Pay Scale for a Session Musician

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Session musicians are paid on a per-project basis.
Session musicians are paid on a per-project basis. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Session musicians, also known as studio musicians, are professional musicians hired by producers to play particular sections of music during recording sessions. Although most session musicians are instrumentalists specializing in guitar, piano, horns and the like, session musicians can also be singers called in for backup parts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies all musicians in one wage category.

Salary Range

According to May, 2010, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, musicians nationwide earn an mean hourly wage of $30.22. This equates to an average annual salary of $62,858 when factored out across a year of standard 40-hour work weeks; however, session musicians rarely work standard hours. Musicians in the profession's top earnings percentile, such as seasoned studio musicians, average $60.02 per hour, according to BLS figures. This equates to an average annual salary of $124,842 per year -- a figure echoed by the music industry career website CareersinMusic.com, which states that talented, in-demand session players can earn up to $100,000 or more.

Factors Affecting Salary

Versatility, dependability and experience are major factors that affect the earnings of session musicians. Session players who are multi-instrumentalists are often given preference since they can record several parts in a single session, which has considerable advantages over hiring a number of musicians. The ability to play whatever is requested in terms of not just notation but style is another major factor in the hiring frequency of session musicians.

Advancement

Success in the realm of session musicianship can lead to more lucrative careers as both a studio musician and live performer. Studio musicians are in essence permanent or "house" session players. Whereas a session player might play on one project one time, studio musicians are essentially staff members of particular studios who are involved in some way with nearly all the projects a studio produces. Additionally, artists or groups who are pleased with the work of session players may enlist them as part of their touring acts.

Relevant Background and Skills

There is no steadfast educational or professional background for aspiring professional musicians. That said, some formal training may be necessary to achieve the mastery required to perform works on request with little preparation time, as session musicians often have to do. Familiarity with the history of their instruments, including style and technique of other notable players, is a highly sought attribute of session players. The ability to travel and accept work on short notice is also highly sought in the field of studio recording.

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