Session musicians dedicate their time to performing and arranging music for other artists, often collaborating with solo artists looking for a guitar, bass, drum or extra voice. Multiple session musicians can even form a small band just for the production of a single or a few songs for an album.
While session musicians are paid for their collaborative work, some artists also share royalties with the session musicians and the studio producers, depending on the complexity of the job. However, even without royalties, a session musician can make a good living from performing in the studio.
Usually session musicians are given guidelines on what to expect when they join a record label or an independent music production studio. One must:
- Have the ability to play many different genres/music styles
- Be knowledgeable about improvisation and good at musical problem-solving
- Have the capacity to work with all kind of personalities and adapt quickly to various environments
- Have significant availability for on-call sessions and always have your instruments ready
To become a session musician, you should seek out production houses that are looking for people who play your instrument(s) or have your particular set of skills (improvisation/genre-specific/multi-instruments). These days, many session musicians are online freelancers and record from home, but the earnings may not be as high as for an in-house musician. The benefits of collaborating with a production house include regular exposure to new and unique styles and often higher, and more consistent wages.
Once you contact a production house, you will usually have an interview in which the producers or artists will listen to your work (have a portfolio ready with samples of all of your various skills). Be prepared to potentially record or play with other session musicians they might have. In the end, you will become part of a team that you’ll likely be collaborating with on a somewhat daily basis. Being friendly and professional goes a long way!
Many session musicians often rehearse and even tour with artists. Touring can be challenging but also an amazing experience, opening up many professional opportunities!
There are many options for session musicians; as mentioned, they are sort of hybrid freelance-office personas that are easily adaptable and tremendously talented. If you consider yourself in this camp, there’s a good chance you would find this work very fulfilling. Many session musicians play for audio-visual projects, electronic music producers (making samples and experimental noise), compose small riffs or solos and even improvise on the spot to help other artists grasp different musical concepts and aid in their creative process.