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Session musicians, studio musicians, or backing musicians are musicians hired to perform in recording sessions or live performances. The term sideman is also used in the case of live performances, such as accompanying a recording artist on a tour. Session musicians are usually not permanent or official members of a musical ensemble or band. They work behind the scenes and rarely achieve individual fame in their own right as soloists or bandleaders. However, top session musicians are well known within the music industry, and some have become publicly recognized, such as the Wrecking Crew, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Sectionand The Funk Brothers who worked with Motown Records.
Many session musicians specialize in playing common rhythm section instruments such as guitar, piano, bass, or drums. Others are specialists, and play brass, woodwinds, and strings. Many session musicians play multiple instruments, which lets them play in a wider range of musical situations, genres and styles. Examples of "doubling" include double bass and electric bass, acoustic guitar and mandolin, piano and accordion, and saxophone and other woodwind instruments.
Session musicians are used when musical skills are needed on a short-term basis. Typically session musicians are used by recording studios to provide backing tracks for other musicians for recording sessions and live performances; recording music for advertising, film, television, and theatre. In the 2000s, the terms "session musician" and "studio musician" are synonymous, though in past decades, "studio musician" meant a musician associated with a single record company, recording studio or entertainment agency.
Session musicians may play in a wide range of genres or specialize in a specific genre (e.g. country music or jazz). Some session musicians with a Classical music background may focus on film score recordings. Even within a specific genre specialization, there may be even more focused sub-specializations. For example, a sub-specialization within trumpet session players is "high note specialist".
The working schedule for session musicians often depends on the terms set out by musicians' unions or associations, as these organizations typically set out rules on performance schedules (e.g. regarding length of session and breaks). The length of employment may be as short as a single day, in the case of a recording a brief demo song, or as long as several weeks, if an album or film score is being recorded.
The remuneration terms are often set out by musicians' associations and unions. Some musicians may get the minimum scale rate set out by the union. Heavily in-demand session musicians may earn much more. The union rates may vary based on whether it is a music recording versus film/television recording. While the film/television rates may be lower, there may also be residual payments to compensate them for reruns, DVD sales, streaming usage, and so on.
Session musicians often have to bring their own instruments, such as in the case of guitar, bass, woodwinds, and brass. It is expected that studio musicians will have professional-tier instruments that are well-maintained. In some cases, larger or heavier instruments may be provided by the recording studio, such as a grand piano or Hammond organ and Leslie speaker. In certain cases, a session musicians may bring some instruments or musical gear and use them with larger instruments that are provided by the studio, such as a synthesizer player, who might bring rack-mounted synth modules and connect them to the studio's MIDI controller stage piano. Similarly, if the studio has a selection of well-known bass amplifiers and speaker cabinets, a bass player may only have to bring basses and effect units.
The requirement to read different types of music notation, improvise and/or "play by ear" varies according to the type of recording session and the genres of music being performed. Classical musicians and many jazz and popular music musicians are expected to read music notation and do sight-reading. In jazz, rock, and many popular music genres, performers may be expected to read chord charts and improvise accompaniment and solos. In country music, performers may be expected to read Nashville Number System charts and improvise accompaniment and solos. In many traditional and folk music styles, performers are expected to be able to play by ear.
Session musicians need a nuanced sense of the playing styles and idioms used in different genres. For example, a sax player who mainly plays jazz needs to know the R&B style if they are asked to improvise a solo in an R&B song. Similarly, a bass player asked to improvise a walking bassline in a rockabilly song needs to know the stock lines and cliches used in this genre.
Regardless of the styles of music session musicians play, some qualities are universal: punctuality in arriving at the session; rhythmic and intonation precision; ability to play with good ensemble and excellent blending with the other performers; willingness to take direction from bandleaders, music directors, and music producers; and having good musical taste in regards to choices with musical ornaments and musical phrasing.
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During the 1950s and 1960s, session players were usually active in local recording scenes concentrated in places such as Los Angeles, New York City, Nashville, Memphis, Detroit, and Muscle Shoals.Each local scene had its circle of "A-list" session musicians, such as The Nashville A-Team that played on numerous country and rock hits of the era, the two groups of musicians in Memphis, both the Memphis Boys and the musicians who backed Stax/Volt recordings, and the Funk Brothers in Detroit, who played on many Motown recordings.
At the time, multi-tracking equipment, though common, was less elaborate, and instrumental backing tracks were often recorded "hot" with an ensemble playing live in the studio.Musicians had to be available "on call" when producers needed a part to fill a last-minute time slot. In the 1960s, Los Angeles was considered the top recording destination in the United States — consequently studios were constantly booked around the clock, and session time was highly sought after and expensive. Songs had to be recorded quickly in the fewest possible takes. In this environment, Los Angeles producers and record executives had little patience for needless expense or wasted time and depended on the service of reliable standby musicians who could be counted on to record in a variety of styles with minimal practice or takes, and deliver hits on short order.
A studio band is a musical ensemble that is in the employ of a recording studio for the purpose of accompanying recording artists who are customers of the studio. The use of studio bands was more common during the 1960s with groups such Booker T. & the M.G.'s. The benefit of having a regular group, an approach which typified Southern soul, is that the group has much more experience playing together, which enables them to get a better sense of ensemble.
Soul music is a popular music genre that originated in the African American community throughout the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It has its roots in African-American gospel music and rhythm and blues. Soul music became popular for dancing and listening in the United States, where record labels such as Motown, Atlantic and Stax were influential during the Civil Rights Movement. Soul also became popular around the world, directly influencing rock music and the music of Africa.
