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How to become a session player?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Josh Curry, Feb 9, 2005.

  1. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
    OK, so I've recently come to a cross roads. Do I continue playing in bands, hauling gear to gigs, putting up with drunk idiots, egotistical singers, etc... you know, normal stuff.


    Try to break into doing session work?

    Hmmm, session work sounds interesting. Getting paid to play? What a novel concept!

    I've always enjoyed working in the studio. I've spent some serious hours laying down tracks in the studio in at least 3 of the past projects I've been in. Two of those never ammounted to anything, but I'm pretty happy with how the last one did.

    Anyway, are there any session players out there who can offer advice on HOW to break into the business? Thanks :)
  2. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I think the first thing to realize is that there's not that much "business" out there. The bulk of session work used to be (in LA and NYC) demos for advertising companies and then the actual commercials that made it past the demo stage. The days of Lee Sklar and Will Lee making triple scale and spending 10 hours a day going from project to project are long gone.

    So what kind of work isn't being handled by some guy with a MIDI studio and ProTools? Demo work for Hopeful Ingenue singer/songwriters, you could look around Where You Are and see if there's enough of that kind of thing going on to keep you in ramen. This career path does not unfortuately remain clear of idiot drunks, egotistical singers etc. And since they are ACTUALLY paying you (rather than acting as a conduit for money that some club owner is paying), your ability to eat **** can have a direct correlation to income.

    If making money is the bottom line, why not move to Branson? Or Orlando and work for the Mouse?

    Or be a doctor?
  3. Apart from the obvious of Having your **** down and being versatile , A Good attidude in people skills will help you along way I mean if the person hiring you want's you to play basic eight notes then play it and never say otherwise or I know a good lick that is better etc..
    Make sure your gear is in good nick and like other normal nine to fivers make sure your ready and set up before you play / sub
    But the important thing is networking by knowing other players or sound engineers or even singers if you do your job with them as good as you possibly can then no doubt the word will get around and your reputation spreads like fire
  4. I've done a little bit of session work. The last one that I did was in response to an ad placed on Craigslist, by a songwriter looking for players to lay down some tracks on a project that he was working on. The pay wasn't too great ($50 for several hours worth of time, that's including running through the song as a band several dozen times, because the guy wanted a flawless drum track) but it was an interesting experience, I learned a lot, and had some expectations confirmed and others disspelled.

    However, there are some serious things to think about. For one, if I were to do session work making the kind of money that I made doing that one session, then there is no way I would be able to survive financially...i.e. rent, groceries, all the stuff you need to live.

    Second, the songwriter kept all of the players on a very tight leash. Throwing in little tasteful fills and embellishments, "signing your signature" on the part, was not an option. I actually tried, and was told not to do it again. I had to stick to the line exactly as written, and as a player, it's kind of a soul-crushing experience. The written line was very pedestrian and was 100% root notes, following the guitar. Honestly, that was the worst thing about it, having to put my playing in a straight jacket like that.

    Other than that though, if you can find the work, I'd go for it... I guess in some ways it beats having drunks puke on your gear after a 11pm wednesday night show, know what I mean?
  5. dhadleyray

    dhadleyray Guest

    Dec 7, 2004
    In my humble opinion....

    You don't break into session work, you get invited in..
    Practice your *ss off, read music, learn some piano and arranging skills, and above everything else... "Socialize." People will remember your face if they see you more than once. It's funny, the more money I make, the less equipment I seem to need. Also, don't put all of your eggs in one basket! :scowl:
  6. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Agreed. That's the key. You have to "network", to build up a clientel of people who like your playing style. There's all kinds of good bass players out there, but when it comes to session work, there's basically two types of activities.

    One is, they put a chart in front of you and expect you to play it. You have to have "technical chops" to do that kind of thing. So that's one way to ingratiate yourself.

