How To Be a Session Guitarist

Top tip on Succeeding as a Guitarist  

What does it take to be a successful session guitar player in today’s music industry?  

While learning your instrument inside and out is obvious, there are other key activities aspiring players need to take to give themselves the best chance of progressing their careers to the next stage.  

Here we go through some of the essentials emerging players need to do to give themselves the best chance of success…  

Practice as much as you can

Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to mastering your instrument. This might be obvious but it is essential to understand from the get go: it’s important to put the hours in with your practicing and make sure you do this as often as you can. Equally as important is to do the right sort of practice too. Focus on the areas of your technique that need improvement or you feel are lacking.  

Flexibility can take you a long way

At the start of your career, you need to familiarise yourself with a variety of styles and musical genres.  

Why? Well, if you don’t demonstrate musical flexibility when it comes to your instrument and the way you play, then you might be denying yourself access to some opportunities. Of course, master the genres or sounds you love but don’t forget to put time into other areas of your music too.  

The key to sustaining a career in today’s industry is through taking advantage of a variety of income streams. This could mean supplementing your gig as a studio session player with function band work. Having the musical abilities to take on a range of projects can have the potential to make a real difference. It’s important to say yes to as many projects as often as you can.  

Session players need to perform for the artists, not themselves

Any session player needs to remember that when hired for a gig, whether it be a live performance or recording session, you need to leave your ego at the door. Usually, you’ll have been hired to do a particular job. Rather than showing off or going over the top with your playing, you’ve been requested to come and perform a function. Like a plumber or a builder, you’re being hired for your abilities to provide a service so listen to what’s required and follow the brief. If you can do this and do it well, then it’s this kind of behaviour that should help you get repeat work. Ultimately, it’s not about you. This is about the artist, musical director or producer getting the sounds they want.  

A bad experience can be an essential part of your learning

A musical journey is exactly that – and with any journey there can be ups and downs. If you say yes to as many opportunities as you can, then you’re bound to come across some which don’t quite work out or could be seen as negative. However, even when experiences are like this, then you can still learn from them and use them to have a positive impact on you in the long run. Ultimately, working across as many projects as possible will not only enhance your skill set but also help you find out where you want to focus your musical energies. 

Diversify your skills

Consider your abilities and how you can use them to make money. Previously, you could just work as a studio musician recording music all day. Now, the industry has changed as have accompanying budgets. It means guitarists need to rethink where their income streams are, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. With a like of live gigs or festivals, many musicians have turned to teaching, producing or working on remote sessions. Get creative.

Know how to get on with people

As we’ve already said, mastering your instrument is important but so is the ability to get on with people. If you’re on tour with a band for weeks at a time, no one wants to be there with someone who is hard to get on with or doesn’t show up on time when travelling.  

Be polite, keep it fun and light when not working and do your best to be friendly and show respect to everyone you meet. If people warm to you on tour, then it’s likely that they will ask you to come with them on tour again.  

Balancing professionalism and likeability is a great combination for winning more work.  

Remember to still do the fun shows too

If you get the opportunity to do fun gigs or jam sessions with your mates outside of paid shows, then take them. These sessions can be important, not only to your playing but also to expanding your networks too. You never know who might be there for you to impress or connect with.