Hi Reddit, Kevin Kumar and Maia Jasper White here! Individually, we've played as session musicians on lots of movies, tv shows, and albums recorded in Hollywood. Together, we're the directors of Salastina, a non-profit concert series. We're here to answer any questions you might have about what it's like to be a studio musician. We're especially excited to tell you about our FREE weekly Happy Hours on Zoom. Past guests include Lindsey Stirling, Chris Thile, Caroline Shaw, etc and upcoming guests include Alan Menken, Elliot Goldenthal, and Augustin Hadelich/Orion Weiss live in recital tonight. You can register for any of them here!

Some things to know: - To date, we've held 43 free events since covid. It's the best decision we've made as an org - Seth Rogen performed on the very first Salastina concert - We got in trouble at a Star Wars session - We (the only five performers) once almost had to walk off-stage because we started laughing/crying after an audience member sneeze-farted twice during a performance - We commissioned a piece of music and recently invited the world to participate in the performance. There's still time!

Ask Us Anything!


Comments: 259 • Responses: 111  • Date: 

JimArranger79 karma

Jim McMillen here. My wife Kathy and I are big fans of Salistina, in fact Kevin was kind enough to include us as orchestrators for the hopefully soon upcoming O.C. fan Tutte! And recently we were fortunate to have placed 4 of our Vitamin String Quartet Arrangements in the hit Netflix series Bridgerton. I was wondering if you were familiar with our wonderful violinist Simon Orvista?

christophertin74 karma

Jim! Hey man, it’s Chris!!!

Salastina68 karma

Another superstar! I talk about you in a different reply, Chris!

If you don't know Grammy winning composer Christopher Tin, you should. Right now.


Salastina42 karma

Hi Jim and Kathy! I heard Simon Orvista is ten feet tall, shoots fireballs out of his ass, is so handsome that to look at him will boil your eyes, and also plays the violin. It's also a pseudonym for me. For anyone reading this, please look up James McMillen. I've worked with him on all kinds of stuff, including major label releases for pop stars. He and Kathy are the real deal. You need them for your next project, trust me. Congrats on the success of Bridgerton - or should I say, congrats to all 3 of us?

christophertin17 karma

I'm gonna second this. Jim is amazing! (Kathy, I'm sure, is amazing too.)

And dang, have you watched Bridgerton? It's pretty racy!

Salastina23 karma

The only thing I get to watch these days is Pokemon, Tumbleleaf, and Frozen

JimArranger11 karma

Well, that explains all the charred seat cushions! Seriously, Kevin is a world class violinist, a great concertmaster, and just the best to work with. He brings his love of music to everything he plays.

Salastina9 karma

The charred seat cushions are because of other reasons...

Thanks, Jim :)

christophertin70 karma

For those who don’t know, how much time do you get to rehearse a piece of music before recording in a pro session environment?

Salastina117 karma


What is this thing you speak of, rehearsal?

Very, very few composers actually send out their music ahead of time. And even if they do, very few musicians have time to look at it. So we show up, there's music on the stand, we read it, they record it!

You get used to it quickly!

Constantannihilation47 karma

Man that’s intense, and I’m in no way comparing my level of skill to yours, but I work as a chef in a highly awarded fine dining restaurant in a busy city. In some ways, it’s not all that different to find out everything on the menu has changed and on a Friday night no less. You’re expected to execute fast and perfect, with little to no explanation, but wicked high expectations. As JK Simmons character says in whiplash, there are no two words more harmful on the English language than “good job”.

All that being said, what is your take on a movie like whiplash? Is it to musicians the way that Burnt is to a chef? A gross misrepresentation of the field with some truths peppered in? We all bleed for our art in some way or another, but what’s your opinion on the matter?

Salastina57 karma

Kevin here - thanks for sharing that!

I haven't seen Whiplash (i know, i know), but if we're talking about the pursuit of excellence at any cost, I just don't agree with it. It's one thing if someone is extremely self-driven. But there are so many ways of encouraging another person and helping to instill healthy habits that can get the same results.

When I used to teach, I'd tell my students that every time they go to open their instrument case, they should cultivate the feeling that they'd ideally like to have when they play - peaceful, aware, loving, disciplined, etc. This way, the act of even approaching your instrument becomes a kind of practice in itself.

I'd hate to have a fear of failure each time I held the violin.

Salastina27 karma

Maia here: that’s a great comparison. I think there are TONS of congruences between fine cuisine and classical music performance. You create something of ephemeral beauty that is experienced in real time, and consumed by others; that creates a pleasurable experience that can be enjoyed alone or with company; and each person receives it according to their taste! (We actually have a whole sub series called “Sounds Delicious” where we pair music and food during a dinner concert... it’s super fun! Lately we’ve done themed ones around Game of Thrones and Harry Potter)

I’ve actually not seen Whiplash. But I have seen movies like “The Red Violin” and “A Late Quartet.” Your description certainly squares in those cases... comically mannered depictions with some truths peppered in.

Constantannihilation14 karma

Very interesting! A good friend of mine was first chair cello in the NY philharmonic many moons ago, but was forced to quit due to arthritis. His current passion (among a great many of notable things) is cooking. There’s definitely something about instantaneous consumable art, and the ability to perform worse than when you just friggin nailed it. Paint stays on a canvas, writing lives on the page.. cooking and playing music are congruent in the way that you’re painting the same thing multiple times per night/ week. Ephemeral is the perfect way to describe it though. It’s art that can exist only in this exact moment. It’s a beauty that hinges on its impermanence.

Salastina12 karma

Well said! So many musician colleagues enjoy cooking and eating great food, so there's definitely a connection.

Salastina6 karma

Well said!

Constantannihilation5 karma

By the way, “Sounds Delicious” sounds pretty cool. I do work in the private sector for some pretty big names but I keep that on the DL.. NDA and such, but it could be cool to work together. DM me if you’re looking for something new at some point.. jshannon.23 on Instagram

We may have some mutual friends 😉

Salastina4 karma

Thanks! Sounds Delicious turns into a big party - I love it.

Looking at your instagram is making me hungry. Those dishes look delicious.

Salastina24 karma

Hey Chris, Maia here! Thanks for joining us :)

We almost never rehearse. “The red light,” meaning recording, usually happens from the first note. I remember James Horner was one of the few composers who liked to “rehearse” his music with us before we recorded. Nearly everyone else records it from the first read-through because you never know, it might be perfect and you need to move on in the interest of time. Alan Silvestri is definitely someone who can be perfectly happy with first takes.

SheChopinBroccoli57 karma

How and who got you in trouble at the StarWars recording session??

Salastina145 karma

Maia here: ok, perhaps I will get blacklisted forever from publicly telling this story, but it’s true, so... here goes!

In February of 2017, I was super pregnant with my first child, our son Galen. Kevin and I were at a Star Wars recording session. It was John Williams’ 85th birthday that day, and let’s just say his mood wasn’t exactly celebratory. The vibe at that session was much more tense than usual. Of course, everyone’s always on their best behavior for John Williams; this was different.

At one point, Kevin lightly tapped my knee with his bow. He had noticed a colleague and friend, who’d been out sick for a while, was finally back that day. I leaned forward to smile at her and give a little encouraging wave. The maestro immediately called us out in front of the whole orchestra for disrupting the session, pointing at us with his baton while sternly saying, “now’ s not the time for visiting!!”

He later had the contractor reprimand us, telling us it was a privilege to be breathing the same air as him. While that is, of course, true — and while that moment was certainly mortifying, in a way — I can’t say either of us truly felt ashamed of our actions. It was clear the reaction was more about the birthday blues than anything inappropriate we’d done. If anything, we felt a little like, “he knows us!”

