Session Musician jobs(Also known as Sessionist, Session soloist, Session maker, Session player)
A session musician works on creating or recording specific musical parts for a composition, usually specialising in one particular instrument. They are hired `per track', and are not in the continuous employ of the artist or studio who requires their services. A session musician is the “gun for hire” of the musical world. Often in a recording or touring situation, an established artist or band will require a musician to fulfil a certain (limited) role. It could be that a rock band wants to use a piano part in one particular studio track but the band does not have a pianist. In this case, a session player would be called in to record the part, and maybe contribute to writing or changing the arrangement also. Most session musicians are freelancers.
SalaryDue to the ad hoc nature of requirements placed upon the sessionist, the payment received for one recording job can range from nothing for new players seeking studio experience, up to £3,000 to £4,000 for renowned session musicians with a glittering past portfolio of collaboration. Normally the payment arrangement will be `per track', so if the part takes a week to record, the session musician will receive the same remuneration as if the recording had taken two hours to cut. As the sessionist is freelance, they are able to set their own rates. A lower rate is helpful in attracting more work to those who are just starting out on the session circuit.
- Timely arrival at recording studio or rehearsal studio.
- Effectively commit bespoke musical arrangement to mixing desk (or perform live).
- Contribute partly or wholly to the writing of the specific arrangement.
- Provide musical instrument and associated equipment to complete the task.
- Assist sound engineer and producer with recording and mix-down.
- Work tirelessly, often for long hours, until the part is completed satisfactorily.
QualificationsThere are no formal academic barriers to entry. However, whilst a GCSE or HND in music production are not particularly relevant to a band performing original material, session musicians are more thoroughly scrutinised by studios or agents looking to hire them. For this reason, some form of academic qualification can set the musician apart from those with just studio experience. This is particularly relevant for session musicians who are looking to work with major labels.
- Theoretical knowledge of the building blocks of musical scales, keys, tempos and signatures.
- Often a wildly diverse range of musical styles will need to be understood, as musical genres span many types of music, and some session musicians are expected to cover all of them.
- Detailed knowledge of how the sessionist's own equipment functions, and what its capabilities and limitations are.
- Good knowledge of recording studio working practice, or, if in live situation, the gig process.
- Ability to conjure sophisticated musical parts, often on the spot and under intense scrutiny.
Working ConditionsMost band members who go into the studio for the first time find it a daunting and potentially fraught experience. Playing live often masks inaccuracies in the player's ability. When they plug into a high-quality studio console, their every fingernail articulation is there for everyone to see: producer, engineer, managers. It can be a potential nightmare. Others thrive on the experience, and confidence grows on subsequent visits. The main pressure for a sessionist is the fact that they are being paid to deliver a very specific arrangement, so it must be of exceptionally good quality to justify a pay cheque. Also, that one recording track may be holding up the rest of the band from recording additional songs or parts, so it can consequently cost the record company thousands of pounds a day in lost time.
ExperienceThis is the catch-22 situation. Nobody will hire a session player with no experience, but how does one get experience without bookings? The best advice that established session musicians offer to new people is to offer their services free of charge to a local band who may be struggling with certain aspects of studio work. This will at least start to build a portfolio of references, which can then be used as part of the session musician's own website and printed marketing material. Simply leaving a business card with several local studios can be a great way to get started. If you're the only Shamisen player in South Wales, then you will probably get a call from a producer at some point. Long-established session 'stars' can bring in huge sums, so it pays to invest many months of unpaid time in order to secure a more profitable future later in one's career. Also, there is much to gain, should the session player be recruited by a label to support a major act or star on an international tour. This is many a musician's dream, and session playing can be an unorthodox route into a jet-setting recording career. Many bands try to achieve this by recording and performing their own material to little avail, yet session players often have big labels knocking on their door instead.
Maz Marriott is a well-known session musician from London, and has worked with legendary producer, Tim Lever, and indie band, Little Man Tate.