Florida Georgia Line has had an incredible year. Their debut single “Cruise”, is the best-selling country digital song of all time in the United States, as of January, 2014. In the past year, the band has grown from a guitarist, bassist, and a drummer, to adding a keyboardist and recently hiring a rhythm guitarist. That’s My Gig sat down with FGL band leader Brian Bonds, to ask him about the recent audition process, as well as the guitarist that slayed that audition and got the gig: Tyler Chiarelli! We asked each of them the same questions about the hiring process, and both of them answered from their respective standpoints: Brian, as the band leader with a strong “say” in the hiring process, and Tyler as the auditioning musician. TMG’s goal is to educate job-seekers on what it is that employers are looking for when hiring an employee to their organization. For those interested in learning about the elusive and stressful audition process, this is YOUR interview…
By: Derek Williams
TYLER: Derek, Thanks for having Brian and I here to share the dreaded audition experience. Hopefully the lessons and tips we share can help TMG readers to be considered for future gigs.
TMG: Totally man! I’m glad to catch up with both of you guys. So Brian, how were the gig seekers contacted about the guitarist audition? Was there a “cattle-call” or were the prospects drawn from a small group of friends in the FGL circle?
BRIAN: When the time came to add another player, names were thrown in the hat from just about everyone, in and outside of our camp. Referrals came from management, Tyler and BK, our drummer, and friends of friends of friends who happened to know just the right guy. You name it, everyone was recommending someone. After weeding out the definite “No”s, we were down to a pretty sizable amount of people still. That’s where the hard work came in. See, a lot of these guys already had gigs, and some of them were really big gigs too. So, I basically had to go into “secret agent mode” to find out who was really happy with their gig, and who was looking to make a move, all without raising any eyebrows.
There were countless random hangs with other players at festivals, award shows, after-parties and bars, where in a casual manner I would say something along the lines of, “So how’s the road been treating you?” Or, “Are you excited for the holidays, before next year’s touring schedule fires up again?” You know, something like that to get a feel of where they were at. Within the first 15 seconds I was usually able to get a good read on the situation. Some said they were having the time of their lives, some said they were doing alright, and a few flat out said that if FGL ever needed another guitar player they’d drop everything on the spot! Now, please don’t think that these were just meaningless conversations, because they weren’t. A lot of the guys were really good friends and I genuinely was interested in how they were doing. But if they did happen to say something that was hinting around, I would definitely make a mental note of it. Also, please don’t think if you and I have a conversation over a few Pabst Blue Ribbons, (hey don’t laugh, they won an award one time in 1864!) I’m really disinterested and only probing around for inside information. I’ll be the first to say that I may be a little shady and quite a sketchy individual, but I’ve always really genuinely enjoyed talking to just about everyone I’ve met on the road these past few years: musicians and fans alike. I do have a really good memory, so just know that everything we’re talking about is going down “on tape” in my head.
At the next point in the audition process, we were down to an even smaller number because the people who were happy in their gigs were out of the question. Without a doubt, this next part was the hardest of the audition process by far. We were thinking, “Yes, the prospects have a gig and yes they want to play for for us, but is that going to cause bad blood between any artists?” And, “If we poach this dude from his gig, is that going to ruin the friendship between our bosses?” Think of it like this, your buddy is dating a smoking hot model, but you know that she’s not totally thrilled with him and you could probably get her if you wanted. Chances are, if you got her you and he probably wouldn’t been on the same squad on “Team Death Match” in Call of Duty anymore. It’s the same way for artists. There was one particular candidate that was beyond perfect for the gig, and we almost called him. But after a lot of going back and forth, we decided not to. This guy didn’t even know that we were thinking of him, but we spent countless hours amongst ourselves in the FGL camp, weighing out the pros and cons and if we should do it or not. So after all of that, we were down to the final 7 people to call for the audition.
TMG: It’s really good for you guys to consider maintaining good relationships in the industry. So Tyler was obviously one of the final 7. Did you two know each other before the audition process?
