A session musician is a talented instrumentalist who works alongside established solo artists or bands for a short-term period in order to record and play music. The session musician is not a permanent fixture of the band. A session musician rarely receives fame in his own right. However, the likes of Jimmy Page and Luther Vandross started out as session musicians.
A session musician is required to play and record instrumental tracks for a solo artist or band. The artist whom the session musician works alongside may not be able to play a required instrument. Hence, a session musician is used. Or the artist may need several extra musicians in order to achieve a desired sound. A session musician plays what is assigned, and records the tracks in a studio.
A session musician may be required to go on tour with an artist or band. Session musicians are often required to play alongside the act live, providing the extra layers of sound the artist themselves cannot provide. A session musician may also be required to play alongside artists on promotional appearances, such as on television or when doing a radio session. Additionally, session musicians may also be employed to work on a film score, or perhaps an advertisement soundtrack.
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Session musicians, first and foremost, must be able to play one or more instruments to a professional standard. They must be able to read music. They must be flexible and adaptable. They will be working alongside a range of artists and on a number of different musical projects, which means they have to be prepared to embrace different music types and genres. Session musicians have to be quick learners, and able to play different musical parts quickly. They have to be content without celebrity or fame, and willing to be overshadowed by the members of a band or a main artist. They have to be patient, especially since a recording session can be a long and tiresome process. If they plan to play live with an artist, they must be confident and ready to go out before an audience.
Location, hours and salary
Session musicians are generally based in a recording studio environment. They may be employed by a fixed studio, so this would become their permanent base. However, if they are "for hire," then they will record in multiple studios and locations, depending on the client. Additionally, if they are going on tour, session musicians must travel long distances, and perhaps even abroad. The hours of a session musician are typically undefinable, with recording sessions often going on late into the night, while touring is a 24-hour lifestyle. A session musician is generally paid per recording session. Salary is difficult to pinpoint, as it depends on the artist or project that is being worked on. However, median hourly wages of wage-and-salary musicians and singers are £13.80.
Employment of session musicians is expected to rise by approximately 8 per cent between 2008 and 2018. The greatest job prospects belong to those session musicians talented in multiple instruments and styles. However, competition is high. Instrumentalists have a greater chance of getting a job than vocalists, due to a larger pool of work available.