When you begin to gain traction as a side musician, booking local gigs and regional tours, you may be thinking, “Big success is just around the corner!” But the truth is… unless you are building your brand online, in tandem with building a resume that includes performing at sweet venues and melting thousands of faces every weekend, you might actually be going nowhere. Los Angeles drummer Glen Sobel, has not only mastered the art of drumming, but he has mastered the art of a good work ethic- in continuing to grow his “business”. For the last 15 years, Glen has performed on dozens of albums as a session player, he became endorsed by top brands- like Mapex Drums and Sabian Cymbals, and he’s toured the world with top pop and rock acts. Currently, Glen is on tour with Alice Cooper and he’s been filling in for Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe as well. ThatsMyGig.com had the chance to catch up with Glen between tour dates, to find out what it takes to stand out in an online world that’s saturated with aspiring musicians.
By: Derek Williams
TMG: Thanks so much for taking a time out to share your story! So tell us about your gig with Alice Cooper: how long have you been in the band and how did you score the gig?
GLEN: I’ve been with Alice Cooper for four years. And, I didn’t really audition. There hasn’t been a formal audition for anybody since I’ve been in the band. I did a recording session for Alice 5 years ago. My buddy Tommy Henriksen got me on the gig.
I’ve known Tommy for 25 years. He is also one of our three guitar players right now. Tommy’s from Long Island and now lives in Switzerland. So, he got me on a recording gig for Alice- re-making, note for note, some of Alice’s classic songs like “Schools Out For Summer” and “No More Mr. Guy”. I had to transcribe the songs for the session, note for note: that’s where reading comes in handy. The session was for licensing use of Alice’s songs, for video games, TV placements, etc. Bob Ezrin was producing the project. He produced Alice from back in the day. A year after the session I did with him in Nashville, they asked Bob to produce Alice’s live show. He wasn’t “feeling” a couple of the guys in Alice’s touring band, so he brought in Tommy Henriksen.
I had never met Alice. I had recorded for him, but as you know- when you record for someone’s album in the studio, you might never meet the artist in person. So Tommy suggested me to Alice, and pulled up some of my Youtube videos for Alice to check out. Alice had heard me play on the tracks from the session I did for him in Nashville, and felt I had the right vibe- but he had to see if I was visually “flashy” enough for his band. After he saw my Youtube videos, and Tommy told him I’m not crazy, Alice said, “Okay, he’s in.”
TMG: Was there a probationary period?
GLEN: No, I don’t think so. I had enough friends and things in common with the band. I had known Tommy forever and had worked with the show’s producer, Bob. So, that was good enough.
TMG: How did you get the call for the Nashville recording session for Alice, where you met Bob?
GLEN: It’s what I call the “Bro Hook Up”. It was Tommy Henriksen again. Tommy and I played in a band together in 1996. We were signed to Giant Records and we didn’t really get far with that. He became more of a producer/writer and would get me on his sessions. Then this session came up. He was working with Bob in Nashville. Tommy was really producing the session, and Bob was overseeing. Then, Bob saw how fun it was to produce, so he got more involved. And it all went well enough to where he suggested me for the tour. So there was no real probationary period. If I had blown it the first week, yeah- I would have been out. But I showed up over prepared, like I always do.
TMG: Speaking to networking, there are sort of different thoughts about that. Some guys think that it’s better that you have a few guys that you really run with- and stick to those players throughout the years. And then some guys have the mentality of really “casting the net” wide- maybe to the detriment of having deep relationships. But then they are kind of everywhere at all times… What do you think?
