There are several ways to earn a living as a drummer. Only one position gives you the ability to play something different every day with a variety of great musicians: the session drummer.
Not all musicians are cut out to be session musicians. It requires dedication and constant hard work. It is a job where you put your ego aside. You probably won’t get a chance to play the amazing solo you have worked on for years.
Being a session musician may have you playing in a band setting. However, it is a far cry from being in a touring band. Touring bands rehearse and perform with the same people playing the same songs. Session drummers get to play with different instrumentalists on a daily basis. They can play music in any style or genre, and this can vary from day to day. These are just some of the reasons that draw people to becoming session drummers.
Session drummers must be highly skilled with their instruments. In addition, there are many different skills and fields areas of knowledge that successful studio musicians need to have to stand out.
Think this might be for you? Here are some of the most useful things to know when embarking on a career as a session musician.
Know Your Instrument and Many Different Styles
Just because you can play the Rhythm Method from memory doesn’t mean you will get jobs as a session musician. Raw talent only can get you so far. The best session drummers are creative and flexible in what they play. They know that drums work different ways in different styles of music. They know that their ability to adapt will help them get a gig.
It will pay you back in spades to learn all the different styles of drumming. In doing so, you want to invest in equipment that can help you attain certain sounds. The more styles you can create at a recording session, the more jobs you will most likely get. If producers start to feel that you only can play one style and one sound, they may look elsewhere.
Get in Tune
You should know how to tune your instrument. This might seem basic, but it’s an overlooked skill. It’s invaluable to tune quickly in certain studio settings. Many modern studies can’t afford to have a drum technician present. As such, you want to be able to tune your own instrument, so you won’t need a technician.
Learn which genres of music require which tunings. You don’t have to know every style. However, it is important to know multiple styles and tunings that play to your strengths.
Match Your Skills with the Genre and Medium
Different media require different skills. Whether you want to drum for TV tunes or a band, you’ll need to know the expectations for the medium and the genre.
Some session drummers set their sights on jingles, film, and television scores. To get to this level, you have to make sure their sight-reading abilities are excellent. This is because the majority of these types of sessions require you to play a tune for the first time on the spot.
If you are working on a session for song or album, then you will need to polish off your ability to transcribe lead sheets. That way, you can follow along with the band. Sometimes you will have the chance to practice your parts before recording. But sometimes, you won’t.
Always prepare for both scenarios. If given a chance to practice, make sure to take advantage of that time and study up. There is a reason why they gave you the music early. They want you to be ready. Improvisational skills can come in very handy in these situations.
You shouldn’t expect a studio to have a kit that will sound right for the required style of music. This is why you need to bring extra snares, cymbals and sticks. Do your homework and find out what is available at the studio where you will be recording. This will make you look more professional. You can rest assured of having the proper tools on hand to complete the job.
You might be the best musician in the world. However, if you have a poor attitude or can’t communicate a musical idea, you won’t find yourself getting hired.
As with most careers, networking is important, and being a session musician is no different. Keep up with your business connections and make sure that you work well together. This will keep the jobs coming.
It is important to remember that a studio musician’s job is to bring someone else’s vision to life. This doesn’t mean creativity isn’t important. However, there is a limit to your creative output.
After all, it is the producer who always has the final word on the recording. This means you should expect criticism at times. This is one area where the truly professional session musician stands out because they can handle criticism like a pro.
You have to remind yourself that this criticism isn’t personal. The producer has something specific in mind they are trying to create.
No matter what is said, it is important to have thick skin and keep your cool. Musicians who can’t set aside their ego damage their chances at success. Instead, take any criticism constructively and try something new. This not only shows the producer you can co-create, but it increases your chances of landing future gigs.
Learn the Industry
It can take more than being a good musician to succeed as a session player. Just because you are a performer doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn about the record-making process and the business side of the music industry. Having a working knowledge of production terms enables you to communicate better with the engineers. Knowing how to talk with the guys on the technical side will help you stand out as a player.
Also, if you understand the business of the music industry, you will usually be treated like the professional you are trying to be. Always get a contract signed before starting on any project. This will enable you to keep your rights and legally entitles you to any profits made from the recording session. Unless you agree to something different, always have an agreement in place for royalties before recording your part.
Thinking About Becoming a Session Drummer?
Being a session drummer can be a highly lucrative and fun way to make music for a living. You will often be changing styles and genres, sometimes even in the middle of a session. With a little hard work and a great attitude, it is possible to have a fulfilling career in music.