    The other is, they play you a tune and say, "come up with a bass line". Those are the ones I really like. But there has to be some element of "trust" before that happens, in other words, if they're going to invite you over some other bass player, there must be a "reason", right?

    Usually, unless you just happen to get lucky. Session work is tough. It's very tough. Plus you have to deal with all the idiotic personalities in the music industry, which go way above and beyond the "egotistical singer" thing.

    Once I saw a guy pushed through a plate glass window, by some music industry goons. It's probably not that bad anymore, but still there's that element to it. You do what they want, or else.

    In a way, sessions are no different from being a bit player in a band. The trick is, you have to become powerful enough to determine your own destiny. It takes a bit of work, and thought, but at the end of the day the results will speak for themselves. :)
  7. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    Why don't you do both? I mean, being in a band and doing some session work. This way, you'd get the best of both worlds.
  8. SoComSurfing

    SoComSurfing Mercedes Benz Superdome. S 127. R 22. S 12-13.

    Feb 15, 2002
    Mobile, Al
    My last session work was just like this. A demo for a song-writer with an arrangement we were not allowed to deviate from one tiny little bit. That took a little getting used to as I very rarely play anything just roots. The song really needed a little movement, too; the pianist/vocalist was not super confident in his vocals, so left a little room to be filled, and his keys were a bit sparse as well. I wouldn't be surprised if I get called back to redo the track, but at least I'll have more than 30 minutes to learn the arrangement this time.
  9. Eric Moesle

    Eric Moesle

    Sep 21, 2001
    Columbus OH
    In Nashville, they have a term for bassists: "Eat Sh*t", which means stick to the root-fifth. Many great bassists have to do this on a weekly basis.

    If you want to do session work, you have to give the songwriter and/or producer exactly what they want, even if it makes you want to puke. If you can't get personal fulfillment from that, then perhaps session work is not the profession for you.
  10. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    Exactly. That leads us to the question, if a songwriter writes the bassline and wants us to play it exactly as is, why the fudge doesn't he/she play it him/herself???
  11. Bassic83


    Jul 26, 2004
    Texas, USSA

    Which floor was that on? I may have seen that guy fly by my window...
  12. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    I had exactly the same experience, guy calls me in to work on his album but before hand gives me a demo to listen to with him playing the bass parts (in fairness he's pretty competent but suffers from "guitarist" syndrome, ie approaching basslines as if he's playing a guitar). Anyway, the demo lines were correct in the sense that the notes were right..but his groove and timing SUCKED! I dont think he was even listening to the drummer (who was a HIGHLY competent session dude), so he wanted me to play EXACTLY what he played on the demo, I told him he'd be better off doing it himself but no, he wanted a "proper" bassplayer for the studio (playing exactly the way he played!!????? :eyebrow: ).

    So I assumed I'd have some sort of leeway so I recorded a rough guide track working with the drummer (note between myself and the drummer we had years of session experience so we kinda know what we're doing in the studio)..........the guy arrives back and wipes the tracks and makes me play them again "exactly as on the demo" I told him again he'd be better off doing it himself, no he wanted me to play it (??????) so I told him it'd be quicker to play 8 bars and copy and paste in pro tools (thats how basic the part was), no I had to play it, so I did..

    2 days later the session guitarist rang me ranting and raving cos he got the same treatment then he told me the dude had wiped my parts and played them again himself!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    At the end of the day I didnt really care I was well paid, but what a waste of my time and his money. I mean why pay top dollar to hire the best musicians and then not allow them to do their jobs?? Kinda like hiring a plummer, having him fix the plumming, paying him, then pulling it all out and re-doing it (and making a complete mess of it as well).