BRIAN: Tyler and I met at an audition years ago, when we were both trying out. We just kind of hit it off and became really good friends afterward.
TYLER: Yeah, funny story there. A few years prior to moving to Nashville I had come down to audition for a new artist. If I remember correctly, Derek, you were also on that audition! It was a cattle call thing. You know, here’s the list of members in your audition band…best-of-luck kinda deal. So, we walked into the big room at 12th and Porter, and hammered through the material. We had a total blast. Some of those dudes are still great fiends. I did not get the gig, but it was my first introduction into the world of auditions. I learned that they aren’t that scary if you learn the material well. The artist, Meghan Kabir, didn’t sing, so we had to really know the stuff. That said, material is only one part of an audition, and I had a lot to learn. Although I played great, I was still green in other areas. After the audition, Brian and I traded numbers and I made my way back to Kansas City. Fast forward two-and-half years later: I moved down to Nashville. Things had gotten stagnant in KC and the bands I played in were going nowhere. Although my chops were getting polished by playing 3-4 nights a week, I needed to really see what I was made of. I made it to Nashville, unloaded the Uhaul on a Saturday, and called Bonds that same week. Over the next year, he became a mentor. Not in any specific way I guess, but he let me tag a long and showed me “the ropes” and the pace of Nashville, and a damn fine cigar.
TMG: Ha, he loves his cigars. So Tyler, were you playing in Nashville bands when you got the call for the FGL audition?
TYLER: At the time that I received the call to audition for FGL, I was on a van and trailer gig. The artist was/is great, and had a lot of potential. But I had given almost two years, off-and-on, with that gig. And the “writing was on the wall” with the personnel and “the hang”, telling me that it wasn’t going to pan out. I had heard rumors that FGL was eventually going to be adding someone. A few calls would come in here and there like, “Hey would you maybe be interested, if the opportunity were to arise?” So, a couple months before the “real“ call came in, I bought the album and started getting familiar with it. I have noticed in Nashville that once you get “the call”, you are usually on stage with that particular artist within days, with no rehearsal most of the time. That’s where boys become men right there. That said, I knew at the rate FGL were touring, this would likely be the case, and it was.
TMG: Yeah, success happens when opportunity and preparation come together. We’re stoked that you got the opportunity man. And Brian, did you think that knowing Tyler, as a friend, might help him or did you think it’d hurt his chances?
BRIAN: Knowing Tyler beforehand was both good and bad. It was good because I knew that he was a killer player, a great “hang”, totally reliable, the ultimate professional. And like me, he could eat his bodyweight in sushi. BK, Tyler (Hubbard), and most of the band already knew him too, and got along great with him. Knowing him hurt his chances because management just looked at it like, “Oh Bonds is just trying to get his friends on this gig.” Which, yes I was. I mean who the hell wouldn’t want their best friends on the road with them? But at the same time, I take my job really seriously and wouldn’t jeopardize that just to have someone who was unqualified out here with us only because he’s a friend. I’ve got a good buddy who’s a great hang, always on time, totally professional, but has never picked up a guitar in his life. And oh, did I forget to mention that he happens to be a dentist and not a musician?! I’m probably not going to be calling him for the gig. But yes, immediately management was a little skeptical of Tyler. Also, one of the other people trying out happened to be a really close friend of mine too. They were just as skeptical of him as well.
TMG: Tyler, did you think that knowing Brian would make the audition easier?
TYLER: No, not at all. I am of the opinion that when a band leader calls you for a gig, even one you are friends with, they are not considering friendship in their decision. A band leader’s job is to bring the best guy in: not his or her friends. So, that is how I prepared. At that point, Bonds was a potential manager for an organization who was looking for an employee to preform a very specific task, not a buddy who worked for a famous country artist who was looking for a buddy to party with.
TMG: Brian, what aspects set Tyler apart from the others? Was it his playing, his “vibe”? Which aspects carried the most weight?
