Session Guitar: So You Want to Be a Session Guitarist
I get emails daily from readers who ask the same question: "How do I become a session guitarist?"
It's time I went into some detail on the topic and addressed the issue as honestly as I can. You might not like the answer.
First you will need a time machine! The days of running from studio to studio and doing sessions are not completely over, but they are in the rear-view mirror (and getting further behind). Sure, there are guys who still do it, but it's a job that no longer really exists and is as likely to create as becoming a very famous rock star. Fuhgedaboudit!
Today's session player works mainly at home and alone in the confines of his/her own studio. Occasionally you'll venture out to a nice big room and might even be lucky enough to play with other live musicians! But to sustain yourself in the latter scenario is bleak. I'm painting a pretty bleak picture, right? Fear not! The good news is that the entire planet becomes a potential client!
What I am saying to you right now is, you need a home studio. It can be simple, but it must be effective. You must be able to download and upload and monitor and playback whatever is thrown at you. Then you'd better be able to get the job done professionally, on time, in time and sounding correct.
So you have your studio and gear together. We've gone into this before. Now about the work. How do you get enough work to fill your days with endless guitar heaven? Aaahh ... now we're getting to the real fun.
My first recommendation is simple: Get a job, or at least a partner with a job to support you. An understanding spouse, perhaps. Why? Because this isn't going to happen overnight! No way, no how. It will take months if you are very lucky. Years in most cases.
My second recommendation is to get in your studio and record yourself playing over tracks and on songs in as many styles as you can imagine. Make a demo reel. This takes time, energy and creativity. You are only as good as your last job. If you have no last job, give yourself one. Or 100. And while we are on the subject: Do you truly enjoy most forms of music? Ask yourself this question, and be honest. Do I understand the fine points of playing country, blues, polkas, jazz, big band, pseudo-metal and anything else?
If you think you'll be soloing all day, once again ... fuhgedaboudit! If you're lucky enough to be a Tim Pierce and do countless sessions on top 10 songs, well, you can watch your chops go away if you're not careful! Playing guitar solos all day is not part of today's job description.
Now you have your demos. You have your studio tweeked and you're ready. Let's get some people to hear you! Guess what? There's no shortage of seriously incredible guitarists. Maybe you've noticed! So what makes you stand out from the herd? How about making sure you're playing for the song and not yourself on those demos you just made. Want to know the most important things you need to have in your playing to be chosen for sessions? Killer tone. Impeccably deep groove. Smooth vibrato. Respect for other instruments on a track. And finally, a melodic sense. None of these are more important than the other. They are all equal. Read this again and then move on.
So let's try this again. You've redone your demo with the right playing and sound and styles in mind. You have a website. Now put your playing up on EVERY social media site, from ReverbNation to SoundcCloud to YouTube to ... . These are the new calling cards. Just direct potential clients to your sites. "Now who are these potential clients you speak of, Ron?" That's all you people care about! Greedy SOB's! Well OK, here we go!
Here are two places to probably avoid as potential clients. Guitarists and recording studios. Why? Another guitarist does not need you, and work is so hard to come by they will not pass it off to you unless you are a very close friend. Studios more than likely have their own players or, also more than likely, are owned by guitarists. Don't believe me? Try it!
You should be offering your services to people who need you in all facets of the arts! Approach drummers and bassists and keyboardists. Vocalists. How about songwriters? Those talented ones who play five chords but write such incredible songs. They need you. College students who are making indie films. They need music. High-visibility places of wWorship. People who create internet commercials as well as TV jingles.
Make a few 30-second spots featuring your guitar playing. They may just use it as is. Teach guitar. Write songs. Keep creative and as busy as you can. Play on that rap guy's music down the street. Or that kid creating beats and selling them online. He/she might get that elusive hit. And who are they going to call when shit gets real?
I got my start doing all I just mentioned. And guess what? There is one more thing I will recommend when you are starting out: DO IT ALL FOR FREE. No charge! The importance of the experience and networking potential can not be emphasized enough! The money will come in. If you are good enough. And can hang in there. That's the hard part. You can not give up. Ever.
Till next time …
Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.