Booker T. & the M.G.'s were an American instrumental R&B/funk band that was influential in shaping the sound of Southern soul and Memphis soul. The original members of the group were Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass), and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). In the 1960s, as members of the Mar-Keys, the rotating slate of musicians that served as the house band of Stax Records, they played on hundreds of recordings by artists including Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor and Albert King. They also released instrumental records under their own name, including the 1962 hit single "Green Onions". As originators of the unique Stax sound, the group was one of the most prolific, respected, and imitated of its era. By the mid-1960s, bands on both sides of the Atlantic were trying to sound like Booker T. & the M.G.'s.
Memphis soul, also known as the Memphis sound, is the most prominent strain of Southern soul. It is a shimmering, sultry style produced in the 1960s and 1970s at Stax Records and Hi Records in Memphis, Tennessee, featuring melodic unison horn lines, organ, guitar, bass, and a driving beat on the drums.
The Wrecking Crew was a loose collective of Los Angeles-based session musicians whose services were employed for a great number of studio recordings in the 1960s and 1970s, including hundreds of Top 40 hits. The musicians were not publicly recognized in their era, but were viewed with reverence by industry insiders. They are now considered one of the most successful and prolific session recording units in music history.
Carol Kaye is an American musician. She is one of the most prolific recorded bass guitarists in rock and pop music, playing on an estimated 10,000 recordings in a career spanning over 50 years.
Hi Records is an American soul music and rockabilly label founded in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1957 by singer Ray Harris, record store owner Joe Cuoghi, Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, and three silent partners, including Cuoghi's lawyer, Nick Pesce.
Lincoln Wayne "Chips" Moman was an American record producer, guitarist, and songwriter. He is known for working in R&B, pop music and country music, operating American Sound Studios and producing hit albums like Elvis Presley's 1969 From Elvis in Memphis and the 1985 debut album for The Highwaymen. Moman won a Grammy Award for co-writing "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song", a 1976 hit for B.J. Thomas.
Joseph Osborn was an American bass guitar player known for his work as a session musician in Los Angeles with the Wrecking Crew and in Nashville with the A-Team of studio musicians during the 1960s through the 1980s.
The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section is a group of American session musicians based in the northern Alabama town of Muscle Shoals. One of the most prominent American studio house bands from the 1960s to the 1980s, these musicians, individually or as a group, have been associated with more than 500 recordings, including 75 gold and platinum hits. They were masters at creating a southern combination of R&B, soul and country music known as the "Muscle Shoals sound" to back up black artists, who were often in disbelief to learn that the studio musicians were white. Over the years from 1962 to 1969, there have been two successive groups under the name "Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section" and the common factor in the two was an association with Rick Hall at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio is an American recording studio in Sheffield, Alabama, formed in 1969 by four session musicians known as The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. They had left nearby FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals to create their own recording facility.
Norbert Auvin Putnam is an American record producer and musician.
FAME Studios is a recording studio located at 603 East Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, an area of northern Alabama known as the Shoals. Though small and distant from the main recording locations of the American music industry, FAME has produced many hit records and was instrumental in what came to be known as the Muscle Shoals sound. It was started in the 1950s by Rick Hall, known as the Founder of Muscle Shoals Music. The studio, owned by Hall until his death in 2018, is still actively operating. It was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on December 15, 1997, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. The 2013 award-winning documentary Muscle Shoals features Rick Hall, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and the Muscle Shoals sound originally popularized by FAME.
The Wrecking Crew is a 2008 American documentary film directed by Denny Tedesco, son of guitarist Tommy Tedesco. It covers the story of the Los Angeles–based group of session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, famed for having played on numerous hit recordings throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. The film premiered at the 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival.
Thomas Clark Cogbill was an American bassist, guitarist and record producer known for his work in R&B, soul and country music.
Jerry Kirby Carrigan was an American drummer and record producer. Early in his career he was a member of the original Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and later worked as a session musician in Nashville for over three decades. His style of drumming with a loose, deep-sounding snare drum melded country music with an R&B feel and helped develop a Nashville sound known as "Countrypolitan". His drumming is heard on many recordings which have become classics, some listed below. He recorded with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Charley Pride, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Stevens, Kenny Rogers, George Jones and many others. He recorded with non-country artists as well, including Henry Mancini, Al Hirt, Johnny Mathis, and the Boston Pops Orchestra. In 2009 he was inducted into the "Nashville Cats", a cadre of top recording musicians chosen by the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2010 he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Carrigan was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2019.
The American Sound Studio was a recording studio located in Memphis, Tennessee which operated from 1964 to 1972. Founded by Chips Moman, the studio at 827 Thomas Street came to be known as American North, and the studio at 2272 Deadrick Street came to be known as American East or the Annex.
Roe Erister "Rick" Hall was an American record producer, songwriter, and musician who became known as the owner of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. As the "Father of Muscle Shoals Music", he was influential in recording and promoting both country and soul music, and in helping develop the careers of such musicians as Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Duane Allman and Etta James.
Jesse Willard "Pete" Carr was an American guitarist. Carr contributed to successful recordings by Joan Baez, Luther Ingram, Bob Seger, Joe Cocker, Boz Scaggs, Paul Simon, The Staple Singers, Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Wilson Pickett, Hank Williams, Jr., among many others, from the 1970s onward.
Donald Davis was an American record producer, songwriter and guitarist who combined a career in music with one in banking.
The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum (MHOF) in Nashville honors all musicians regardless of genre or instrument. The MHOF timeline starts with the beginning of recorded music and inductees are nominated by current members of the American Federation of Musicians and by other music industry professionals.