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Music

How to be an Online Session Musician: Part 1

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A session musician is someone who’s paid to add their instrumentation to a recording or live event on a casual basis. In terms of recording you’d previously go to a studio, often in a major city. 

Whilst this still happens with the advent of the internet, plus affordable recording equipment, session musicians can now work from home and with anyone anywhere in the world. 

This has opened up the industry but increased competition, In simple terms, there’s more work to go around but more people than ever with whom to compete.

In this tutorial I’ll outline the practicalities you’ll need to consider to become an online session musician. 

Qualification

This almost goes without saying, but let’s be clear: this isn’t a job for beginners. 

You either need to be completely amazing at one style or facet of playing, or a musical chameleon, the sonic equivalent of a Swiss Army knife. 

Unless you’re a specialist, someone who can build a reputation as the go-to person for a particular kind of playing, you’ll have to be prepared to turn your hand to whatever’s thrown at you. 

That said…

Skill

It’s tempting to take the scattergun approach, and offer or agree to everything that’s thrown your way, especially in the early days. However, you run the risk of either declining a lot of enquiries, or worse, delivering sub-standard work because a job didn’t really fit your skill set. Neither will enhance your reputation.

It’s better to be very clear from the start as to what you’re offering. If you’re not sure how to describe your skills, take a look at existing ads from other session players. If nothing else, you may spot a gap in the market!

Hours

If you’re working with clients all over the world, you’ll be keeping some strange hours. If your home or working life is flexible enough to accommodate this, that’s fine. 

If, however, your family already don’t see enough of you, doing this won’t improve matters. 

If you need to keep strict hours make that clear to clients at the outset. You could even set up a Google calendar, or similar, so that potential clients can see when you’re available.

It’s Not All About You

When working on any project you’re likely to form an idea of what’s best in terms of what you can provide. Happily some clients will want to be guided by you, especially if they’ve no experience of your instrument or are new to arranging music.

Other clients, however, will have a strong opinion as to what they want, which may well differ from your own. You’ll need to be comfortable with playing what they’re asking for instead of what you want. 

Respectfully offer your opinion, by all means, as the client might not have considered what you’re proposing. If they’re adamant, play what’s required of you.

Always remember: the man who pays the piper calls the tune.

Speaking of money…

Earning a Living

If you’re exceptionally talented, hard-working, network like crazy and get some lucky breaks, you might find yourself earning comfortably, thanks to some high-profile bookings. 

This is exceptional. 

Assuming that you’re not a high-profile professional, you can typically earn a few hundred a month.

Supply and Demand

It’s also worth knowing that, like a lot of jobs in the music world, there are good times and bad. Demand can be somewhat seasonal. For example, you might be rushed off your feet in the run-up to Christmas but find January extremely quiet.

Bearing all of this in mind it’s better to view this kind of work as an additional revenue stream rather than your sole income.

Declaration

When it comes to income, don’t forget to declare any such earnings on a tax return, even if you think you’re not earning much. If you’re new to this, go online, find the local tax office and contact them for advice.

Everybody Wants Some

A good way of getting work and building a reputation is through a web-based agency or marketplace. This allows you to set-up a shop front to advertise your services as well as bringing you enquiries. A typical example, and one that I use, is fiverr.com

If you go down this route, however, you need to factor a few things into your costs.

Commission

Such sites are going to want paying for helping you find work and fees are typically 10-20% per transaction.

Exchange Rates

Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest sites are US-based and work in dollars. As exchange rates will fluctuate, earnings won’t be fixed or guaranteed.

More Fees

Some sites will pay you via companies such as PayPal, so you’ll need to be registered accordingly. They in turn will take their own commission for handling your money. 

Factoring this in, plus commission fees, means that you’ll receive around 60% of what the buyer originally paid. You'll need to set your prices to offset at least some of this whilst still remaining competitive.

Waiting to Get Paid

As with a lot of financial transactions, buyers are allowed a cooling off period after a purchase, in case they change their minds. This means that you’ll probably have to wait 7-14 days before payment is released to you.

Conclusion

Online session work can become a way of earning some extra money, provided you have the time and the skills to pursue it. In summation, bear in mind the following:

  • Be good at what you do
  • Be clear as to what you’re offering
  • Regular hours can be a struggle
  • Work isn’t guaranteed
  • Play what’s required
  • Declare earnings, whatever they are
  • Factor fees into your prices

In the next tutorial, I’ll show you what you’ll need to get started, such as equipment.

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