Trumpeter, Keyboardist, Musical Director, Producer, Muti Instrumentalist Iwan VanHetten is a well respected musician who has worked with artists like Sister Sledge & The Pointer Sisters to name a few. Iwan has been a member of the Brooklyn Funk Essentials for more than 17 years and has been serving as MD/Trumpet and Keyboardist with the eclectic outfit appearing on a number of the bands albums. Currently Iwan is based in the UK where he has his recording facility.
Here's a few things I've learned which I'd like to share:
AS A SIDEMAN:
I prepare the music I need to play as good as I can. I try and get to a point where I don't need
to think about the notes. I try and feel what's going on, so I can experience it more as a natural ride rather than it being a struggle.
When working for a big name artist I never catch my self staring at the Artist with my jaw down to the floor! I just do my job. Always wanted to play with a big name? Ok, now you've got the gig. Play, don't stare is my motto.
In other words, I never get intimidated by the Artist. The Artist hired me to something he or she can't do. I'm a hired gun for my specialty, whatever that may be. That's my ace, my killer card right there! I try not to be intimidated by the music. Soon as you think of the music as it being difficult, it really becomes a mental hurdle.
Showing up on time.
I take my work very (very very very very) seriously.
Here's the thing. As a musician you need around 500 shows to establish a decent reputation and less then 5 to wipe it all of the table. You see, showing up late is a stardom thing from back in the day where a late entrance (or no entrance at all) was cool and mystical. This is the 21st century baby! Don't show up and the next new kid on the block snags up your gig!
If I need to show up on an airport for a flight I'm always on time. Lobby call? always on time. Sound check? always on time. Show? way ahead of time. It's in my opinion pretty disrespectful towards the rest of the gang to have people waiting on you.
This is a major one: know your craft! You need to know your instrument and craft to a level where you're comfortable in any musical situation. When you get to that point you don't get intimidated be it musically or artistically.
Develop a vocabulary of tunes you know, within and outside the musical style you're operating in.
I ran into cats that only know a few chords or melodies on their instrument and being out there as a session musician. No knowledge of tunes within their musical field. Pop musician, but can't randomly play a pop classic tune. Mmm, interesting.
Respect the music.
You may not always agree with musical decisions being made, but you're hired to play this music. Treat it with all the respect in your body.
Remember that the Artist has worked on this music for months or years, and expects you to try to copy or extend his vision.
Don't, I repeat; don't throw in musical ideas if you're not asked to. Just play what you need to play. Listen & respect what the Artist wants, it's the Artist's show not yours!
At ALL times play with ATTITUDE. Play with fire, love, deep passion,and respect for the music your playing!
Soon as somebody counts 1,2,3,4.. IT'S ON! People will love you for that, and they will want to work with you all the time.
AS A MUSICAL DIRECTOR:
Keeping the peace & keeping everybody happy in my musical environment is priority nr 1.
Keeping musicians happy, truly looking after them by paying them on time, taking care of lunch, giving them props, and most importantly respecting them at all times will result in a better sounding band. On top of that they will stay a few hours extra in rehearsal if need be. They will give me less nagging when there's an unexpected early sound check, or even worse a 4am lobby call!
Iwan is currently working on his new album. We will keep you posted.
As MD I'm the final decision maker at all times.
I always try to avoid too many discussions in the band. Soon as I feel a discussion coming up, I try and get
everybody back to playing. In the end it should be about making music and not discussing music!
Besides, being too theoretical about the music in a rehearsal room can be a total vibe-killer and costs money.
I tend to try to know the music better then EVERYBODY in the band including the Artist I might be working for. In my perspective it's the only way I can truly 'tell' all involved what I need or don't need them to play.
I try to avoid working with egos. Now this is a tricky one. See, in a wacky twisted way we musicians are egos by default. Otherwise we wouldn't be onstage in the first place.
Having said that, I always notice something weird happening when the ego gets in the way of the music. Every professional musician has been in a situation where there's a band member that swims against the stream only to display his ego.
Or how about that musician who plays as if all the music was written for and around him. Not to mention the musician that is constantly the loudest person in the group offstage, but not in a good way..Exactly that group of musicians are the ones I carefully avoid. Sooner or later they will destroy the great vibes in my bands. It only takes 1 ego to destroy a well gelled group of people on and offstage. That's exactly what I won't tolerate, at least not under my watch. My take on this: It is about the music not about me or you!
While working on the music with the band I always try and focus on the bigger picture. Does this really cool arrangement with a million breaks & chord changes really work for this type of show?
Is this great keyboard pad that I've programmed yesterday suitable for this ballad? Really cool that guitar player is playing a killer rock solo in these 8 bars, but shouldn't it be more of a story telling sexy solo? Putting shows together is all about the bigger picture, and we as the band are part of it. An important part , but still a part.
I always try and listen to what the production company or Artist wants from my band. Always trying to translate that into the music. My arranging & composing skills come in very handy when working as an MD.
I can quickly tap from that refrigerator if I need to change something fast. Hence the reason why I always encourage students to play more instruments besides their main one. I always try and develop a good relationship with my technical crew.
Lighting & sound. These are the people that not only can make you sound & look good or bad, but can translate my vision. In every production I always take the time out to sit down and go over 'the sound plan' with my sound engineer. I usually have a pretty clear idea of how I want the band to sound.
I never have been the 'party after the show' type anyway, but in general I try and avoid it as well. Don't get me wrong, I do shake a few hands, talk to people & fans after shows, network with business people. I occasionally do a drink after the show. But partying like an animal is not something which you will gain a lot of respect with.
At the end of the day I'm the MD and need to set an example for my band mates. Those days when you were the hippest cat if you'd drink until you couldn't even spell your own name the next morning, or abuse drugs are over. We're in a business where HARD WORK is required in order to establish something, be it a name, record sales or a career in general.