BRIAN: He immediately stood out from everyone else because of his attention to detail. His gear was in immaculate condition. He looked the part and he knew every little detail to every song and then some! Let me elaborate a little on each of these factors. First, his gear was perfect for the role he was auditioning for. He didn’t have a 7 string slung down to the knees, and he didn’t have a Telecaster riding so high that it looked like a necklace he could rest his chin on. There’s nothing wrong with either of those, but they would not have been appropriate for this gig. His pedal board looked so clean, you could’ve eaten off of it. He had the perfect blend of all the right pedals too: a few expensive boutique pedals and a few total stock pedals that did the job. All of the cables were so neatly tucked away, it looked like his board had just been used in a photo shoot for an ad. One guy came in and pulled his board out, and I was shocked that he actually left the house with it in the condition it was in. It looked like Al Queda had just gotten into the business of building pedal boards. It had wires, cables, tape, hair, and all kinds of crap strewn about everywhere on it. I was actually a little nervous that we were all going to die when that thing finally went off. If he did get the gig, on fly dates he’d have to get to the airport at least six hours before the rest of us because TSA and homeland security would have a field day with that mess.
BRIAN: So Tyler walked in and immediately looked the part. Not too over-the-top with rhinestones, but also not in baggy jeans and a sweatshirt. He had a cool James Dean kind of thing going on, that made him look like he was right at home. Someone wore khakis to the audition… Yes, khakis. We thought, “Seriously, is this ‘Jake from State Farm’ trying out right now?”
As far as the songs go, he hit it out of the park! Not only did he know the parts he was asked to learn, but he knew every intimate detail of every song. When we started asking him questions and threw him a curve ball or two, he would say something like, “This is the part you wanted me to learn, but I also learned this part as well, if we needed to do it live.” One part that really stood out to me, and sealed the deal in my opinion, was regarding a vocal harmony part. He was asked to learn the middle harmony on a certain song, and nailed it. Management asked him about how comfortable he was with singing a different part and he replied with, ” I also learned the low and high parts as well.” Now, nobody asked him to learn those parts, they weren’t requested for the audition, but he went the extra mile and scored major brownie points by doing that. When they asked him to take a pass with a high harmony, you should have seen everyone light up in the room. It was being over prepared that set him light years apart from everyone else who tried out that day.
TMG: That definitely is impressive. Nice work Tyler. At that time, what did you suspect set you apart from the other contenders?
TYLER: Attitude and Preparation. Notice what order that is in….. This is where I feel a lot of younger players get off on the wrong foot. Everyone knows and assumes you can play, in Nashville anyway. That is why you get the call in the first place. So, lets just set that aside. From my perspective, in an audition you have 15-30 minutes, if that, to make an impression. They want to meet you, talk to you, feel you out. The best analogy that comes to mind is a surgeon. If you were hiring a surgeon to perform a procedure, you would want and need them to display an incredibly high level of confidence, while being totally at ease and able to roll with any complications. You don’t want your surgeon to be “too cool” for the room or the opposite, scared to death. An artist needs to feel completely confident on stage and that starts with the guys laying it down behind them.
TMG: And while you were preparing for the audition, what did you focus on the most?
TYLER: I really spent a lot of time listening to the record. For this gig they wanted an exact replica, live. That really dictated my preparation. Your ears are more powerful than you will ever realize when learning new material. I also want to take this time to talk about “WHAT” to prepare for, for those prospective pros reading this interview. So here are two key factors to consider in relation to my audition with FGL:
* Did they send me exactly what they wanted me to learn? Yes.
* Did I only learn what they sent me to learn? Absolutely not. I learned more.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when you talk to a costumer service representative and they say, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have that in stock.” Or, “No I can’t do that for you.” When in reality the answer should go like this, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have that in stock, BUT we do have this product which may serve your needs.” Or, “No I can’t do that for you, BUT let me transfer you to this person who can.” I like taking that approach when preparing. I learned every guitar part on that record, I also learned every harmony part. And sure enough, they asked me to sing other parts and play other parts along with what was asked to be prepared. This also shows that you are a team player, and you will notice the team theme is reoccurring.
