This is a question that is vastly overlooked when composers are looking to work with an orchestrator, and one which must not be underestimated. There are some orchestrators working out who don’t have much session experience and this can be very detrimental to a session if you’re not careful.
HOW DO YOU GET SESSION EXPERIENCE?
I went to one of John Lunn's sessions for Downton Abbey when I was first starting out around 2013 and doing this was probably one of the most valuable free lessons I’ve ever received. I learned from the best people in the business and all I had to do was watch, observe and absorb. Everything was so relaxed and everyone was so calm. So, how did they achieve that? Well, they got the right people on the job, and they had all worked with each other for years, totally streamlining the process, and reinforcing the fact that it’s so important to form a team of people that you work with on every single project.
The key is just to ask. That’s how simple it is. Ask to attend a session. The answer will either be yes or no.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG AT A SESSION?
Well, all manner of things in all honesty. I was once at a big session at Abbey Road Studio 1 as the orchestrator, and all of the Pro Tools files had been corrupted somehow between the time the assistant engineer had prepped the files the night before, and when he arrived the next day in the morning. That meant that he was literally prepping the Pro Tools sessions as he went along just as each cue was being recorded. I’ve never seen anybody sweat so much in my life. Inexperienced orchestrators and copyists can really screw things up if they’re not careful and that’s why it’s so important to be organised. I always use a cue sheet for this reason.
HOW TO AVOID ERRORS AT SESSIONS
Check, check and check again. Quite simply.
WHY IS SESSION EXPERIENCE SO VALUABLE?
In my opinion, it’s very important that the composer feels like they have another pair of eyes at the session, and someone who knows the score almost as well as they do (and in some cases better if they’re not that confident at reading music). If you can preempt questions from the musicians, you can write little nuggets of information on the score/part to avoid questions from happening. When I was first starting out, I remember hearing similar questions pop up from the players - If you know what they will ask, you can stop that from happening by adding something text-related into the part for the player to read, thus eliminating a question being asked and wasting session time.
In addition to that, knowing how to pace the session is extremely valuable. At the end of the day, if you pace it poorly, you could waste thousands of pounds going into overtime. It will make you extremely unpopular with everyone involved and you’ll look like an amateur. Thankfully, it’s never happened to me, but I know it does happen and it can really taint the whole experience.
Be savvy, be conscious of time and be knowledgable.