Session work is great for supplementing your music income. Some musicians actually make a full-time living out of it, and that’s not beyond the scope of possibilities for you either.
However, getting established can take time. You have to build connections and differentiate yourself in some way. Without that, you’ll never become the go-to person for any studio or band.
In this guide, you will find several tips for finding session musician jobs. But before we get to that, let’s take a look at the two different types of session work that are available to you.
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The Two Types Of Session Work: Live & In-Studio Jobs
It’s important to realize that there are essentially two different types of session work: 1) live work and 2) studio work.
Some session players do both, but most are more specialized, and will lean towards one or the other more heavily.
If you’re just getting started, you’ll find it worthwhile to pick one and focus on it. You can diversify down the line if you want to, but you’ll find it easier to get gigs if you concentrate the majority of your energy on one discipline. You’ll do your personal sanity a favor, too.
There are some differences between live and studio work, but regardless of which way you go, you need to recognize that there will always be some pressure.
If you’re a live player, you either need to be able to read charts, or have a pretty good intuitive sense of what to play (and be willing to work with the band leader to come up with parts). You’ll also be going out and playing in front of different sizes of audiences, so if the thoughts of that makes you nervous, there's another thing you'll need to conquer.
If you’re a studio player, not only do you need to be able to read charts, you need to come in prepared and lay your parts down in a couple of takes. Time is always of the essence in the studio.
Now that you understand the different types of session work and what they will require of you, here are several ways in which you can find session musician jobs.
Keep An Eye On The Classifieds For Paid Session Musician Jobs
The classifieds probably seem like the last place to look for worthwhile gigs. After all, people scanning the classifieds are often looking for things they can buy inexpensively.
However, you just never know when a band (urgently in need of a replacement) might put an ad or a feeler out there to see if there’s anyone looking. Moreover, you can never judge how profitable that band might potentially be.
I’ve scored some long-term gigs this way, in particular with a tribute band that plays out once or twice per month. Every show we play is lucrative, and puts a good chunk of money back in my pocket.
Most musicians don’t have the desire to stay in a cover band or tribute band over the long haul, but one thing you can’t underestimate is their profitability.
To Get More Paid Session Jobs, Brand Yourself & Build Personal Connections
Are you regularly networking as a musician, putting yourself out there and making new connections?
If you want to play on other people’s albums (or play with them live), you’re going to have to build a reputation. This is impossible if people don’t know who you are or what you do.
Your goal should be to become known for something. It could be your technical ability. It could be your ability to play many different styles. It could be your tasteful approach to accompaniment.
The only way to stand out and get the call from other musicians is if you do something interesting, unique, different, or tasteful. You need to be able to show that you can work with other people.
As for where to meet people, there are plenty of options: open mics or open stages, workshops or clinics, concerts, conferences, networking events, or even trade shows.
Reach Out To Studios In Your Area
Odds are you’re not going to make it to the top of a recording studio’s call list. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t let them know that you are available to work.
Recording studio owners and engineers often have their fingers on the pulse of the local industry. If they happen to know that a certain band is in need of a keyboardist, and they know that you play keyboards, they might be able to give you a referral.
The key here is to show up on their radar. If they don’t know you, then they can’t give you any work anyway, so you might as well reach out to them.
If you want to “hack” your way into studio session playing, then you might consider partnering up with budding engineers and build your own studio. That way, you can position yourself as the go-to person in your own environment. Just realize that it could take a while for your business to take off.
Build Your Web Presence
Make it easy for people to find you online. Showcase your portfolio, post audio samples, film videos, and show people what you’re capable of. This can help you to attract the right kind of jobs.
Having a polished web presence gives you the appearance of being professional, and it lends to your credibility. As a session player, you want people to trust you, and you’re not going to be able to do that without having at least a website and a couple of social media profiles.
However, don’t make the mistake of just camping out online. Sure, there are plenty of ways to get noticed, but frankly nothing is going to beat meeting people and making cold calls. If you’re serious about session work, then put more time into networking.
Getting session work isn’t always easy. If you want to land traditional session jobs, you’ll need to apply yourself to come up with creative ideas for disrupting the scene.
Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10 years or 10,000 hours to master your craft. If you don’t master your craft, you’re not going to attract the best opportunities. This is the most time-consuming and effort-intensive part of getting hired as a session player.