how your sound is being amplified after spending a lifetime working on how it is produced in the first place. If you have a great tone and the only person that knows it lives next door, you might want to think about mics and effects for live shows.

Q: What about working with singers?
A: Fills behind Vocals article here at Saxophone US. Much is found in the above article but the rule is to stay out of their way!! Playing all over a singer will not make any friends or further gigs with that band. The second rule is to make them sound better than if you did not exist. If you attempt to support and improve the music when working with singers, it will be a win win for band and audience. Included in the second rule, but needing mention, is to play appropriate to the song. You don't need to do all that crazy Brecker stuff, on every song, all night long. Be apart of the team! Make the team sound great!!

Q: Playing Sax fills around the vocals?
A: Pop Saxophone Technique article at Saxophone US covers how to Sax in Pop and Vocal Styles. Intro, lines, fills, solo, fills, outro. There is a link to an audio example with article to follow, explaining everything I say in the article linked above. Read the first article, then play the example, and follow in the second article while listening to the example. It is a good lesson in Pop Saxophone Playing and Sax Playing with Singers!

Q: Commercial or Pop Saxophone Solo Concepts?
A: Pop Saxophone Technique are also covered in this article. You must remember to be apart of what is going on in the track. If you listen to melody content, harmonic structure and rhythmic feel, you can contribute to the song and make it better when the sax is turned up in the mix. The key is to listen first and then be appropriate to the style and emotion of the music.

Q: How does mic placement in the studio effect the tone of the Saxophone when Recording Sax?
A: Changes it a lot! Depending on the actual mic, closer can be darker and more present on mics that proximity effects the lows, and then moving the mic further would be brighter. The room you are recording in can color the sound a lot too by moving the mic further away from the sax, the sound of the sax in the room you are recording in, with the rooms natural color will color the overall tone. It is an unusual room for me to want to get the rooms color on tape. I usually have the mic off the bell 6-8 inches pointing to the key side of the bell hole.
To darken the sound I will start to shift the mic around the key side (right side) of the sax. The bright presence found right off the bell turns into a more hollow thickness as you move toward the fingers with the mic. Move the mic up the sax body and away 2 more inches for another darker option but this can add key noise. Some like the tone of the low B and Bb tone wholes. I have also moved the mic below the bell openning for a less direct and darker sound.
The best thing to do is experiment. If you have an engineer recording for you, have he or she listen to you play your sax at their face, then move the mic to capture that sound in the booth. You can always take a short section and run in to listen to make sure it sounds right to you on tape.
Once you find a place that sounds good, mark it in your minds eye, so when you punch a section for fixes, the tone and volume will match the earlier take. Once you realize that a different mic location will mean a different sound and a whole new take for that song, you will want to make every attempt to stay on the mic, and get back to it in the exact same position each time the red light is on.

Q: What will make your Sax sound better on your computer recordings?
A: Have Joshua Redman play it. If he is not available try gear options and learn how to use that gear. The mic and mic placement, mic pre-amp, computer interface and software with available plug in's all figure in. You can get good sounding recording gear pretty cheap these days. Guitar Center might have a 200.00 ribbon mic or 200.oo mic package to try. the sound will be much nicer than your SM 58 and exploring mic placement as described above, will make a big difference. More on some of these options and recording ideas later.

Q: How does a good Saxophonist stay busy working?
A: Pizza Delivery - BAD JOKE. Check out a few different articles on Saxophone.us. Gig Assets states that a you will always work if you make the band sound better when you are there.
Moving to the Good Gigs raises the mark way above your current surroundings.
How to be an original in a Carbon Copy World - Gives ideas on influences and artistic integrity.

Q: What are some of the different kinds of jobs you might want to explore as a Saxophone Player?
A: Web Design. No, seriously.
A List from a Music School/University: Instrumental Soloist, Session Musician, General Business Musician, Performing Artist, Orchestra/Group Member, Floor Show Band, Composer, Jingle Writer, Lyricist, Producer/Songwriter, Singer/Performing Songwriter, Staff or Freelance Songwriter, MIDI Engineering, Music Director, Producer, Program Director, Recording Engineer, Studio Director or Manager, MIDI Technician, Programmer, Performing Synthesist, Music Sequencer, Sound Designer, Film Composer, Music Editor, Music Supervisor/Director, Film Arranger/Adapter, Film Conductor, Film Music Orchestrator, Synthesis Specialist, Theme Specialist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor, Copyist, Jingle Writer, Orchestrator, Record Producer, Transcriber, Publishing Editor, Choir Director, College/Conservatory/University Music Educator, Elementary School Music Teacher, Music Supervisor, Private Instructor, Secondary School Music Teacher, Music Therapy, Advertising Executive, Booking Agent, Business Manager, Field Merchandiser, Music Publisher, Personal Manager, Professional Manager, Road Manager, Sound Technician, Tour Coordinator, Tour Publicist, A&R Administrator, A&R Coordinator, Campus Representative, Consumer Researcher, Director of Publicity, Marketing Representative, Public Relations Counselor, Publicist, or Regional Sales Manager. Granted; not all of these job options are Saxophone related but many a Sax Player has worked into great Sax Playing jobs thru a side door thru the people they meet in the industry every day.

