How To Become A Session Guitarist: Part Two

Session guitarist Michael Elsner gives his advice and tips   17-Sep-13

As you're building your arsenal of gear, take the time to learn every piece. Buy one unit at a time and experiment with the variety of sounds you can get out of it. The more familiar you are with your gear, the quicker you'll be able to get the sound the producer is asking for. This is how you develop the great tones that will become your 'signature' sound.

In addition to your gear collection, the more services you can offer, the more work you'll be able to find. Being a multi-instrumentalist, or having your own home studio setup is a great way to expand your services. Sometimes producers will just send files and have you record yourself at your place.

This, of course, won't happen until after you've worked with someone for a while and they trust your instincts enough to let you work on your own.

You're not always going to be the perfect fit for every session, so if something comes up that's too far out of your style, don't be afraid to say that it's something you're not comfortable with. I recently had a producer ask me to play flamenco guitar during a session. I conceded that I don't really know the technique well enough to even fake my way through it.

I recommended a friend of mine instead who ended up getting the gig. The producer respected my honesty with the situation, and it hasn't affected our working relationship whatsoever. It's better to be upfront and honest than to waste everyone's time with something you can't convincingly pull off.

Which leads me to my final thought on the subject. Know the role that you play when you walk into a session. You're not the artist, you're not the writer, and you're not the producer. You may be a great artist, writer and/or producer in your own right, but this isn't the time for those aspects of your personality to come out unless you've specifically been asked for your input.

Mike's guitar collection:

I've heard dozens of stories over the years of musicians who came into a session with an ego or attitude, throwing their opinions and ideas around when they weren't asked, and ultimately making a bad impression.

The studio environment is a great place to work, but it's also a place where creative tensions can rise pretty quickly. Musicians, songwriters and producers, by nature, are extremely passionate about their art, and your job is to respect what they're looking to create, even if you're not particularly a 'fan' of it. Simply to play your instrument well, and help see the artist and producer's musical vision come to life.

In this business, if you are responsible, dependable, easy to get along with, and have the ability to play creatively in multiple genres, over time you will build up more and more clientele and will be well on your way to making a living in the session world.

Michael Elsner is a session guitarist based in Nashville. Mike has worked on commercials for the likes of Audi and Mazda, and has also recorded music for film and TV. To hear Mike's work or to get in touch, go to his website.

Did you enjoy this article? Any questions for Mike? Leave them in the comments section below.

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