SheChopinBroccoli57 karma

haha! "Who disturbs the Great and Powerful John Williams!!!" That's so funny! Still, I'd take being scolded by John Williams over never meeting and collaborating with him any day too. Which Star Wars score was that for? How often do you get to work on film scores?

Salastina55 karma

LOL! Totally. It must have been “The Last Jedi.”

Pre-COVID, we could be in the studio five days a week, or not at all for a week or two at a time. It all depends on what’s being recorded, what you’re getting called for, and how to balance that with the other commitments you have (teaching, performing, etc).

Sessions are happening right now, with various COVID protocols in place. Some require testing, others don’t. They’re all socially-distanced, pre-screened for symptoms, etc. The next live session I’m doing is for “Space Jam 2” in March.

MrLeHah10 karma

A former LSO timpani player described Mr Williams as a "steel fist inside a velvet glove". That he is a very kind and sometimes even jovial, but when its recording time, he expects everyone to buckle down.

Salastina4 karma

Very well put! “Velvet hammer” is one of my favorite figures of speech :)

Salastina59 karma

Kevin: We got ourselves in trouble with John Williams.

John Williams sessions are a different animal. Each take is almost like a concert performance, so everyone feels a greater sense of responsibility, no matter how big the orchestra is. So even when we're not actually playing, people are on good behavior.

We rubbed him the wrong way with a small, friendly interaction, and he let us know lol. Like Maia said, we kind of cherish the personal interaction with him haha!

Aardvark_Knight33 karma

Wait wait, what is this story about an audience member sneeze-farting during a performance?

Salastina80 karma

It was a disaster.

We were playing an incredibly beautiful piece of music (Schubert's Cello Quintet), and during the most delicate, whisper-like passage, this crazy sound came from the audience. Our best guess was that it was a sneeze-fart, but it really was such a weird, out of context, almost animal noise. We looked at each other and started giggling (I can't control it on-stage). 30 secs later, in the 2nd most quiet passage, it happened again. By this time, we were shaking and crying, barely holding on to our instruments. The audience started laughing, too.

We really should have left, but we weathered the 10 minutes hysteria. Afterwards, we looked for the audience member so we could apologize, but they (or it) left.

Aardvark_Knight17 karma

Haha! I can't imagine trying to hold a giggle in like that. I would be dying.

Salastina35 karma

One of us might have peed a little. Maia deals with the giggles by thinking about something completely unrelated, but even she broke. I tried to turn my ugly crying face into a tragic emotional face, but no one bought it

1893Chicago15 karma

Does a video of this exist somewhere?

Salastina11 karma

I wish!

Salastina22 karma

Kevin here - That was our first thought! We wanted to investigate just what that sound was, so we checked with the presenter. Nada.

I also just remembered that the venue was a theater that was being prepared for a Little Mermaid musical, and they didn't want to take anything down just for us. The little fish and mermaids didn't help the situation.

Semproser8 karma

Your story reminds me of "the firebird scream". Here, it's hilarious: https://youtu.be/WnMv6-XTROY

An unrelated question, do you find the "generic epic background orchestral track" that is very common in movies good to play? Or does it feel a bit more like a chore when the music has no obvious purpose or emotional value?

Salastina3 karma

Maia here: ah yes... the “generic epic background orchestral track.” Is it fun? No. Does it feed my soul? No. Do I know my, and its, place? F*%k yes. Plus, it pays the bills — which affords me the luxury of fun, soul-feeding stuff (read: Salastina!).

tbots8425 karma

What was it like working with Seth Rogen??

Salastina34 karma

Hi! This is Maia. Thanks for asking :) he was such a good sport — really humble, and really determined to nail it! I wrote the “script” of the story, Ferdinand the Bull, like a Hollywood movie script, complete with verbal descriptions of what he would hear before he had to come in. Like, “the flute will do this long windy thing, and when it’s done, you say ___”

Obviously, he has a great sense of humor and is super gracious. We loved that he improvised a little in the performance. It was obvious he got more comfortable in that setting as things went along!

Aardvark_Knight15 karma

How did you connect with him to begin with?

Salastina20 karma

His wife, then girlfriend, was my ex’s co-worker at a film production company called Imagemovers.

Salastina29 karma

Kevin here: It was awesome. We went to his house to rehearse, and he and his wife were lovely. He was extremely chill the whole time ;-)

He narrated a musical version of Ferdinand the Bull, and Maia taught him how to play Twinkle on the violin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qfn0UIzrLo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGnvP4VAP5Q&t=7s

t9ejane16 karma

Hi, Jani here. Big fan! Question...what’s the hardest thing about being a studio musician? I feel like on the one hand it’s easy because there can be multiple retakes, but on the other hand you might have to be a fast learner, a great site reader with no room for mistakes without everyone booing you if you mess up a take lol. Can you share more? It seems exciting like you might meet and work with uber famous ppl. Who have you met?

Salastina41 karma

Maia here: hey Jani!! Thanks for coming by. I would say there are two hard things about being a studio musician. The first is that there is no job security. It is purely work-for-hire. You don’t “audition” to get in to anything stable or structured, and there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get called for anything ever again. It’s completely mysterious who gets called for what and why (or why not). As you can imagine, that creates a pretty... interesting work environment.

I personally have always looked at studio work as “icing on the cake,” even when —financially speaking — my bottom line is, like, 50% icing! This mentality is a way for me to not feel quite so “at the mercy” of invisible forces I can’t control. Now I can define myself as, in part, a studio musician and feel confident in that, but hardly like it’s the sole focus of my artistic life or identity.

In my twenties when I first started, I remember feeling like, “why’s everyone so stressed? What’s the big deal? All this music is *so easy!*” As classical musicians, we trained on much, much more challenging music than most scores present, so I didn’t understand why everyone seemed so stressed. The more I started doing studio work, and the higher the stakes were (financially and reputation-maintenance wise), I started to get it. If your chair moves, or your tummy grumbles, or you have a tickle in your throat, it’s easy to feel like, “THAT’S IT! I ruined it, I called negative attention to myself, and will never be asked to do this again.” Suddenly, the easiest note to play becomes a head-trip, because you feel like it has to be absolutely perfect. Something about the high financial stakes, lack of job security, need for silence and perfection, and in a way, even the less challenging music itself leaving room for a racing mind makes for this perfect cocktail of self-doubt.

It honestly took me until I was nearly thirty years old to feel more comfortable in that environment. I’m not really sure what changed for me! Probably just older and wiser, more perspective.

Semproser3 karma

I write orchestral music purely as a hobby (digitally, through realistic midi VSTs) and may end up having something played by live musicians at some point. Are there any common newbie mistakes composers make when they're having their work played by real musicians for the first time?

Like not leaving enough breath gaps or writing in impossible ranges for the real instrument etc.

Salastina2 karma

Kevin here to add on:

We love playing music suited to our instruments' strong points. String players groan when we get passages much better suited to a synth - like repeated fast figures that go on forever. Give us a beautiful melody to play, and we'll give you our hearts.

kazkaloo3 karma

Thank you for this honest perspective about the job. It is very interesting and frightening what you have to go through even if you are very talented musician. I could picture the situation in my mind and it gave me anxiety! But it is important to know that with experience and a wiser prospective, even if the things around you remained the same, you can change and control the environment (and yourself) better.

Anyway I couldn't handle this kind of stress. Nope. Live performance (of almost any kind) in front of people for me is a big no!

Salastina2 karma

Maia here: you’re so welcome! Yes, it often feels like walking a tightrope for a living. I remember my own mother being like, “why would you do that to yourself?” It’s so meaningful to sublimate, or even attempt to sublimate, those feelings in the service of grace.

