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EXPERT TESTIMONY

Given by metal guitarist, composer, clinician, and author Joshua Craig Podolsky '97 to Mark Small

Thoughts on earning a living from a diversified musical career.

 
  Joshua Craig Podolsky

Joshua Podolsky, the guitarist and leader of the metal band The Alien Blakk, has pursued a diversified career that keeps his schedule filled with a range of work. Podolsky has written music for video games such as MechAssault: Phantom War, Splatterhouse, and Master Thief. He is also an in-demand session player and has recorded or performed with Rob Halford, Coolio, Xzibit, Motograter, Christina Aguilera, Dr. Dre, members of Megadeth, Fear Factory, Kiss, Whitesnake, among others. He's an active guitar clinician and author of the book Advanced Lead Guitar Concepts (published by Mel Bay Publications). Below he shares his thoughts and experiences on making a good living through various musical pursuits.

How much do you work with your band The Alien Blakk?

The band tours five or six weeks a year, with one-off dates thrown in as well. Because we've had celebrity guests work with us, I am able to do one-off solo gigs and some festival dates. We have two albums out that David Ellefson of Megadeth has played on. Actor Mark Hamill did some voice-over work on our new CD Bekoming. Other musical guests included members of Flotsam and Jetsam, CKY, Six Feet Under, and doubleDrive. The music on the first CD, Modes of Alienation, is progressive and eccentric - like Frank Zappa meets Buckethead with some Metallica mixed in.

How did you get started doing recording sessions?

I was teaching guitar at a store in Culver City that was next to a place that installed big speaker systems in cars. One day [rapper] Coolio was there having a kicker box put into his Hummer, and someone told me he was outside waiting. I'm not shy, so I went up to him and told him I was a guitarist and that I liked his music. He asked me if I played rock and I said, "I can play rock like you can rap."

He laughed and gave me his number and told me to call him. I called him the next day, and he told me to bring my guitar to the Enterprise [Recording Studio] at 2:00. I cut a track for him with engineers Dave Pensado and Dylan Dresdow. Later Dylan recommended me to [producer] Damon Elliott ,who was looking for fresh blood in rock guitar. He in turn mentioned me to Scott Storch. who was then tracking Christina Aguilera's Stripped album. I ended up playing for Scott as an on-call session musician for different projects as well as being recommended for work for Dr. Dre's Aftermath label. It has grown exponentially from there.

Since home studios have reduced the amount of pro studio work, how has session work changed?

Between 2002 and 2007, I was getting calls every week to play on people's records. Some were independent releases; some were major records. The drop in record sales has trickled down to every aspect of musical work.

Now I do a few a month for either independent or major artists. Some of that I do remotely and send in my tracks. For r&b and urban music sessions, I may go into a studio and spend the whole day playing on tracks for a bunch of different artists for a flat fee. I may not even know whose record the tracks will be on. I just play to various beats, grooves, and music beds. These days I try to take most sessions I get called for, because as soon as you can't do one, people think you are unavailable in perpetuity.

What's your advice for those who want to write music for video games and other media?

I've found it's best to connect with people in this industry when they are on the ground level working as a runner, a tester, or an assistant producer at a game company. You never know where they will end up. I found getting into this field harder than getting a traditional record deal. I broke in by getting to know people by sending them CDs of my music and putting them on the guest lists for my shows. I ended up doing music for PlayStation 3 and various console games. Since then I've done a bunch of games.

How does the compensation work for composing game music?

It varies. You might get an offer of $2,000 for your music, or you may get a $59,000 contract. Someone might write all the music for a game, and then six months after that contract is fulfilled, the people at the company may decide that they want someone else to write the ending credits, a theme, or something for a few different Boss levels. A game can take between three and five years to develop, so concepts for the music may change over that time. I did music for a game in 2007, but when the game came out in 2010, about 60 percent of the music was mine and the rest was licensed from different bands with songs on the charts.

I do a variety of work with game companies. With some I may do 10 games in a year, others are one-offs or five minutes of music, sound effects, and some voice-overs. I've done a lot of video-game music in a range of styles including reggae, techno, house, urban, classical music, country, whatever is needed.

How do you get bookings for clinics?

I may do a clinic tour to demonstrate a new product. Tours may run two weeks and are set up by the company with a weekly salary, a per diem, and travel expenses. When I'm on tour with The Alien Blakk, I sometimes book clinics myself at music stores to earn a little money and attract people to my show in that area. I may also do a clinic in trade for a new piece of gear.

Can you talk about your signature product work with music products companies?

Right now I'm working with a German company to develop an octave pedal. We are hoping it will be ready for the 2012 NAMM Show. In the past, I worked on developing a signature guitar cable for one company. I'm now taking some of those ideas elsewhere to develop a high-end cable for use in the studio. I'm also working on a signature guitar. The way these deals work is that you get a percentage of each unit sold and/or an advance against future royalties.

You've done a guitar book with a CD and DVD for Mel Bay Publications. Is this another modest income stream?

I definitely consider it another step forward in my career. A book represents knowledge. When someone sees that you came out with a 143-page book on mindsets and theologies in improvisation, they know you are talking about a serious subject. If you have signature products coming out, that tells people that you are a serious instrumentalist. The video-game work gives another type of exposure, and the session work shows that you are an active professional. You have to play one thing off the other to have success in a diversified career.

Is there a single goal toward which all these different pursuits are leading?

When I started out, I thought I wanted to be a rock star. Turns out I was right! There are other factors in the equation, though. I found other things that were just as important - like understanding human nature, associating with various people, and learning to work with musicians who are quirky or eccentric. Through all that, you discover things in yourself that can open up both musically and otherwise. Then you start to grow and you see more avenues to pursue. I suggest that musicians pursue whatever comes along that they might want to do, and never stop.

You are always trying to get the next gig or client, but you have to feel a sense of satisfaction with what you are doing and remain relevant. You have to put yourself out there all the time and reaffirm your stance on whatever it is that you're doing. I have representation for legal, financial, and business issues as well as a booking agent and someone who represents me for film and TV. But they often ask me to call someone to give them personal reassurance. Who can sell you better than you can? So even though I have people working for me, I still do some of that work myself. If there is something that you can do that will have a positive outcome with the public or the music world and it helps your career, what more can you ask for?

All the things I work at I put out there for people. It's like planting seeds and seeing what grows. You may get one big shot every year. Luckily I've gotten about one a month for the past 10 years. I've been able to make a living doing what I do and work with great musicians, sponsors, and others who support my musical endeavors. A professional musician can't be afraid of the word no, and the answer to job offers should always be yes.

For more information on Podolsky and The Alien Blakk, visit www.thealienblakk.com.