  13. willgroove2


    Aug 16, 2003
    chicago IL
    Endorsing Artist;Essential sound products,Dunlop, Ergo Instruments
    network,get to know some producers and enginers ,and be willing to take direction with a smile even if you don't agree with it.nathan east has a dvd out called "the business of bass"that has a ton of info about this subject.one the main things that comes up over and over again in it is atittude
  14. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Wow, you were the guy looking out the other window? I may have noticed your amusement. I was just about ready to grab my rifle, but when I got back you were gone. :D
  15. dhadleyray

    dhadleyray Guest

    Dec 7, 2004
    I would also add, that if you feel like overplaying, you could start your own project and overplay as much as you want. Then when you got to the studio, you'd have that "artistic" mumbo jumbo out of your system, and not feel stylistically "cramped" in any way! ;)
  16. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    I gave up a very well paying regular gig (weddings/pubs/miming) to concentrate on session work purely because " I didnt study music for 15 years to mime to sweet home alabama every night". to clarify this statement I need to explain how the Irish gigging scene is at the moment (especially thanks to that stupid smoking ban and the ludicrous price of drink). Back in the 50's 60's and 70's England had the shadows, zeppelin, the who, the beatles etc, America gave us the beach boys, hendrix, the doors, dylan etc....in Ireland we had SHOWBANDS..bands doing cover versions of the hits of the day, that scene is still with us to-day.

    Put it this way, you could do a set (in Ireland) consisting of tower of power, weather report, rancid, primus, metallica etc and you would die on your ass, alternatively you could play an ABBA medley/ grease megamix or thin lizzy (dont believe a word) and clean up. In fact most venues arent even hiring "bands" anymore, they hire the one/two piece with backing tracks......the punters love 'em :rollno:

    So, I'm doing a lot of session work at the moment, unfortunately its a feast or a famine..but, I've never been so happy, and I love it, the key to getting the session work is NETWORKING and being able to "mix" with people, also arriving ON TIME, having good gear and being professional (ie being "ready" for the session, bass in tune, knowing the tune (or being able to sight read competently) and laying down the track in the quickest time possible..time is money.. I generally aim for a first take)).

    At the end of the day 90% of bass tracks can be done on a synth/with pro tools (sad but true) the trick is to find a niche..singer/songwriters are a great way to go because they generally tend to favour a live vibe.

    just my 2 cents....
  17. dhadleyray

    dhadleyray Guest

    Dec 7, 2004
    I know about the Irish scene, Henry McCullough gave me my first gig when I came to Europe. I still couldn't get any session work in England, but Henry, David Early and Brendan Quinn kept the wolf from the door.
    I think another good rule for studio work, that I wish I'd paid more attention to, is to think "more" than twice and speak only when spoken to.. Sometimes a session can be a lesson in studying "human agendas." The nicest person will flip when there's money involved (ESPECIALLY the musicians), and if you aren't careful, your studio career gets 'wounded", if not outright killed. I used to rebel against this by speaking the "truth" and giving my "honest" opinion when asked. I can say with certainty I "tripled" the time it has taken me to get where I'm at. I have a clear conscious for the most part, but if you are trying to get touring work in the pop field, "age"-ism becomes a factor. Everyone's looking out for no. 1, and it ain't you brother...
  18. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001

    This is so true, couldnt have put it better myself.
  19. Mojo-Man

    Mojo-Man Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2003
    All well said.
    As for the question?
    Jump into a time machine, and set it for 1975.
  20. dhadleyray

    dhadleyray Guest

    Dec 7, 2004
    I would also like to give you a "virtual guarantee" for progressing up the session ladder...
    Write songs, and if you contact 1000 people that have the potential to help you, even a "small" percentage of them will get back in touch if you do it right. If you get one job from all of that, you've made progress. It's the law of averages. More than likely, someone will call you three or four months down the line, and in incremental steps, you are now "on the ladder of session success!" :D by the way, thanks everybody for letting me join in and comment. I won't mention the depression, doubt, sadness and emotional callouses you get from doing this sh*t.... Sharing it makes it easier because I always tell people "once you do it for money, everything changes." I'm always trying to get back to when I was eleven and didn't care about the dough... :meh: