Setting the Record Straight with Session Musicians

When creating a record a producer or musician will often enlist a session musician to help them with the process of tracking the record. These professional musicians provide an instrumental or vocal performance which the producer or musician has written, but lacks the ability to perform him or herself.

In the event that the song generates considerable revenue the session musician may feel entitled to a larger fee than the ostensibly modest amount they were paid for their initial studio time.

To avoid this situation, and to protect your own music, it is advisable to draw up a contract which sets the record straight.


In its most basic and common format the session musician agreement includes:

  • the name of the songs the session musician performed in;
  • a fee payable to the session musician that is often a full and final remuneration for the work carried out;
  • a section explaining that any and all copyright in the master (final) recording and the underlying composition created during the session and paid will be owned by the person or entity engaging the session musician, be it artist him/herself, a record label for signed artist or a producer is he/she is funding the recording. This section goes on to stipulate that the person or entity commissioning the recording and paying for the performance will have the right to use the end result (and derivatives) in whatever manner they may wish. This includes selling, broadcasting and editing amongst others.

As noted by Ann Harrison in her book Music: The Business, it is important that this contract covers not only their performance or vocalist or vocalist but also their interest, if any, in the underlying musical composition.

Session musician contract fall under the category of ‘contracts for services’ (also known as ‘work for hire contract’ in the US) which means that everything created as part of the performance of said contract belongs from inception to final form to the party commissioning and offering a payment.Therefore the session musician is paid to perform the tasks described in the service contract has no claim on the ownership of copyright or any related intellectual property created as part of the performance detailed in the contract.

Edited by David Smith

Image credit: Mark Carline