Session musicians obviously need to be musically talented in order to do their job right, but the skills required often go beyond natural and taught music talents. Depending on how you plan to come across new opportunities, where you want to record or perform, and how many ways you're open to networking along the way, you may need to pick up a few more skills in order to reach your fullest potential as a session singer, guitarist, drummer, or similar musician.
As a session musician, you should have enough experience to perform well in a studio and live performance setting. You never know what type of audience will be around you when you are playing your instrument or singing, so make sure you have previous work experience that you can clearly show to your potential clients in the future. Showing audio and video as a part of a demo reel for your session musician work is a great idea.
Things can change very quickly in the creative world, so you need to be skilled with the ability to adapt to changes and keep your cool throughout. A lot of unexpected turns of events happen in performances that are live and in the studio, so the more you've experienced and seen as an artist, the better. On the other hand, the less you've been exposed to, the more you're at risk of not being great on your toes. You don't need to be aiming to adapt to anything super extreme, but just be ready for melody changes, set changes, band member changes, location changes, and similar situations.
As an aspiring session musician, it’s a good idea to begin your sight-reading journey if you have not learned how to read music yet, if you know the basics but aren’t they confident, consider practicing with a tool like MusicTheory.net on a consistent schedule in order to strengthen your sights reading skills. Sight-reading comes in handy, especially when artists and bands are doing recordings for live performances and may need to make last-minute adjustments to the vocals or instrumentation.
Similar to sight-reading, you will need to have a great ear as a session musician. Learning quickly and accurately in the music world usually shows that you have had a lot of experience in music theory and/or learning how to sing or play by ear. You can also use a tool like MusicTheory.net to work on this particular skill if need be. The better in tune your ear is with the technicalities of music, the more talented you are as a musician.
You will need to be able to follow musical directions and interact with other musicians in a professional manner if you want to be a successful session artist. A lot of discussions can go into the creative process when you’re collaborating with others, so make sure you’re good with musical terms, manners, and making friends. This comes in handy in the music industry for sure since there are often a lot of egos involved with creatives!
To add to your communication skills, you may be required to have the particular communication skills of a customer service agent at times as well. When it comes to getting leads and potential clients in the music world, you will have to learn how to talk to people in a way that's appropriate for a B2B type of relationship. This can include the need for patience, very clean and concise info when it comes to the small details, and being able to assure people that you are a good fit for their project.
You can get very far with sight-reading and ear training skills, but the power of improvisation can take you even further as a session musician. Many times, clients need musicians and singers to be able to do their own thing and create variations of a melody on the spot. This can also be tied into the need for songwriting skills as a musician, but I won't go as far as adding songwriting to this list since you likely won't need to have skills as a lyricist or full composer.
Your networking and promotion skills will need to be high in order to be successful as a session musician. There are so many talented singers and instrumentalists who can't find success in the music world simply because they don't know how to or don't want to market themselves properly. If you aren't putting yourself out there with ads and networking, how will you be able to secure enough gigs to pay your bills?
The best session musicians are also reliable and timely. They show up early, they're always prepared with the right gear, they understand the assignment, and they do their job right every time. If you struggle with any of these things, now's the time to get better and grow by taking things one day at a time and actively striving to do better than you did the day before!
As a session musician, you may get told a few things that you don't necessarily like. Music is a very subjective field to go into as a professional that is getting paid, so keep in mind that everyone's taste is different. Some people might not like your style in general, on certain projects, and even in small sections of a project. The key to having tough skin is to try not to get wrapped up in your emotions and remember that you've been hired to do a job according to someone else's liking and not necessarily yours. People can get very particular when it comes to what they want and require out of songs and musicians, so don't take things to heart too much if they don't like what you're playing or singing. Just be ready and willing to adjust if possible.
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This blog was written by singer, songwriter and producer Yona Marie. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
If you are ever in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services for your music project or brand, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her song services page.