Having great studio musicians can enhance the impact your music has on your listeners. If you're a solo artist, producer, or a band that just needs to add extra elements to their recordings, studio musicians can take your project to that next level.
Great studio musicians can unlock and bring out the meaning and heart of our songs. Sometimes this happens and it exceeds the expectations we have for our own music.
The first time I had a session player record on my song, I couldn't believe the quality and detail that was added to the song's essence. His experience on his instrument just allowed him to bring great ideas to the table that I wouldn't have ever thought of otherwise.
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 detail musically. They're extremely focused on things like tone, the groove, and their dynamics while they're playing.
Live musicians may be focused more on things like performing and connecting with the audience. They're deeply focused on the details of the actual music being played. 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.
To have the best session possible, 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 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?
Since it's our music, as artists we may sometimes feel like we have to know exactly what we want. It's good to know what you want, but also keep your ears open to the suggestions of your musicians.
The musician may bring something to the table that wasn't what you were expecting. If you're on the same page about the song's direction, often times these ideas can be a lot better than what we may have had in mind originally. Sometimes they're not. 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 also turn out to be what makes the whole thing come together!
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 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 to communicate it. If you still aren't able to get exactly "it", ask the musician to try a few different ideas they have that they think would sound good and go from there.
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.
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 they're 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, time editing, and overall cost less 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 what they recorded because it wasn't good.
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!