Q: What kind of attitude, ability and experience is necessary to work as a Saxophonist?
A: You should first be able to play and be versed in the style of music you are pursuing. You can't get a job as a funk section sax player if you can't play that style. Your overall attitude should be, to make the band sound better because you are there. Your job experience should include working toward the ideal gig you dream of. How to you get the experience you need to work when you can't get the gig without the gig experience? You get around that music and volunteer to sit in and play for free until someone that's hiring, sees you doing it well. If it was Smooth Jazz Shows; you need to get around guys doing these shows, hang out to meet them and get to know them when possible. Trade Shows, Conferences and Radio folks can move you in that direction also. The point is to become apart of the industry you want to perform within. You just move closer to it and learn all you can from those willing to share what they did to get there and then do it.

Q: How do you grow your business, set goals, track success and move forward as a player?
A: You have to learn to write stuff down. Either by a date book or financial records; you mark down the money made doing the jobs you want to replace, and figure out the percentage of money made doing what you want to do by comparison. You can track it a couple of ways based on what seems more important to you.
For example, when I was in college I had 68 students a week. I did not want to be teaching 100% of my time so I started booking more performances and letting students go, playing mostly Musicals. I then began graphing the percentage of income between the two. At first it was 100% teaching and 0% playing gigs. Over time the percentage went more toward live playing and less of my income was coming from teaching. I had always loved teaching but decided I really wanted to be a Sax Player when I grew up around this time.
The show money was a little lame and I started playing more in Casual Bands doing private parties and corporate gigs. I was now down to 9 students, making more money than ever, and was missing so many Musical Performances that I don't think I got fired or quit; the dinner theater gigs just went away. I found it harder and harder to get students into the schedule as I started touring with Smooth Jazz artists and the Teaching and Casuals went away to make way for bigger gigs. My income was growing every year and the types of work I was playing felt more fulfilling as I went.
It is the concept of displacement. You don't need to clear your schedule to make room for new stuff. You displace the work you want to leave with the jobs you really want to do and it works itself out without financial destruction. I have adjusted these percentages a dozen times over the past 25 years. Displace the bad with the good. Bad leaders with good ones. Bad clubs with cooler ones. Dead end job directions with exciting new directions in your career.
I recently had a musician friend tell me he was thinking about giving up playing. I explained the displacment concept and told him to keep playing until he had something he loved more than music requiring him to leave music. He is still playing and teaching music. How lame it would have been if he quit all his gigs and students and then started looking for a new job. Not only lame but his wife would have killed him.
This is not rocket science. Where do you want to go in music? Start off in that direction and as things break for you, other things will have to go away. Every Yes is also a No to something else.

Q: Where can I hear Sound Clips of your Playing Online?
A: SAXBOY Sound Clips / Song Samples. I also have a Tenor Sax Site and Alto Sax Site with audio clips up for each sax on that page.

Q: Do you have CDs I can Buy?
A: Yes, at the Greg Vail Music has CDs available in a few styles and genres. Check them out of you are interested.

Q: How and When did you decide you were going to be a professional Sax Player?
A: I never really decided. It is really an allusion to think you can decide the future for your life. All you can do is move in a direction and over time you end up looking back and realizing you are what you hoped, or dreamed you would be when you grew up. I knew I needed to try being a Musician or it would be a nagging regret one day. I have been trying for 30+ years now and realize I have been playing professionally for 25 years. I did not call it that for the first 10 years because I was not sure until I had done it for a while. Now I call myself a Professional Saxophonist and back date it to College Graduation.

Q: What kind of Sax / Mouthpiece / Reeds / Mic / do you use?
A: All of SAXBOY's gear is all listed at GregVail.com.

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Jazz Sax Player Greg Vail :: Home Page has CDs, Articles and Reviews.

Saxophone Pictures Home page with links to Sax Pic Galleries.

Aaron Santee Book :: Saxophone - Everything Sax Players Should Know

Greg Fishman Jazz Studios :: Site features in-depth theory articles, downloadable licks, and some sound samples from my new book/cd play-along called, "Jazz Saxophone Etudes."

John Laughter :: Books to Resource the Modern Sax Player. Rock and Roll Saxophone - 2nd edition and Contemporary Saxophone.

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