Connect With Us

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


« Artists are not inherently entitled to monetary compensation for their Art | Main | Viral, Schmiral (‘Greatness’ Pt. 2) »

Session players for recordings. 

Session players can be a tremendous asset to the overall sound of a tune or even the entire album. When you’re a solo artist, or even a band, and you bring in a session player to play an extra part or an overdub, the professionalism and skill of the player will only support the song. Now if you are doing a recording with friends, go ahead and bring them in but if you are creating a recording to be the best it can be, don’t cut the corners of musicianship and ability.

Decide in preproduction what you are going to need beyond the core of the band and book your session players early. The excellent players are often booked well in advance. Offering a chord chart, lyric chart, preproduction sheet and scratch demo on CD or by mp3 will give a player more than enough information to be able to come into the studio and knock out exactly what you need.

Be realistic about your abilities to execute parts in the studio against hiring session players that can really keep the quality at its best. For instance, you may have a great drummer. However, he might not be a percussionist. His amazing drumming on the recording could be pulled down by uneven shaker patterns or a mediocre conga.

A lot of times I will hear a drummer and make sure he has strong percussion ability, enough that he will not take away from his drumming or the song. If not, I will advise that group to bring in a percussionist to play the parts. It may sound silly, but listen to albums with top level percussionists. Even the small things like the tambourines and shakers are placed just right, and played with continuity and accuracy.

The idea isn’t to replace you or your members from secondary parts. If you have already made the decision that your group will play all the instruments, that’s fine. But if you play guitar for the group and your guitar part is top notch and you want to add a part with an instrument that you play at a beginning level, bring in that session artist to play that part.

Replacing a Player

This is a topic that is talked about in small and careful circles. The idea of replacing certain band members on certain songs with session players to get songs done quickly is a hard one to swallow for some people, but, in certain circumstances, it is a frequent reality in the industry.

Ghost in the Machine

Ghost players have been on the recording scene for a long time. Very often they are the drummers and bass players that will come in and fix or play a part and be paid a little extra to not take the credit. I have spent a great part of my session career doing ghosting sessions. I enjoyed it and it was fulfilling even if you don’t get the credit directly. I have had people ask me how to build a resume doing that, and the answer is the same way as if you are hired as a session player that gets credit. The album might not have your name in the credits, but the studios, the producers, the engineers and the labels know who did what.

Which leads to the last part of hiring a session player. What if you are in a situation where something is not happening in the studio with a core member?

There are three choices at this point and they all have pluses and minuses.

One - Keep trying to get the track with the band as it stands, or cut the session and go practice the hell out of the song. Come back to the studio and try to nail it.

This can waste time in the studio as well as adding unexpected time that might not be available in your timeline. If you are under a contract with a larger scale label, many times the producer will make the call to pull in a session player. This happens very frequently. It is a daily occurrence in the majors and even high level independents.

Two – Call in a session player right away. It can be somewhat of a blow to the ego, but it will get the track done and the player being replaced can use the time to work to get the part down pat. A good session player will not play far above the skill set of the replaced player. Many times they will listen to what the replaced player sounds like and play a solid part that meshes with that player’s style and ability.

Anytime I have replaced a drummer, I tried to bring his flavor into the tracks. I would reproduce any signature fills or consistencies, and then I would tighten up any parts that needed it. This was not my session. It was his and that has to be considered unless the band or producer told me to go a totally different route.

Three – Call in the ghost session player. The way it commonly works is that the label, producer and management will contact a session player who is familiar with ghost sessions. Payment and a non-disclosure agreement will be arranged. The non-disclosure agreement, or NDA, is a confidentiality contract with the ghost player. By signing it, he or she agrees to keep the session a secret. Be aware that you will pay a little more to hire someone who is not going to be receiving direct credit.


It’s tough deciding whether or not to bring in session or ghost players. But look at all the angles and make the decision based on what is best in the long run for the band and the recording. The best approach is to be prepared. Practice, practice and practice, and hopefully the only session players you will need are those who will embellish the band and the sound if the tune requires it.

© 2009 Loren Weisman

Reader Comments (3)

Is there any estimate as to how much a session musician costs? Are there standard prices in the industry, or does it depend on the studio? Or even the session musician him/herself?



September 18 | Unregistered CommenterGuido

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area you can hire local session musicians for $125 to $175 a track (song), depending on the player and number of songs.

This was enlightening about ghost session players, and about how they match to the named player's ability. I would guess this is far less common on the indie scene. Probably more common is the vanity project where the star is not up to the caliber of the session players. A good producer and engineer will do everything to make the star sound good, but the truth may come out in live performance...

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlexa Weber Morales

Hey Guido,

With the way the economy has gone. There is really no flat standard anymore. It is more about either the song, the day or the hours. Even some of the top cats I know are altering prices more now than ever and even in LA too. Up in Seattle, I offer rates depending on the player and their ability.

October 6 | Registered CommenterLoren Weisman

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>