Your band is getting ready to record its next album. Your producer suggests hiring a couple of studio musicians to lend a hand. Also known as session musicians, this musicians-for-hire are the mercenaries of the recording industry. They are very good at what they do. Yet that doesn’t stop you from wondering why your producer wants to bring them in.
Your first reaction is to feel insulted. From your perspective, your band is good enough to carry the load without the help of professional studio musicians. But after sitting down and talking with your producer, you realize that there are plenty of legitimate reasons to bring in session musicians. You agree to the plan and that’s that.
Supreme Tracks is an online recording studio based in New York. Here are five reasons they say bands tend to bring session musicians into the studio:
1. Unfamiliar Style
Session musicians are often brought in when bands are recording a song in an unfamiliar style. A good example would be a rock ‘n roll band recording a blues number. The lead guitarist is phenomenal with his rock riffs. As for blues riffs, not so much. He doesn’t have the artistic flair that a genuine blues guitarist does. So a studio musician creates the sound the producer wants.
2. Unfamiliar Instrument
Producers generally recommend studio musicians when bands are facing the possibility of playing unfamiliar instruments. An oversimplification of this principle would be bringing in an orchestra to lay down strings to support a ballad. None of the band members are proficient in orchestral strings. So you bring in session musicians to record that portion.
3. Missing Instruments or Vocals
Along those same lines are missing instruments or vocals. Perhaps a band doesn’t have a keyboardist despite the fact that the arranger on one of the songs has written a keyboard in. The producer has a choice: have the arranger rework the song without a keyboard or bring in a session musician. More often than not, the latter choice wins.
The same goes for vocals. There are times when band members simply do not have the vocal range needed for a particular arrangement. It could also be that a band’s lead singer is the only singer. If the rest of the members cannot carry harmonies, session vocalists are brought in to pick up the slack.
4. Creating a More Full Sound
In the absence of missing anything in particular, producers sometimes recommend session musicians just to create a more full sound. While it is true that recorded music can be manipulated during mixing and mastering, a tech-generated fullness doesn’t sound as good as live musicians generating that same sound. A full orchestra sounds better than a keyboard orchestra, for example.
5. Generating Industry Interest
Last but not least, a band might want to bring in one or two studio musicians for the purposes of generating industry interest. Generating interest is a big thing for indie acts. They want their work to generate interest among promoters, publishers, record labels, etc. Bringing in some well-known session musicians can generate that interest.
In essence, the band is looking for both musical help and a bit of name-dropping ability. Combine the two together and a work that would otherwise be ignored suddenly starts getting listened to among top industry decision-makers.
A producer suggesting that you bring session musicians into the studio is not trying to insult you or your band. Their suggestion is really about making your project the best it can be. Despite your band’s talents and abilities, sometimes you just need some good session musicians.