Session guitarists walk into studios like gunslingers laying down track after track of grooves, licks, and solos that make recordings come alive. Those who handle their business with the same care and precision as they do their craft often make a significant part of their income from session work. Here are a few key elements to consider when the phone rings summoning you to a recording studio.
Songwriting. Are you being asked solely to record a preexisting song, or to help write it? The difference between being paid a one-time session fee and receiving royalties as a co-writer of a song can be huge.
Scope of services. Is your session audio only, or do your services include the recording of a video or having photos taken that imply that you are a member of a band? Are you being asked to promote the recording?
Ownership. Recordings made by session players are usually works made for hire, meaning that the person who assembled the musicians and paid for the sessions owns the recordings and can do anything they want with them.
Credit. You build the strength of your name as a session player by getting the music world to associate it with your reputation. Be clear with those who hire you if they have permission to use your name, and how you want your credits to read on label, web, and promotional copy associated with the recordings.
Etiquette. Session players who are professional and treat a recording studio as a place to work, instead of a place to party, are the ones who work the most. Being prepared, having gear that works, making the track your most important task, listening to direction, and having a positive attitude go a long way when those who hire you make recommendations to others.
Fees. These range widely based on experience, reputation, relationships, and skill set. In the early stages, accepting little to no money (or bartering for studio time or services) is a fair exchange for credits on recordings that build up your resume. More experienced musicians charge by the hour, session, song, day, or for entire recording projects.
Legal. All of the above points should be explicitly stated in a recording-session release that is a legally binding agreement between the session player and the person hiring them. Understanding the fine print before signing allows you to focus on your artistry and craft when you lay down tracks.