Session musician

Steve Gadd is a session musician who has been hired to play drums in many studio recordings in a large range of styles including jazz, rock, fusion and R&B.

Session musicians, also called studio musicians, are musicians hired to perform in recording sessions as well as live performances. Session musicians are usually not permanent members of a musical ensemble or band. They may accompany many singers and soloists. They work behind the scenes and rarely achieve individual fame in their own right as soloists or bandleaders. However, top session musicians are well-known within the music industry. Some session musicians form rhythm sections who make recordings together. Some of these have become well-known generally, such as The Wrecking Crew and Motown's The Funk Brothers.

Many session musicians specialize in playing common instruments such as guitar, piano, bass, or drums. Others are specialists, and play brass, woodwinds, and strings. Many session musicians play multiple instruments, which lets them play in a wider range of musical situations, genres and styles. Examples of "doubling" include double bass and electric bass; acoustic guitar and mandolin; piano and accordion; and saxophone and other woodwind instruments.

Session musicians are used when musical skills are needed on a short-term basis. Typically session musicians are used by recording studios to provide backing tracks for other musicians for recording sessions and live performances; recording music for advertising, film, television, and theatre. In the 2000s, the terms "session musician" and "studio musician" are synonymous, though in past decades, "studio musician" meant a musician associated with a single record company, recording studio or entertainment agency.


While band musicians obtain steady employment playing the same or similar music with their bands, the session musician needs skills to land short-term employment in many situations. Even if permanently employed by a studio, the session musician encounters more variety than a typical band musician. As well as musical skill, this type of career requires versatility, adaptability, and the ability to learn quickly. In a band, a musician can be deficient in certain areas and other band members can compensate until the musician learns or overcomes the deficiency, but a session musician must not introduce deficiencies into a session.


A session musician maximizes employability by being able to perform in many different styles and musical settings. A musical band may play music in a single genre, such as heavy metal music or jazz, but a session musician should be flexible and versatile. For example, a rhythm guitar player should know unusual chords like ninth chords, 13th chords, and altered dominant chords; and also know the nuances of guitar work in blues rock, folk rock, and country music.

Quick study

Band musicians are able to rehearse, but the session musician sometimes gets little or no rehearsal. Any read-through of a song before the recording is done to let the record producer and bandleader spot and correct any errors in the arranger's parts.

Session musicians must learn parts rapidly. This may involve any of the following:

In some session work, a player may need to both read and improvise, such as with a big band recording that includes fully written-out lines composed by the arranger and chord charts where the player improvises comping and/or solos.

Ability to play alone

The work of a session musician often is not integrated with that of other musicians until after the performance, being dubbed into other tracks to make a complete recording. The session musician may wear headphones while performing to hear a backing track or a click track with the desired playing tempo.

There may be soundproofing barriers between the session musician and other musicians and the producer and engineer. This means that the visual cues that musicians use in live performances, such as head nods and hand signals, might not be feasible in the studio.


Session players need endurance, both psychological focus and physical, to keep playing solidly in time and in tune for lengthy recording sessions. Both individual songs and the entire recording session may be longer in duration than band musicians face.

There is no time for a session musician to learn the personalities of his team, as band members can adapt to one another. Session players need to be flexible, adapt to the requests made by the producer and engineer, and be calm enough to accept correction without introducing discord. Hal Blaine, who as a session contractor was responsible for hiring session musicians, once famously said, "If you pout — you out!" [1]

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