December 12, 2023

Being a session guitarist

A while back, I blogged about How to make money playing your guitar, where our good friend Ben Edwards stated that there are 3 possible ways to make money playing your guitar:

1. Being a guitar tutor
2. Becoming a Luthier
3. Playing in a covers band

I agree, those three things can help you make some cash, for sure. The Luthier one could be a more long term cash income, but becoming a tutor and playing in a covers band can definitely help you to start making money with your guitar playing, fast.

Are there any other options out there? I think there are a couple more, but one that I think is available for any guitarist is becoming a session guitarist. Of course, you need a lot of experience on your instrument and music in general – sight reading, technique, versatility among others.

Probably becoming a session guitarist wasn’t in your mind but I think that it’s a good option to have, but know that a lot of work is involved to become one.

Do you know what a session musician is and what it involves?

Let’s start by saying that being a session guitarist is probably one of the best jobs in the world, besides being in a famous band of course. What can a session guitarist do? It can be anything, from going into recording sessions for artists/bands you don’t even know or have heard of, to playing in live shows with superstars or not so superstars – it involves every aspect of music, rehearsals, recording sessions, lives shows, T.V shows, radio shows – and of course, getting paid for each session. Wouldn’t that be great?

It’s not an easy career though…

Being a session guitarist can be as serious as any other type of work. It is not sex, drugs and rock n roll, no way!

I have read, from many session musicians that it is a tough job indeed. Learning 30 or 50 songs a day, or getting the music charts and getting into business – that is tough!

Some session musicians, like the ones who play for American Idol or The Voice type of T.V. shows work more than 10 hours per day, play around 50 songs with different singers and there isn’t any margin for error.

So being a session guitarist is a great thing to be, you can make money, you can play with great artists and you can even put your art into recordings that might be remembered forever and become a part of Rock history. However, to be one, you have to work hard, you have to be prepared for everything and be ready to handle the pressure that session musicians are faced with.

If you are seriously thinking to become a session guitarist and you think you can be good enough to get into that business, keep these four things in mind:

1. Be versatile: Listen, study and play all types of music. You never know who you are gonna end up playing for, so be prepared. Know all music genres and play them well. Being a fluent sight-reader is a must have so you can play with the rest of the band after plugging in.

2. Be reliable: A golden rule! Basically, always be on time and do your best! If you always keep this formula in your pocket, you will be successful. Also, this formula involves having high quality gear – no more dodgy cables, broken inputs – always have the best gear in the best conditions, and don’t forget to carry spare cables, strings, etc.

3. Be easy to work with: This is easy, be sociable. Be friendly with everybody, not only the producers or artists, but with all the staff. This will build trust and is more likely to get you more work.

4. Be tooled up: Pro gear = pro musician? In this case it all comes down to not knowing what type of work you are going to be doing, so being prepared with different options for different situations, in terms of sound is going to mean you can quickly adapt your rig. Unfortunately, having good gear says a lot about a musician. Of course you have to be as good as your gear to really impress.

So how do you get started? Calling American Idol?

No way..well, you could try but that is going to be a hard one to get. Although, if you know there are auditions for session musicians, go to all of them if you think you are ready.

Another good way to start is to go to local recording studios, leave some business cards there, meet the staff there and use step 3 above – be sociable, friendly, offer your work as a session guitarist there. Also try with local bands, some of them might need a guitarist to record a demo, that is always a good way to start.

These days, the Internet can be a great tool as well. Record yourself and promote yourself on the World Wide Web! You never know who is out there waiting and listening for what you have to offer.

I really hope this helps, let us know your thoughts about being a session guitarist.


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