A session musician is a freelance singer or instrumentalist. Session musicians might play with groups who need an extra player on a temporary basis, or they may be hired to play for an event or to record music for an advertisement. No special degrees are required to become a session musician, but artists need to do a lot of preparation before applying for jobs.
There is a need for session musicians for all types of music, like rock, classical, hip-hop, or big band. An artist who wants to make a career as a session musician should be quite versatile, and able to play in a variety of genres. If a musician can only play heavy metal, for example, the number of jobs that are available diminishes significantly. Being competent in many styles of music prepares a session musician to do almost any kind of work.
Natural talent is an important asset for anyone who wants to become a session musician, but developing musical ability is also crucial. A session musician has to be able to sight read music, and it helps to be able to read charts and tabs as well. Usually, learning to sight read music can be learned and practiced at home without lessons. If an artist can play a song upon seeing it, the band or producer can move along with recording without a lot of practice time.
Ear training and a solid grounding in music theory are other skills that will help an artist become a session musician. For some people, this might require formal training. Ear training is particularly important for singers who want to hit the right note every time, but it also helps musicians come up with harmony parts or play music from hearing it when sheet music isn’t provided.
No one can become a session musician without hard work, tenacious job hunting, and contacts. When applying for jobs, a musician should have a good demo recording and some black and white head shots. Radio and TV stations hire freelance musicians to do jingles or backup work, and classified ads often list jobs playing music for parties, weddings, or other events. For musicians that have more work experience, there are producers, songwriters, and studios that advertise in trade magazines or studio technology magazines that need musicians for making demos or doing backup work. Session musicians can also apply for jobs with recording studios or directly with agents.