GLEN: Well, when somebody is looking for a new player: when they need a new guitarist, drummer or whatever. Especially if it is a sub situation- the top of the list is going to be guys that have done the gig before. It’s gonna’ be about the singer: who do they know? Comfort, familiarity: keepin’ it in the family. And then if nobody is available, we go to, “Who do we all know?” You throw out a couple of names, but you have to be really careful- because you are staking your name on somebody else. They can’t be crazy, an alcoholic, etc. And then if none of those options are available, you just put the word out. We have Nita Strauss on guitar in our band: she’s the newest. Orianthi was in the band and she quit, and is with Richie Sambora now. Alice’s manager- Shep Gordon said something like, “Well, can we find another girl?” So in this case, it wasn’t anyone known to anybody in the band. It was a tall order to fill: to fit in- in all of those categories of things that we needed.
So the word was put out a little bit. And Nita has always been good at social networking- Youtube and things like that. She was playing for the female Iron Maiden tribute band, The Iron Maidens. Kip Winger from the band Winger, heard that Alice was looking for a female guitarist, and wound up recommending her to Shep and Alice. She submitted some private video links of her playing and that served as her audition. There was some notes given, and she passed the test.
TMG: So it sounds like in her situation, it wasn’t so much about knowing everyone, but it was about being known.
GLEN: Yeah, She was really good with social networking. In the videos, they saw her playing at the L.A. Kiss football game, doing the national anthem on guitar. They saw her playing at winter NAMM, and playing on tour with the Iron Maidens tribute- all on Youtube. So that showed she was ready to play. You have to send that message to people, that you are capable and that you have done this. Ya’ know, if you don’t have good social networking skills, it’s like you don’t exist. You can film with your phone, just covers of you playing along to songs. There are millions of people that do that, but the purpose would be to serve as an audition. People are not just going to go on “word of mouth” and just get you into an audition. Usually, the person that is recommended is going to be looked up by the person they are being recommended to. Immediately the hiring person will get on their phone or laptop to look you up. If they find nothing- it’s on to the next person.
TMG: So with social networking, image is also a very important part of being recommended. What are your thoughts on that?
GLEN: Absolutely. I can think of a guy that was recommended for a certain drumming gig, only because he had a big Afro and looked cool. I knew him, he was a student at a music school that I taught at. He lost the gig for a couple of different reasons. But I found out later that he got the gig in the first place- for his look. It was a pop gig. Management and label people- they are not musicians. So, too often than not, they are hearing with their eyes and not their ears. If it looks good to them, they go, “That guy’s great, you gotta’ get him”. Even if he can’t keep time to save his life. So hopefully there’s a musical opinion as well, when artists need a new player. I know there’s usually a musical director on a lot of country gigs.
TMG: As far as image goes, if someone has all of the “chops”, and they are not crazy or an alcoholic- but they just don’t have the image, what would you suggest for them?
GLEN: Well they could play in a jam band or they could play jazz, in a progressive metal band. But even some of the progressive metal bands have specific images these days. You gotta’ look like you “fit”. I don’t have tattoos at all, I am dressed like I am going to the gym- which I am actually going there in a bit. But, it’s just something you have to want to do, it’s hard to fake it. You stand out in the industry and you just start assimilating. You can’t do it from far away. I get these emails from people. They live somewhere out in the Midwest. They say, “Hey, can you recommend me for gigs?” and then they send me some videos of their playing. And I hear, “Will you recommend me when you leave Alice?” It’s like they are hoping I quit.
TMG: Man, that really grinds my gears.
GLEN: Yeah, totally. But, it’s just all about being one of the guys or the girls, being in the “scene”. There’s people that can do the “hang”, I call it the “uber hang”, where there is just the “air” of desperation. Don’t tell people what you are up to unless you are asked. Proceed with caution, or you will be labeled as just a “wanna-be”.
TMG: Yeah, especially in Los Angeles, there’s that first impression people are desperate to make. There are millions of people in L.A, so you might think you will never see that person again and HAVE to make a memorable first impression by trying too hard.
GLEN: If you are good enough and you have your social media stuff together- and you constantly feed that, word will get around about you. It’s about getting “in the mix”. You have to constantly work at it. I used to film everything- gigs from the front and from the back. Number one, it was for my own critique, to see what I needed to work on. But you will get stuff worthy of being uploaded when you do that. You need to choose wisely, what you post. Cherry pick the good stuff.
