Casual music fans know all about their favorite acts. They know band member faces and names. More serious fans might even know the personal histories of their favorite musicians. But few people know anything about the humble session musician. Yet without session musicians, modern music would be a quite different enterprise.
A session musician plays a supporting role. They are hired guns, so to speak, playing on-demand for soloists, composers, arrangers, and producers. They can be involved in everything from TV jingles to film scores.
Supreme Tracks, based in New York, makes heavy use of session musicians to provide online music production. You could say that session musicians do all the heavy lifting at Supreme Tracks. As such, ownership is very selective about the session musicians they hire. They tend a look for the following five qualities, among other things:
1. Skill and Talent
Even though musical skill and talent are somewhat different, they are lumped together for the purposes of this post. Above all, music producers need access to skilled and talented musicians capable of playing just about anything. It might be rock & roll on one day and pop the next. Session musicians have to be able to sit down, look over a piece of sheet music, and be ready to play it the same day.
This is no easy task. Good music is more than just notes on a page. There is artistry to it. There is feeling to it. A session musician has to be able to produce both.
2. Exceptional Interpretation
A killer session musician is one with an exceptional ability to interpret. They are able to understand the visions presented by lyricists, composers, and producers. And when those visions are not quite the same, they have to be able to interpret the music in such a way as to satisfy all three. Again, this is no easy task. Interpreting a piece of music someone else has written or arranged requires capturing a different mindset.
3. A Willingness to Be Flexible
Because session musicians are playing someone else’s music, they have to be willing to play it in a way that doesn’t necessarily suit them. They need to be flexible enough to give the producer whatever they want. Session musicians also must be flexible enough to change things up on the fly. Why? Because producers can change their minds multiple times over the course of a project.
4. A Humble Personality
Musicians are, by and large, outgoing people with big personalities. It is part of their performance-oriented nature. But in a studio setting, the session musician has to put aside their own personality. They have to set aside their own ego and play a supporting role. This requires a humble personality.
It is interesting to note that there are a lot of fantastic session musicians who never become famous only because they do not have outgoing personalities. They love music with every ounce of their beings. They love to sing and play. But because their personalities are more subdued, they fit better with the studio setting.
5. Good Availability
Finely, a killer session musician is available. Producers need that. Rarely do they have time to wait months until a session musician can fit a project into their schedule. Unfortunately, the availability issue is a double-edged sword. Session musicians need to be available to get the work, but their availability dwindles the more often their services are demanded. But that is the music game.
Killer session musicians are coveted musicians. Those possessing all the right qualities also get the most attractive gigs.