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Starting Out as a Session Musician

Highlights from our panel exploring the world of the session musician, from starting out to getting paid.

Starting Out as a Session Musician

We explored the world of session musicians with a panel of experts in Cardiff. Moderated by our Regional Officer for Wales & South West England, Paul Gray, it looked at everything from starting out to getting paid. Here are the highlights…

There’s no one way in. For self-taught guitarist and trumpeter Rory Simmons, it was going back to music college and performing with Jamie Cullum that led to work with Katie Melua, Friendly Fires, Brand New Heavies, Bat For Lashes, Will Young and more. For Gavin Fitzjohn, it was playing trumpet in a Cardiff punk bad that led to meeting Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly on tour and a job with them.

Take every opportunity you get. Gavin met James Dean Bradfield in a Cardiff street, told him how much he loved the Manics, and ended up working with them. He layered 24 tracks of brass for “Show Me The Wonder”, and went on a world tour. Play because you love to, work with as many people as you can, and build up a good reputation.

Use a Session Fixer. Chrissie Mavron, freelance violinist and one part of the Mavron Quartet, suggests using the MU’s list of approved contractors for freelance work if you can. Thanks to fixers, she’s performed with everyone from Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe to Pink Martini and Kanye West. Many fixers do not accept submissions, except by personal recommendation. So…

Be professional. Image may not be as important to session players but Rory recommends looking professional. Session playing is a social job, and it is very important to get on with people. Word of mouth is everything. So is reliability – diaries are arranged months in advance so if there’s a clash, sort it out and find a dep as soon as possible.

Every session is different. Usually you play a number of passes for the artist, who chooses their favourites to focus on. But it can vary – Chrissie’s most unusual experience was backing Kanye at the Brit Awards. One violinist played the parts to the violin section the day before and told the musicians to copy it.

Fees vary from artist to artist and job to job, so it’s important to know your rights. Our Session Agreement and recommended rates are good places to start, and your Regional Office is on hand to give you advice on getting into session work or any issues you may have as a session player.

This event was held by the MU in conjunction with Cult Cymru, which provides training opportunities for MU members in Wales.

Published: 16/10/2015

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