TMG: If you were to write a book, How to Become a Pro Drummer for Dummies, what would the first 5 chapters be titled?
GLEN: 1) Get your reading together.
2) Have a lot of influences- don’t just be a “rock drummer”.
3) Don’t be so opinionated. You have to naturally like a lot of things. You know a lot of opinionated people that don’t work, right? It’s because they only want to do one style.
4) Be in the mix, networking. Make friends with people; don’t try too hard to get in there.
5) Have a good social media presence. People want to see your vibe and what you look like: if there’s a charisma to you.
TMG: Much of that could apply to any product launch or branding.
GLEN: Yes, that’s the thing. There are so many people out there building their branding online. It’s like the girl out there, taking a million selfies. She’s building her brand everyday. She’s not selling anything, she don’t have a talent – but she is building her brand. I’m tired of hearing, “Spotify is the devil” and, “If it were 20 years ago- I would be rich and famous”, and “The digital age ruined me”. People say these things, yet they are using Youtube, they’re using Spotify and iTunes to distribute for free and promote for free, and they are using all of these modern digital tools- making it a fraction of the cost to make a record from 20 years ago. They are enjoying the perks of modern day mediums, yet they want the old business model. They want to sell it like it’s 1995 not 2015. They don’t really understand what they are saying.
TMG: Good point! So should a musician post videos- playing in the style relevant to getting the gig only? Or should they show off at all?
GLEN: Yeah, you have to be careful with that. There are videos of musicians shredding in their bedroom, drummers playing drum solos, etc. No one ever got a gig from playing a drum solo. You have to have something that shows you playing MUSIC, and making it sound and feel good. If you can post something of you playing in front of an audience, that’s even better.
TMG: You have mentioned the importance of reading and it sounds like- as a drummer you have more of a focus on actually being a MUSICIAN and not just a drummer.
GLEN: Yes, I say in drum clinics, “Are we playing drums or are we making music?” You have to decide.
TMG: What are some steps for someone that is guilty of just focusing on their technique- to become more of a musician and become more musical?
GLEN: Learn songs- especially if you ever plan to sit in on a jam night. You have to know songs. If you know songs, you end up playing 5 or 6 songs and bond with the other players. That’s what makes people want to call you for gigs- even if it’s just a cover gig. I don’t know how it is in Nashville, but I’m sure you need to know covers, especially for gigs on Broadway.
TMG: There’s a master list you have to know with a massive amount of songs.
GLEN: How does it get circulated?
TMG: There’s a PDF you can download on the Internet.
TMG: Often times, when a musician gets a “bread and butter” gig, they tend to either dive with both feet into that gig and make it an obsession: neglecting other endeavors in their life. Or, they immediately start looking into other gigs, to diversify. Have you found, in your life, a balance between taking work outside of your “bread and butter gig” and focusing on the gig in front of you?
GLEN: Yeah, I’m always hustling for other work: studio sessions and teaching. But being on the Alice gig has made all of those easier. I’m always hustling. Anyone can get called in for a gig- one time. It’s about getting called again. That’s where reading comes in handy. It’s about making cheat sheets to give you a road map. That’s what I tell my students. Sometimes you don’t know what you are playing on until you are there. Or you get the rough demos sent to you a couple of days before the show or session. It could go any number of ways.
And then there’s filling in gigs: the biggest filling in gig I did was Vasco Rossi in Italy. In 2010 his drummer had an injury. I knew their drummer, but I didn’t get the gig through him. I had done one little demo session for Vasco’s producer whom I met when I was doing a cover gig in La Crescenta. He called me a week or two later for a demo session. I was in and out of there pretty quickly. His producer called me frantically a year later to fill in for Matt Laug, their drummer. I didn’t know how big Vasco was until I got there. He was selling out stadiums- he’s huge. I had to learn 26 songs in 3 days. So I was up for 3 days.
