You Want To Be A Session Guitar Player?"
Dec, The Expert, reveals all!
Article that explains the lot - is it easy?
The ESSENTIAL tips for success.
you are good at guitar, you like the feel of
guitars? Want session guitar work? Free advice on session guitar
playing, lots of chat, advice on tablature,
what happens if you come up against tab.
Do you need mp3? Search your mind whether you
can hack it as a session guitarist, do you love music enough, do you
need guitar tuition? What it's like to play guitar with bands,
play guitar with artists? Do you know about Guitar newsgroups,
how to deal with software, resources, stores, and
how to learn to play serious guitar?
This is not
meant to put you down ... it is, in fact meant
to seriously encourage you, and show you what
is required....you could be a
top session player...it's only hard
knowledge....mostly knowledge....and it's not
all to do with music!
start with a usual question
<<<<<<<<How do session musicians usually get the music they are to play? Would they get the guitar notation before hand, or would they get given a rough demo of what they are needed to play, or do they just turn up and have to
sight-read the guitar music?>>>>>>
All of these scenarios are valid....depending on the type of guitar session you are booked for. You will rarely get music beforehand as this is considered totally amateur. Rarely do you get to hear the rough demo except in a Production Company set up or home studio.
TV backing band:
Phenomenal sight reading essential ... With the ability to make the first time through the best it will sound. That may sound impossible ... But that is what the great players do. Including phenomenal solos when required. All current guitar equipment is essential, without exception. Plus selection of guitars [acoustic guitars particularly].
Excellent dress sense essential plus mandatory black tie when requested. Stunning personal presentation
Look at your self
in the mirror......ask the question: "If I
were Christina Aquilera, would I go to the
Brits or The Grammys with 'me' dressed like I
am this minute?" [male or female]
Huge earnings available as all sessions are Musicians Union rates plus repeat fees etc. Smallest amp possible, that will give every sound, is essential [Marshall JMP1 rack module plus rack FX is best set up with a tiny monitor speaker or earphones.] Punctuality is of prime importance. Being in place and ready to play 15 minutes beforehand is the norm [with new strings on every guitar, except a classical or Spanish guitar]. It lets you settle down and warm up. Be late once and you never get another gig....FACT!
Bring a good book! For those "hurry up and wait" times.
All of the above with exceptional reading and playing skills .... The fees are huge. But you can face a situation of opening the music book and finding 23 pages of Segovia type Spanish guitar solo ... Could you do that? There is an
etiquette involved of not turning over the page, to see the music, until the clock strikes the session start time ....
that is brinkmanship....which they all do. I could tell you stories about this that would make your hair curl. That is why they get paid so much. Film score recording studio time is frighteningly expensive. Can be £650 + per hour. So they need the fastest and best session guys. Again,
see the Vic Flick book for the hair raising
stories! He played the famous guitar
leads in the James Bond film scores.
Typical film session -
violinists are called Gypsies ...did you know?
Could you play the top line of 'Fur Elise'
without a break or without a mistake from top
to bottom? Well could you?
As above but with the ability to improve on what is written without even being asked.
Even foresee copying mistakes [mistakes made
when the individual parts are copied from the
score] and correct as you play along [see more
below]. Also it is essential to be able to play in
every style with the same ease, without question. Again all current equipment is essential plus guitars. Dress sense
is essential, similarly, although casual is
acceptable. Rates are usually pre negotiated, although they can be MU
[Musicians Union] rates. PPL [Phonographic Performance Limited] royalties will be received on all plays. Essential to register your involvement in every released record.
It is also an acquired skill to 'not see mistakes' in the music....they could be copying mistakes, in the guitar music, where the copyist has simply copied a note
wrong from the arranger's original orchestral score. This is a skill which all the top players have...there is not enough time in a session to ask or question the conductor .... Although if there is a major copying problem he will sort it. Generally speaking session guitar players just get on with it and correct mistakes
automatically while playing.... Even first time through.
Could you play the lead guitar part for Greenday's 'Boulevarde of Dreams' knowing
the effect used on the guitar and having that effect available now this second?
[talk to me and I'll tell you how]
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Production Company session:
All the above: also much more innovative flare expected. Possibly playing guitar on your own. They only deal in Potential Top three Hit records. They don't take chances.
So, if you don't absolutely LOVE
the chart .... forget it!
Could you do this? "Okay, give
me a Hip Hop repetitive acoustic guitar
lick....one bar D major, one bar D minor
repeated for 16 bars."
answer? "I'll play the D major
lick for 16 bars...play it into Pro Tools ...
pick the best bar....edit it until it is
perfect and bouncing...then repeat it using cut
and paste .... I'll do the same with the D
minor lick ... and that way you get a
happening, kick ass guitar track."
[That is precisely what I did last week....but
then I knew how to do it....do you? That
will be the lead track on a soon to be released
major Hip Hop album.]
the smarter option is to play it on keyboard
using a great guitar sample ... but Hey, they
Would you have the bottle to play a two bar phrase over and over 19, 20 takes with six guys in the control room still requiring the one more take that has a certain 'magic'? Or fluffing a phrase over and over up to 32 takes?
That takes nerves of steel.
got a better guitar line"... before you hear out
and test the suggestions from the
producer. That seriously p*sses off even
the nicest, most professional of producers.
Indie Record Company session:
Can be as above but usually with a lesser grade of musicians [still stunning - but not top flight]. Possibly playing on your own or overdubbing [playing over the track or replacing one of the guitar tracks] They usually take time to get the feel and sound they want and the guitar parts provided may not be properly written...sometimes no guitar parts .... Essential to bring your own manuscript paper, pencils and rubber. The use of unusual effects/equipment can be a bonus. Marshall equipment essential [always have a Marshall stack you can bring along if required....could be borrowed] . Gibson Les Paul is the essential standard 'heavy' guitar that gives the required results. PPL [Phonographic Performance Limited] royalties will be received on all plays.