Salastina20 karma

Hi Jani! Thanks :)

You often meet the directors (JJ Abrams, Steven Spielberg, etc) and the composers. Sometimes the actors are also there. (We have a pic with Mark Hamill somewhere.) It's fun, because the film score is one of the last steps in a movie, so everyone (except maybe the composer) is relaxed and excited at the same time.

It can get tense, but honestly everyone makes mistakes sometimes. You'll sometimes get 3 or 4 consecutive takes where someone different makes a bone-headed error. We laugh about it and move on.

Most times, the musicians we're in the room with have proven themselves time and time again. Sometimes, the thing you have to worry most about is your stomach howling like a wolf during a quiet take!

t9ejane6 karma

That’s awesome! That would be me lol! Grrrroooowwwwl! What an exciting life 😁

Salastina16 karma

Maia here: hmm, particularly memorable sightings... I remember meeting Daisy Ridley and Kobe Bryant — they were super nice!

I also asked Steven Spielberg to autograph something for my husband, who’s a huge fan. He was so gracious!

I remember seeing Amanda Seyfried in real life and being so struck by how drop-dead gorgeous she was in person. Charlize Theron was there too — also a knockout, of course.

violaknight4211 karma

Hi!!! What is your favorite thing to do to relax after a long day of working hard as a musician, and what do you do for a fun practice technique to jazz up a boring routine??

Salastina17 karma

Maia here... favorite thing to do to relax: that’s tough since I’m an expert lounger when I get the chance. Knitting, a glass of wine, a bowl of candy cane ice cream with hot fudge leap to mind. Just chatting with my husband in our kitchen nook. Quality time together is at a premium with two toddlers at home! (They’re almost 4 and 2)

As far as practice techniques to jazz up a routine... oh, to have a routine anymore lol. When I did, I would definitely challenge myself by leaping into a run through and recording myself without warming up. It could be horrifying and extremely helpful at the same time.

Salastina11 karma

Kevin here: Same as Maia, I have little kids so there's not much relaxing time...more like come home and become a human jungle gym. I like working in the yard, catching up with family...I also weirdly find watching combat sports relaxing. Now my older kid likes to play on Switch games, so that's fun!

As far as practicing: Improvising on the violin. When we practice, we're often reinforcing muscle memory. But - ideally - when you're playing chamber music, there's expressive spontaneity, so it's good to practice spontaneity as well. It sounds contradictory, but you can definitely practice being flexible

violaknight424 karma

That’s so interesting!!! Wow how different it must be to be a professional rather than a student. Was there a specific time you went into spontaneous practice rather than a routine schedule? Or is that an impossible goal for anyone hahaha. It must be so hard to juggle having a family and spending alone time working on your craft or quiet time to record... has it been fairly difficult to have balance in your life or does that just come with practice?

Salastina10 karma

Maia here: yes, it is super different. To illustrate that... when I was 25, I attended an amazing “violin boot camp” called Keshet Eilon in Israel. I was living on my own, out of school, supporting myself financially/working, and had been a member of the Pacific Symphony for 2 years already, so in a way, it was kind of like stepping back into the student experience. The age limit for the festival was 26, and I remember noticing that the European students seemed less “rushed” about starting their careers and financial independence than I had. The festival prepared all our meals and even did our laundry. Even then I felt like, “wow, I have SO MUCH TIME to practice!!” I relished getting four hours in before lunchtime, then lessons, chamber music, masterclasses... I definitely appreciated the rigor and focus in a different way.

So yes, balance is hard. But constraints on your time also help your priorities evolve. There will never be enough hours in a day, but at this point, I feel pretty good about how I balance things. I recognize I am also privileged to work from home right now, as does my husband, plus having our nanny here 5 days a week.

Salastina8 karma

Maybe it depends on the nature of your career?

Personally, if I really want to be in concert shape, I should put a regular amount of time on the fiddle. There are always things to improve, and I can enjoy myself more when I feel physically and musically comfortable with the repertoire. I do think we're like athletes, and we need to maintain healthy habits.

I guess it depends on how involved you'd like to be in your kids' lives. I think of myself as a dad first, so my priorities are arranged accordingly. I think a lot of parents feel like they're mildly good at several things, but not super great at one thing. Thanks for the questions!

violaknight428 karma

Another one!- what’s the most overlooked piece of chamber music you’ve played(or studied!) and why should that be added to the list of today’s favorites? Also, what is the most impactful concert you’ve played or been to???

Salastina11 karma

Maia here: I think Rebecca Clarke’s piano trio is a complete masterpiece. We programmed it without saying what it was or advertising the composer in any way, and had the audience guess. (Shocker, nobody guessed it could have been a woman, which was also a super interesting way to make a point about our implicit biases and assumptions without making anyone feel bad about it!) Her viola sonata gets all the love. It’s a great piece, but her trio is amazing too.

Most impactful concert I’ve played... oh boy. I loved playing Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in Salastina’s early days. That piece is just devastating, and we played with such wonderful musicians. It was one of our first experiences playing a “monster piece” on our series, so personally, that stands out as particularly wrenching. I’d also say that playing in the pit quartet for Vid Guerrerio’s adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro, Figaro!90210, was incredibly impactful. I went into it with the snobbery of a purist, but was humbled, amazed, and very entertained by his clever and loving adaptation. That was in 2014; in 2021, Salastina will premiere OC fan tutte, his adaptation of Cosi fan tutte. :)

Most impactful concert I’ve been to... also so hard!! Probably when I was a little girl and went to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with my dad to see Anne-Sophie Mutter play the complete Brahms violin sonatas in recital. She played piano four hands with Lambert Orkis for her encore. My mind was blown by her fierceness and poise.

Salastina8 karma

Oh, there are lots these. So many composers or pieces who've been lost throughout the years for no good reason.

I can think of two right now: Rebecca Clarke's Piano Trio Bartok's Piano Quintet

We have a concert format where we don't tell the audience anything about the piece. It's called Sounds Mysterious. At the concert, we perform the piece and slowly reveal who it is. Sometimes it's super revealing about some institutional problems in classical music. For example, no one guessed the Rebecca Clarke piece was written by a woman.

Bartok's quintet was written when he was young in a hyper-romantic language, which I love. No one plays it because it doesn't sound like the Bartok they know.

Most impactful concert...that's a really tough question. I've been lucky enough to perform in a wide variety genres, and sometimes performances are so surprisingly moving. I once played at a video game convention (sorry, can't remember the exact one) playing a video game soundtrack, and the audience was in tears the entire time. Sorry, I can't think of one in particular.

Once, when I was maybe 8 years old, I attended a recital by Isaac Stern. At some point, I must have been unconsciously swaying in my seat to the music. A lady in the row behind me smacked me on the back with her rolled up program to get me to stop. I think that was the first time that I started to think about behavior in the concert hall and what it means for the art form. So I guess that was impactful in a different way lol

bookworm027 karma

Favorite piece you’ve performed, or enjoy performing, professionally and non professionally?

Btw I love this ama and the work y’all do is 👌👌

Salastina5 karma

kevin here: Hi bookworm02!

Thanks so much! Hope you'll check out our free weekly happy hours :)

I really like performing Scottish fiddle tunes. I don't have much experience with them and I'm clearly not Scottish, but I've had the opportunity to play some on stage and I've always had a blast. It's down to earth, has great melodies and rhythm, and just feels celebratory.

Non-professionally, I find Hindustani classical music incredible. I took some vocal lessons when the earth was still cooling, and fell in love.

Favorite piece: Any chamber music by Brahms. And Reena Esmail. And Derrick Spiva. The list goes on.

Salastina2 karma

Maia here: thanks so much!!

I luuuuurve performing Derrick Spiva Jr.’s American Mirror. In the more strictly classical realm, I love any chance I get to play Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2. Playing late Beethoven quartets, or really any seminal string quartet rep, with my friends always ranks high as well :)

When I played more regularly in big symphony orchestras, I used to love playing huge, colorful pieces like Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe and the Alpine Symphony.

