Music Production and Promotion Tips

How to Become a Session Guitarist

Posted on | March 29, 2012 | No Comments

So you want to be a session guitarist? I don’t blame you – being a session musician can be both a rewarding and lucrative career, not to mention you get to make a living out of your guitar, who wouldn’t want that? Jimmy Page started his musical career as a session musician, so it’s even a viable route into making your own music a success. As you can imagine, there are a lot of people out there who would love to be session musicians, so there is competition, but it’s not impossible to get ahead of them and become the session musician every producer out there calls when they need a guitar track laid down.

First off, you need the skills to pay the bills. Session musicians need a skill set consisting not only of instrumental ability, but being good with people too. Here are some of the attributes that will get you ahead:

  • Communication. You need to be able to listen to what people tell you, understand what they ask and quickly and simply express yourself. If people are paying you (hopefully lots) for your time, they don’t want to have to mess around explaining themselves twice or trying to understand something you’re doing.
  • Doing what you’re told. Sometimes you’ll be asked for your creative input on a track, but oftentimes you’ll be there to play what’s needed in the shortest time and most professional manner possible before getting out of there. Time is money, and though you may have a wicked idea for a new middle eight or guitar solo, you’re there to play not to compose. Nine times out of Ten the producer wont want to hear it.
  • It often surprises people to learn that reading music is not necessarily something you need to be a session musician. Don’t get me wrong, it helps, but it’s probably far more useful that you can play from ear and quickly get to grips with your part, or what will fit with the rest of the song. You’re there to lay down an awesome guitar track, not to take a music theory exam, some of the best musicians and composers out there don’t know how to read music, it’s not always a key skill for session work.
  • Backing Vocals. Not all of our forte, but trust me it helps, certainly when you’re looking for live work anyway, ultimately you could save the producer money by being able to kill two birds with one stone, if you can sing a little too (you dont have to be Frank Sinatra), then you’ll be able to provide something extra, and improve your chances of getting hired.
  • Playing to a Metronome. This is KEY. When the producer puts a click or metronome on in the studio, your timing is expected to be spot on, if not first time then second or third at the latest. Nobody is going to want to sort out a wonky guitar track with bad timing in post production, make sure you get it right first time, practice playing to a click or drum track at home if it helps.

The best way of actually getting started off in the career is to meet the right people. Sure, you need the skills listed above, but if you’re not out there networking and talking to people then you’re never going to get the chance to showcase them. Volunteer your services free of charge to start with, prove what you can do and build up a portfolio of people you’ve worked with before you try and get your hourly rate out of it. Hang around recording studios and drop in CVs, go to rehearsal rooms and meet people, you can even make posters and leaflets telling people you’re available. As with many areas in life, it’s not so much what you know but who you know.

As already discussed, a job playing guitar is a lot of people’s dream, and with live music still a massive industry, it’s not impossible to make it a reality, make sure you’re equipped with the right talents and an understanding of the job, and for goodness’ sake make sure you network at every opportunity. Happy jamming.

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