What is a Studio Musician
As the name suggests, a studio musician (sometimes called “session musician” or “session player”) is a musician or vocalist who makes the majority of his/her income playing in recording studio sessions. A studio musician is in essence a musical “gun for hire,” a musician who is paid to play on tracks or even in live performances without actually being a member of the band.
The studio musician career basically emerged in the 1920s and 1930s as the infant recording industry began to grow. Most record companies had their own “studio bands” who would back up the artists in their studios as they cranked out the hits. These session players might play in recording sessions or even live broadcasts, and often played live music venues as part of other bands during the off times.
Today, while “studio bands” are less of a thing than they were decades ago, session musicians are still very much in demand. They are mostly freelance instrumental and vocal performers who are available to work with others at live performances or recording sessions.
BENEFITS OF BEING A STUDIO MUSICIAN
While session players don’t often achieve the same level of fame as recording and performing artists, the primary benefit is consistency of work. There is always a need for great musicians in the studio, and studio musicians who are good at what they do can generate a decent and consistent income year after year, simply by being in high demand. Session players can stay busy in local studios (especially in music industry hubs like New York, Los Angeles and Nashville), or they can be hired to go out on tour with major label artists. If you’re good at what you do, you’ll rarely have a difficult time finding work.
SKILLS REQUIRED TO BE A STUDIO MUSICIAN
If you think you have the chops and the desire to become a professional studio musician, here’s what you need to work on:
- Proficiency on your instrument. (Obviously, you have to be a very good player.)
- Versatility of styles. The more genres in which you’re comfortable playing, the more gigs will be available to you. It’s that simple.
- Ability to pick up the song quickly. In the studio, time is money. Studio musicians need to be able to learn the song quickly and play it as though they were part of the band. It helps to have a great hear, excellent sight-reading skills, or both. It also helps if you can read charts. Don’t waste the client’s money; the more quickly you can lay down a good track, the more likely you are to be hired for more gigs.
- Dependability. Again, time is money in the studio, so if you’re late for a session, you probably won’t be asked back.
- Availability. Sometimes gigs pop up on a moment’s notice. If you’re known as the guy/gal who can show up in minutes, you’re the one who will get asked.
- Knowing your way around a recording studio. A basic understanding of audio engineering, music production and how a studio works—these are essential to communicating with the producers and engineers in the studio and anticipating their needs.
If you care more about playing excellent music than about being famous, and if you have a strong work ethic and passion for getting the job done, the life of a studio musician might be just the life for you! Get practicing and work up those chops.