Advice Clinic

HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL SESSION MUSICIAN

5th December 2017

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There are worse lifestyles than being a top session musician. You might spend the morning playing on Adele’s new weepie, pop out for a spot of lunch, cross town to Abbey Road to sprinkle fairydust on Paul McCartney’s next single, then be home in time for Hollyoaks – struggling to open the front door against the weight of all those royalty cheques. But to make it as a hired gun in a market that’s been diminished by home recording, you’ll need to be amazing. Here’s how to get your phone ringing.

#1. Get out there and network

Nobody ever got hired by sitting at home clipping their toenails. Session veterans agree that it’s vital to get out there and make relevant contacts. Get involved with jam nights and industry events. Make yourself known to studios, venues and promoters. Throw business cards like confetti and shake hands until your arm falls off. Realistically, you’ll get more opportunities if you live in a city, but don’t discount online session work, recording your parts remotely and winging them down the wire. Try the SoundBetter site as a first step.

#2. Be a complete musician

You might be a watertight jazz player – and that’ll probably get you plenty of work on coffee ads – but you’ll cast your net wider if you can handle a range of genres and drop into any session. As for the thorny issue of reading music: not being able to deal with the dots won’t necessarily kill your session career, but it could bar you from some plum gigs. The name of the game is always being to be able to say ‘Yes’ when the phone rings – so make sure there are no dark corners in your skill set.

#3. Take care of business

Most musicians hate talking money, but if you don’t get serious, you’ll won’t survive the tax year. When you’re booked for a session, be clear on the deal going in – and get it in writing – rather than arguing later. You’ll probably be on an hourly rate – The Incorporated Society Of Musicians suggests at least £120 for a three-hour session – but if you contribute to the writing, it’s fair to ask about a credit (and a royalty). Don’t play for free, unless you’re a total newbie, and it’s a genuinely gold-plated shop window that’ll lead to stacks of paid work.

#4. Have the right attitude

Unreliable egomaniacs don’t last long in the session world, so be a professional. Learn the music in advance, turn up early, switch off your mobile, listen to the producer, be helpful and friendly. It’s cool to voice your opinions, but remember this isn’t your band and you don’t have the final say. Finally, don’t overplay. At most sessions, the most important quality isn’t virtuosity, but locking into the groove and never, ever making a mistake.

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Author

Henry Yates is a freelance journalist who has written for music magazines including Classic Rock, Total Guitar, Guitarist, NME and Metal Hammer, and brands including V Festival, Download, Epiphone, Yamaha, Roland and Universal. His proudest career moment was meeting Jimmy Page - and his toughest assignment was interviewing Pharrell Williams."