If you’re considering a career as a professional studio musician
, you might be wondering what it entails. The truth is, while, life as a studio musician can be both rewarding and lucrative, it isn’t all glamour and hanging out with rock stars. Being a good studio musician requires hard work, discipline, and a high level of commitment to your craft. Here’s a quick overview of what to expect if you’re thinking about being a musician-for-hire in the recording studio.
EXPECT TO BE CALLED AT ODD HOURS
As you’ve probably already figured out from working with your mentor in the studio, recording studios can operate at all hours of the day, and lots of tracking sessions take place at night. If you want to land gigs as a session player, you’ll need to be available at all hours, as well.
EXPECT A “FEAST-OR-FAMINE” SCHEDULE (AT LEAST AT FIRST)
Life as a studio musician means you work when the records are being made. This often translates to working long hours while a recording project is in session, followed by periods of lull between projects (which means you’ll need to discipline your money habits so you don’t go broke in between). Of course, if you are good at what you do and the word spreads, you may actually find yourself having to turn down projects to get a break (which is what every studio musician hopes for). Meanwhile, during breaks, you’ll need to continue practicing constantly to keep up your music chops. So even during the “down time,” you’ll basically be working for free.
LEARN TO WORK WITH LOTS OF DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES
As a session player, you’ll work with some artists and producers who are pleasant, and some not so much. If you’re going to make it professionally, you’ll have to learn how to deal with all kinds of personality types and temperaments in a diplomatic way.
LEARN A DIVERSITY OF STYLES
If you’re a niche player in a specific genre, you’ll only be called on for a limited number of projects. Unless you’re the only person in town who plays your particular instrument, you won’t be able to charge enough as a “niche” player to make it worth your while. The more musical styles you master as a player, the more gigs you’ll have access to.
LEARN TO GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME
In the studio, time is money, and producers and artists won’t waste time on session players who need lots of takes to get their part right. As a session player, you’ll have to work under pressure, and you’ll need to master the craft of creating great parts and getting them right within a couple of takes. This means fewer paid hours in the studio per gig, but it also means a lot more gigs, which more than makes up for the difference.
EXPECT TO WORK WITH LOTS GREAT MUSICIANS
As you build your chops and get a solid reputation in the industry, you’ll be called in to work with lots of other great session players who are also hired on projects you’re playing in. If you love the challenge of working with incredible musicians, this is a part of the job you’ll love. And yes, you’ll probably also get to work with some famous artists, and if you’re up for it, you might even get hired to tour with some of them.
In short, life as a studio musician takes lots of work and dedication, but if you’ve got the talent and the passion to succeed, it can be the best job in the world.