Fantomfart7 karma

Do you ever hear a piece of violin music in an old film that piques your pallet, and you must then see if you can play it as good, if not better?

Salastina14 karma

Yes. I grew up obsessed with violinists from the early 20th century. Their sound, charm, vibrato, musicality - it was just a language I could understand and speak.

If they do something very idiosyncratic, like a swoop between two notes, or have intensely fast vibrato, I do see if I can do it. Not so much as a competition, but because I appreciate it and want to knwo the mechanics behind it.

Salastina9 karma

Maia here: first of all, great username :)

Haha, I definitely had those kinds of feelings when I was a lot younger: “what an awesome piece, can I make it sound great too?” These days, it’s a question of whether or not I want to play something for its own sake (that is, to share with others), not so much to see if I can meet or best another version

bright_shiny_objects6 karma

So do you see parts of movies before anyone else? Or is that not how it works.

Salastina23 karma

Maia here: we totally do! Sometimes, for the really big ones (like Star Wars), they’ll only allow the conductor to see the monitor for timing. Even so, some musicians can still see what’s happening. I remember in the case of Star Wars, the harpists were able to see some of the “spoiler” moments!

Sometimes, they give the really big movies a code name. It’s usually pretty obvious what the movie in question actually is, so the effort to keep it a “secret” somehow is kind of cute.

_waffle_iron7 karma

Thanks for doing this fascinating AMA!

Can you give an example of a big movie and it’s “secret” code that name that you found amusing?

Salastina11 karma

Maia here: for whatever reason, Star Wars was nicknamed “AVCO.” I have no idea why!

Salastina7 karma

kevin: Yes! Sometimes you see so much of it that you don't feel like watching it when it comes out. But sometimes the studio is very concerned about footage leaking, so they don't put it up on the sound stage.

I think it often helps to see the movie or show, because you have more context for what the composer is going after.

DynamoBolero5 karma

Aren't you just enjoying our glorious weather today?

Thanks for this AMA, And enjoy your kids, blink and they'll be gone. I think it's great they are growing up with musical parents!

I've recently discovered Samuel Kim as a musical arranger. Can you please give him a shout out to the Hollywood powers that be? I'm crying my eyes out to his interpretation of "Leaves from the Vine" from Avatar the last Airbender.

I'll check out your online stuff, sounds great!

Salastina5 karma

Hi DynamoBolero,

Thanks so much! I often hear my kids humming or singing music that I'm working on. They don't realize they're doing it, but the osmosis is real.

I don't know Samuel, but I do know ATLA! Will look into Samuel :)

Salastina3 karma

Thank you, and we’ll check out Samuel Kim! :)

Salastina5 karma

We're going to continue answering questions once our FREE weekly Happy Hour is over! We started these when covid hit and meant them to be a way for everyone to be less isolated.

If you asked a question and it wasn't answered, we'll get back to it as soon as we can this evening!

mwins1014 karma

What’s been your favorite film and/or composer to work with?

Salastina16 karma

Kevin: Gonna get us in trouble with this one haha!

Some composers are personal friends, so you're always happy to see them - and you know what their artistic goals are, so everyone is on the same page. For example, it was great to work on a couple of tracks from Crazy, Rich Asians with Christopher Tin. He's a friend, and we were so happy for his success. Also, Maia and I were in the principal chairs, so we could help in that way.

But zooming out a little...the first time Star Wars was recorded in Los Angeles for Force Awakens...sitting there and hearing the Force theme played by the french horns was incredible.

There are lots of great people in the industry. Working with Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) is always super fun, and he hangs out during the breaks with the musicians

Salastina8 karma

Maia here: great question! In the film world, the most memorable scores I’ve played on musically-speaking where the recent Star Wars trilogy (John Williams), Wall-E (Tom Newman), the Help (also Tom Newman), A Million Ways to Die in the West (Joel McNeely), and the Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Alexandre Desplat). I think Ben Wallfisch is incredibly talented, so even though looking up at the screen and seeing the footage thoroughly terrified me, IT and IT 2 were also memorable scores!

In the concert world, nothing beats working with composers you love and respect as friends and people in addition to artists. So, I most love working on music by my dear friends Derrick Spiva Jr. and Reena Esmail.

mwins1012 karma

Who’s the toughest critic? Does that correspond to having the biggest budget??

Salastina5 karma

Great question. No, some composers with big budgets are very respectful towards the session musicians. Those composers tend to be ones who are performers themselves in some way, so they tend to acknowledge that a certain level of imperfection is always going to be there.

But then some composers just want to hear the sound that's in their head, and they'll keep asking until they get it. Keep in mind that the directors are often in the booth during the sessions, so there will also be re-writes or adjustments on the spot. There's a lot going on that we don't necessarily know about while sitting on the sound stage.

Off the top of my head, Desplat, Williams, Eisler, are pretty particular

Twoisnoe3 karma

(A bit late off the mark here, but if you're still around..!) - Any memorable/favourite recording location? Studio musicians fascinate me, because I keep assuming they get exposed to so many different types of music and have to be quite flexible!

Salastina3 karma

Like Maia said, Sony feels historic. Some composers have their own smaller studios, and the sessions there are more fun and intimate. Marco Beltrami has a dope studio in the middle of nowhere.

For smaller ensembles, I love the sound of the Eastwood Stage at Warner Bros. After one session, I was walking back to the parking lot when a guy on a golf cart pulled up next to me. He said, "Coming back from a session? What do you think of the sound stage?" I told him I loved the sound. He smiled and said, "Good," then drove away. I realized afterwards that it was Clint Eastwood.

Salastina2 karma

Maia here: Sony’s “Streisand Scoring Stage” feels the most like a legacy location — the acoustics are the best, and that’s where Williams prefers to record. Personally, I’m always happy when sessions are at Warner Brothers... 10 - 20 minutes from my house (as opposed to 1 hr 45 minutes for Sony and Fox), coziest feel, rarely too cold, and the best food options!

When I first started working, Todd AO (CBS) and Paramount were still hosting sessions. Now it’s just those three big lots doing most things.

ExFiler3 karma

We invited the world to participate in the performance. What is this about?

Salastina6 karma

It’s about this! :)

Salastina2 karma

Hi ExFiler! We commissioned a piece of music written especially for covid times. I can't say enough about Reena Esmail, who wrote the piece.

The idea was to write a piece that included a simple melody line for people to sing at one point. We like to invite the audience into the performance space, and this seemed like a literal and welcoming way to do it. I think Maia linked to it. We're asking everyone to sing, submit your video, and be a part of the performance!

r3tr0_53 karma

What’s it like showing up to a studio and given a piece of music for an upcoming movie or album?

Salastina12 karma

Kevin: We almost never see the music ahead of time, so we're sight-reading. I kind of divide the experience up into three categories.

  • sometimes you're just there to add to the atmosphere, so you're playing long slow notes and often doubling synths. These can be snoozefests, but we're happy for the work.

  • sometimes, the composer wants to use the violins/strings to be super active, with tons of moving figures. Since they've got a whole score to think of, it can be awkward and difficult to read and play. It's like the Tendonitis Olympics.

  • Beautiful melodies that ask us to do what we do best on the instrument

In the end, we know that it's not about what we want to do, but how the score serves the picture. And we're pretty friendly with our colleagues, so all in all it's a nice experience.

Salastina8 karma

Maia here: totally depends on what’s put in front of you! When it was Star Wars, even I was fangirling just for being part of it, having never even seen the complete original trilogy.

When you get lucky and it’s something that’s super tricky, it can be a really fun challenge to frantically scramble for a good fingering. It feels like a sport at that point, and it’s something I really enjoy!

