Life as a Studio and Touring Musician | An Interview with Ryan Saranich

Posted on
11 Jul 2013
by shannon kennedy under Episodes |

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Hello everyone and welcome to the latest episode of Teen Jazz Radio. I want to thank you all for tuning in and taking time out of your day to check out this episode, we sincerely appreciate your support.

Today, I'd like to do something a little bit different.

Instead of featuring music as part of this episode, I've invited a special guest on to answer one of our reader's questions about what it takes to be a touring and/or studio musician.

And so, today I'm pleased to bring on a guest that will not only be able to answer those questions, but honor us here at Teen Jazz with the opportunity re-introduce an artist that we first featured back in 2007 when he was just 19 years old.

Our guest, Ryan Saranich is a saxophone player based in North Carolina and when we first interviewed Ryan he had just released his first solo album and was already touring and recording professionally.

One of the questions we asked him as part of our interview on Teen Jazz was "what do you plan on doing with music in the future" and Ryan's answer was "I plan to continue playing professionally and continue touring. Hopefully after I study more, I'll be able to land some larger jobs." And once we start the interview you'll see that Ryan not only achieved but exceeded those goals he set several years ago.

The Interview

Hi Ryan.

Ryan: How are you doing?

Good, thanks! Thank you for being on the show with us.

Ryan: Thanks for having me.

So, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started?

Ryan: Well, like you said, my name is Ryan Saranich. I'm based out of Charlotte, North Carolina and out of Boston. And I've grown up as a multi-instrumentalist, primarily as a saxophonist, but also as a bassist, a drummer and a keyboardist. I got started, it was kind of a joke, a gift from my uncle, and a set of drums came to my house for my fifth birthday and I think that everybody thought that I wouldn't take it seriously and after enrolling in lessons and continuing on, music became a really serious thing. And being from a family that's very deeply rooted in music, it was never forced upon me, but it was an obvious choice for me to do. And it was something I enjoyed without anyone ever having to force it on me.

How did you get into touring and recording? How did you decide that was the path that you wanted to go down?

Ryan: It started when I got into high school. I got accepted into a performing arts high school in Charlotte, North Carolina, North West School of the Arts. And upon getting in there I started noticing that all the guys that had become my friends, the people that I was around and playing with all the time were constantly on the road and were playing, and it was inspiring for me because at that moment I knew that I wanted to do music but I didn't quite see all the opportunities that were in front of me. And at 14 years old, some of the people that were at my high school had already played with The Gap Band and with Angie Stone, and a lot of really great names in music. And it was inspiring for me to be around them and to see everything that they were doing because now I realized that those things were within my reach.

So what were some of the things that you did at that stage and early on that you feel set you up to get into touring and recording?

Ryan: For me, at that age, it was all about networking. And I focused on the projects that were on hand at school because at the current time they offered a number of ensembles and the great thing about it was that my band director at the time realized that I was really interested in playing a lot of different instruments and he gave me the opportunity to join a number of ensembles playing all the different things. So I was getting music education from a lot of different sides. They were bringing in private instructors to help us with this, that and the other thing. And in high school, we were actually on tour a good bit, you know, being that it's a performing arts high school. We were asked to play a lot and it was nice being able to get in front of different crowds of people and learn how to be an entertainer and just learn how to play music together with other people which is, you know, that can be a really hard thing.

Yeah that's true. So what skills do you think you developed that are both musical and non-musical that you think are really important for what you're doing?

Ryan: On the musical side, I worked really hard on my reading and I worked really hard on, you know, I was really about feeling the music. Because when you have a piece of paper in front of you, it has everything, it's a roadmap for what you should be playing onstage and you get outside of that when you get what you have in front of you and it's internalized. As you get outside of that sheet music, that's when music starts to happen. So my interaction with the people that were around me, that was a huge part of me growing up and trying to become that kind of music. Because you look at any of the guys that are playing professionally, Eric Marienthal, Kirk Whalum, any of those guys, they're huge musicians in part because of the way they feel music and because of the way they make other people feel music the way that they do.

Non-musically, it was all learning the business and the networking and this, that and the other thing. That was huge for me and those were skills that I needed. And it reminds me a lot of something Victor Wooten said a few years ago, and he said something about that he spent 90% of his day on the business side of the music industry rather than practicing because that means as much to moving forward, to being progressive as being talented and practicing hard.

Now the business side, was that something that you were learning in school as well, or was that something that you kind of had to learn on your own?

Ryan: I kind of had to learn it on my own. I had a lot of help from, especially my family, because some of them were music business people at the time and just in that age range I was starting to get a lot and I was around people who were heavily influential in the business who were kind of exposing me to what I was up against coming up.

