Al Pitrelli shares a career’s worth of experience with Tri-C music students
April 13, 2017
Al Pitrelli lives on both sides of the studio glass.
In a career spanning nearly 40 years, the guitarist has spent countless hours in the recording booth, laying down tracks for albums as both a band member and a studio musician. He has also spent countless hours in the control room as a producer and arranger.
As a guitarist, Pitrelli is best-known as an original member of Trans-Siberian Orchestra – one of the musicians selected by late founder Paul O’Neill to help shape the project’s direction. He also has stints with Alice Cooper and Megadeth to his credit, in addition to numerous album credits as a studio musician for artists in a wide array of genres.
In short, Pitrelli is a musician’s musician – a music lifer with the industry coursing through his veins. On Wednesday afternoon, Pitrelli held a master class at the Gill and Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts at Cuyahoga Community College’s Metropolitan Campus, sharing the lessons of a long career with some of Tri-C’s music students.
“There are only 12 notes in Western music, period,” Pitrelli told the class. “Mozart had the same 12 notes as the Beatles. It’s a finite set of ingredients, but the possibilities for what you can do with them are endless.”
But in order to explore the possibilities, you have to fully embrace the art form. Without total commitment to your craft, Pitrelli said, you cannot be successful. It’s a lesson that applies to musicians, audio engineers and anyone else who aspires to have a career in the music industry.
“No amount of money can make you want to work for 14 hours a day, to make you leave your family for days or weeks or months,” he said. “It’s something Paul O’Neill taught me – don’t chase money, chase art.”
But even if you are passionate about music as an art form, and completely committed to pursuing that passion, it’s still a business. And thriving in that business requires an understanding of how it functions. With that in mind, Pitrelli gave the students some valuable tips for surviving and thriving as a professional musician or audio engineer:
- “Every mic is live. If you don’t remember anything else from today, remember that. What you say in the studio can get picked up and heard by people you didn’t even know were listening.”
- “You have to be able to work with different types of personalities. I was recording for Celine Dion back in the ‘90s, and she didn’t say much. She was just kind of get in, record the vocals and get out. Then, I went down the hall and there was Dee Snider. Totally different personality. You must be able to work with both of those types of people, to make them both feel comfortable.”
- “A lot of that comes down to simple common sense, good manners and decorum. Smile a lot, be professional, ask if there is anything they need, and other than that, don’t talk. And never text during a take. You’d be surprised how often I see basic rules like that get broken on a daily basis.”
- “If you’re in the control booth, remember how personal a moment it is for a musician to put a part of themselves on a recording. I’ve been in a booth recording, I look over at the control room, and all I see is the producer and engineer with their girlfriends talking. I’m waiting around for three or four minutes, like ‘Was that a good take?’” Maybe they’re talking about something important, but as an insecure artist, you think they’re talking about you.”
- “When I was with Megadeth, one of the first things Dave Mustaine told me was ‘Please stay teachable. Not just here, but in life.’ I always want to learn more. I’m always listening to different music from different genres and eras. I listen to great players on other instruments. Jimi Hendrix used to listen to jazz players like John Coltrane. He didn’t understand Coltrane, but he wanted to tap into that somehow.”
- “Most of you are in your 20s. I’m 54, and I can tell you the time between 20 and 50 will go by in a second. And I believe every day that goes by where you didn’t learn something or didn’t create something is a day wasted. If you never do anything in your life, nothing will ever happen. If you do everything in your power to make something happen, there are still no guarantees, but where would you rather be? I’d want to look back on my deathbed and know that I did everything in my power.”
Following the conclusion of the class, some of the students in attendance weighed in with their thoughts on what Pitrelli had to say.
“The best practical advice was to be quiet in the studio, because you never know what the mics will pick up,” said student guitarist Herbie Parker. “On the whole, though, it was great to have someone in here who is doing it in the big leagues, to kind of show us what it takes to make it in the business.”
“I think he showed us that you need to always be prepared in this business, because you never know when an opportunity might come your way,” said Katherine Czarniecki, an audio engineering student. “Follow your passion, pursue your art, and find mentors along the way who can help to open doors for you.”