Vol 2, Issue 15: Alternative Sources of Revenue Pt VI: Session Musicians

As we learned last week, jingle writing can be a major source of employment for session and freelance musicians, but that barely scratches the surface in terms of what these talented individuals are capable of. Scoring work as guest players on major albums, television and movie soundtrack writing to touring support for popstars and even orchestras, session and freelance musicians are defined as artists for hire that are not committed solely to a steady project. While session musicians, as one may deduce from their title, primarily lend their talents to studio work, freelance players typically perform live with touring acts.

Being a session or freelance musician requires a great deal of performance diversity, and quick learning ability; skills that can only be mastered with age and experience. As a result, you’ll notice that most players in this field are in their elder years, or as they prefer to be called, “seasoned”.

Typical of any aspect of the music biz, connections and networking play a vital role in terms of finding gigs. According to both Kelvin Gumbs and Dale Anne Brendon, becoming session/freelance players was something that they just “fell into”. While Gumbs initially had to pick up the instrumental slack on some tracks he was producing for clients, Brendon found herself bombarded with drumming opportunities after graduating from The University of Western Ontario’s music program, but neither of them had envisioned this as their master plan. However, that doesn’t mean that having the sole ambition to become a freelancer is unfeasible. On the contrary, it would seem that opportunities for these players are plentiful, you just need to know where to look.

Though as mentioned, word of mouth and networking play crucial roles in finding employment, there are also several job boards with musician classified sections that regularly list gig possibilities such as http://www.craigslist.com/, www.kijiji.com , www.overhear.com and www.indbamusic.com . Brendon recommends trying to make a personal connection with each potential employer when you come across a gig that interests you, as from her experience, she has found that simply cold-calling and sending out promotional packages rarely works.

In terms of payment, prices generally vary from player to player depending on their contributions and the type of project. When it comes to recording, on average there is a base fee of approximately $100 - $200 per hour with a minimum of three hours guaranteed employment. On the other hand, touring pay scales begin approximately at a $300 minimum per hour, again with no less than three hours of contracted work. Of course, depending on the length and travelling associated with a tour, this rate may be negotiated. However, regardless of whether a scheduled live performance is a success or failure, freelance musicians maintain their same set rate of pay.

Brendon feels it’s essential for anyone interested in pursuing this avenue to familiarize themselves with the American Federation of Musicians’ (AFM) fee policies. The AFM standardizes pay scales for different player positions within each musical project, and through membership to their organization, one is provided with contracts for each opportunity undertaken, that they will enforce, if necessary. As you’ll recall from previous editions, I’ve referenced the AFM several times in regards to national touring pay scales and policies. For more information on their organization, please visit http://www.afm.org/

In exchange for these set rates of pay, session musicians are not eligible to collect royalties in the future, if a project on which they were featured, takes off. Additionally, it is understood that they do not own their musical contributions from a legal perspective. These principles are agreed upon amongst both parties (employers and musicians) and the tradeoff is considered fair.

A major benefit to this arrangement for session and freelance musicians is that there is no waiting period for payment, nor is their income contingent on the success of the project. According to Gumbs, usually directly after a project is completed, session and freelance musicians are compensated with upfront cash. Though these terms are well understood within the industry, Brendon still urges musicians to establish written contracts for each engagement to ensure that their rights and best interests are always protected, as verbal agreements can be more difficult to prove.

If you’re interested in pursuing this route, Gumbs recommends being aggressive and persistent in terms of self-promotion, and building up one’s network and reputation. Adding to this piece of advice, Brendon suggests that the best way to learn about this avenue is to pry at the brains of experienced fellow musicians who have, as she puts it, “been around the block.”

Though initially scrounging up work may be challenging, once you’ve established a reputation for being reliable, respectful, and professional, employment opportunities will begin to come your way. Above all, one should have fun with this alternative venture as it will allow for the expansion of one’s ability and repertoire.

The biggest tip for freelancers that Brendon emphasized was the importance of knowing one’s employer. Just as you wouldn’t achieve success by applying for an office job in full out gothic attire, you likely wouldn’t be chosen as a freelancer for an orchestra gig if you showed up to the audition covered in piercings. Gauging the needs of one’s employer is as easy as looking at their audience; if you see mohawks in the crowd, tattoos and torn jeans are encouraged, but if the arena is filled by men and women in suits, one may want to rethink the bright pink hair.

For more information on Dale Anne Brendon, please visit her official website located at http://www.daleannebrendon.com/

For more information on Kelvin Gumbs, check out his official page at http://www.kelvingumbs.com/

About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase.

Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.For more information on Rose Cora Perry and her band's accomplishments, please visit
http://www.anti-hero.ca/ or http://www.rosecoraperry.com/