Callie Gálvez Shares Her Secrets for Making It in the LA Music Scene
This multi-genre cellist talks about making
sense of her international music education, being music
business minded, and why she picks up her cello every day.
Callie Gálvez started improvising on the keyboard at age 7, heard a solo cello for the first time at age 12, and started working as a cellist at 15; she's been hustling ever since. Currently based in Los Angeles, CA, Callie grew up across the country in New York, Boston, Phoenix, Dallas, San Francisco, and even in Berlin, Germany. Her colorful background has given her an edge as a successful cellist who performs, records, and collaborates in a multitude of genres in the LA scene. Both in musicianship and in wisdom, Callie has a lot to offer.
&: How did you get started in music?
cg: I actually started from a singer-songwriter perspective. My brother had this recording program and it was just basic stuff on his computer. We had a keyboard and I started improvising. I was 7 years old. Then I got hooked on the Sonar recording studios and loved exploring them. Later, I was about 12 and went to a symphony concert and heard a cellist as a soloist for the first time. It was love at first sight! I couldn’t believe it. I was like, wow, this is what cello is. I remember where I was sitting, the feeling, the sound. It’s still a surreal experience in my mind and I have very few clear memories. I’m so grateful to that cellist for giving me my life purpose.
First cello gig?
For cello, that next year I was playing concerto competitions within the classical realm. But there was also a community college that had singer/songwriters that between ages 15 and 16 I started collaborating with. I, all of a sudden, found this gem of music where there was no score or notation, only chords. Previously, I had only experienced this through piano and when I found it was the same on cello, I was like, yeah, cello can do everything - it’s the best!
What about college?
I did - I’ve had a weird music road if you can say. I ended up going to Cal State Long Beach, then I went to Boston University. I was still exploring things with researching music and medicine (I had gotten into their neuroscience program there). I wanted to develop more of the therapy side because I worked at a therapy ranch when I was younger and saw the effects of music and horses on autistic children. After, I went to Germany to get an understanding of a different technique. Then back to LA to further study at Colburn with principal cellist of the LA Philharmonic, Robert Demaine. I have to give him credit for a lot of my cello chops.
How would you describe the differences from each location?
All the coasts have different perspectives on music, let’s put it that way! What it means to be a classical musician, what it means to be a musician in general. And seeing that perspective change from California, to Boston, to the East Coast (I lived in NY) and Germany and seeing what was important to people within their musical field really kept it alive for me, kept me passionate.
Are you more of a collage of the locations or do you identify with one group?
I’d definitely say I’m a hodge-podge. There’s no way that I would have been able to walk into the rooms in the situations I do, even in LA, without having those experiences. The acceptance of all different types of music is such a privilege. It’s not like, “oh, this is weird and not normal so I don’t like it.” It’s more like, “this is so weird, it’s so cool.”
I’m so glad I can have that feeling because when you go on stage, you are never playing for your mom (haha). You’re not playing for that one person who is from your demographic who lived your exact life. It’s a great thing to have experimented with that early on and see how people react and how their stories are affected. It’s definitely led me down the road of experimenting with classical hybrids, doing a bit of jazz, hard rock...lately all of a sudden they are going crazy for cello.
Tell us what you’ve been up to recently.
It’s always different. But usually each week has an orchestra concert, a recording gig, teaching students, and depending on the weekend, a trip to play a live concert with someone.
Right now I’m working with a musician named Summer who is doing a lot of stripped down projects. She’s focusing on the hard rock genre and a lot of people are using our instrumental arrangements for their stripped down tours. It was very music business savvy of her. That’s how I had playing appearances on the Circa Survive and Thrice tour, as well as Anthony Green's solo tour. We had been doing arrangements of their music when no one else was. You have to find your pocket/target audience. Classical musicians don’t normally think that way so I feel privileged to live in LA where people are thinking about that more.
Then jazz gigs - I play at the Blue Whale in LA, which is so fun. Trying to keep diversifying as much as possible.
Do you find that labels are typically involved in your conversations or are you more freelance?
The field has grown so much in contracting that string players are now contractors. So you have both sides - the labels only wanting to talk to the contractor and not to you as string player, but sometimes you are the contractor. I have definitely found there is way more talking between management and string players in general because people are trying to get away from big unions and more individual/freelance artist and players. They want those partnerships happening and I think that’s going to be happening more.
We have JammCard now as well.
We have to add each other!
Yes! It’s so fun. You have these jam sessions where you have Beyonce’s pianist and Bruno Mars’ drummer in the same room.
Do you have any words of wisdom for other string players?
At the end of the day, knowing why you’re doing music is a big thing. If you’re going to bed at night and you’re like, “oh, I didn’t get this gig or nothing’s changing, I shouldn’t be doing music anymore,” then you have to have something on the other side that reminds you that’s not even why you’re doing it. That alone dispels a lot of fear and negativity because you can say, I actually did play music today. I took out my instrument I played it, I made music. That’s what I wanted to do to begin with. I wanted to collaborate with people.
So go call 8,000 people on Instagram, send them a message and say, “let’s collaborate tomorrow, or the next day, and make music together.” If you come with that approach, so many doors open.
The fear of not making it usually keeps you inside, in your bedroom, and it’s why you don’t make it. What does it mean to you to make it in music? Is it playing everyday? Then play everyday.
Of course we persevere for long periods of time but I tell myself and my students/peers, it’s because we do it our whole lives that it feels longer. You can play music until you die, we have a long road.