How To

10 Useful Tips To Become A Good Session Musician!

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock


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There are many ways of being involved in the music industry – just like any other industry, you can sometimes achieve great success by focusing on a particular area in which you excel!

You may be interested in the role of the songwriter, or being the creative leader of a project. These people often define the dynamics of a band, and achieve greater levels of fame. They also own the copyright and publishing royalties – you can read more about this in detail here, but the basic premise is that the person who writes the lyrics and the melodies has different rights to someone who plays other musicians’ melodies, or works on specific recordings or live performances.

If you have realised (or decided) that you are more interested in instrumental or supportive work in a band, as opposed to songwriting, you might consider becoming a session musician. However, if you see the connection between the personalities in your brand as the most important thing for your music, you may not want to go down this path.

Musicians who do want to work with lots of different people can make an extremely successful career by sharing their technical and musical expertise. In order to be able to do this, you need to build yourself a good reputation and make as many good connections as possible. You can see some famous examples of successful session musicians here. Who knows who you may work with? Imagine being a session guitarist for Rihanna, not bad!

Quick Tips on Being a Session Musician:

Be technically proficient – whether, for recordings or live gigs, you need to be able to get it right, and fast! Sight-reading or the ability to pick up songs by ear are very useful in this case.

Be stylistically versatile – you can’t always play your favourite genre of music, and you have to know the little tricks that get the feeling of other genres across.

Be diplomatic – give your (experienced and good) opinion if someone asks for it, but don’t overstep the ‘creativity mark’ – you’re there to help fulfil someone else’s vision – a thing that some people are born to accept and enjoy, and that others can’t.

Become picky – at first, you can play everything, but after a while, you need to start choosing bands that have a high profile, will pay you professionally, and give you an element of security in terms of work, tours, earnings, payouts or shares of future royalties, etc.

Be flexible. You have to be prepared to go on tour for a month (or a year) at the drop of a hat. Sometimes you won’t have work, and you’ll need to use the money you earnt from your last project until you get a new one – not ideal for those who want a simple monthly paycheck.

Be a multi-instrumentalist – this gives you more opportunities to help out and fill in with various roles. It will set you apart.

Know your gear– make sure you own the equipment that is crucial for your instrument(s). It makes everything easier if you turn up ready to go, with leads, pedals, pickups, notebooks, sticks, straps – whatever you need. With bigger equipment like amps, you can always discuss working with the band/other bands to arrange to share.

Know your rights – make sure you make clear agreements on recordings about what/if any entitlement you have to royalties. If it is a big project, you should make a contract before starting work.

Live in a place with a thriving music scene – although the internet solves this problem to some extent, it’s a good idea to live somewhere where you know and work with the local music scene and/or touring acts, in order to get plenty of work and good honest connections.

Pick work which you like, respect and identify with- This will make your career much more fulfilling, and will show the best and most expressive side of your musicality, instead of just reducing you to a helpful machine!

Session musicians can be traced back to the jazz era of the 1920s, where most recording studios had a ‘studio band’ or ‘studio musicians’ who would perform for whichever singer the studio wanted to promote, or as jazz orchestras for tours or radio broadcasts, led by people like the clarinettist Benny Goodman or The Dorsey Brothers.

The possibilities for session work have continued to expand. ‘The Postal Service’ are a band demonstrating an analogue example of innovation in collaboration, which is now possible online. They made their first album without living in the same city, choosing their name to reflect the process used of sending DATs to each other.

Internet platforms now enable people to find musicians to collaborate with much more easily and efficiently, both on a long term and short term projects. For example, the band M83 has used their online presence to create competitions and opportunities for new musicians to be involved with their band. Audio files can be sent to and between musicians via platforms such as Dropbox or WeTransfer, and anyone can contribute to a record using a DAW at home.

So if this sounds like something you would like to pursue then get your skills up and show the world what you’ve got.

Ready to get yourself out there as a session musician? Browse our work for hire opportunities below!

This is a guest post from Martha Rowsell – Blog Contributor for iMusician Digital

iMusician Digital offers Music Distribution and Music Publishing in an all-in-one solution that is simple and effective. Check out iMusician’s blog  

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