And what are some of the skills, you would say, that during that time you found to be the most important.

Ryan: You know it's really simple things, you know. Making eye contact with people. And you know, like obviously, being a good listener and paying attention to everything that's going on around you. You know, there's been a lot of people that I've seen that just haven't had good business skills and it was just because they weren't very conscious about the situation they were in or what they were saying. It means a lot to have a firm handshake, and tell somebody your name, and when they ask you what you do, you know, that's your opportunity. Fill them in. There could be a lot of skills that you have that they had no idea about upon hearing you play or hearing that you were a musician.

That's good advice. So you work both as a recording artist and as a touring artist. And both of those are different, you have to approach them differently. Can you explain that a little bit?

Ryan: Very much. In the studio, I'm a very comfortable player. I wear slippers every time that I go into the studio. Just in a tense recording environment, that's like the worst time to record because you're focusing on everything but the music and you know, for me, being comfortable and actually preparing as much as I can. You know, getting a good warm up that day, if I have the sheet music ahead of time, I love the opportunity to play through it a ton if not memorize it. If I can memorize it, it's second nature and the sessions go a lot faster. And I've been, I guess, fortunately, put in a lot of situations where I've had to sight-read for a lot of sessions and stuff too, which is a super, super valuable skill. When you're in the studio and you're working on projects, time is money. And people obviously are hiring you for your sound, and the way that you play music, but they're paying for that session time too and they want to save a couple of bucks.

The session world is a really different world than playing live because live, you know, I refuse to be on stage with sheet music when I'm playing live because that's the last thing that I want to focus on, like I said before. And it's about energy, and it's about being an entertainer. Like, a lot of the music that you'll end up playing, you know a lot of it is music that can be for you, but you can't forget that there's people that are watching you that paid to see you play that came. That's like a special occasion and you're impression that you make on them can ultimately determine how much they enjoyed the music from there on out. So energy is huge.

So you talked a little bit about how you prepared to go into the studio, what do you do to prepare to go on tour?

Ryan: Hours and hours and hours and hours of practicing. Actually, this week I'm preparing for a west coast tour with a band called Groove 8. It's a great Charlotte, North Carolina based funk band that travels a good bit and fortunately [I've been] subbing in and out of that band for a long time. I've had a lot of opportunities to see a lot of different parts of the music and this week was a really interesting one because I, sorry two weeks have been really interesting. I spent the better part of that time shedding the alto and the tenor sax book and a little bit of flute in there too, and come to find out about three or four days ago, they decided that they wanted me to play bass. So I've been doing nothing but shedding the bass parts and memorizing the bass parts and trying to feel that stuff. We just got out of rehearsal with them a little bit ago and instead of practicing or rehearsing like a lot of people do when they get into that scenario, the only thing that I was focusing on was trying to lock with the drummer, cause if that didn't happen, then the music doesn't happen.

So what do you enjoy most about what you do?

Ryan: The fact that I get paid to do something that for a lot of people is a hobby, and for me, it's a career. There's not a lot of people that can say that they're truly doing that and for me it's a nice feeling because it just feels like for this 21 years now that I've been playing, it's paying off. It's been paying off in pieces and it's growing and I like that a whole lot.

We had someone ask if you think that being a studio musician is a viable career option. What is your response to that?

Ryan: It's definitely one of the hardest things to get into and it is viable career option, I think. It's something that you have to network and be in the right group of people to do. But there's so many people that are making records and there's as much as we dive into electronic music where musicians are kind of losing work, there's always going to be somebody that really values real acoustic instruments. And especially, in the right circles, they value great arranging, which is one of my favorite things that I like to do too, which has proven to get me a lot of work.

Where did you study arranging?

Ryan: I studied arranging at University of North Carolina at Wilmington and at Berklee College of Music.

And what are some of the skills as an arranger that you think are important if that's something that you're looking at getting into?

Ryan: It's about taste and about how you view music. Everybody has their own specific way that they like to play music. And for me, when I'm writing or I'm arranging, I'm trying to draw things out of the music definitely weren't there previously. Or trying to embellish things that people didn't think to embellish before. For me, arranging is about a broad sound and a number of tambours and I think that arranging is just fun for me because it's really kind of a giant game of Tetris in a way, like fill in the spaces and try not to lose.

That's a nice metaphor… So you talked about, well, I introduced the goals that you set back in 2007, and so obviously those have changed a little bit. Can you tell us about some of your plans for the future?

