On the journey to becoming a successful studio musician, a lot of roads lead to the same place, but the way it usually works is that someone hears and likes your playing and either hires you or refers you as a result. This excerpt from my Studio Musician’s Handbook (written with studio bassist Paul ILL) outlines the 5 ways it could happen (note The Wrecking Crew photo, the most famous group of studio musicians ever, on the left).
#1. Your Band
Your band is recording with a producer. The producer notices that you play really well and have a great feel and he calls you to play on other records. Sometimes it might be the engineer on the session that remembers you (and remember, many in-demand engineers become producers at some point). Either way, in the course of doing your own record, you show up on the radar of someone who can hire you later.
If you’re in a band and working with a producer, really pay attention and work with him to help him make that record sound better. You’re more likely to be called for another project afterwards. He might have had so much fun working with you in your band that he’ll think of you for a solo artist he’s working with. That’s how I developed myself. I worked with Tim Palmer in London with my own band, and that’s how I got the job playing with Tears For Fears. So I’ve developed relationships with all the producers I’ve worked with over the years in my own band.
Session drummer Brian MacLeod
#2. By Referral
If you have a friend who does a lot of session work who likes how you play, chances are that you’ll get a referral at some point. If the player can’t make a date or doesn’t get on with the client, a referral from someone established will get you in the door.
…if you’re looking to get into session work as a drummer, you can’t do it. You just have to play a lot of gigs and wait for the time where you get that opportunity.
Session drummer Bernie Dresel
#3. By Contractor
A contractor is a person that hires musicians for a gig. Most times he’s a musician on the session himself, but doesn’t have to be. Many contractors hire musicians for a variety of gigs, not just recording sessions. If you become a trusted insider for everyday live gigs, chances are that soon you’ll be hired on a studio date as well.
#4. By A Recording
Many times an artist or producer will hear you on a recording you played on and want your style or sound. It’s more likely you’ll be called if the recording you played on was a hit, since everyone likes to use the same team or sound of something already successful. If that happens, be happy that you’ve been lucky twice.
…(producer) Patrick (Leonard) said, “Hey Brian, if you lived in LA I would use you on the records I work on.” Ironically the engineer/co-producer on that record was Bill Bottrell (who eventually went on to produce Sheryl Crow, Michael Jackson and Shelby Lynn) and he said the same thing to me. So I had two top-of-the-line producers tell me that if I lived in LA they’d use me on their records. It became a no-brainer for me to run up to the Bay area, pack my things in a U-Haul, and get my butt to LA. Then it kind of expanded from there.
#5. By Association
The old adage “all boats rise and fall with the tide” is really true. If someone within your circle of players makes it “big”, they’ll most likely take you with them, at least on some level. Maybe you have something unique in your sound or your feel that your player friend will remember. Maybe he just wants to help you out because you’re such a cool person. Maybe it’s some payback for a good deed long in the past. Doesn’t matter as long as you’re remembered and get the call. Once you’re called for one session and do well, chances are you’ll be called for another as word gets around and your resumé builds.
You can read more from The Studio Musician’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.