Nashville-based session guitarist Michael Elsner has written and recorded songs for TV shows such as Cold Case, American Idol and Hannah Montana, he has also written and recorded music for commercials for Audi, Mazda and Skechers. Here, he gives his advice for aspiring session musicians in the first of a two-part series of articles...
The question I have been asked more than any other in my career has been: How do I start getting session work? A very good question indeed, and an important one for anybody who is looking to start a career as a session musician. After answering this question many times over, I've outlined a plan to help aspiring session players achieve their goals.
So, how does one go about getting session work? Well, first and foremost, you simply have to go where the work is. The 3 major music centers in the US are Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville. Of course other cities such as Boston, Atlanta and Miami, among others, are also viable music centers, but it really doesn't matter what country you live in, as long as you can put yourself in a location where there is some form of music industry.
Every session musician I know entered into this world through a completely different path. Some knew an influential person who brought them into it, and others worked very diligently to get into the scene. The one constant between each of them was that they were located in a city with opportunities for work.
Once you're in a location where work can be found, start networking and building those relationships. Aside from becoming a great player and proficient on your instrument, this is the most important thing you can do to become a working session musician.
No matter where you live, the most effective way to get session work is through the personal recommendation of producers, producer/songwriters, programmers, artists, A&R reps, managers, engineers and other players. Your goal should be to get into their inner circle, which isn't as hard as you may think.
Hang out at clubs, singer/songwriter showcases, blues jams, rehearsal studios, and any other venue where there is opportunity to mingle with songwriters, artists, and other musicians. Attend recording workshops, seminars, and other industry events where producers, programmers, and engineers are.
I personally started my career by hanging out in recording studios. This can be a little tricky as a lot of studios are very protective of who enters, but I made friends with the managers and staff engineers, which allowed me to meet independent engineers, programmers and producers as well as A-list session musicians. Being able to sit in on these recording sessions early in my career, and just watch the process, was invaluable.