Session Musicians: The Essential Guide to Pro Music Work
So what are session musicians? It’s a fair question—especially in today’s music industry where the word “gig” is redefined every day.
- What are session musicians?
- What do session musicians do?
- Why hiring a session musician is useful
- Types of session musicians
- How much do session musicians get paid?
- How to become a session musician
Session musicians still work in traditional modes of recording music, but there’s also been some interesting developments in how session musicians are networking and connecting with other artists.
To answer all your questions we covered what sessions musicians do, how much session musicians make, how sessions musicians get hired, and more.
What are session musicians?
Session musicians (also known as backing or studio musicians) are musicians hired for recording sessions or live gigs for a temporary period of time. Session musicians are not typically permanent members of the group or project hiring them.
What do session musicians do?
The role of a session musician varies based on the project they are hired for.
For example, a session musician might provide a short guitar solo on one song. In other cases an entire backing band may be hired to provide instrumentation across an entire album or play on a tour over several months.
What a session musician does on a specific project is determined by factors like:
- Expertise on several instruments
- Day or hourly rate
- Needs of the project or recording
- Songwriting abilities
- Familiarity with many styles and approaches
- Ability to improvise
Traditionally, session musicians join a band or project in the studio or in a live setting. However, remote recording and collaboration tools, and networking platforms have allowed session musicians to connect and work in new ways.
These advances have opened up new avenues for session musicians and redefined the role sessions musicians play across varying projects.
Why hiring a session musician is useful
Session musicians open a whole world of possibilities for your music.
Wanna know what it’s like to have a string section on your track? There’s session musicians for that. Wanna see what an upright bass would sound like on your boom bap beat? There’s a session musician for that as well.
Sure, you could download a sample pack or plugin that can get you close to what you’re dreaming of, but working with session players unlocks creative and collaborative potential that’s difficult to match.
There was probably a time when the idea of hiring a session musician seemed too time-consuming or complicated, especially when you’re trying to hit a deadline. But finding, and working with, session players has never been easier with online musician networks and gig platforms.
To put it simply, working with session musicians is not only convenient, it’s essential to keep the collaborative and human essence of musical exchange alive—a component of music that provides the heartbeat to your craft.
Types of session musicians
This is the most common type of session musician. Session players working as independent contractors move between projects that are typically shorter in duration. Working in this way allows the session artist to provide services across styles and genres for a set fee or hourly rate and works best for remote collaboration.
Session artists that work as contractors commonly provide smaller pieces of recorded music to a project looking for a specific sound they wouldn’t otherwise be able to achieve—like a cellist on a prog rock song or a flutist playing loops for a trap beat.
Independent contractors can also provide instrumentation across a whole album or song depending on the needs of the client, but are commonly not a permanent member of the project or group.
Studio band or player
A studio band or player refers to session musicians that work through an established studio setting or studio-based network.
Studio players in this context are an extension of booked studio time and provide backing instrumentation for musicians renting studio time who don’t otherwise have a band to record parts they’ve written.
For example, a solo vocalist may rent studio time and work with the studio band to compose and record instrumentation around compositions the vocalist has written.
Backing band or player
A backing band typically refers to a band or player hired to play and record on an entire studio album or project. In cases like this, several session musicians are assembled to form an entire group to accompany a project.
Backing bands are also commonly a touring band as well, which brings us to our next type of session musician…
Touring band or player
The name says it all here, a touring band is a band or ensemble of musicians who tour with a project to provide backing music at various live gigs.
It’s common for a studio band to double as the touring band because the studio band is typically well-rehearsed in the material an artist will be touring with.
No matter what capacity a session musician is working in, it’s common for gigs to start small and grow towards bigger gigs like touring, so it’s important to keep that in mind when you’re hiring session musicians, or looking to become a session musician yourself.
How much do session musicians get paid?
Salaries and rates for session musicians vary widely depending on the project, skills, expertise, and needs of a specific client.
Duration of a project is also a key factor in how much session musicians get paid. Hourly rates are typically used for shorter projects, while a flat fee might be paid for backing or studio band work that last several weeks or months.
Hot tip: Whether you’re hiring or selling your session musician services, always set out clear and fair terms for your gig before any work is done.
How to become a session musician
1. Get involved in your community
Session musician work is often word-of-mouth and recommendation-based within local communities and scenes. Being a part of your community and networking within it is a great way to land gigs and find opportunities.
2. Make an online resume and profile page
Even if you’re working in-person for gigs, it’s essential to have an online profile and CV that outlines what expertise you offer as a session musician. Music networking platforms are a great place to not only offer your services, but also give you a place to direct potential clients to learn more about your background and skills.
3. Offer all types of gigs—big and small
Smaller and entry-level gigs like single parts or feedback on a project are great ways to get some work on your resume and grow your working relationship with other musicians. Only offering large-scale gigs is an option, but it’s harder to get started at that tier.
4. Be available
The best ability is availability when it comes to music gig work. Schedules and deadlines can vary quite a bit in music, so versatility and flexibility are a plus for session musicians looking to get hired.
How to find and hire session musicians
Traditionally, hiring session musicians was largely a word-of-mouth network that existed locally through studios, communities and music scenes.
While getting involved in your local community is still a useful way to find and connect with session musicians, it can be a difficult and slow process to find exactly what you need for your project.
Which is why the popularity of online music gig networks has exploded in recent years. Gig platforms make it fast and simple to connect with session musicians offering all types of expertise.
Vocalists on LANDR Network span a large range of skill and expertise. Session vocalists are great for recording quick vocal hooks, backing vocals or even lead vocals to fit your track.
Remember, what you get from a collaboration depends on your brief, so make sure you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for before you hire a vocalist.
Hiring a drummer online is a great way to get cracking and present drums for your track.
Playing and recording your own drums is one of the toughest tasks to pull off on your own Hiring a drummer that has the skill and equipment to do it for you can save time and frustration during the recording process.
Hiring a session guitarist for your project is a great way to expand your sound and find tones, approaches and styles you can’t achieve on your own.
Hiring a guitarist online gives you the access to skilled players who can play guitar for a whole track, or just record a few licks to sample on your next beat.
Working with session pianists is useful in all kinds of ways. Try hiring a pianist to compose and record an entire piano section for your latest track, or work with them to record some smaller chord progression or melodies you can chop up, sample and process.
It’s easy to connect with and hire musicians in your area, or work remotely with musicians around the world—either way, online music gig communities are quickly becoming industry standard for working session musicians.
Hire and higher
Session musicians provide incredible collaborative and creative opportunities that would otherwise be tough to pull off on your own.
So make a brief, hire the perfect session musician and start collaborating today.
Various contributors from the LANDR team of music mentors.
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