Every now and then they’ll send us the music in advance over email so you have a moment to look it over, but that’s definitely not the norm.

Sometimes the music the violins have to play is, well, playing a very “supporting” role (meaning: pretty boring), in which case you humbly remind yourself of the role you’re playing, get over it, and just sort of pace yourself.

KoreanApe3 karma

Which movie would you love to do the soundtrack ? How many days do you take for doing a soundtrack ?

Salastina4 karma

Hi KoreanApe,

The time it takes really depends on the movie. For a major picture that has music centered around an orchestra, it could take at least a week. Sometimes it can be just a day or two if there aren't many strings.

It also depends on the budget. There are have been some sessions where you're just ripping through music trying to record as many cues as possible. I can't remember if there are union rules around how much recorded music per session is allowed.

For your first question, a friend and composer named Javier Navarrete (Pan's Labyrinth) said he'd like to compose a solo violin film score. It'll probably never happen, but that would be a fun project!

Salastina3 karma

Maia here: sometimes, it’s a three-hour call; other times, it can be days and days from 10 am - 5 pm. It totally depends on the project, and the role the orchestra plays in the score!

bedroomgoblin3 karma

Hello Kevin and Maya. Did you have any contact with the actors or actresses? And the second question I always wondered was how important you were to the show i mean did they appreciate u enough or u were a guy for who they easily can find a changer. And if so, were you valued like an actor? .Sorry for the dumb questions because I think people like you are not valued as much as they need to be. Thank you so much for the reply. It is very good to start such an interesting discussion.P.s sorry for the gramar

Salastina9 karma

Maia here: hey! Yet another awesome username, lol.

Even though the reality is that string players are generally replaceable — meaning, no one would really miss me if I were replaced by, say, Kevin (although in that case, may be they would, hehe) — the composers and film crew always go above and beyond to express their appreciation. Sometimes it almost seems over-the-top! I think because the music is the last thing to be added, it brings the movie to life, so the people involved are super grateful and excited. To me, it sometimes seems like, “whoa, all I did was show up and sight read, but I’m glad you’re so happy and excited!”

We’ve definitely encountered actors and actresses over the years. I used to be more shy about approaching famous people to say hello. If someone is genuinely interesting to me and I have something nice to tell them, I won’t hold back.

For instance, I made a point to “thank” JJ Abrams for inadvertently introducing my husband and me to each other. We met scoring his show “Revolution.” He’s a big advocate for musicians in LA, and making sure music is recorded here. If not for that, I’m not sure when my husband and I would have had so many chances to flirt with each other!

When I went up to JJ to thank him for all of that, he was soooo sweet — he said I’d “made his day.” (!!) I was quite pregnant with our second child — this must have been the last Star Wars movie. He wrote something really sweet for my family — I think it’s on the inside of a Carl Flesch violin technique book I was carrying around at the time. That was definitely the most memorable celebrity/filmmaker appreciation encounter I’ve ever had!

Salastina6 karma

Kevin here. Hi bedroomgoblin!

Sometimes we have contact with the actors/actresses, but it's only when they come around to watch the session. I've only had positive experiences with them and usually try not to be a bother. One time, Justin Timberlake was at a session and my sister-in-law told me not to talk to her again unless I got his autograph. So I lurked and ambushed him as he made his way to the bathroom. He was super cool about it.

Your second question is an interesting one. Generally, I feel valued. The reality is that there are a lot of really talented musicians, and we don't have job security. We're individually hired for individual movies. Not everyone has the temperament to play in sessions, but there are a good number of people who can play the music. I feel like the directors and composers appreciate what we bring to the movie. Having said that, we're really only involved during the last stages of a film, even if our performance is an important part of it.

I hate to be mercenary about it, but the best way for studios to show that we're valued is to make sure we receive residual payments.

Salastina4 karma

Maia here again. Yep, Kevin is totally right about that. There’s been a gradual shift away from using LA musicians because our union wages and residuals are “too expensive.” So the music either gets recorded “under the table” (meaning, not through the union contract) or somewhere else. This has led to less and less work for LA studio musicians.

Before COVID struck, there was actually a big contract negotiation in which the musicians pushed really hard for residuals on streaming content. We lost.

afro-xaunyaun3 karma

Envious of your talent. What does it feel like to do something you love and have mastered?

Salastina8 karma

Kevin here - Hi afro-xuanyaun,

There was a period of time when I didn't really play the violin for about 9 years. I had an injury which basically didn't allow me to play for more than a few minutes at a time. I was devastated at first, gave up when rehab didn't work, went back to school, and did other things.

I came back to the violin almost by accident, and I just feel grateful. I think it changed a lot of things for me to approach it with gratitude rather than ambition. It's one of the reasons why I started Salastina with Maia!

afro-xaunyaun3 karma

Wow, that has got to be an interesting story. Honestly it was meant to be, after 9 years you found your way back.

Salastina4 karma

Thank you! I'm also the happiest while playing music with other people. Getting together with friends to play chamber music is a nice way to spend life :)

Salastina4 karma

Maia here: when I don’t feel like I have an Everest to climb, I feel incredibly fortunate. “Mastered” is a strong word, lol. That work is never done!

What I love most about it is sharing with other people. Honestly, that even includes doing this IAMA! As much as I miss playing with other humans, I’ve been totally surprised by how many meaningful connections it’s been possible to make virtually to geek out over shared interests :)

afro-xaunyaun2 karma

Yes, couldn't agree anymore. Meaningful connections over shared interests are one of the most indisputable pleasant truths about modern society. Thank you for doing this, you guys are awesome!

Salastina4 karma

Our complete pleasure! Thank you for reading :)

deo13 karma

why zoom? why not an existing live streaming service like twitch or youtube that is a) discoverable b) follow-able c) saves a recording for future viewing d) advertises for you to potential viewers and e) provides built in monetization options.

Salastina4 karma

Hi deo1,

Kevin here! Good question. We thought about a lot of different options, and it really came down to being able to see people's faces. It may not be the best business move, but we wanted to do something specifically for this pandemic time. We saw how much the audience and the artists enjoyed seeing people's faces and reactions when a lot of people are feeling isolated.

Zoom saves the recording for future viewing, but the artists we engage don't necessarily want a live event to be online afterwards. And we don't want audience members who put their videos on to worry about their interactions being immortalized.

We've gotten a lot of positive feedback about how much the events mean to people. Sometimes there are sacrifices in video or audio resolution, but actually we're supposed to be running at 1080p and 44.1khz, which is pretty respectable. The artists aren't sound engineers and they usually don't have a team to help them, so those limitations would exist on any platform.

solongandthanks4all2 karma

It's so shocking up see real musicians on Reddit for a change! (Or hell, anywhere in society.)

The thing I've been wondering is how remote recording has been working. You might not be able to answer this. I know the entire score for Star Trek Discovery was recorded remotely, with each musician's part combined electronically. While that thought makes me cringe, the end result was fantastic. Does a conductor just lay down an initial tempo track everyone else listens to while they play?

Do you feel the intrusion of all the electronics and audio mixing junk interfering with proper music making? The idea of someone other than the musicians and conductor controlling things like dynamics, pitch, etc. just makes my skin crawl.

Why don't you publish the YouTube Live streams publicly? I avoid the proprietary zoom app as much as possible and would hate to have to use it just to get a YouTube link. That's very inconvenient, especially to transfer the link to a TV.

Salastina2 karma

Hi solongandthanks4all,

Kevin here - Reddit's totally new to us, but we're glad to be here!

I could be wrong, but I think I've played on an earlier season of Star Trek Discovery. I didn't remote record for it, but I have done so for The Simpsons, Tenet, and some other things. Btw, I love not having to spend 4 hours in the car to and from the studio each day.