TMG: Great advice man. Brian, what did you expect the auditioners to spend the most time on in preparing?
BRIAN: I wanted to see if the people auditioning were going to get the “big picture”: not just the parts, but everything else that comes along with being on a huge gig. Like I mentioned earlier, gear, image, performance, and execution make for a complete package. Some guys looked cool, but didn’t sound that great. Some sounded pretty awesome but…um ya, khakis. That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed when holding auditions and auditioning myself in previous experiences. There are very few people who show up understanding the “big picture” mentality. It’s not just about playing perfectly, it’s not just having good gear, it’s not just looking cool: it’s all of those put together that separate the people on the road from the people sitting on the couch, wishing they were on the road.
TMG: Tyler, what did you think FGL would be looking for in an employee?
TYLER: For an organization of this size, I was pretty confident that they needed a “hired gun” mentality. What I mean by that is someone who comes in and does there job, stays out of the way and is totally cool with it. BK and Tyler are the act that people come to see. They don’t need the band adding parts and personality outside of the rock and roll energy they naturally bring to the show. Again, it’s about being a team player, serving the song and the show.
TMG: Brian, was there anything else you were looking for in a new band member?
BRIAN: Aside from what I mentioned earlier, when looking for a new band member we really wanted someone who would feel right at home in the FGL family. We’re onstage for an hour or so every night, it’s those other 23 hours that can be tricky. We didn’t want someone who was perfect during the show, but a total “D-bag diva” the rest of the time. That would make touring miserable. We wanted someone who was easy going, that got our sense of humor and could party and throw down with the best of them, while at the same time understanding what is appropriate at certain times of the tour. I’m happy to say that Tyler’s been a perfect fit. I’ve heard several people say that it feels like he’s been here all along.
TMG: Tyler, Brian mentioned your gear was immaculate. So what sort of rig did you bring to the audition?
TYLER:The amp was backlined: a Marshall JCM800 and 4×12. I put together a small pedalboard with effects appropriate for the gig, and I also brought a separate acoustic board just in case. Keeping with a “first impressions are everything” approach, I brought everything I needed in a road case trunk: 3 electrics, 1 acoustic, pedalboard, and loom. I set the boat up on top of the case with everything ready to go. When it was my turn, I rolled in and was ready to go in 2 minutes.
TMG: Brian, what gear did you expect auditioners to bring?
BRIAN: As far as gear goes, I told everyone what backline amps we would have provided, but that was all. I didn’t advise them on what to bring or not bring. I wanted see what we would get. For the most part everyone had a pretty pro set up with their pedal boards and guitars, with the exception of a few… Osama Bin Rockin’ being one of those. I wasn’t overly concerned with people having the best of the best, hand-wired by Jesus himself, boutique rarities, as I was with how well they worked with what they had. Not everyone wants to spend $1800 on a pedal, and I’m fine with that. I just wanted to see that people at least showed up with the industry standard. As I stated before, the presentation of the gear was something I did take into account. It doesn’t matter if your pedal board only costs a few hundred or several thousands of dollars, cleanliness is free. Yes, I’m slightly OCD and like things to be neat and clean, but that was not my reasoning for my scrutiny this time. When there’s a lot of detail and pride put into your rig, chances are that sort of character is going to pour over into other parts of your life. That actually proves to be the case, in most instances. We had to think, “What if the Uni-Bomber’s board wasn’t working for some reason?” Where in the hell do you even begin to start trouble shooting in that rat’s nest? It becomes like a scene from a Lethal Weapon movie,”Was it the blue or the red cable? Or does the red cable go to the blue cable? Wait where’d this green one come from? Do yellow and blue make green? What’s that burning smell? Do you guys smell somethi”…..BOOM!