Ryan: Well, kind of still on the same timeline, but things have changed a bit. Like I said, I love to arrange and I love to write, which I've had the opportunity to do for a number of really cool artists and I'm really getting into engineering, luckily with the help of a really great friend who's fantastic engineer who lives out in Los Angeles. Who produced and engineered my last record, and I'm really enjoying the engineering thing. I'm hoping to see that maybe the arranging thing will be a position as a musical director maybe in the future. I'd love that a lot. And we'll just see what happens with it. At this point, I'm just enjoying playing music and what happens, happens. And it can only go up from here, I hope.

If you had one piece of advice for an up and coming artist, what would that be?

Ryan: Hard work triumphs talents and that doesn't necessarily mean don't practice. You should be completely proficient on your instrument but take the time out of your day to get out and meet people and to explore the business side. I mean everything from numbers and orchestrating a band and putting all sorts of things together. Explore that. Music, there's a lot more to it than just playing notes.

That's good advice. And as far as the business side, since it's not really something that's taught in school, would you recommend learning it as you go and by experience, or have there been any books or resources that have helped you out?

Ryan: Half of it was experience and a little bit of it was, I'm trying to think of the name of the book. I think it's called, "This Business of Music?" There's a number of editions that have been out for decades.

Is that the one by Donald Passman?

Ryan: I believe so, yeah. And there's a lot of really cool information in there concerning royalties, and just any number of things. It kind of outlines at least a little bit of every aspect of music on the business side.

So why don't you talk a little bit about your projects because we've been talking about what you've done with other people in the studio and on tour. Why don't we talk a little bit about what you're doing with your music?

Ryan: Currently, we just released a record that is for free on CDBaby, Soundcloud and any number of other things that was a project that I thought that I'd never record. And essentially, what it was, was I got really tired of playing any number of things that people just wanted. Things that people wanted to hear and I needed to play my own music cause I was, you just get tired of that stuff sometimes, like you need your own time. And so I wrote this huge project for expanded rhythm section, five horn symphony and at some points, choir and I just kind of put it away for a number of years thinking that we would never get a shot at recording it and the guy that I had been working with at the time, Young Kim, the engineer, found those scores in my house and I kind of shared some of the music with him. And he decided that we were just going to do it. So we built a studio into my house and over the process of eight months, we had a hundred plus people come in that are just super dedicated to the project and came in and donated the time to make the record. And I call it film score fusion, but it's jazz. It's not cerebral kind of stuff, it still has things that people can really relate to. And with it being called story, the record is a timeline of my life across a couple year time period, outlining some of the major events that I had. Basically starting with the time frame where I went to Berklee in 2009 and moving onward. So I'm really enjoying the seeing the progress with that. It's charting in Europe, and it's getting a lot of support. And my band has been out on tour on occasion playing shows promoting the record and getting out there. And at the current moment, even while I'm doing that, I'm already writing a record with, a duo record with the guy that sang on my album by the name of Guillaume Eyango who is a fantastic French singer. He sings with everybody. And we're kind of doing something a lot like my record that features more vocals and to an extent, some of the idea that Bobby McFerrin had on the Vocabularies album which is one of my favorites.

That's very cool. It sounds very interesting and I'm glad that your current record is doing really well. And so you said it's on Amazon and iTunes and Soundcloud and stuff like that?

Ryan: It is on all those. The downside is that I gave this record away for free and unfortunately iTunes and Amazon are charging for it. So make sure that you get it for free on CDBaby and on Soundcloud and Bandcamp. And I'm trying to remember where else it is. It's all over.

And you have a cool little behind the scenes video on your website and stuff about the making of the album.

Ryan: Yes. Definitely.

And do you want to talk about your website and where people can find out more about you.

Ryan: Yeah, you can come check out the website. It's and the last name is terrible. It's s-a-r-a-n-i-c-h. And on the website you'll find a brief biography kind of outlining the record which is cool. It's got some hints as to some of the things that went on. You'll find all my shows that are coming up, especially you west coast guys. I'm going to be out on the west coast playing bass next week and maybe a little saxophone if they have there way. And the current tour dates, and you'll find a couple of youtube videos from the making of the record and some teasers, and if you check out my youtube channel, actually most places that I go I film a little bit and kind of give everybody an idea of the experiences that I'm having on the road.

That's really cool. That's a nice way to give kind of a behind the scenes look into life as a studio and touring artist.

Ryan: Thank you.

So, I guess if you want to learn more about what Ryan does and what that entails, you can definitely check out his YouTube channel and there's a lot of stuff there. And do you have anything else you want to add before we close out the session?

Ryan: No. Just everybody should just keep making this good music. We have all the opportunities available to us now. All of the recording software/hardware that you can buy, all of the people, the millions of musicians you can meet… Make music. Take every opportunity to make music.

Well, thank you so much for being on the show with us.

Ryan: Thanks so much for having me.

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