The composer or his team will create a click track (basically a metronome) for each cue, and we all individually record to it. Because the music is serving the picture, the levels are usually lower so that you can't hear as much detail - so the artifacts from recording at home, or maybe the less than ideal blend isn't too obvious.

To answer your second question - Joe Trapanese (scored Tron, Oblivion, Greatest Showman, etc) was a guest on a recent Salastina happy hour. We were talking about the reality that synths and electronics are a part of our lives, and they're just another tool or texture in an orchestra. Someone's probably already doing this, but there can be a way to incorporate electronics in a live orchestra that would only expand the sound worlds it can create. It just has to be done the right way!

Your third question: We no longer run YouTube live streams. This is partly because we want the audience comfy showing their videos on Zoom. We know it's not a perfect solution, but we wanted to preserve as much as we can of a live performance experience - and that means seeing people's faces. Hope this answers you!

Salastina1 karma

Maia here: what’s actually used is a “click track,” which is basically a metronome piped into your earpiece. That’s how the musicians stay together even during a regular recording session when everyone’s in the same room with a conductor.

If anything, the electronics and other elements of the track give us more context for what our part is doing in the grander scheme of things.

Regarding YouTube Live:

  • we’ve opted for Zoom because it’s more interactive with the audience, which is more our speed — we love the community these Happy Hours have built!
  • practically without exception, our guest artists wouldn’t allow recordings to live permanently on YouTube; plus, there’s a consent issue with the audience’s images living on YouTube
  • I believe the YouTube Live streaming link will always appear on our YouTube channel anyway — but I’m not the resident techie, Kevin could probably answer that better ;-)

floatable_shark2 karma

Have any of you ever worked with Shie Rozow? He's been giving daily shutouts to studio musicians he's worked with (and not) and I just wondered if the world is that small or not. Also I'm a composer and I hope we will work together one day!

Salastina2 karma

Cool! No, I don’t think I have — but I’ve seen him tagging loads of mutual friends the daily shoutouts!

Salastina2 karma

Hey floatable_shark,

Kevin here - I remember almost working with Shie once, but I haven't had the pleasure yet. Yes, the studio community in Los Angeles is a small world, but there are lots of composers! Are you scoring films? Send a link!

floatable_shark2 karma

I just started my scoring career a few years ago, no feature length movies yet, but I've scored a 12 episode historical action drama series but scoring features is the plan if luck allows!

Here's my site Ramoncalvomusic.com

Salastina2 karma

Congrats! That's a huge achievement already. Best of luck, and hope to see you on the podium soon. I'll check out your site!

DukeBaluk2 karma

Hi! This question may have been asked already but I haven’t gone through all the posts... anyway, I’m a conservatory-trained cellist, and I’ve been wondering how one gets the studio gigs. Is it purely connections and luck? Or are there things I can do to get my foot in the door?

Salastina3 karma

Hi DukeBaluk,

Kevin here! Studio gigs come from contractors - they're the ones who hire the musicians. There are a couple of different ways to get on a contractor's radar. You play with other musicians, who then recommend you to the contractor (chamber music is great for that). Or you perform locally enough so that your name is floating around enough for them to catch wind. As Maia said, you can ask to audition directly for a principal player, who then will suggest you. Each town is different, and the dynamics are different with each contractor. The most important thing would be to play with lots of local people...studio musicians are often chamber-music starved, so you could see if they'd like to read together - when it's safe to do lol.

Salastina3 karma

Maia here: I can certainly speak from my own experience here! What put me on the “radar” were two things: doing well at local auditions and publicly performing lots of chamber music. You don’t even need to win an audition — you just need to do well enough to show that you stack up favorably against your peers in a competitive context. Performing publicly a lot means people not only have the chance to hear you but also know that you are confident and comfortable putting yourself out there.

I know some people send audition tapes or go play in person for prominent section leaders. I personally never did that.

Once you’re on a list, what you can do to stay there is pretty obvious: be on time, be respectful, play well. Beyond that, you don’t have any control. I hope that helps, and good luck!

Salastina2 karma

At 6pm Pacific, we'll be hosting our FREE weekly Happy Hour - tonight, it's a live performance of Beethoven by Augustin Hadelich and Orion Weiss, two truly world-class musicians. There will be a q&a with the audience afterwards.

Just a heads up that we'll answer questions here before and after, but we may not get to them while the event is going on!

oneLmusic2 karma

Has anyone here ever worked with Philip Glass?

Salastina3 karma

Maia here: I have not, though we’ve played some of his string quartets.

oneLmusic1 karma

Thank you for this AMA! I’m glad I’ve learned about Salastina.

Salastina1 karma

Thank you so much!

Salastina2 karma

Kevin here -

We're glad you're glad! I also haven't had the pleasure of working directly with Philip Glass, sorry.

NakedScient1st2 karma

What "tools" do you use to help you stay creative?

Salastina4 karma

Hi NakedScient1st!

Kevin here - great question. I think the greatest tool is something that Caroline Shaw put into words at one of our happy hours. She said that when she's not on her game, she creates for a specific other person. The act of creating for another human being is just incredibly powerful - not only for the receiver but for you.

It reframes the context, and it gives you useful boundaries. It can be hard to have a blank page in front of you, or to perform for a faceless audience. But doing something for someone I love, or maybe don't love, brings me into mental, spiritual, emotional alignment in the most important ways.

Btw, I think the above is great for stage fright.

Other ways - working with my hands in a non-musical way (not that way, perverts), reading, etc. There is so much great music at our fingertips, listening to other artists can be really inspiring.

Hope this answers your question!

tonoocala2 karma

how do songs get selected for tv/movies? whats the best way to get in front of music placement professionals?

Salastina3 karma

Kevin here. Hi tonoocala,

If you're talking about getting your songs licensed for use, I'd say a music supervisor. If you're talking about composing a score, that's probably not as straightforward. Hope this helps!

Salastina3 karma

Maia here: just asked my husband Philip — since he’s a film composer, he is more equipped to answer this :)

He says: Music Supervisors! (I didn’t know that was a thing until we were together)

tonoocala1 karma

Thanks for replying! I'll start looking for them online

Salastina2 karma

Of course. Good luck!!

L_beano_bandito2 karma

Could you guys play a mean set of hot cross buns for the fans?

Salastina4 karma

Ah, L_beano_bandito - if you had asked earlier, totally! My kids are sleeping, and I dread waking them up lol. Sorry!

Salastina3 karma

Lol. What kind of buns do you have in mind? ;-)

Salastina4 karma

Kevin here - eewww

TheHi6hli6htReel2 karma

Can you make a trip to nashville? There’s a live music broadcast studio that would love to have you! (No audience and strict covid protocols as long as you find a plane daring enough to land at BNA)

Salastina2 karma

Hi TheHi6hli6htReel,

Kevin here - that sounds fun! We'd love to hear more about what's involved, maybe through private message?

It would have to be the rest of the Salastina crew. My wife is a healthcare professional who sees covid patients daily, so I'm always a risk. That's also why I haven't been on a soundstage for almost a year, only remote recording.


Salastina2 karma

They’re welcome to send us a message on our website! :)

secretfiri2 karma

Hey! My husband recently started getting into mixing and editing audio, but then the pandemic hit and he doesn't have a way to get samples and stuff for a portfolio. Is there any possibility that you could record stuff and post it online so that new sound engineers have material to start practicing and creating a portfolio with?

Salastina2 karma

Hi secretfiri,

If I'm understanding correctly, you're asking for individual instrumental tracks for sound engineers to work with? That's not something that we really do, sorry! Maybe you could visit some of the subs, like r/violinist or r/viola and ask there? I'm guessing you're looking for individual parts of the same piece, so there's a lot to coordinate there. Lmk if I'm misunderstanding!

newbaroque2 karma

I really enjoyed the concert tonight! Augustin and Orion were fantastic. I'd like to ask the same question to you guys that I had posted in the chat:

Do you have any advice for pre-professionals? I am a violinist about to graduate and I feel like a lot of us have missed out on networking and performance opportunities due to the pandemic.

