Where to Start
Before finding a session musician, you need to be prepared. The three main starting points are:
- Make sure your music is written and ready to be recorded.
- Record a demo.
- Create lead sheets.
Being prepared means music is written and ready to be tracked. If you haven’t yet completed the idea of the song in its entirety, take a step back into the writing process and do that. The last thing you want to do is try to write a song in the middle of recording with a paid session musician. If your song is written and ready, the next step is to create bed tracks.
Prepare a demo with bed tracks to give to your session musician. You’re not trying to record a final version here; you’re just giving the session musician the overarching rhythm and melody of the song. Go even further by preparing a lead sheet or ‘fake sheet’.
Lead sheets, also known as ‘fake sheets’, are musical notation that convey crucial parts of a song: the melody, lyrics and harmony. Whereas sheet music provides the exact notes to be played, lead sheets give the player the opportunity to interpret and improvise.
Once you have these three points prepared, it’s time to start your session musician search!
Where to Find a Session Musician
Now it’s time to find the session musician that fits. There are different places you can go to find your session musician, and we’ll go over the most popular options here.
Local Musicians Unions
Local unions are a great place to find session musicians. Most sites have a directory with contact information that you can access for free. This is the most direct way of finding your musician. You won’t have to sign up for any site, but you’ll probably have to do more leg work.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the popular musicians’ associations:
If you’d rather hire a session musician online and use a site that vets their professionals, has posted reviews or more access to different parts of the world, you’ll find these next options preferable.
SoundBetter, founded in 2012, is a massive music production marketplace with tens of thousands of profiles to search through. SoundBetter’s mission over the years has been to bring access to some of the best names in the music industry and let those professionals find work through the SoundBetter platform. If you need industry professionals, you’ll undoubtedly find them here on the largest online marketplace. Find vetted guitarists, vocalists, drummers, bassists, engineers, producers and more.
Airgigs, also formed in 2012, was the first major marketplace for studio musicians. Soundbetter has since become the largest, but Airgigs has been in the industry just as long. The big difference between SoundBetter and Airgigs is that SoundBetter is a ‘pay to play’ service while anyone can quickly and easily sign up for Airgigs. That means you may find that SoundBetter has more industry professionals with experience and resources you need while Airgigs might have more musicians at the start of their career. That’s not to say that one is better than the other; it just depends on what your needs are. If you’re looking for freelance musicians on a budget, Airgigs might be the resource for you. You’ll find a ton of pros with top chops on Airgigs.
Musiversal takes the process of finding and recording with a session musician and puts it all into a single workflow. From the Musiversal platform, you can search for professionals, upload your material, collaborate live, record your tracks and download the final takes. Musiversal uses a subscription-style service to give you 30 minutes of recording time with your hired pro.
Fiverr is an outstanding resource for creators. If you’re looking for a freelance musician for your project, you can find thousands of resources here. Find writers, musicians, producers, engineers and everything in between for a range of prices. If you’re on a budget, this might be the perfect site for you.
Sessionwire’s Online Music Collaboration platform takes finding and recording with a session musician to the next level. You can search through thousands of profiles of some of the biggest names in the industry. Find musicians, vocalists, engineers, producers and more for your project, but then take it to the next level when you start to record.
You can use Sessionwire to collaborate and record live with your musician in a low-latency environment, use your preferred recording platform, get the tracks in the file format you prefer, easily invite guests and more.
These are just a few of the more popular places you can go to find session musicians. Wherever you choose to find your musician, make sure you thoroughly vet the site and have an opportunity to thoroughly vet each musician before you make your choice.
What Skills Does a Session Musician Need
Now that you know where to find your session musician, it’s time to pick one out. Do that by asking yourself some important questions. What qualities should I look for? What skills are important? What questions should I ask? Knowing how to navigate this process will mean the difference between finding someone who gives you exactly what you expect and someone who doesn’t. Start your conversation by asking about a musician’s skills and qualities.
