Every once in a while someone will contact me and offer their services as a session musician. Or someone will ask me to recommend session musicians for an upcoming project.
A session musician (sometimes called a studio musician) is a musician who works for hire for the purpose of recording music tracks for a studio client. You'll find session musicians working in all areas of music including TV, film, albums, demos, radio, live shows, teaching, etc. Session musicians are generally independent contractors working for a set rate. They get paid a contracted amount to come in, perform their parts, and then leave.
Many of the better session musicians have some sort of music degree or have studied music composition and performance. Generally they can sight read music and/or studio charts. Here at my level, hardly anything is actually "written out" except perhaps a simple lyric sheet with chord names. Usually an artist or producer will provide the session guys a rough demo recording, or simply hum the parts, and the session musicians are excepted to interpret the information as best they can and perhaps even add to, or embellish the songwriting process with their own ideas.
Just for the record, I don't recommend anyone unless I've worked with them before. There are a lot of talented musicians out there but that doesn't necessarily make them good session musicians. Session musicians take direction very well. They aren't there to impose their own artistic will on the artist or producer. They are told what to play and they play it. They are paid to do this. I've seen so-called session musicians come in and immediately cop an attitude because they don't agree with the artistic decisions being made. I don't work with people like that nor would I ever recommend someone like that. I've been blessed to have worked with some of the finest talent in the Chicagoland area. I know who to call for any given situation.
The million dollar question is "how much do these guys charge?".
I can't speak for every session musician out there but generally speaking, you should budget somewhere between $50-$100/hour per person. That's just a ballpark figure based on past experience. Quite a few session guys will charge a flat rate per song - like $50/song or $100/song or something like that. Everything in life is negotiable. Just because you don't have a lot of money doesn't mean you can't get top notch talent.
I don't normally get involved in negotiating fees that session musicians charge for their services. Generally speaking, that's between you and them. I'm not a middleman. I don't get a "finders fee" or any sort of kickback. I want you to be clear on this so there's no confusion down the road. Whatever money you pay the session players goes right into their pockets. All I get out of this is my normal hourly studio rate when you book the session. If you intend to pay them by check, make sure they are cool with that. Don't assume anything. Ask ahead of time.
Yes, it costs more to hire pro session guys but they get the job done quicker. You might find that dealing with local amateurs actually costs more in the long run. That's been my experience at least. Seasoned pros usually nail their parts in one or two takes and they play with such finesse that the songs practically mix themselves. So not only do you save some time during the tracking phase, you'll probably save time during mixdown too.
What typically happens is someone will call me and ask me to recommend session musicians for an upcoming project. I will provide a list of names of people I've worked with in the past who I think would be a good fit for the project. My only goal here is to help you find musicians that will be able to play the parts and do it quickly and with excellent quality. Anyone I recommend I consider to be honest and dependable. I know they are honest and dependable because I've worked with them before. If they say they will be here at a particular time then rest assured they will be here ready to go.