When you do sessions

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by TaySte_2000, May 14, 2002.

  1. TaySte_2000


    Jun 23, 2001
    Manchester, UK
    Endorsing Artist: Mojohand, Subdecay, Overwater, Matamp
    When your playing for other peoples recording do they hire you to sound like you or to sound like the original bass player if it were a cover? Do they let you use your modulus's or do they supply you with the basses amps and pedals they want you to use? Finally do you have to be the most amazing bass player to be a session player or can any one do it?
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Session work is a really mixed area. I'm fortunate in one way that just about all of the people who ever hire me do so because they've heard me do what I do and want that sound, so I get to sound like me. occasionally I get hired to fill in for someone else, in which case the sound is already there, so you only have so much leeway to stamp your personality on it. I always use my own basses - the Moduli are so versatile, that i've yet to hit a situation i can't cover with them...

    As for what is required to be a session player - some of the skills would be - reliability, good time, working gear, a deep understanding of different styles, economy of notes when needed, good tone, a nice personality (no-one wants to be stuck in a room with an ass-hole), consistency of tone, feel and the ability to repeat parts over and over without changing the groove or losing it, and also to get the same tone take after take (you might be 'dropped in' to replace one note and your tone has to fit...)

    monster chops are a tiny tiny part of what it takes - many many session players don't have clever slap/tap/soloing chops...


  3. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Hi Steve,

    Thought I'd add onto this with some more questions regarding session work:

    What do you like/dislike about being a session player? I read so many opinions about session work on Talkbass. I've thought about doing session work in the future myself and wonder if it's worth it? On average, how many years of bass-playing experience do you think you need before taking on session work? (I know that depends on the level of ability, but just looking for an estimate.).

  4. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    I guess I'll ask a few questions too. ;)

    What's the best way to break into session work? I'm currently invovled in a recording project, and they way I got in it is because I was playing in my normal cover gig at a benefit with another band, and I met the horn player, he then knew a guy who was doing this and passed my number along and we got in touch and started jamming. We already cut a 2 song CD and we're going to be doing 4 more songs.

    The question is: How do I keep the ball rolling? After this project is done, how do I get more session gigs? Now that I'll have my work recorded on a CD, I feel I then have a representation of my work and reputation, sort of like a painters portfolio, how would I use that to my advantage. The guys in this project also have other gigs, and I've seemed to left a good impression on them, I guess that will help me in the future.

    And lastly, I'm doing this current thing for free, since I believe in paying dues and what not, I'm basically a nobody when it comes to the local music scene in general, so I didn't really want to charge them for something that doesn't have a reputation yet. If I do start to persue this with some financial award in mind, how should I go about it. Should I should per hour, per song, a flat rate, ect.? Also, what would be a good price for someone starting out in session work?

    Thank you very much for your information.
  5. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I'm kinda doing some session work at the mo too.

    I'm actully in this band, but I don't have any input on any aspect of the band or music other than bass lines which have laready been written by the song writer. All I do is play bass and add my own feel to his work.
    I wont get paid unless the band gets signed, but at the same time I dont have to pay for anything either. The band leader pays for everything - travel, rehersals, a new bass for me! etc.

    So I guess you could see this as session work?

    It's very satisfying actually. Just turning up, playing and leaving. Totally avoiding all politics and bs. I dig it.
  6. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    ooh, so many questions! :oops:)

    Steph - what do I like about session work? Firstly, I LOVE the feeling of doing a good job - the person hiring me turning round and saying 'well done, that's better than I could have expected' - it's a good feeling to know that you've added to someone else's music. Secondly, I love what I learn from the process - I have my own bag of tricks, things I do well, the ways that I hear music, and hvaing to recontextualise that in order to make it fit, or even to come up with completely new ideas in order to compliment what's already there is a fantastic learning experience. I love the variety of the work I get to do, I like being in a position to liberate the artist in question to think outside the box - I have a few singer songwriters that I work with whos music has changed since I started playing with them, and that's cool... And I guess I just enjoy being a pro musician - it's the best job in the world, getting paid to play. I don't care if that's doing TV commercials, or solo gigs - it's all music, and I love doing all of it! :oops:)

    However, it isn't all that reliable. I certainly couldn't make enough to live on at the moment out of sessions (it's a pretty small proportion of my income), though that varies from year to year... as has been said here before in a teaching thread, most musos have more than one string to their bow - mine are solo playing and recording, teaching, sessions and the occasional bit of journo writing...

