Session Musician

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Session Musician


Sometimes listening to a new CD, it is easy to hear instruments in the background that the band members do not play themselves such as piano or violin. But if the musicians in that band do not play that instrument how does it get into the recording?

Often when a singer or a band goes into a studio to record an album, they decide that a particular song could really use a backup singer, and another song would be so much better if there was only an oboe playing the melody. This is when the record company calls in the session musicians, who play on records, embellishing the music, without joining the band.

Session musicians can work on contract to a recording artist, or be on staff at a record company. There are session musicians who play classical instruments, like violins, unusual instruments like xylophones and zithers, and traditional rock and roll instruments, like electric guitars. Some session musicians sing, and provide backing vocals on certain songs.

Session musicians do not actually get to write the music they play. They are presented with musical pieces and must be able to quickly learn to play them. Session musicians are lucky in that they get to work with many different musicians, producing many types of music. They are involved in the recording process, and get to share the excitement, stress, and pride when the album is finally finished, but can avoid the pressure, exhaustion, and overwhelming fame of the recording artists themselves.
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  Interests and Skills  
It takes a lot of talent, patience, and energy to work as a session musician. They must be dedicated to music, and willing to practice daily, and promote themselves to producers, venue owners, and other musicians. They should function well within a band or group situation, and be able to learn things quickly, as well as take orders and criticism easily. They should be creative, as well as persistent.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Practice
  • Review music written by other songwriters
  • Meet with agents, producers, and other musicians
  • Record music
  • Session musicians are musicians, first and foremost. This means that they are constantly honing their craft, be it drumming, singing, or playing the bass. When they are laying down tracks, session musicians can spend hours and hours in studios, playing, singing, and correcting their music until the recorded version is just right. They do this every day, in rehearsals, on their own, or in recording sessions. Recording sessions can be stressful, with tensions running high. They will also spend time reading music, and learning the pieces they are to play. They meet many types of people, and spend most of their time indoors.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Session musicians can be self-employed, or can be on permanent staff with a record label or recording artists or band. Session musicians who are just starting out usually have other jobs until they become well-known in the industry.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Session musicians can become touring musicians, accompanying singers and groups on tour. They can become recording artists in their own right, writing, singing, and touring with their own music. They can become music teachers, songwriters, or composers. They may decide to start a recording label, open their own recording studio, or open up a club or a concert hall. They can also become managers, talent scouts, or agents.

  Educational Paths  
There are no education requirements for those people interested in becoming session musicians. Often, practice and experience are all it takes, but there are a lot of options for people looking for training. Universities offer degrees in music, and many colleges have diploma programs or courses. There are also lessons with conservatories, and private music teachers. Vocal coaches are helpful for people who want to improve their singing. Session musicians never stop learning, as each new rehearsal or recording session is different, with many opportunities to watch and listen to other musicians play.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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Liberty University
Liberty University provides a worldclass education from a christ-centered worldview
Programs Offered:
  • MA: Music Education: Music Studies
  • Master of Arts: Worship Studies: Worship Techniques
  • MA in Worship Studies - Ethnomusicology
  • And more...

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