A ses­sion mu­si­cian

Your favourite records would not be the same with­out these un­sung mu­sos.

Time Out (Melbourne) - - MUSIC & NIGHTLIFE - By Ni­cola Dowse

THE LIFE OF a ses­sion mu­si­cian is to be heard not seen, and yet with­out their in­vis­i­ble con­tri­bu­tions on stage and in record­ing, our stan­dard of mu­sic would suf­fer. In a city like Mel­bourne the de­mand for ses­sion mu­si­cians can be quite high, but that doesn’t mean ev­ery ses­sion artist is mak­ing bank. If you’re tal­ented and not picky about what you record then you can do well for your­self, says ses­sion drum­mer Danny Finkel­stein. “It can be really good money if you’re tour­ing with big artists,” he says, adding a caveat. “If you’re do­ing in­de­pen­dent, orig­i­nal mu­sic they’re of­ten your friends. You don’t want to charge your mate 500 bucks.”

Both Finkel­stein and gui­tarist, pi­anist and vo­cal­ist Jan Prasil credit Mel­bourne’s busk­ing cul­ture as a great way to build con­tacts for ses­sion work, while Finkel­stein’s time run­ning open mic nights al­lowed him to mix with some of the city’s best. “As a drum­mer, a really good way to meet peo­ple is to go to open mic nights and talk to singer­song­writ­ers,” Finkel­stein says. “I came up in the traps with Tash Sul­tana. She went to open mic nights a whole bunch of times, we had a lot of con­ver­sa­tions and played to­gether.”

Once a ses­sion mu­si­cian is hired for a job the process is the­o­ret­i­cally straight­for­ward: meet the artist you’re play­ing for, lis­ten to their songs, prac­tise, record and get paid. It’s sim­ple enough, but that doesn’t stop con­flicts oc­cur­ring be­tween artists and their ses­sion mu­si­cians. “Maybe you don’t like them as a person, you just don’t get along or the en­ergy is weird in the room,” says Prasil. “But you’ve still got to push through be­cause they’re pay­ing you for the work.” Finkel­stein agrees that be­ing a ses­sion mu­si­cian can mean putting your ego on the back­burner. “It’s not about your orig­i­nal con­tri­bu­tion to the mu­sic, it’s about do­ing what­ever is best for the mu­sic.” Just like with any re­la­tion­ship, ses­sion mu­si­cians and record­ing artists also need to have “the chat” – is this just a ca­sual fling or the start of some­thing se­ri­ous? “If you’ve done all this work, haven’t been paid a cent and you haven’t signed any agree­ments you’re still not really in the band,” says Finkel­stein. “You can get fucked over.”

Like ghost­writ­ing, ses­sion gigs are all of the work with­out any of the ac­claim, so it’s not a good ca­reer for those sus­cep­ti­ble to the green-eyed mon­ster. Which is why ses­sion work is, for many artists, just a side hus­tle. When not record­ing with other peo­ple Prasil is one half of the acous­tic duo Ami­s­tat, while Finkel­stein is the drum­mer for alt-rock band Chester Brix. And while the work is, well, work, both mu­si­cians feel that be­ing a ses­sion mu­si­cian gives more than it takes. “You learn so much,” says Prasil. “It’s only ben­e­fi­cial, it never takes away.”

“It’s about do­ing what­ever is best for the mu­sic”

Ses­sion mu­si­cian Jan Prasil

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