A session musician is a freelance performer who gets paid to play on other peoples recordings. You will usually specialise on one instrument but being proficient on more than one will open up more opportunities which is a great benefit. While it is not essential to take a formal education route, by holding a formal qualification you will be able to show prospective employers that you are skilled enough to perform on whichever recording you are asked.
Getting trained at a university or conservatoire will help you develop as a performer and give you vital guidance on how to get ahead as a freelance performer. By studying a course such as a bachelor of arts (BA) in popular music you will learn how a recording studio works, how to improve your playing to suit this environment and how to read music in situations similar to those in which you will be employed. You will also make life-long connections with your fellow students which will prove invaluable throughout your career.
You should first complete your GCSEs and gain at least five graded A*-C. After this you can either choose to study A levels or a B-TEC national diploma. If you are certain at this age that you want to be a session musician, or prefer a more practical approach to learning, it may be better to study a B-TEC as opposed to A levels as this course will offer more assessment through performance and is more likely to involve work in the recording studio. It would also be worthwhile to study nationally recognised performance exams and theory tests such as those offered by Rockschool. This will help you in your playing, sight reading and music theory which will help you in the selection process at university as well as throughout your career.
The more experience you can gain while at school and college the more attractive you will be during the selection process at university. This could be as simple as playing in bands with friends or could involve helping with the sound design at local performing venues. As well as practicing as much as possible you should try and find opportunities in your area that allow you to perform or get involved with music in another way.
Career pathways after graduation
Once you have graduated you will be fully self-employed as a performer and will have to find work from a variety of different sources. Using your connections from university you should find people who need musicians and offer your services in order to get yourself a reputation within the industry. As a freelance musician you will have to take on the role of your own PR agent and accountant as well as maintaining your skills for when you are asked to perform. Many session musicians supplement their session work by teaching and composing as well.