Mistakes are not the worst thing in the world. Often, they help us learn, highlight our trouble areas and grow. However, mistakes can also cost you jobs and relationships with clients. I’m going to list the most common errors I see in new session musicians (many of which I’ve made myself, so no judgment), and also show you how to avoid them or recover if you’ve already done them.
New Session Musician Mistakes
Most of these are in no particular order, except the first one because it’s seriously so important and so few people do it. Even if you choose one of these a week to work on, in less than two months you’ll have a solid foundation for being a professional session musician!
1). Not Having Policies in Place
Most of your gigs probably won’t need to use any policies, but the few who do will make you so glad you created them. I have a post on what policies you should have, but basically you’ll want to think of every possible worst case scenario, then create a policy for how you’ll handle it should it arise. I didn’t use to have policies, but over time I’ve honed them into a working model that benefits both me and the client. Policies are great for both sides!
2). Unprofessional Photos
I know, we work in the audio industry so it shouldn’t be about looks, but appearance does matter. A dimly lit selfie at a bar is not going to cut it. You’re a business, so you need good photos! You don’t need to blow a bunch of money on professional pictures, but it’s important to have a clear, professional-looking photo. I have a bunch of tips for great music photos here. A great photo of yourself working in your studio is perfect! While we’re on the topic of studios…
3). Poor Sound Quality
If you don’t do your own recording, you can skip the next two. You don’t need a super expensive studio right away, especially if you’re just starting out. However, you will need to invest in a few things to make your sound good. If you’re not sure what to invest in, I have some tips here. Just make sure you have some type of soundproofing (bathrooms are a no-no, and certainly no bathroom selfies while you’re recording! I see too many of those!) and a quality microphone.
4). Not Recording Correctly
Do you know how to zero out your tracks? One of my first home-recordings was on an unfamiliar DAW, so I didn’t know how to zero out. I sent the files and the client was confused and irritated. I did fix the situation, but I had caused a lot of delay and confusion. Not surprisingly, I never heard from that client again. In addition, you’ll want to learn the basics of setting levels, surgical EQ, exporting files, and the different dry or wet stems you’ll need to send.
4). No Digital Backups
Most producers I know keep every session they’ve done, spanning decades back through their career. That might not be necessary as a session musician, but you’d be surprised how many clients have contacted me months or even years later to ask if I still had a take from a project. You’re not required to keep them, but they’ll make your clients happy and help you stay organized.Digital backups will make your clients happy and help you stay organized! Click To Tweet
5). Not Being Organized
There are three areas of your life that session musicians should organize: Your physical space (for your health and mental wellbeing), your digital space (so you know where all your files are), and your schedule. I’m great at the first two, but organizing my schedule was a learning curve. When I was first starting out, I didn’t know how to do this. I sort of handled issues as they arose, and as a result I dropped many important tasks. If you aren’t sure how to stay organized, Entrepreneur has some great tips here. Session musicians need to organize their digital files, their workflow, and most importantly, their schedule. Which brings me to my next tip:
6). Not Keeping a Schedule
When I first started session work full-time, I thought I had to jump on every gig the minute it came in. This was a nightmare. I had absolutely no idea when gigs might come in, so I had no control over my life. I couldn’t guarantee a return date for clients other than “as soon as possible” (which means pretty much nothing, let’s be honest). For my own sanity, I created a schedule where all recording would be done after 6pm. Any jobs that came in after 4pm would be moved to the next day’s schedule. This gave me my days to use the daylight and work on administrative tasks, and gave me a solid schedule for clients. Figure out what works best for you and stick with it, it will make your life so much easier.
7). Unprofessional Behavior
I’ve dealt with session musicians who were rude, constantly missed deadlines, showed up to sessions high or drunk, it blows my mind. Yes, music is creative and allows you to ‘be yourself’ more than a regular job would, but it’s still a professional industry. I don’t even have advice for how to be better at this, because I don’t know if this is something people can change. If you recognize yourself in this area, focus on how you can improve or eliminate those behaviors.
I’ve worked with many session musicians who don’t follow these rules, and their career seems to be going fine. None of this is completely necessary, but incorporating even one of these could help your business. If you feel like you need a better handle on your career, I encourage you to try a few and see if they work for you!
Poor communication is another mistake I see many session musicians making. I wrote a whole book on how important communication is and how to get exactly what you want out of each gig. It’s geared toward songwriters, but it will help you understand what you need from them. 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 current struggles, your future goals, or any other aspect of running a session business. Feel free to contact me about it here!
Do you have any other advice for session musicians, whether you are one yourself or you hire them? Please let me know in the comments!