Can you sit quietly, look 'the business', do as you are told, not boast
about your equipment, or the session you did last week.... suggest to
the engineer how he should be doing his job? Well can you?
only guitar amp to use...Marshall
Home recording set up:
Where you would start and would get a reputation, hopefully, by being on some quirky Hit records. Almost definitely recording on your own ... just you and the recording/producing guys involved. Much more time spent, in a leisurely working environment. Much more facility for correcting and improving the guitar track/tracks. Ability to accurately multi track essential
[playing the part twice, three times or as
many times as required on top of what you have
Much more inventive playing required... As well as being an amiable, easy to work with guy with no time
limits [live or die by this]....plus a willingness to do the work for a realistic price. Sometimes, in fact mostly, for a small fee or no fee plus a tiny
percentage [make sure it is negotiated with contract written and signed before you switch the studio lights on - too late afterwards]. PPL [Phonographic Performance Limited] royalties will be received on all plays - but you must have your involvement in the recording on PPL files.
thing they want to hear in this situation is: "how
long is this going to take?"
It is essential to have a knowledge of the way home studios work as it is totally different to mainstream Recording Company/TV/Film work.
Can you quietly help when the home studio guy
runs into problems with the gear, a dodgy lead
[how are your soldering iron skills?] .....
the midi circuitry problems [do you understand
Midi completely?]. Do you seriously know
how to mike up a Marshall Stack?
session can be anywhere
Mate's home recording set up:
All the home recording knowledge required plus enormous patience and the ability to accept that he will get you a cr*p guitar sound [using your own Marshall JMP1 rack module and FX is essential to avoid this].
A good knowledge of all the guitar recording
'So You're Thinking of Recording Guitar'
is essential. And don't even begin to argue that point.
Don't expect to be ever paid ...
but use the experience well to learn everything and hone your studio playing....which is totally different to live playing. You will be plied with alcohol and maybe some strange substances....never indulge in either...
in any studio, home or mainstream.
It is impossible to play guitar well [even to keep in time!] whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The first time you do it will be the last time... in your short career !!!!! You have been warned.
Also remember that the best professional
is done before 10pm.....Fact!
home set up
Could you quietly suggest that you would be
best doing the guitar track at 10am? Would you
be fresh, wildly excited and enthused at that
time? After all, you would have been out
jogging, done a weights work out, been to the
tan shop and done your office work by that
time? Plus, read a chapter of an
you don't understand, or even laugh at, these
logics then you seriously need
'How to Make A
$Million From your Music' at www.makehits.co.uk
does the success come from?
All the successful session guys drink herbal tea, jog and work out daily. They also have facials, manicures and get top advice on costumes ...
whether studio or stage. They also use the best available hairdressers of today and have a unique, identifiable look or persona. The session business is still 80% visual and 20% musical ability. The top guys always look and act the d*g's b*ll*cks
The top guys not only play great ... but they look stunning!
This is a hard pill to swallow .. as all your
fellow musos look like sh*t [sorry!] But
ask them how many Number One records they have
played on? The top guys will be called on for the next Robbie, Beyonce or
Kanye West tour...
and they only book the great looking, great performing guys on the tours.....
or to be in view on the TV shows. Would you be ready to play at one of the Beckhams' parties in Madrid tomorrow? Or at The White House for a Presidential bash?
greatest Gig of all? Diana and Travolta?
is an often overlooked fact that the best session guitar players are the best, most accurate, miming players.....ESSENTIAL!!!!!!!!
You can never know when the gig will be live sound or mimed. The best guys, who are booked all the time, are the ones who don't even blink when requested to mime...they just do it and perform to give a stunning overall result. That is why they get the gig!
Could you grab the CD from the top of the
chart this week, listen to it and learn it and
be ready, by 3 pm tomorrow to appear on
Jonathan Ross programme miming it
PERFECTLY...and I do mean PERFECTLY, with the
camera three inches from your fingers.
have a pal who has a bunch of like minded muso pals
- they make a $fortune from offering this
service....for Emminem, Beyonce etc. By
the way, he has also charted twice recently,
Top Ten in the UK....so he is a cool
musician. You would want him in your
band! His wild hair gets him noticed, no
matter where he goes.
If you are appalled with that requirement then
the session world is definitely not for you.
If the notation is in TAB as
You will never be offered music in guitar tab form.
I hope this answers all your questions. Always remember that all the top players, without exception, are extremely nice, sober, punctual, beautifully presented, amiable people.
have to be knowledgeable about MP3, WAV and
all the other kinds of attachments as your
employers may send you music demos etc. by
It is advisable to
be aware of all the current software programmes
and how to use them. ProTools is the
Industry Standard world-wide. do not
beleive what amateurs say [they probably use
Cubase, Reason, Sonar etc.] You may be asked to
play guitar on a keyboard with great guitar
samples, sometimes better than live
guitar...you should be prepared to use the gear
and in fact be stunning at using it.....to get the
Could you do this? Could you play the
solo from Bryan Adams "Everything I do, I
do it for You" for the Robin Hood
film....could you play that perfectly on a
keyboard with a guitar sample? With all
the bends and inflections? Would you
know how? You better!
a top session guitar player is actually easy ....it
is simply knowing the rules, what is expecting
and then working your socks of to get to that
standard....but you have to know what is
expected first ["Knowledge is
King"]... and I hope this has set it all
out for you....ask me any other questions you
it is all about YOU
This Article was written by Dec Cluskey
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