TMG: Ha, nice. Tyler, we know you learned every part and then some for the audition. What was your approach in doing that?
TYLER: Coffee man. Lots of it! AND, listening. I didn’t touch a guitar for a week. I just listened over and over and over again. Your ears are worth so much more when your hands aren’t getting in the way. Along with listening, I was on YouTube like crazy, finding out what key they played the songs in live, extended intros, endings, etc. As I was learning the record parts, I was also learning the live show. Oh and I used NO CHARTS. That is so “key” in any audition. You aren’t in a studio. Get the paper outta’ there. Again, you got called because you can play, so learn your parts and go in like you are playing to 20,000 people, even if you are playing to tracks in front of a video camera and 3 others who happen to be in the room. Yes, that was my audition. Remember, You Tube is your best friend. It’s not all about the music. I also paid an equal amount of attention to the way the band interacted with each other in the videos, what they were wearing, their hair, and who stood where when. For a band that has such a big live show, they wanted to know that I could run around and rock out while killing the parts.
TMG: Do you feel like you played perfectly at the audition?
TYLER: Not at all. Although, I guess I was pretty darn close. I remember tripping over my cable at one point and I missed a chord in a chorus because of it. And I think my voice cracked in a couple high harmony parts. That audition video would be hilarious to watch sometime! You can not go in trying to play perfectly. If you practice and prepare correctly, then you will have it at the audition.
TMG: And when you got the gig, did you think there was some sort of a probationary period, where the band may actually decide to fire you if it didn’t work out?
TYLER: Absolutely. Even if there isn’t an official probationary period, you have to proceed like there is. Once you get out on the road and start in on the shows, things are going to be different. You gotta’ be able to navigate that with a smile, and roll with it. At the end of the day, we are all in the service industry. You kind of always have to have that mentality when on any gig. The moment you retreat and stop listening to the record to make sure you are still on point, and stop taking care of yourself physically, you will be an out man. You have to always assume that there are 20 cats waiting to take your spot. Stay on your game.
TMG: Brian, did you actually hear those mistakes that Tyler made at the audition?
BRIAN: He made maybe one or two minor mistakes, but nothing on a “train wreck” kind of level. More importantly, it’s how he recovered from them. Instead of having a full mental breakdown and losing it, he kept his cool and just kept playing. We’re all human and we all make mistakes, and guess what, sometimes those mistakes happen on stage. Most of the time when we screw up live, no one in the crowd even notices because we just play it off and don’t panic. If you freak out and lose your cool, chances are you’re going to bring attention to yourself, and then everyone will realize what happened. Just learn from it and move on.
TMG: Brian, was there actually a secret probationary period where Tyler and BK had asked you to report back with your final verdict on Tyler?
BRIAN: There was a trial time period with Tyler, but it was brief. I can’t recall exactly how long we had decided it would be originally. But after the first week of being both on stage and off, it was obvious to everyone that we’d found our guy.
TMG: Rad. And Tyler, FGL has been breaking Country Music records and making history this past year! How does it feel to be a part of that?
TYLER: Like dating the prom queen! JOKING…. It’s an absolute blessing and honor. I have known Tyler and BK for a very very long time. The career and fame that they have built have only made them more appreciative, and they are always gracious to the fans and team around them. I will be here for as long as they will have me.
TMG: Brian, with such a monumental record and touring year, where does it all go from here: International tours?
BRIAN: Florida Georgia Line has just finished the second leg of the Night Train Tour with Jason Aldean and Tyler Farr, along with a few headline dates of our own. We’re aiming for around 120-130 shows this year, almost half of what we did last year… Thank God! I’ll actually get to see my house and catch up on all of my DVRd episodes of The Real House Wives and Dance Moms.
TMG: Nice man. I always wondered where you got your disciplined stage choreography. No one can beat Abby Lee. Well, best of luck to you both. We are stoked for you Tyler, and look forward to following FGL, and the rest of the band in the next stage of your successful journey.