Session Guitarists: Tips For the Aspiring Musician – part 2

My last post generated some interest on the topic of session work. Here’s a follow-up post about more session related topics.

Photo by kronick

How To Get Studio Work

While I’m not a household name like Steve Lukather, I have plenty of session work experience and feel familiar with a number of topics that I will address in this weeks post. The question I have been asked and assume many people would ask is how do you get session work? Obviously it’s not something you can just apply for like a college course, but rather it’s something that you have to earn.

The number one way to get called in for a session work is to be known as a great guitar player. There are many and different ways to do this. For example you could be world famous in that your talent and abilities speak for themselves. That being said, if I was a producer and could book a famous player such as Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains, I wouldn’t ask him for a demo reel of his “stuff.”

Another way to get session work is to network. This is a more general and vague answer, but it’s honestly the best way to do it. You have to find a way to meet the right people to help your career aspirations. If you live in Los Angeles or Nashville, this is obviously going to be easier for you since you have the access and ability to bump into “so and so” at a local restaurant or coffee shop. If you don’t go out much though, try looking on music forums and try and make connections that way. Many guitar website forums have areas for you to post your playing and that could be good for exposure. Often times “industry” people are members on these forums in order for them to keep hip to the newest products and gear.

Another way to network is to produce a “demo,” to show off your playing ability. With the demo you can begin to call or visit studios and inquire if they hire musicians. If you can befriend the engineer, you score major points because this can get your name on their speed dial list. This works out great for both parties since paying a famous session guitarist would cost them a lot more scratch. People are more comfortable with who they know and if they know who you are, then you have a solid chance of getting the job over someone who may be more talented but a total unknown. Keep in mind that making it in the industry has very little to do with talent, and a lot to do with who you know and who considers you a friend.

Photo by kronick

The Session Work Experience

Another common question people ask me is… what is it like to do session work? Honestly that’s an interesting question. My experiences are unique to me, but I will try to generalize. First off, doing session work is a lot of fun. You get the chance to work with artists whose genre might not be familiar to you. This allows you to expand your playing and reach for new chops that you didn’t have before the day of the session. On top of all that, normally you get paid and sometimes even feed (pizza at any hour of the day is cool with me).

Another cool thing that happens during sessions is that you get to watch how a producer and engineer work together, which is fascinating to me. I have learned so much about the other side of the glass and how tones and songs are built from a production value aspect. Through this, I have found myself more interested in listening to records and songs and just listening to the way they sound after I digest the song itself.

Now I love punk rock and all, but some of that stuff is just bare bones at best. Other times I find that songs by artists that I’m not really into have great production value. Why does this matter you say? Well it makes you a more balanced and creative studio player. A cool side note to this is the residual affects. When I am working on writing my own songs, I have found a new way of thinking about the music because of my studio experiences and how a producer may trim some of the fat off the bridge or how an engineer would ask for a certain sound to be more clear in the guitar’s midrange peak.

In closing on this post, I would recommend that you try anything and everything! What works for me, may or may not work for you, but with persistence and a strong drive to make something tangible of your talent, then you will find work and do what it is that you’re after. Best of luck and think outside of the box! There are some crazy stories out their of how some artists have made it in the industry. My favorite is Kris Kristofferson’s story… be sure to check that out!

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  • I have a great experience being a session guitarist… Yes, you are right, it’s very important to be a famous guitarist at least in your own city in order to get some work… but, the most important is to be in good relationships with the musicians you know!

  • HowieJohnson

    Hey thanks Brian, you answered my comment question from your previous post, I’m honered! Great site btw, I’ll be checking back, Cheers! HJ

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