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Starting Out as a Session Musician

Here we explore the world of the session musician, from starting out to getting paid.

Last updated: 20 January 2021

Networking is essential

Musicians’ Union events are a good place to start.  

Do some research – look through credits (try Jaxsta, Discogs, IMDB and other similar sites). Find session players, and then look for events where those musicians are playing.  They may be on the teaching staff of a conservatoire or university.  See if you can have a consultation lesson so you get a really good assessment of your playing and whether you may be considered as good enough to work on sessions.

Contractors (fixers) will always want to take recommendations from other players, and would not necessarily employ on the basis of listening to recordings. They need to know you are an all-round perfect player and fit the mold!

For self-taught guitarist and trumpeter Rory Simmons, it was going back to music college and performing with Jamie Cullum that led to work with Katie Melua, Friendly Fires, Brand New Heavies, Bat For Lashes, Will Young and more. For Gavin Fitzjohn, it was playing trumpet in a Cardiff punk bad that led to meeting Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly on tour and a job with them.

Gavin met James Dean Bradfield in a Cardiff street, told him how much he loved the Manics, and ended up working with them. He layered 24 tracks of brass for “Show Me The Wonder”, and went on a world tour. Play because you love to, work with as many people as you can, and build up a good reputation.

Use a Session Fixer

Chrissie Mavron, freelance violinist and one part of the Mavron Quartet, suggests using the MU’s list of approved contractors for freelance work if you can. Thanks to fixers, she’s performed with everyone from Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe to Pink Martini and Kanye West. Many fixers do not accept submissions, except by personal recommendation. So…

Be professional

Image may not be as important to session players but Rory recommends looking professional. Session playing is a social job, and it is very important to get on with people. Word of mouth is everything. So is reliability – diaries are arranged months in advance so if there’s a clash, sort it out and find a dep as soon as possible.

Every session is different

Usually you play a number of passes for the artist, who chooses their favourites to focus on. But it can vary – Chrissie’s most unusual experience was backing Kanye at the Brit Awards. One violinist played the parts to the violin section the day before and told the musicians to copy it.

Fees vary from artist to artist and job to job, so it’s important to know your rights. Our Session Agreement and recommended rates are good places to start, and your Regional Office is on hand to give you advice on getting into session work or any issues you may have as a session player.