Salastina5 karma

Maia here: thank you for tuning in, and for asking :)

If there’s one demographic I feel so bummed for, it’s yours. Before I offer any advice, I’d like to attempt some consolation. Your generation is going to be so street-smart, resourceful, and resilient as a result of having gone through this time at this stage in life.

OK, some advice... I’d say keep an open mind. Have a broad view of what “musicianship” can mean. Think long and hard about your strengths, curiosities, and interests. Be honest about whether or not those align with your vision of your perfect career, or with who or how you “want” to be. Think about how your strengths, curiosities, and interests are aligned with what others find valuable. I think that’s where true success lies.

I know that’s abstract, but hope it helps!

Salastina2 karma

Kevin here to add on to Maia's reply!

I think there generally needs to be a shift in how we approach a career in music. Nowadays, the gatekeepers don't need to matter as much. I obviously don't know which direction you'd like to take, but I'd really encourage pre-professionals to do what we did. Start your own group, your own organization, so that you can do what you love - rather than trying to live up to other people's expectations.

I know it's easy to say, and you need to make a living. But for most people, the reality is that musicians need to be entrepreneurs, and the sooner you lean into that, the better.

If you have a specific musical career in mind, reply and maybe we can help more!

Nanocephalic1 karma

Why do so many Big Movies have such empty music? You’ve played on Marvel and DC where nobody can remember the music, but also on Star Wars and Pixar movies where the music is very important.

Does it affect how you experience your job, or how you enjoy the music in the rest of your life?

Salastina6 karma

Maia here: this is such a great question. Another answer I hope I don’t get in trouble for...

One of the reasons big movie music can sound so derivative has to do with the filmmaking process before the composer even writes a note. A cut of the movie usually gets a “temporary score,” or “temp” as they call it. It’s so the creative team can have a sense of how the movie will “play” with appropriate music. They’ll use really popular scores, like “Dark Night” in the example of the comic book-type movies you mentioned, as the temp.

Here’s the thing: the creative team behind the movie can’t help but fall in love with the temp. (Composers even refer to this phenomenon as “temp love!”) It’s only human! More often than not, they’ll get so attached to the temp that they’ll then ask the composer to “make it sound like the temp.” These people are the composer’s bosses, and they are obligated to follow their direction. Sometimes they describe it as feeling like they want to have more creative leeway than they’re getting.

I’m sure you can imagine that this phenomenon creates things that inevitably all sound the same eventually. There are some composers (James Newton Howard comes to mind) who ask to write a “suite” upon reading a movie’s script so that the film is then temped with THEIR original music, which has truly been inspired by the content of the film itself. This is genius!! But not everyone has that kind of clout (meaning, not everyone gets signed on as a composer at the script stage).

As for your question about how “empty” music makes me experience work or enjoyment of music in the rest of life:

A lot of “empty” music quite literally affords me the luxury of throwing myself into music and projects that I love while maintaining a respectable quality of life. So at the very least, I’m thankful for that. There’s definitely some amount of cognitive dissonance that happens when you train and train for decades because you love this complicated, sublime art music, and then you show up for work to play some pretty easy, unmemorable, derivative stuff. But it also just feels nice to contribute in some small way to something millions of people find valuable, even if it’s not really my thing. In other words, comic book movies: not a fan, Beethoven: diehard fan. Somehow, I can hold those two things together in my life without having a complete existential breakdown. For whatever reason, I don’t feel a need to compartmentalize those areas of my musical life as much as I used to.

It kind of comes down to “different strokes for different folks,” plus the lifestyle benefits being a studio musician afford.

I hope that answers your question!

Nanocephalic1 karma

Wow, that is a great answer! Thank you so much for the insight.

And temp love is a very interesting thought. Can you share an example of some movies connected to each other in that way?

Salastina2 karma

Hmmm... I can’t name any specifics, but honestly, if you’ve ever heard a score and thought, “man that sounds just like ___,” temp love is probably why!

Nanocephalic2 karma

This will now be my obsession every time I watch a movie. My wife will be “thrilled”.

Salastina1 karma

Bahaha... you’re welcome, Nanocephalic’s wife!

Salastina3 karma

Hi Nanocephalic,

I'd guess that it might be connected to the director's philosophy on what role music should play in a movie. You may have a composer who can write the most beautiful music, but the director may not want it to distract from the picture. Btw, I think some Marvel and DC movies have great music!

Sure it affects how I experience my job. There are times when the music can be breathtaking, and I actively enjoy it! I also try to use session work as a way to improve parts of my playing if the music is more mechanical in nature.

It doesn't affect how I enjoy music in the rest of my life. I rarely watch films just to hear the music - and oftentimes, I'll forget that I played on something or other until I look it up.

farrahpineapple1 karma

Thanks for doing this! Has your relationship to music changed over the years? Surely on some level it has deepened and expanded, but are there ways that you feel like a different person from when you started out? For context, I’m interested in writing art-pop or art-rock songs, and I’m curious about the ways you felt prepared or unprepared for your music journey.

Salastina3 karma

Hi farrahpineapple,

Kevin here - another great question! The answer is yes.

When I first started my career, years ago, music was about what it could do for me. I loved music for music's sake, but there was a big part of me that loved how people looked at me because of what I could do. I used music to put myself in states of mind that I enjoyed, to express what I felt I couldn't articulate, and as a tool to expand my sense of self.

It's not like I abandoned the above completely. But now I also see music as a way of engaging with people, of being able to tell a story about how beautiful life can and could be, and of affirming certain human values. I'm much more aware of how communal and community oriented music is now.

As a performer, it's easy to forget that you're actually creating a context for people to enjoy your music. Your demeanor, the things you say, your body language, etc all inform how people will receive it. The more you welcome people into your creative space, the longer they'll stay there. Hope this answers you!

Salastina4 karma

Maia here... ^ what he said.

D1rtyH1ppy1 karma

What is your favorite mode?

Salastina1 karma

Lydian ;-)

Salastina1 karma

Hi D1rtyH1ppy,

Apple pie a la? Sorry.

Depends on my mood, but I have a soft spot for Lydian. Some beautiful songs in that mode. I was just commenting on a thread in r/classicalmusic about a movement from a late Beethoven quartet (Opus 132) titled "Holy Song of Thanksgiving from a Convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian Mode". It's dope.

Origamishi1 karma


Salastina2 karma

Hi Origamishi,

Kevin here - So glad you'll be at the Happy Hour! Bruce Broughton's wife Belinda, a fellow studio violinist, was also a previous guest.

It's completely human to compare ourselves to others! That's not going to change. But if each time you pick up the instrument and think about playing specifically for someone you love, it takes you out of one mental groove and puts you in a better one. There's something about the act of consciously sharing something with another person that changes the context in the best way. Caroline Shaw articulated this perfectly in one of our happy hours.

I'll do that in performance sometimes. Maia or our resident artists may not realize it, but sometimes I play for one of them specifically in rehearsal and they respond unconsciously. It sounds fuzzy, but in reality so many musical issues are naturally solved this way. And it's like taking a mental bath.

idonthave2020vision1 karma

Was there any noticeable differences between Marvel and DC in terms of collaboration style?

Salastina2 karma

Maia here: definitely going to field this one to Kevin since I don’t really know the difference between them!

Salastina1 karma

Lol! so much to learn, once your kids get into it :)

Salastina2 karma


Kevin here. I'd say it's more about the way the individual composer works! For example, I think I've played on Deadpool, Spider-Man, and Venom - all Marvel, but all different composers, and they all work differently. The DC movie I remember being Hans Zimmer, and he also has his own way.

