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Gerard Zappa of Wooster on How to Get Started as a Session Musician

Gerard Zappa Wooster

Gerard Zappa of Wooster plays bass with the Steve Augeri band and has been a recording artist and live performer for decades. In the article below, Gerard Zappa breaks down what aspiring session players need to know to get started in this field.

Session musicians are the unsung heroes – and geniuses – of the music world. Also known as a studio or backing musician, a session museum adds essential instrumentation or backing tracks to recordings.

Session musicians are in demand for all types of instruments across all music genres. Chet Atkins was a session musician. Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band? Technically a group of backing band session musicians who have also worked with everyone from Bob Dylan to Lady Gaga.

Gerard Zappa of Wooster relates that The Wrecking Crew, arguably the most famous group of session musicians, were the go-to favorites of much of the 196ps and 1970s, working with the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and Elvis Presley. Several members became big names themselves, like Glen Campbell and Leon Russell.

There is always a need for session musicians, and in the competitive music industry, becoming a session musician usually means you can find constant work when it otherwise is not guaranteed. Recording artists often require very specific types of session musicians. Gerard Zappa of Wooster reports that often exacting producers and song writers know a certain piece needs a particular bass line or a drummer or a pianist to get the right sound.

Love music, have the chops, and want to live the life of an in-demand session musician? Here’s how to get started today.

Play What You Love and Play It Well

Gerard Zappa of Wooster says it’s not necessary to be an expert in every style of music to be a successful studio musician. Strive for good working knowledge across music genres and be proficient on your instrument of choice. Bonus points if you can read and play well on a couple of different instruments.

When a jazz musician calls you because they need a guitarist, have an understanding of the sound they want. If a reggae band calls you because they need a bass player for their tour, it pays to know the feel – even if you don’t have a ready repertoire of reggae music at your disposal. More jobs will be landed with a greater understanding of genres.

Promote, Promote, Promote

Gerard Zappa of Wooster says don’t wait to get a call as a session player. Sometimes, landing a job can come down to who you know or being in the right place at the right time, but there are several websites to list services online.

Professional session bassists and drummers are prevalent on airgigs.com and tons of musicians have found success by posting on Bandmix.

Gerard Zappa Cincinnati

Be Active in the Community

Chances are that many gigs, especially at the beginning, will be in your home city or metro area. To play the local scene, know the local scene. Gerard Zappa of Wooster says to go to clubs and concert venues, no matter the size. Meet the owners and talk to singers, bands, and other backing musicians.

Networking is crucial to getting started as a session musician.

Another good way to network is by reaching out to local recording studios and asking if they are hiring, or if they have any bands coming in who are looking for recording talent. Also important: Be easy to work with when getting the call for a session. The recording studio will reach out again or connect musicians with other artists for gigs. Leave the ego beyond, work hard, don’t complain says Gerard Zappa of Wooster.

Create a Portfolio

As is the case when applying to any job, Gerard Zappa of Cincinnati notes that it pays to have an updated and compelling portfolio of work to land session musician gigs. May session players make websites with contact info, as well as recordings and videos of their work (just be sure that everything is above the board, copyright-wise).

It’s a great and easy way to display versatility and skill. Share availability, rates, and anything else a recording studio or individual artist should know.

Be Open to Direction — and Actually Take It

Gerard Zappa of Wooster explains that even the most skilled musicians know they can always improve. Once a studio session is booked, be open to suggestions from producers and other musicians. It may be to try playing a different way than you’re used to but never say no. Try it and never be defensive.

It’s also important not to take suggestions or criticism too personally. It doesn’t mean that the skill isn’t there.

It just means a different take or vision is needed to elevate the song to the next level. Being professional never goes out of style and is the type of reputation that’s needed for a budding session musician to make it.

Invest in Great Gear

Yes, it’s not cheap, but to make it, instruments and equipment must be high quality to land session musician gigs. Keep all equipment in top playing shape and have it ready for a last-minute soundcheck or gig.

Gerard Zappa of Wooster says it doesn’t mean you have to spend exorbitantly on the latest bass or guitar or something that’s vintage. Get an instrument that ensures reliability — and an awesome sound, of course.