Being paid good money to lay down a captivating guitar melody, or tasty bass groove may sound like a dream come true for most musos, but how do you take your talents from the bedroom into the studio?
Now, if you’re reading this with the desire to become a session musician, I’ll assume that you already have some sort of musical background, even if you just know the opening chords to Wonderwall.
So, if you are keen in pursuing a life based around rehearsal rooms, recording studios, tour buses and lots of other confined spaces, here is a bit of info you may find helpful…
In a nutshell, the role of a session musician is as it says on the tin. When a particular part is needed for a song arrangement, whether it’s a guitar solo or a saxophone accompaniment, many bands, or artists will need someone skillful to sit in on a session and come up with something solid, striking, or complementary to add to the overall piece. Depending on the project, a session can either be a one off, or spread out over the course of a few weeks.
The two main avenues of a session musician are a studio player and a live player and the vast majority of people in the biz tend to do both for variety and financial security. If you manage to land yourself a gig as honourary member of a reputable band about to embark on a three month North American tour, not only will it be an adventure, but it will be very lucrative too!
Some experienced session musicians with a particularly good knowledge of songwriting and arranging also get involved in the production or collaborative process during some of their sessions; giving ideas and opinions on anything from hooks and bridges, to drum loops and string arrangements. This is where you can make some real cash while satisfying your creative urges!
In this particular line of work, employers generally pay by the session or day but as a guide, here is what you can expect to make as a session musician:
- Upstart rates: £100 per live/studio session: £75 - £150
- Intermediate rates: per live/studio session £150 - £300
- Collaborative and tour rates per day on average for experienced session players: £350 - £600
As you can see, rates do vary depending on experience and notoriety, but if you even make a slight name for yourself in this arena, there is real earning potential.
The Mind Set:
The first thing to remember when becoming a session musician is that you’re essentially a freelancer; therefore, a large element of dedication, discipline, organisation and self-promotion is needed.
You must keep your own taxes and finances in order, create a professional website and accumulate a diverse portfolio meaning that you are more than likely going to have to do some work for free at the start of your career, but if you persevere, it’s worth it.
Contacts are also key - network, talk to people and take advantage of any help that comes your way whether it’s a technician for a busy working studio or a tour manager that you’ve met in the pub! Any avenue is worth exploring, so if you see a potential to get ahead, so do not hesitate.
Knock backs come with the territory so you must be thick skinned and believe in your own abilities, your big break will come so don’t let a little rejection stop you!
Finally, it sounds obvious, but be professional, prepared and punctual and most importantly, practice, practice, practice - these are the fundamentals required to remain competitive in a cut throat arena.
How to Get Started
Now, there is no set formula to becoming a successful “hired gun” in the music biz, but a few credentials do help…
If you’ve got a music GCSE or National Diploma in Music Performance then great, but if not you can always get graded in your chosen instrument - this is a great way to really sharpen up your skills and knowledge and it is priceless for credibility. To find your nearest tuition service, take a look at The Musicians Guild Website.
You must understand music and have excellent musical abilities (but that should go without saying), but another essential ingredient to any session musicians arsenal is equipment. Before approaching studios, you must have finely tuned industry standard gear – e.g. if you’re a budding guitar virtuoso, you need a mid to top of the range rig including an electric guitar, good quality leads and a powerful yet portable amp with a versatile sound. If you walk into a studio with a bust up old starter kit from Argos, you are going to get laughed at and may lose the job. You gear has to sound good and be well-maintained.
Once all of your affairs are in order (equipment, CV, website etc.) it’s time to look for work. Approach small studios (face-to-face if you can) and offer your services for free to get the experience you need to build up that portfolio.
This may all sound daunting; however, the FMA provides fantastic guidance, support and advice for those entering the weird and wonderful world of a career in music.
If you know have the passion, skill and grit to play music for a living, don’t be afraid - you only live once and as tough as it can be, the rewards both creatively and financially worth fighting for.
So tune-up, tune in and go for it – you’ll be making sweet music in no time!