Those are big movies with big orchestras, so we're cogs in the machine - super fun, but we don't see too much how the director and composer work together.

PhazonArcanine41 karma

Do you truly need a degree if you wanna play in these sorts of projects, or if someone is dependable, can they join and play without a degree?

Salastina3 karma

Hi PhazonArcanine4,

That's a tough question. If you play a wildly unconventional instrument, then maybe not - or if you're doing a lot of popular music or jazz.

If you're talking about playing an orchestral instrument, I'd say it's not technically a requirement if you can play at the same level as studio musicians. But...

The playing level is extremely high. And there are other considerations. You need to have experience playing in orchestras or chamber music. You need to know how to really blend and tune with others. You need to understand all of the musical jargon that is used, you need to know how to be a good stand partner, how to sight read anything. You need to know musical conventions. Some of this experience comes naturally in the course of getting a degree.

Because so many studio players have gone through conservatory or something equivalent, there's a shared musical culture and language. If the conductor talks about a specific type of articulation, you can't be asking "What's that?"

If you can learn all of this without getting a degree, then yes.

NicoBaterista1 karma

How did you start making money as musicians? How long did it take?

Salastina7 karma

Maia here: my first paid orchestra job was when I was a senior at Yale — I’d auditioned for the New Haven Symphony (in CT, and also across the street from my dorm). There were several grad students and recent graduates of grad school who were also in the orchestra. They were driving aaaaaall over the East Coast playing with various orchestras to make money because there wasn’t enough going on in New Haven to sustain them. They were doing orchestra auditions all over the country in the meantime. Seeing that totally informed my decision to only apply to graduate schools in major metropolitan areas, so that I’d be building connections and a name for myself while I was still in school in a place I could make a livable wage as a freelancer when I finished school. I give my students that piece of advice all the time — it really served me well.

But yeah, I did all kinds of bizarre things in music in my early twenties...

  • driving 40 miles to play in the orchestra for the Messiah sung in Korean
  • taking adult amateur students off of Craigslist, one of whom paid me in single dollar bills
  • sidelining (fake-playing) for TV shows and movies — I did Entourage one time at like 3 in the morning and it was horrible
  • getting hoisted into a plexiglass cube filled with dry ice smoke while wearing a gas mask at the American Music Awards during a Lady Gaga performance
  • playing at the opening of a Donald Trump golf course

Salastina3 karma

Hi Nico,

Kevin here! I started making money maybe around 15 or 16 for the odd solo concert here or there. When I first started college, there were actually a lot of opportunities to start making money by freelancing and even studio gigs at that time. I did some, but I practiced a lot because I was focused on starting a concert career.

My path has been more twisty than Maia's. After working as a songwriter/producer for a while (I had some injuries that stopped me playing), I came back to the violin and taught for a bit before starting to perform and work as a session musician. It can be fairly lucrative work once you play on enough big pictures.

ColdCamel71 karma

What are your favourite classical music pieces to play for an audience? Which seem to get the best responses?

Salastina4 karma

Kevin here:

Hi ColdCamel7! I love playing for an audience in general, but to be more specific...often, the pieces that get the best responses aren't my favorites. Vivaldi's 4 Seasons always goes over so well - and we've developed a special way of presenting it - but it's not my favorite piece. But I love when people feel engaged in a concert beyond just appreciating pretty music.

As for what I connect to, I'm a sucker for Brahms. His string sextets, in particular. Beethoven is always a challenge in a different way. And there's so much high quality music being written right now that I love learning. One of my favorite things to do is premiere a new piece of music written by a friend! Hope that answers your question

Salastina3 karma

Maia here: Ooh... any chamber music by Brahms, Shostakovich, Beethoven, and Ravel... for both!!

hotsprings12341 karma

What's the number one requested song to play?

Salastina3 karma

Hi hotsprings1234,

Kevin here - Depends on the setting! At home I have to play My Neighbor Totoro or the Imperial March a gazillion times a day on the violin.

I haven't noticed one particular song getting a lot of requests. Like Maia said, it depends on the situation! Bach, as a composer, is pretty often requested.

Salastina2 karma

Oh man... when we do our private virtual bedside hospital concerts, people ask for familiar spirituals a lot. I think the context has a lot to do with that.

In the classical realm, people definitely turn out for the old stand-bys: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, etc.

19xwilliamx981 karma

For a distanced recording like Tenet, what do you get to see (in terms of your parts or where it will be used in the film)? and how difficult is it to record an orchestra piece by yourself?

Salastina2 karma

Maia here: when we do remote recordings for movies, they give us the track so we have a sense of what our part fits into. We don’t see any of the footage and are often flying blind with what the movie is about at all. Sometimes, the cue titles give you a sense of what’s happening. We just play what’s on the page as best we can and hope it works!

Sometimes, playing an orchestra piece by yourself is REALLY HARD. Things that would normally blend just fine in a section and be more about the “effect” (fast, high runs for instance) are super exposed by yourself. It’s also just more lonely and tedious since you don’t have the camaraderie of your friends and colleagues to break things up!

Salastina2 karma

Hello! Kevin here.

So for Tenet (Ludwig Göransson is so talented btw), we didn't get to see any film since we weren't on site.

Sorry if you already know this stuff...sometimes the cues (a small musical portion of the score) have titles, which may reveal where in the film it takes place. Ludwig may have said, "we need it to sound romantic, because people are romanticking here" or something. Remote recording is tough, because of the lack of context. In person, we try to blend with the violin section, tune with other instruments, match timing with percussion, etc even if we're working with a click track. You feel pretty vulnerable!

On the other hand, I remotely recorded some solos for a different show, and that was nice because I could keep working on it until I was happy, then submit it! Hope that answers your question

StareyedInLA1 karma

This is going to sound dumb, but have you ever played a piece during a recording session for a film's soundtrack and thought, "this piece is incredible. I can't wait to hear it in the finished product. The scene is going to be amazing with it playing." If so, which tracks come to mind?

I love soundtrack music and I can't wait for the Alan Menken concert. Thank you for creating Salastina.

Salastina2 karma

Maia here: thank you so much! And no, that doesn’t sound dumb at all. A few that leap to mind...

  • the end credits from “The Help”
  • the motorcycle-riding scene from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
  • pretty much any dramatic or action scene from Star Wars

The more I think about it, a lot of Tom Newman’s scores have this effect on me in the moment. There’s a real art to how he pairs music with visuals and creates a sound world.

Salastina2 karma

Hi StareyedInLA,

Kevin here - Aw thanks for saying that! We're also excited about Alan Menken :)

That's actually a great question. Yes, absolutely! I feel that way about a lot of Randy Newman's music. (He's hysterically funny btw): Toy Story 4, Marriage Story, Cars 3, etc. I'm a sucker for the way he does things. I remember feeling that way about John Williams scoring The BFG. There were so many beautiful moments in that one, but I haven't gotten around to seeing the movie. Sorry, I can't remember exactly which scenes now, but it happens a lot.

I think all of the people involved with movie music are incredible. Our colleagues are amazing musicians who can bring to life beautiful scores by genius composers. There's so much talent there, and it's kind of a special artform...telling a story with the help of music! I think some of the great composers of the past would have jumped at the chance of scoring films.

Please say hi at a happy hour!

StareyedInLA2 karma

Dear Kevin, thank you so much for answering my question. Its been a blast reading through the posts for this AMA and getting an inside look into being a studio artist. Toy Story 4 still sends chills, especially that one scene...

Will do! Thank you for this awesome AMA.

Salastina2 karma

Maia here: that was such a fun score to play on! And so glad you enjoyed this — we did too :)