If you are seeking out a session guitarist for a Norwegian Death Metal song, you’ll want a musician that intimately knows that genre. Ask your musician about their history with the genre. Can they talk about the bands, songs and styles that surround it? If you hire a bluegrass player that agrees to ‘take a crack at it’, you’re likely not going to get the desired result. Find somebody that can talk shop with the references you know. Sometimes the best way to discover what they know is to listen to their audition.
Listen to the Audition
Listen to the prospective musician’s audition with a critical ear. Much of the time, you can determine your musician’s skill level just by listening, but it’s more than listening to the skill of the instrument. Listen to the recording itself. How good is the sound quality? Can you hear noise in the background? Are there any pops or clicks that shouldn’t be in there? If the recording sounds good, it’s time to look for things that make them shine.
What Makes them Stand Out?
Look for things that makes them stand out among the rest. Does your musician have a large body of work? Do they have any hit songs that they’ve contributed to? Are there any notable artists that they’ve worked with in the past? What are other people saying about them?
That last point is arguably the most important. Reviews are the bread and butter for many industry professionals, and the music industry is no different. If others give them glowing reviews with recommendations, you can probably bet they’re able to give you the service you expect.
Questions to Ask
Along with the skills, qualities and reviews, there are a few more questions to ask.
- What gear do you use to record? Is the gear professional? Will it provide you with the quality you’re expecting?
- What is your workflow? How do they record their material? What does it look like from start to finish? This will prevent any preparation mistakes and give you an idea of how the musician is going to work in the session.
- How long will it take to get me the tracks? Know exactly how long it’s going to take to receive the recording you need.
- How will the tracks be delivered? Will they be delivered digitally? Are they going to use a remote drive to send you a link to download the files? Remember: Anytime you upload and download, you risk losing quality. Make sure you receive the files in a format that loses the least amount of quality.
- Do you require notation, chord charts or lead sheets?
What to Pay a Session Musician?
Once you have a shortlist of musicians with the skills, qualities and reviews you want, it’s time to discuss payment. You may stress over how much it costs to hire a guitarist and wonder what number you should pitch. Take some relief in the fact that most of the musicians you come across will ask for a rate that’s on industry scale. Although, with some online services, you’ll find that musicians compete for price. You can find cheaper musicians, but beware, the lower you go, the less likely you are to find a seasoned professional. Like any other product or service, you get what you pay for.
Sidenote: This isn’t the industry to barter on price with. Either you pay the rate they ask, or you find someone that will go lower.
Do Session Musicians Get Royalties?
When it comes to payment, you might be wondering if your musician can receive royalties or if they are entitled to any copyright for their services. Typically, studio musicians are work-for-hire. That means they don’t get credited as a writer unless other arrangements are specifically made.
After working out payment options, the next step is to prepare yourself for the recording session.
What Do I Need to Prepare?
Preparation for the session is the key to getting the best recording in the shortest amount of time. Once you’ve hired your musician, you’re paying for their time, so you need to make sure you’re ready to easily move through recording session.
First, make sure your product is ready to record. Have you gone through all the song preparation steps? Is it complete with a demo and lead sheets?
Next, make sure you know what you want. Spend time thinking about what you’re looking for and be able to communicate that to the musician. Being unable to convey what you want may lead to a musician having to incorrectly interpret what you need from them.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask them if there is anything they need from you. You want your musician to feel comfortable and prepared themselves, so open that conversation and ensure you are both ready to record.
Now Go Find Your Session Musician
Finding a session musician in today’s world can be tough. The creative environment is changing more than it ever has, and Sessionwire’s Remote Collaboration App aims to turn online music recording into a seamless process. When you’re hiring a session musician within that process, our guide helps you make an informed decision. Be prepared before your search, look in the right places, look for the right people, ask the right questions and pay the right price, and you’ll get a final product that’s ready to be released.