I walked into the first day of rehearsal and everyone was skeptical. There were cues in Italian and crazy count-ins. But I had to know it, so I had obsessed over it for three days. We played the first two songs that were segued together. I had my chart on the music stand. After the first two songs, everybody started clapping in relief. That was me being over prepared and not doing “my own thing” with the songs. You have to leave your ego out of it.
TMG: If you could talk to your 18-year-old self, what are three words of wisdom that would help “teenage Glen” have an easier go in the music business.
GLEN: 1) Cut your long hair sooner, haha. No, seriously, it was 1992 and my friends and I had a band and we had the hair metal thing going on. People were changing their sound to grunge, moving to Seattle, it was crazy. It sounds stupid, but when I got a more current look- things changed. I got in this band on Warner Brothers, called Beautiful Creatures, in 2001. It was definitely a throw back to the 80s, mixed with a modern vibe. We did OzzFest. It was time for that. There were 10 years of no guitar solos, so people were ready. But if I had some old school 80s look, it would not have worked. We learned a lot on that gig.
2) Make cheat sheets. I didn’t get into making cheat sheets until later. I was relying on my memory too much. By my mid 20s, I had heard about it enough and I figured it makes sense. It makes things totally easier in the studio. You don’t have to memorize. If someone suggests a change, you just notate it.
TMG: Why hadn’t you done that before?
GLEN: I don’t know. I was reading music. I was in marching band and concert band in high school. Sometimes you just have to be shown. You don’t have to make it note for note. You don’t have to stick to all the rules. You don’t have to do 1st and 2nd endings: codas. You can come up with your own shortcut, and you develop it as you go.
TMG: An aspect of learning is also learning how to learn.
GLEN: Yes. 3) I would tell myself to concentrate on having a vocabulary that you can rely on. People get into practicing too many ideas, so when it comes time to play, they have too much swimming around in their head. They can’t just focus and play what they need to play. But that’s just another thing that comes with maturity. You learn how to be in the moment, and don’t worry about TRYING to do anything. Just do it. You TRY in the practice room. If all you focus on is speed and technique, then when it comes time- playing a ballad can be really tough.
TMG: Glen, you rock! This has been an extremely imformative and helpful interview. Thanks for your time and best of luck in the years to come.
Afterword: Since conducting this awesome interview, Glen had the opportunity to fill in for Tommy Lee during four Mötley Crüe shows- as Tommy suffered from inflamed tendinitous. Alice Cooper and his band have been out on the road with Mötley Crüe for “The Final Tour”, which kicked off last year and will end New Year’s Eve at the Staples Center in Los Angeles- after one last round of North American gigs. After Sobel heard the news and began preparing for his double header performances, he said, “It’s been an insane day of prep and making cheat sheets.” He also said, “I can’t describe what an honor it’s been to rock tonight with Vince [Neil], Mick [Mars], Nikki [Sixx] and Tommy, who was handling some of the electronics and cueing me through the in-ear monitors from side stage.”
Tommy Lee also made a statement to his fans, explaining, “… the show must go on and Alice Cooper’s amazing drummer, Glen Sobel, will be filling in for me on drums. I will, however, come on stage to see everyone and also to play the piano with my good hand for the finale on ‘Home Sweet Home’.” Lee added, “I am told this injury is temporary and that I will be back on stage very shortly. I’m doing everything in my power to speed up the healing process. I hate not being able to play for you guys!!” Glen was very sympathetic to Lee’s injury. He mentioned, “Here’s to hoping Tommy Lee’s wrist heals up quickly. I’m familiar with the experience of playing though pain while being on tour. It isn’t fun.” “The Final Tour” is said to be Mötley Crüe’s last tour. For Glen, his chance to rock with the Crue is the perfect example of how his over preparedess and strong work ethic has paid off. You may say that Glen is really “lucky”. A wise man once said that “luck” happens when opportunity and preparation collide. If you think Glen is “lucky”… in this case, you would be right. Follow Glen with the links below.