The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

Background For Success: Part 5
Making Good In Front Of The Mike Requires Skill As A Soloist And Orchestra Accordionist

by Charles Magnante

This article was reprinted in its entirety from the August 1938 issue of Accordion World (New York), page 10.

Achieving success in radio work is somewhat different from success along any other line, for when you reach the point where you are appearing before the mike at all, you have already achieved success to a certain degree. Radio is the ultimate goal of practically every musician. It is the medium through which the greatest fan following may be built, and in general, the source of the highest financial recompense. So important a part does radio play in our musical structure today, that it is difficult to keep in mind its comparative newness. It was just about fifteen years ago that I began to work with the National Broadcasting Company and at that time its "studios" consisted of one little two by four room. I doubt whether anyone connected with it then visualized the palatial N.B.C. studios of today, which occupy eight floors in the huge Rockefeller-Center Building. And three of these are entirely devoted to the broadcast of music.

Before very long another great development will take place in radio, in the form of television. Recently I was in one of the studios where they were working on this, and was amazed to see what advancement had been made. It is going to complicate life for performers, for not only will one have to be a good musician but he a good showman as well. And the makeup problem is one I am not looking forward to! My purpose in mentioning these things is to bring out the fact that radio is still in a growing stage, and those who expect to achieve success must continually be on their toes to keep abreast of its constant development.

As in many other fields, "breaking in" is the hardest part of the game. Of course if you are with an orchestra whose leader sings up for a broadcast series you may get started without any effort on your own part. However, if you want to concentrate on radio work, it will pay you to become known as an individual, not merely as part of a unit. In this way you increase your opportunities three-fold. You may receive offers through the radio station's own booking agency; you may be given an opportunity to do solo work as the feature of a program; you may be fortunate enough to be engaged to play the musical signature of a program. This latter work is becoming increasingly more common for accordionists. Sponsors realize the accordion in many cases is as effective as a whole orchestra for the purpose--and considerably less costly. For the accordionists, it is one of the easiest jobs and best paying in proportion to the amount of time that must be given to it.

It is well worth while, then to apply to booking agencies connected with the various radio stations. Another type of agency worth investigating is the advertising agency which handles programs for clients. Sometimes a booking may come through this source. Give as many auditions as possible. If you are good, you will be remembered when a suitable opportunity arises.

On the subject of orchestra and solo work for the radio, I feel it might be worth while to give my observations based on experiences over a number of years. It is highly desirable to be skilled both as a soloist and orchestra accordionist, and I would be advised every orchestra man to work toward that end. However, never forget that orchestra work is the thing that can be most depended upon to bring in the money. I believe that I am equally well known as soloist and orchestra man; but three-quarters of my earning power is in orchestra work.

Now, presuming that you have been engaged for some broadcasting engagements, the question arises: "How can I most successfully project my music over the air waves?" In other words, what radio technique gives the best results.

In my own experience I have found that, for solo work, it is best to stand four feet away from the mike, and at a slight angle, keeping the left hand farthest from the mike. This subdues the basses so that a perfect balance of tone is achieved. By standing at that distance, too, any mechanical noises from keys, buttons or shifts are eliminated. The best height to set the mike, I believe, is a little below eye level.

When you are working with an orchestra, the responsibility of your placement is usually assumed by the production man and the man at the controls. The controls man listens to the program and advises as to the general effect. Usually in an orchestra of any size the accordionists is placed right up with the string section, fairly close to the mike. Of course, when playing with the ensemble he is seated, but when he has anything outstanding to do, whether it is as little as a phrase or as much as a whole solo chorus, he should stand up and come closer to the microphone. Just how near to stand in such a case depends upon the size of the orchestra in back of you and on broadcasting conditions. Here again the man at the controls will advise as to the effect being achieved.

Though it is by no means essential, it is desirable for anyone going into radio work to be able to improvise. To have this talent may mean qualifying you for a job that would be out of reach otherwise. Take, for instance, my work with the "Manhattan Merry-Go-Round." The particular style that is demanded simply could not be written. What I play varies at each rehearsal and broadcast. On my copy of the score, about eight bars before I am to play, there is written: "Magnante to the microphone. Fill-ins and variations." This is my cue to prepare to play anything from eight to sixteen bars of "inspired" music.

Without radio is the most satisfying type of work both from a financial point of view and for personal satisfaction. But, at the same time, it is the most exacting kind of work. You do not have a whole evening to impress your audience. Your reputation stands or falls on those few minutes you stand up to the mike and play for your vast, unseen audience.

The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. staff gratefully acknowledges volunteer Patrick Kiley who assisted in the production of this article, as well as Stanley Darrow and his comprehensive American Accordion Musicological Society library.

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