A session musician backs other musicians, either while recording on a studio or during a live performance. They don’t have to be part of the official band and they don’t have to be exclusive with a specific performance (unless, of course, all parties want exclusivity). Session musicians are the freelancers of the music world.
If your dream is to become a full-time musician, this is a career path you should consider carefully. Becoming a session musician can offer a lot more stability than being part of a band and also lets you play very different styles and settings. Here’s what you should do to get started.
Have Samples Ready
You’ll need to have a readily available musician’s portfolio so that potential clients can check out what you’re capable of doing. Ideally, you should think of the kinds of gigs you want to get and record the kind of samples that would help you get them. They should be professionally recorded too, so don’t be afraid to invest money in your portfolio.
Some professional backing musicians advertise their versatilities, so this is something that you should consider as well. You could learn a few songs from different genres (we’ll talk more about this in a few), it will let clients get an idea of your range. Remember that this is a portfolio for you a session musician so a song from your band is ok, but an entire set list will not help you book a gig backing someone else.
Get the Word Around
A huge part of getting booked depends on who you know. It really is everything. Don’t be afraid to advertise yourself among your friends or leave your contact info at your local club. As with every job that requires knowing a lot of people, being able to strike up a conversation with strangers will be really helpful in finding new gigs. Go to shows and talk to other musicians, get in touch with the people running rehearsal rooms in your areas and send them a few business cards. Really think of where your target hangs out and make sure your information is there.
Familiarize Yourself with Most Genres
So, about those genres, the more you know, the larger the hiring pool. Of course, you don’t have to learn every obscure subgenre in the world but familiarize yourself with the more popular genres of your area. You don’t have to learn every song there ever was, it’s enough to learn how the basic structure goes for each genre and have a good understanding of how each one is supposed to be played.
This is so that if, at some point, you are invited to play something that you’ve never played before, you won’t be completely lost. Part of being a successful session musician is being able to show up and play whatever is being requested. Most performers will understand that you’ll need time to prepare and learn the songs, and this learning curve will be a lot more manageable if you already have an understanding of what you’re doing.
This is genuinely the most important part of being a session musician. Learn how to build good professional relationships. In other words, be reliable, responsible, and respectful on every gig you get. This means you have to learn how to show up prepared, always on time, and ready to deliver a killer performance.
Whether you want to be a backup musician for a solo artist, a studio musician, or just play with as many bands as possible, remember to practice and prepare for the challenge. Once you’re ready take the necessary steps to promote yourself and build up your name.