Here are five of the most common session musician problems, and solutions to those problems. Make your career easier with these tips!
Every industry has problems, so it would of course make sense that the session singing/musician industry has troubles as well. Your problems may vary and will be unique to you, but there are a few that we all tend to experience, especially in the beginnings of our careers. I’m going to give you five of them and walk you through how to solve them.
Session Musician Problems and Solutions
Before we get started, you might not have any of these issues, and that’s great! If you have a different problem I didn’t address, feel free to tweet me about it and we can talk.My biggest struggle as a session musician: Click To Tweet
Other than that, let’s get into the biggest problems we face as session musicians:
1). Not Enough Clients
This is the main one I hear from colleagues. You have two possible solutions: Get more clients (I know, easier said than done) or charge existing clients more. You’ll want to figure out how much money you need to make, and also how much you want to make. Of course we’d all like to make millions of dollars, but how much do you need to pay all of your bills? If this is a side-hustle for you, how much do you need to feel like it’s worth while? Figure that out, then divide by how many clients you want to have. Let’s say your target number is $50,000 annually, and you have time for 20 clients per week. You’ll need to charge about $210 per song, give or take, to hit that target.
If you simply need more clients and you don’t have a limit to how many you want, the easiest solution is to put a lot more time into your marketing. Any time you would be doing session work, use it for marketing instead. Reach out to former clients. If they don’t need work, ask them to ask their friends (maybe give a referral discount for incentive). Connect with as many people as possible!
2). The Wrong Kind of Clients
In my opinion, this is worse than not enough clients. Clients that aren’t a good fit will drain your energy, stress you out, and make the whole process terrible. Sometimes you won’t know if a client is a bad fit until you’ve started the project. At that point you can either finish the job and go your separate ways, or remove yourself and recommend someone else.
To avoid this in the future, I strongly recommend interviewing clients before working with them. Have them fill out a form to let you know if they’re a good fit. Get a feel for their personality and their needs before agreeing to the project. Make sure you have policies in place with firm boundaries. That way you won’t have to deal with common client problems such as scope creep, boundary pushing, or the worst: nonpayment.
3). Not Enough Time
If you’re not doing session work full time, you likely have a different day job. This means that on top of your regular work hours, you have to cram your session work into your limited free time. You’re burning the candle at both ends, stressing yourself out, and likely leading to mistakes at both your day job and your session work. Even if you do it full-time, you likely have other interests and might have too much on your plate. The simplest solution for this is to charge higher prices. Sure, you’ll have fewer clients, but that will free up some of your time and you’ll make the same or more money. If you’re not comfortable doing that, you might want to just give yourself a client limit. Create a wait list and have people sign up, then contact them when you’re ready.
4). Lack of Information
There are so many important parts of running a business. Between marketing, accounting, administrative work, and general entrepreneurial duties, it’s easy to let things fall through the cracks. This is important, so I’m going to split the information into parts:
This includes your internet presence (your website, social media, etc), your in-person networking, and any type of actual marketing materials such as flyers or business cards. It would benefit you to take a marketing class if you don’t know much about it. You could hire a PR firm, but they can be really expensive (good ones typically are around $5k a month, from what I’ve seen). If you want to do your own marketing, there is a lot to learn but it’s possible to make it happen!
I have an accountant, and I highly recommend that all creative freelancers have one. There are just way too many potential write-offs, rules, and little things to keep track of (and doing my taxes gives me literal panic attacks). A good accountant isn’t cheap (mine is about $400 a year to do my taxes) but you get peace of mind of knowing your taxes are done correctly, and my accountant promises to assist if I ever get audited or if the IRS has any questions. This is invaluable to me and well worth the money spent. If you don’t have the money or don’t want to use an accountant, I at least recommend splurging on a higher-end tax software (not the free online versions, you’ll need something specifically geared toward entrepreneurs!)
This can be pretty easy, you’ll just need some type of calendar or spreadsheet. If you’re running your own business without help, you’ll have to be your own secretary and appointment scheduler. I’ve seen way too many session musicians totally forget a project because they didn’t have it written down or scheduled. Don’t do this! Find either a paper planner or calendar you like, or use an app or even Google’s calendar. I have a separate post about this here and a free worksheet you can download here if you want to use my system!
5). Lack of Resources
This includes money, because you’ll need to spend money to make money. You’ll also need equipment if you don’t have connections to a local studio. I would make a list of everything you think you need (include money for marketing and accounting, because those are super important!) then figure out how much you need to save to acquire all of those things. Prioritize and see what you can get away with scrimping on for now. I have a list of items worth splurging on here that might help you figure out where to put your money for now.
Hopefully this list doesn’t freak you out. My goal is not to intimidate you, but to empower you.
My other goal is to show songwriters or clients who hire session musicians just how hard we work on our business. When you scoff at our prices, think about all of the training we’ve had, the equipment we’ve acquired, and the continual upkeep of our business. We do this because we love it, and please trust that you’re getting the value for your money.
Did you know that I wrote a book about communicating with clients? It’s geared toward helping you both understand the project and getting to the perfect result, right away. If you want to check it out, it’s right here!
I am also currently giving private consultations for session musicians. We can talk about whatever you like, whether it’s your personal struggles, recording techniques, or any other aspect of running a session business. Feel free to contact me about it here!
If I didn’t address your issue, please let me know in the comments!