What To Expect When Working With Studio Musicians

2For artists looking to step up their recording game and take their project to the next level, bringing in studio musicians is often a good call. Here we review what you can expect from such artists for hire, and how you can make the most out of their time in the studio.


Guest post by Dane Myers

Having great studio musicians can increase the impact your music has on your listeners. If you're a solo artist, producer, or a band that needs to add extra elements to their recordings, studio musicians can take your project to that next level.

What's the big deal about studio musicians?

Great studio musicians can tap into a song’s unseen potential and bring out the heart and soul of your songs. Sometimes, it can even exceed the expectations you have for your own music.

11The first time I had a session player record on one of my own songs, I couldn't believe the quality and detail that was added to the song's essence. His experience on his instrument allowed him to bring great ideas to the table that I wouldn't have ever thought of otherwise.

Session Musicians vs. Live Musicians

Session musicians are slightly different than live musicians. It's really difficult in a live setting to be attuned to the same level of detail apparent in a studio environment. Studio musicians are familiar dealing with a high level of musical detail. They're extremely focused on things like tone, groove, and dynamics while recording.

Live musicians on the other hand may be more focused on things like connecting with the audience. They're deeply focused on their performance as it relates to the concert experience and energy of a live show. For this reason, it's tricky to take a live musician, put them in a studio to record, and expect to get the same quality as a studio player.

Balancing Structure and Freedom

To have the best session possible, it’s important to provide the right amount of structure without being overbearing towards the musician. You don't need to tell a great studio musician exactly what they have to play, but he or she will need to know where you're coming from in terms of the feeling you're trying to create.

It will help to have a handle on these two things:

  • Understand the effect you want to have on your listeners. What are you trying to express? What feeling are you trying to create? Describe this to them in as much detail as necessary until you feel confident that you're both on the same page.
  • Understand the arrangement. How many other instruments will be playing? What will they be doing? What is this instrument's role in creating the overall feel or effect?

Keep an Open Mind

While it's helpful to know what you want as an overall vision for a track, it’s also important to keep your ears open to the suggestions of your musicians.

If you're both on the same page about a song's direction, often times studio musicians can suggest compositional ideas that can be a lot better than what you may have had in mind originally. Try to hear the song from a fresh perspective without confining it to the original expectations you had and see what happens! If it's not the right thing for the song – no problem! But, it could be what makes the whole thing come together!

If Something's not Right, Speak Up!

Good studio musicians care about the music turning out the way you want. There's no reason to be shy about things not being exactly right. Even if you aren't sure how to convey what needs to be done, spend a few minutes trying to communicate your ideas and most of the time a good studio musician will pick up on what you're after. If not, you can also try to reference elements of other songs. If you still aren't able to get "it", ask the musician to try a few different ideas they have that they think would sound good and go from there.

What Impact do you Want?

Remember, you don't have to speak the language of their instrument. Just speak in terms of the effect you want and their job is to translate that into music for you. For example, you don't need to know that the guitar player should play with his fingers and not a pick, but you should know whether you want the music to feel more intimate and soft or bright and exciting.

Get the right people; go for broke.

When you're recording your music, try to get the very best session musicians you can. Make sure they're the right players for your music too. You want players who listen to and are familiar with your genre. If you're working with a producer in your genre, they should be able to help find the right people.

If it seems like they're having a hard time playing the parts, if they show up unprepared, or if their timing is sloppy, you might want to consider moving on. Spending the money to hire a great player can save you time in the studio recording and editing and cost less overall than trying to bring your musician neighbor in to do it. It's also really awkward when you have to tell your friend you can't use their recording because it wasn't that good.

Some other helpful links

Be sure to check out our article on Budgeting for a New Album where we'll break down the expenses of this process more specifically.

If you're still feeling uncomfortable bringing studio musicians together, you can check out our studio musician services here!

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