Session guitar players are always in demand. So, what are the qualifications for this work? There is a surprisingly wide variety needed in the session world.
Players who have a great rhythm feel and are creative enough to come up with parts or “hooks” have always worked. Some of the great session players from Motown, LA or Muscle Shoals fall into this category.
Players that are highly versatile and can play multiple styles have many opportunities to record. In my time as a session player, it was my ability to play rock, jazz, country etc that brought in many sessions. I often didn’t know what style I would be playing until I walked into the studio.
Specialists such as great country players or rock players or jazz players can only work the sessions that call for their specialty. Versatility is not as important if you’re working in a specific market that needs your specific style. Smaller markets favor the versatile players.
A traditional skill for traditional studio players is reading.
This is an area where we lose many players. As mentioned before, only 15% of guitar players read at the level expected of other musicians. I actually suspect that the number is even lower than that. But if reading is necessary for a given session, you can’t fake your way through it. You have to read!
Reading is a very important skill in jingle work, TV, game and film recording. Film music is at the top of the list in potential difficulty for the reading guitarist.
As in all industries, there is great latitude in session work. If the producer is a friend, he or she may very well overlook limitations and the requirements won’t be as stringent.
As a general rule, if you want session work, develop as many skills and as much versatility as you can. This will dramatically improve your chances to have a successful studio career!