Expert Advice: Insights from an Expert Session Player


Often I hear people ask “how did you get that gig?” It’s a question I find difficult to answer because really anything that is obtained is a result of thousands of decisions you make over the course of your life. I also believe if you think of everything as a “gig” then you are missing out on a lot of beauty.

Rather than thinking of these “gigs” as a way to pay rent or a stepping stone to the next bigger opportunity, it is better to think of them as unique moments where you and your band mates come together in fellowship.

Whether you are playing at a festival of 50,000 people or a restaurant of 10 people, it should always be treated as a sacred space for transcendence. If you walk into every playing situation with this kind of reverence, everything else will fall into place.

Artists who are respected and successful often possess similar traits. Here are six I can think of:

1. They have spent countless hours perfecting their sound.
2. They treat everyone with respect and kindness.
3. They constantly strive for excellence and innovation.
4. They seize every opportunity that helps them fulfill their vision.
5. They play from their heart.
6. They never give up.

Assuming you possess these traits, the next step is to have a clear vision of what you want from your music career. What will be your legacy? Once you figure this out you have to position yourself somewhere on the globe that helps you fulfill this. For me that meant packing everything I owned into a truck and driving from Boston to Los Angeles.

My goal was to record and tour with artists I respect. I felt the only way to make that happen was to play as much as possible and hope that someone would see me and be interested in working with me. I went to over 100 restaurants and bars that didn’t already have entertainment, and I asked if they would be interested in starting a music night. Most of them said no, but a few places said yes. I started playing at multiple spots on a weekly basis, which allowed me to improved my skills greatly as a musician.

Once I had these steady nights I didn’t have to try and convince people to hire me. All I had to do was play my best every night and people would approach me. For example, one night I was playing my weekly gig at Thirsty Crow and multi-Grammy winning artist/producer Daniel Lanois walked in. He sat next to the drum kit and listened for a couple of sets. He started coming back on a regular basis until one day he introduced himself and told me he liked my playing. Eventually he asked me to record and tour with him.

So what do you do once you have obtained your dream job? My advice would be to never lose your fire and never forget that you are in a privileged position. The second you lose your enthusiasm it will be very evident to everyone. No one wants to play with someone who is on “auto-pilot.”

You owe it to yourself and the artist who hired you to constantly strive to play better and add a freshness to their music every night. Always remember to thank the people who help you along the way. No matter how small of a favor it may seem, it is always important to be grateful. Keep playing with passion and remember: every time you take the bandstand you are an ambassador for your art.

Photo by Garcia Borgo

KYLE CRANE is a Berklee graduate and multi-award- winner who has performed or recorded/toured with Daniel Lanois, Glen Ballard, Judith Hill, Everest, Bridgit Mendler, Crystal Bowersox, Tim Hughes, Rickey Minor and the Tonight Show Band, Dale Crover (Nirvana/Melvins), Monte Mar, Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket), Pablo Alborán, Red Elvises, American Authors, Joe Plummer (the Shins, Modest Mouse), Jesse & Joy, John Mayer and many others. Now an active studio drummer, Crane can be heard on anything from hip-hop records with Kanye West to jazz records with Sam Barsh. To see video performances, go to kylecranedrums.tumblr.com. Contact Crane on Facebook.