    Best way into sessions? sadly, there's no recognised route - it's all luck! As I've said many times before, being good will never get you a gig, but it will keep you a gig once you bluff your way into it! Work of any kind in the music industry comes by putting your face around, meeting people after gigs and in bars, dropping off CDs and doing to occasional gig for free. Sometimes if you're really lucky, someone will hear your playing and hire you just cos they like the way you sound (I had that ONCE after a guy heard a track I played on on the radio, but it's not often) - I've had sessions with people I've met in church, with former students of mine, with people I've met in shops, singer's I've played on the same bill as, friends of friends in need of a bassist etc. etc.

    keeping it rolling is a matter of continually doing all of the above! :oops:)

    Pay is a contentious thing (no s**t, steve!) - the rates are variable - for single tracks I charge by the track - sometimes it'll be a couple of tracks in a day and that'll be by the track as well... If it's a longer project, like an album or soundtrack, it's on a daily rate. Check with your local musicians union for what you should be charging where you live, as rates change a heck of a lot round the world... but the short answer is 'as much as you can get away with!'

    Good luck to you both!

  7. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Thanks Steve for all that. I guess there are pros and cons with it as there usually is with everything. One main thing I'd be wondering about with session playing is that it'll hinder my creativity, being that I'm not playing my own material but someone else's. And that I'd just feel like a robot. LOL :D Or is that really not something to worry about since there are other outlets (i.e the wonderful world of solo bass :))?

    JAUQO III-X Banned

    Jan 4, 2002
    Endorsing artist:see profile.
    When Im called to do a session,I arrive on time I dont say much.I dont attempt to become a over the shoulder producer,this is not my show. If its charts or anything else, I go over it prior to the recording,and if I have to,I make notes.If Im allowed to contribute my own bass line,the notes are kept to a minimal.never step on the vocalist feet. if Im asked to go direct or miked I dont argue I simply just do it,for I do not know what is going on in they'er creative mind and heart.sometimes I may offer to record several variations of the bass line just so they can have more to choose from,I give them exactly what they ask for and conducting myself as discribed has gotten me called back 98% of the time.
  9. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I've never played an actual studio session, but I've freelanced for a few bands. At a guess, the same elements are present, except for the incredible time crunching that takes place in the studio.

    Playing others' material need not hinder your creativity. Banging out a bass line that someone else has already written is no fun. The best situation is if someone hears of you first (usually at a show or word of mouth); that way, they will usually let you create your own parts so long as they sound good.

    As far as needing to be a skilled player... in terms of chops, no. If you listen to pop music on the radio - over here, anyway - the bass lines are usually simple, as are the songs themselves. You will, IME, need to know:

    - music theory and how to apply it to the song and your bass.

    - be very good at improvising, in terms of being able to hear what is going on around you and play appropriately.

    - knowing how to read music, or at least a chord chart, is usually necessary.

    - good band etiquette. Jerks are always more difficult to work with.

    Again, this is not about studio work, which I have no experience with, but based on my experiences freelancing with bands and artists.
  10. maxvalentino

