While I was in Toronto a few months ago, I ended up meeting a guitar player from Australia who’s been playing around New York, Toronto, and Europe. It got me thinking how the world of the session player has changed with the music industry. Sounded like a perfect interview opportunity. After exchanging a few emails, Jesse Bear gave me the scoop on what it’s like being a session player today.
Jesse has most recently worked with Zaki Ibrahim, Kim Davis, Sean Kingston, and Digable Planets.
1. When did you know you wanted to make music your life?
I don’t even think it was a decision! I think it’s probably just something that’s in your blood. I’ve done other things in my life, but music was always there, and it just came to a point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Broke my first drumstick at age 5 and by the time I got around to guitar as a teenager there was no denying it.
2. What’s the best and worst part of being a freelance session player?
The best AND worst part is being your own boss. It’s nice taking on all the responsibility for your own career, but inevitably you find that you rely on others even more. You may feel as though you’re not answerable to anyone else, but the reality is that you need to make clients happy and find solid people that you know you can work with. You also learn to view the negatives as positives. For example, not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from might seem negative, but needing to eat is a powerful motivator to keep your career moving!
3. How are you finding the work changing as the music industry changes?
I used to be wary of falling into the live musician trap – playing the same gigs week in and week out, finding yourself older and just getting by. The traditional wisdom was to move into writing and recording, because there was more money and stability. Now it’s swung back the other way. It’s harder to make a living as a recording artist now, so most musicians earn the bulk of their income through live shows. In short, it used to be that you would tour to promote an album. Now people give away recordings to promote the tour.
5. You’ve been based in Toronto, New York and Australia. How important has location been to making contacts and getting work?
Very important. Soul and R&B music isn’t made in Australia. I could have met as many musicians and industry types as I wanted to in Oz, but they weren’t making music that I was interested in. Soon as I arrived in North America I felt like I was in my musical home. The opportunities I’ve had since then never would have presented themselves if I had stayed. Sure I do a lot of work over the internet – but you have to meet people and cultivate relationships in person first.
6. What advice do you have for up and coming musicians who want to make music their living?
I think I’m still up and coming myself, but I’ll give it a try! One of the most important things I’ve observed is that the music industry model is constantly changing and evolving. Someone else’s advice might be helpful, or it might be completely wrong for you. So I guess I would say not to worry about what others are doing, but have the courage to forge a new path for yourself. There are no rules anymore.
I love the last line. There are no rules anymore.
Some people, probably including yourself and this kid below, have music in the blood.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I80FVFCHHNE&feature=related]