Session Musicians: The Essential Guide to Pro Music Work

Types of session musicians


Independent contractor

This is the most common type of session musician. Session players working as independent contractors move between projects that are typically shorter in duration. Working in this way allows the session artist to provide services across styles and genres for a set fee or hourly rate and works best for remote collaboration. 

Session artists that work as contractors commonly provide smaller pieces of recorded music to a project looking for a specific sound they wouldn’t otherwise be able to achieve—like a cellist on a prog rock song or a flutist playing loops for a trap beat.

Independent contractors can also provide instrumentation across a whole album or song depending on the needs of the client, but are commonly not a permanent member of the project or group.


Studio band or player

 A studio band or player refers to session musicians that work through an established studio setting or studio-based network. 

Studio players in this context are an extension of booked studio time and provide backing instrumentation for musicians renting studio time who don’t otherwise have a band to record parts they’ve written. 

For example, a solo vocalist may rent studio time and work with the studio band to compose and record instrumentation around compositions the vocalist has written.


Backing band or player

A backing band typically refers to a band or player hired to play and record on an entire studio album or project. In cases like this, several session musicians are assembled to form an entire group to accompany a project.

Backing bands are also commonly a touring band as well, which brings us to our next type of session musician…


Touring band or player

The name says it all here, a touring band is a band or ensemble of musicians who tour with a project to provide backing music at various live gigs.

It’s common for a studio band to double as the touring band because the studio band is typically well-rehearsed in the material an artist will be touring with.

No matter what capacity a session musician is working in, it’s common for gigs to start small and grow towards bigger gigs like touring, so it’s important to keep that in mind when you’re hiring session musicians, or looking to become a session musician yourself.