So you want to be a session guitarist? Maybe you’re wanting to make a few extra bucks. Maybe you want this as a career? In my music career, I’ve worked with artists such as Khalid, John Karpowich (Santana), Jamie Merrill, Eric Boseman, and many others. I will share with you what I think of as a basic session guitarist survival guide.
A disclaimer… I don’t do much session work anymore. I am using my time to write and record my own music. However, I have learned a lot, and what works for me doesn’t always work for everyone. This is all my opinion to help you elevate your career. Depending if you’re pursuing this job completely online or in-person, will make a drastic impact on what you need. Personally, I’ve done both, but I tend to focus online. Since online is more common nowadays, we’ll approach it as that.
The first thing to discuss in a session guitarist survival guide, and before you advertise yourself as a session guitarist, you do need gear (granted you already have some skills, but we’ll get to that a bit later).
Ok, first things first. A good session guitarist will have a total of at least FIVE guitars. Yep. FIVE. Here’s why: As a session guitarist, you never know what sound the artist will hire you for. Of course, you can be picky with what you play, but for diversity’s sake, let’s talk in general terms.
When I first started, I had a Stratocaster (or similar), a Les Paul (or similar), a steel string acoustic guitar, a nylon/electric (piezo pickup), and a classical guitar. Having a choice between all these guitars is like a painter having several paintbrushes. I will list a few so that you can take a look:
Les Paul: https://amzn.to/3nSm3Yt
The Les Paul style guitar has two humbuckers that provide warm, thick sound to leads and chords. My personal favorite guitars.
Stratocasters have single coil pickups that have a lot of bite when played. They can also cover a huge array of tones.
Steel String Guitar: https://amzn.to/3o1CIsN
Steel stringed guitars are a classic. Out of the many gigs I have done, most artists like the acoustic steel string sound.
Nylon / Electric: https://amzn.to/38Szbsf
Nylon / Electric guitars have a nice piezo sound. They are my favorite to play. It is fun to play classical style and with a pick. Very unique sound.
Nylon Classical: https://amzn.to/3oXFksL
This is a straight-up classical. Unlike the others, you will need a microphone to record this one.
Now, let’s take a look at some amplifiers:
Marshall JVM: https://amzn.to/2LHadTV
My personal favorite amplifier ever. This amp does it all. The thing that sold me is the ability to silently record straight to your interface. The quality is amazing and you’ll never need another amp. Super versatile.
Line 6 Helix: https://amzn.to/39IXtUD
So maybe an amp is not your thing. You can use amp modeling to create a versatile set of sounds. I personally like the sound of a real amp but modeling technology has come a really long way.
And finally, let’s look at AD converters or Audio Interfaces:
Focusrite Scarlett: https://amzn.to/2XLIdAW
As a guitarist, this is all you pretty much need. Keep in mind, this is the bare essential but upgrading is very easy if you decide to build a home studio.
Now, I can go for DAYS listing more gear. Hopefully this is a basic guide to it. Don’t forget that you will need a computer and speakers. Anything works, but I recommend Apple computers with at least 16 gb of RAM memory.
I always hated marketing myself until I finally just bit the bullet and decided that this is what a musician needs to do. You can start off with Craigslist. It is completely free to post, so take good pictures of your home studio / workspace and write about yourself.
Here are a couple of examples:
Aside from Craigslist, you can also use Fiverr. Fiverr is a website that allows anybody to freelance their skills to the world. Again, I’ll share with you my example:
If you have social media such as Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, use those to let your audience know that you are currently for hire. A popular way to market yourself on Instagram is to use a Linktree account. I’ll share with you mine as an example:
Mine is a paid account. However they do offer free accounts that look pretty professional. Linktree is helpful because it easily goes on to any profile you may have and looks great on Instagram. Take this for example:
I’m leaving a lot of links because I want to show you how I market myself. You can follow my example here, and don’t be afraid to add your own ideas and style to your profiles.
You finally have all your gear. You’re on social media. People know you are for hire. What is next? Finally, I want you to upload videos of you playing. If you don’t have any, now is the time to start. Don’t think about it, just do it. The way I got my gig with Khalid was because his manager happened to watch my videos. I got a call and 30 mins later, I was sitting with him discussing what we were going to do. Once you complete a recording, let people know what you did! Link those recordings to them so they can hear what you got. Think about it like an online resume. The more recordings you have, the more VALUABLE your services become.
With all the recordings under my belt, I can charge a lot and customers are willing to pay for all that value. I am also very selective with who I work with. I no longer accept anybody because I have a certain sound that some people seek. Instead of being versatile, I am very exclusive to my sound. I recommend doing as many projects as you can at first, then focusing on your strengths.
Thank you for reading this article. I enjoy helping out with what I know when I can. Aside from teaching guitar, I have done many consultations regarding music business and teach music theory and songwriting. To book some time with me, check me out here:
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