I was the first! Alright, I’m sure loads of people were doing it before me, but when I set up realstrings.com 12 years ago, being a virtual musician was still a rarity. Now plenty of musicians are adopting the model.
I’m sometimes asked for advice, and although I know absolutely nothing, I tend to give it anyway. So here are my suggestions for getting in on the virtual session thing, also known as remote sessions, or i-sessions or whatever you want to call it.
Play an instrument, well. Or in my case, fairly well. If you can’t make a better sound than samples, practise some more.
Play with feel. Samples sound bloody amazing! They just ‘feel’ shit, so your feel as a player is what will get you work.
Be an improviser and arranger. Playing what other people have written for you limits your opportunites. Most producers and composers will come to you with a rough idea of what they want, but your contribution is more than just playing, it’s creating the best lines for your instrument. And as an arranger you have more of a musical identity than a performer. Avoid asking ‘what do you want me to play?’
Work with other musicians. If you are a flautist, hook up with other woodwind players to offer your orchestral section.
Specialise. Avoid pretending you can play all instruments in all styles. No-one likes a blagger. This is particularly important if you play an instrument that is quite common. Sorry drummers and guitarists. Aim to offer something more unique. If you have tubular bells and timps, tell the world, don’t worry about the limited need for a rare instrument; the world is your client base, and it’s frikkin’ big.
Diversify. Write music for your instrument, for production libraries and loops packs. If you have your own projects on the go, you never have that dreaded moment when you realise you have no work.
Be flexible, be adaptable. You’re not turning up at a certain place at a certain time. This is different way of working. Forget the old rules. Get involved with projects, even if it means pitching for free.
Have a decent recording set-up – good mics, pre-amps, live space. Don’t take the piss with tatty stuff.
Get a website and blog. I don’t see the point of making it look corporate, unless you are trying to be a stuck-up git. Be personal, chatty, approachable. Blog some, and not just about how great you are, write about your passion for your thing, and show your insider knowledge.
Chat on Twitter. In the days when I schlepped round studios, I reckoned you needed to hang out in them to get work. Twitter is the new studio kitchen (and toilets probably). And don’t just tweet about what you are doing, be sociable, have a laugh (ok, I know I’ve been guilty of blowing my own trumpet a bit too much).
Make videos. Blogging is good, making vids is better. Don’t stress about giving away secrets, share your expertise (also known as ‘exposing your working practices’). Publishing online shows you know what you’re talking about.
Help others. If you set yourself up as some sort of specialist, expect others to want to ask you questions. Don’t be an arse and ignore them, respond, offer your opinion, encourage, be compassionate.
And the final rule is – be yourself, project your own identity, which may mean ignoring this advice completely.
Here are some other virtual musos to check out.