    maxvalentino Endorsing Artist Godin Guitars/ Thomastik-Infeld

    I have been very lucky in doing session work. As Steve pointed out it realy is all a matter of luck and having your name in "the pool" so to speak. For a while I was doing quite a bit of session work; a lot of regional tv jingles, demos and the occaisional master session. The bad news: session work ain't what it used to be both in quantity and in pay. The project studio/pro tools explosion has all but removed a lot of session work for us bassists, as a lot of the tracking can now be done "in-house" via samples and sequences.
    But, on the other hand, there are a plethora of projects studios doing work everywhere (I am near LA and it seems there are a billion project studios!), and a good deal of my work now is replacing sampled or synth bass parts with real playing to add "life" to a track. I have thru this work also got to do more than my fair share of "ghosting".
    And, I have been fortunate enough to work on several demos which have been picked up by major labels, and in turn have been asked to return for the master sessions (I just finished a gospel project for Jive/TommyBoy). BUt, as Steve pointed out, this is not really steady work.
    Tools? No, you do not need monster chops. But you do need an open mind, good time, and extensive knowledge of your instrument. You need to know the "signatures" of various musical styles. You need to be able to work quickly, and take sometimes rather oblique directions ("can you make it a little more green?").
    You should know your gear, and not have too much of it. Don't take it personally when they want you to use something other than your own. And, as Jaquo said....leave the ego outside. You are hired to do a job due to your unique skills. Most of the time the producer and/or artist doesn't want to know your feelings or thoughts on a tune, and if they do they will ask. Be thoughtful, positive and supportive. When you are asked, and you have something positive to contribute, then your opinions will most likely be sought again. I, like Steve, am now sought out by several artists due to my attitude; that I bring something positive to the party and can, at any given moment, inspire a dull and tedious moment into higher creativity. Yet still, I keep my mouth shut until asked.
    Work with the engineer and producer and artist. You are a tool for their vision. In someways this can be very humbling, which is a good thing, and knowing that your skills as a musician can allow you to navigate a myraid of scenarios is a great feeling. Really, it all gets back to music....and in that sense being a musician is a great job.
    Through sessions I have learned so much which has made me not only a better player, but most importantly, a better listener....and in there is some sort of parable to life in general, but I am too tired to put on the Yoda voice tonight......

  11. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Hmm, I agree and disagree!?! Obviously I'd much rather write my own parts, but I can satisfaction out of playing regardless of who wrote it.

    For the audition of Gauid I learnt the songwriters lines note for note, as this guy has spent nearly 3 years working on his material, it'd be arrogant of me to waltz in there and presume I knew better.

    He was really impressed that I'd made the effort to learn the 4 tracks so thouroughly in under a week (it took me a couple of 2 hour sessions after work, as they really are simple) and was really pleased because I'd made them sound how he wanted them to sound - better than he'd been able to play them himself (of course, he's not a bass player! - I didnt say that to him!).

    Then when we discussed the project further he highlighted some the bass parts he wasnt 100% happy with and asked me to sort out some more interesting parts for some of the tracks.

    So in the end I got to have my little input to the tracks and he is happy with the very subtle changes I've made. It was also interesting to learn his song writing style. To understand his ideas through his music.

    Again through the whole process of getting the gig with this guy, I got the entire thing through listening and understanding what he wanted from me, before speaking and before playing.

    I'm finding the whole thing really enjoyable, like Steve said the reward is doing a good job and knowing that the musician/songwriter or whatever is happy with what you're doing.

    It's so differnt to the whole pain in the arse band thing.
  12. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    That's spot on, although in my case it was a little easier in that where I'm from most studios have 'the little black book' of musicians and if you got your name in the book you were laughing.

    The thing I found with session work is that its a feast or a famine, you could be on a roll for a few months with a steady income and then........nothing, so it kinda helps to have a few more irons in the fire, be it teaching, gigging with a band or whatever. The worst thing I found with session work is the hours, forget your 9 to 5 I've often stumbled out of studios bleary eyed at 4 o clock in the morning and then having to go back in a few hours later.

    great fun though :D
  13. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    You're right, that was kind of a blanket statement on my part. What I meant was that it would be LESS fun if you're playing with someone who is utterly controlling, than with someone who gives you room to come up with your own parts.

    This is one thing in the studio, where once it's done, it's DONE... but when freelancing, you have to do it over and over again, which can get rather tedious. Since I freelance for fun (Right now, I make barely any money out of it), I want to HAVE fun, not be squelched.
  14. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    Thank you for all the info. :)
  15. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    That's scary!