Things You Gotta Do to Land the Saturday Night Live Gig
Connections, preparedness and confidence lead to the gig of a lifetime.
Happy January folks! The New Year is here, and with it a clean slate. So, as promised, I’m going to tell you how I became the guitarist for the Saturday Night Live band.
YouTube is Your Friend
I was friends with the previous SNL guitarist, Lukasz Gottwald for many years. He felt that I would be a great fit on the show and recommended me to SNL band leader Lenny Pickett, who had already been sent links to some of my YouTube clips. It’s very important to make sure that what’s out there on the web (at least the stuff you can control) is the absolute best and most accurate depiction of what you do. In many cases that’s the only thing someone will see to make a judgment about you. In this case, that’s exactly what happened—the videos got me a meeting with Lenny.
Is This an Audition?
In that meeting with Lenny, he started talking about playing through some charts, the SNL band songs and a bunch of other stuff. I immediately knew that this was not just a “let’s get to know each other first” kind of hang. I asked him if it was an audition because it certainly sounded like one to me!
Dress to Impress
Being in the music business, “dress to impress” can mean anything from a tuxedo to tattoos to no shirt at all. I don’t rock any of those looks, by the way. Simply put—have the right gear/tools necessary for the gig. Don’t walk into an audition for Metallica looking like a folkie, ya know? For this audition, it was less about the dress than it was about being prepared musically. I tried to dig up whatever SNL band music I could find on the internet and worked on my sight-reading skills. I knew this was a heavy reading gig and I hadn’t read music notation since I was a student at New York University. You know what they say about notation, right? How do you get a guitar player to turn down? Put sheet music in front of him.
I used a few books like William Leavitt’s Melodic Rhythms for Guitar and A Modern Method for Guitar, as well as some clarinet etudes and The Real Book to work on my reading. It was grueling, boring, frustrating, and just mind-numbing, but I did it because that’s what it was going to take.
I met Lenny at his office and we talked for a bit and then played through a few SNL charts. The first song was, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” While an easy song to play, sight reading in the key of B was a disaster for me. I totally blew that one. The next song was an up-tempo rock/funk thing that had a solo break. Here was my chance to redeem myself, and show him I could play. I wailed as best I could through this awful (and broken) Gallien-Krueger practice bass amp. I played through a few more songs and went home.
A few days later I got a call to come back and play with the entire SNL band rhythm section. This was serious. The audition pool had been narrowed down to three others and myself. It was brutal: 9 a.m. call time at SIR rehearsal studios in NYC. I woke up two hours prior so that I would be awake (which never really worked). In a total state of delirium, I got called into the rehearsal studio and ran down eight songs, back to back, with barely any time to look over the charts. The first song we played was “Sissy Strut” by the Meters. The solo section came around, and this was my one shot to make my first impression on the band. I believe first impressions are everything. I just jumped in, head down, heart first and fingers second. I never signaled the end of the solo to go back to the main part of the song. I probably should have, but I was going for it and didn’t really stop. After we wrapped the song, we all had a laugh about the long solo and no signal. I was confident that they liked the solo.
A few weeks later I got a call from Lenny. He simply said, “Hey Jared, how are you? Just wanted to let you know you got the gig.” I was stoked!
That’s my story about getting the job, but to me it’s more about how I live my life and my career. The most important things I’ve learned are: always be prepared, first impressions are huge, always swing for the fences, be respectful, and finally—think about what you need to do and apply yourself.
I believe all of this made a huge difference for me, as they are things that people see all the time. They notice whether you nail every song, how you take comments, the level at which you attack something, how you roll with obstacles, etc. For the first audition, I had to use a broken bass practice amp in the office—I simply had no other option. I also blew the first song. After that I needed to make sure I showed Lenny why I should be their next guitar player. I couldn’t let it ruin the entire audition. I needed to overcome that first obstacle. So, be prepared, work hard, work smart and go for broke. With that attitude, you will always win one way or another. See ya next month!
Jared Scharff has been the house guitarist for the legendary Saturday Night Live band for the last two years. A Native New Yorker, Jared is also a recording artist, producer, songwriter and highly sought-after session player, and has shared the stage with Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Kid Rock, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Roger McGuinn and Debbie Harry. For more information on Jared, go to myspace.com/jaredscharffmusic.