What are Session Guitarists? The Basics of Pro Guitar Explained
Nothing compares to the sonic bouquet of a well-played guitar track.
You could try and find the same sound with samples or plugins, but you’ll never really get close to the sound signature of the real thing.
Of course, not every musician has access to the recording equipment or the skills to put the real thing on your tracks.
How can you get that magic into your project? The simple answer: session guitarists.
In this quick session guitar guide, you’ll learn what session guitarists are, what they do, and how to hire a session guitarist for your next project.
Let’s plug in…
What are session guitarists?
Session guitarists are paid musicians who provide recorded or live guitar for artists or projects on a short-term basis. Session guitarists are often not permanent members of the band or project that hires them and typically provide live or studio guitar on a contract basis.
Session guitar gigs can range from small parts on a single song to studio and live playing across an entire album or tour.
What do session guitarists do?
Session guitarists complete contractual duties that depend on the needs of a specific project.
A session player may play a simple, pre-written backing track for a single song, or write, play and record parts for every song across several studio sessions.
While the duties may vary, there are two main types of session guitarists:
Studio guitarists are hired by artists, producers or studios to provide guitar for one or several recording sessions.
While guitar parts for studio sessions are often pre-written, it is not uncommon for guitarists to also write and compose guitar parts for some sessions.
This can include several versions of a solo, or varying rhythm guitar for a single song.
Studio guitarists often offer a range of tones, approaches and expertise across genres. The ability to jump on any project is a major asset for session players and is often the deciding factor when hiring.
Backing or touring guitarists
Backing or touring guitarists also provide their services on a per-contract basis but more so for live shows and gigs.
A touring guitarist will often sign a contract that covers single performances or an entire tour as part of a backing band. These types of gigs often include rehearsal time in addition to performances.
The songs and parts backing or touring guitarists perform are usually pre-written and rehearsed in advance of a gig or tour.
It’s common for session guitarists to double as a touring guitarist since they are often well-versed in the material from studio sessions.
Why should you hire a session guitarist?
Sessions guitarists can bring a ton to any project. Whether you’re looking for a nice organic bassline or some buttery leads, a well-played guitar is a sound that’s incredibly difficult to imitate.
Hiring a session guitarist will help you add complexity and variety to your productions without feeling the pressure of having to do everything yourself.
Sessions guitarists can bring a ton to any project.
It doesn’t even have to be a big project either. Music networking platforms have opened up the definition of “gig”. Working with a session guitarist could even mean commissioning a few guitar loops you can chop up later. Anything is possible…
Plus, hiring session guitarists and musicians also unlocks one of the most important aspects of creating music: collaboration.
Sure, you’re paying someone a fee to be on your project, but the benefits of open and fruitful collaboration is priceless
How to find and hire session guitarists
If you live in a place where there’s an active music scene, networking in your local community is always an option.
But online networking platforms like LANDR Network are connecting musicians around the world. Finding a variety of styles, tones and expertise is simple and remote collaboration is incredibly simple.
Take your time and browse session guitarists to find the right match for your project.
How to become a session guitarist
Most session guitarists have a ton of hours under their belt and in many cases a history with music education—whether they be self-taught or university graduates.
Additionally, successful session guitarists usually offer a range of styles and chops across genres.
Most session guitarists have a ton of hours under their belt.
So honing your skills and broadening your expertise is always key for getting started. But once you’re there, an online presence is incredibly important for working session musicians.
You need a place to host info like past work, demos, what you offer and your specialties if you want to start gigging actively.
Remember, ‘session musician’ is a career. Be professional and approach every gig as an opportunity to build lasting collaborative connections and potential referrals for other gigs.
Hot tip: LANDR Network is a great place to host your resume, meet other pros, and connect with artists in search of help. Create a profile and start finding gigs today!
How to work with a session guitarist
While it might seem pretty straightforward to work with a session guitarist, there’s a few things you should have in order before you hire a player for your project:
Your tracks need to be guitar ready
Make sure the recordings of your songs needing guitar are ready for collaboration. That means easily accessible session files or stems a guitarist can easily work with.
No one wants to dig around in a confusing project folder with a thousand versions. The easier it is to work with your session, the more the guitarist will be able to focus on providing great tracks.
You need to be clear about what you want in the guitar takes
Write a brief for what you need in your guitar parts. Include clear and actionable instructions with helpful cues like duration and feel.
Consider using song-form terms and clear instructions like let’s get some fingerstyle during the intro, chunky funk chords over the chorus and soulful arpeggios and triads in the verse.
Asking the guitarist to stick to a certain genre or playstyle is always helpful too.
Hot Tip: If you’re struggling to describe what you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to include songs that get close to the sound you have in mind. Sometimes hearing is the only path to knowing!
When the guitar hits just right, nothing feels the same. It’s no coincidence that some of the most iconic songs ever put the 6 string front and center.
Big or small, any guitar sound is the perfect addition to your sonic palette.
Don’t wait to add guitar to your productions. Hire a session guitarist and enjoy the iconic twang that makes music go.
Various contributors from the LANDR team of music mentors.
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