Why You Should Charge Premium Rates For Your Music Lessons

Music is a priceless gift—A gift which enriches our students, and through them, our world. When we teach music, we nurture students to think creatively; to improvise; to find ways to express harmony and dissonance; to express who they are in diverse, complex, and integrated ways. Imparting our music to the next generation is a crucial service.

Let me tell you my story:

Staring Down the Gorilla

Or how I set my lesson fees

When I first began teaching piano in January 2010, I had a problem.

The going rate in my area was $20-$25/lesson. A large, well-established music school in my area was charging $34/lesson. How much was I going to charge?

Remember that old joke: Where does an 800-pound gorilla sit?  (Anywhere he wants to!)   The big music school was the 800-pound gorilla in my local community, and as such, it could charge what it wanted.

Even so, $34 a lesson seemed low to me, considering how much overhead the big music school had (and how little the teacher probably got). Let’s face it, doing business costs money, costs beyond the time a teacher spends with his or her students. To have a sustainable business, you must figure those costs into the price of your product.

I wanted to quit my day job in HR and Compensation. But I quickly realized I had to bring in at least $64 per teaching hour to work less and meet my income needs (hello mortgage!).

I’m a good teacher with a great curriculum (and a lot of confidence), but I also knew I was just starting out.  I fretted a lot: Could I possibly charge what I really felt my time was worth?

How is a Music Lesson Like a Fine Wine?

People only recognize its value if they are told.

In 2007, a team of researchers at Cal Tech* studied how price impacts people’s enjoyment of wine:

There were 5 bottles of wine, labeled only by price: $5, $10, $35, $45, and $90.  The lucky participants tasted each wine, rated their experience, and had their brains scanned while they enjoyed their wine.  (Can I volunteer for this study?)

Everyone’s experience improved as the price went up—and their brain scans proved it. The pleasure centers in their brains lit up more intensely with higher prices.

Here’s the catch: There were actually only three wines, and the researchers manipulated the marked prices! So when the subject tasted the $10 wine, it was actually a $90 wine—and they enjoyed like it was a $10 wine.

A lot of people heard about this study and resolved to only buy $5 wine. But there’s something much more important here for anyone teaching music lessons:

If you price your $90 music lesson like a $10 one, people will treat it like a $10 music lesson, and they will treat you like a $10 music teacher.

How do we make the world recognize the real value of music lessons?

It begins with YOU charging what you are worth.

Music is a priceless gift, but we must put a price on it. We need to price our product as a $90 wine, not a $5 one.

Pricing your lessons at “bargain rates” does not mean people will think they’re getting a good deal.   More likely, it will mean that you get less respect for your time, your abilities, and your business. You are charging $5 for your $90 wine, and people will value your teaching accordingly. After all, if you were selling a Mercedes Benz for $1000, everyone would ask, “What’s wrong with it?”  A high quality product should have a high quality price.

But there’s more: when you charge so little you can’t make ends meet, it hurts the perception of music education’s value. When you feel burned out and desperate, you teach like a desperate, burned out teacher—and your students know.  It shows in their results.

When you charge what you are worth, you build a culture that empowers ALL music instructors to do the same. You will teach better when you are healthy, happy, and financially comfortable–and your students know that too.

So back to my story:

Here’s what I did.

I took a deep breath, consulted trusted friends and colleagues, and benchmarked my lesson fees to the big music school. I charged $35/lesson, or $140/month for 48 lessons/year. Since then I have both raised my rates and taken more time off.

Was I crazy? You decide: 5 years out I have a stable studio averaging 30 students.  As of today, 65% of them have been with me over 2 years. Over 1/3 have been with me for over 3 years.  As a brand new teacher, I charged a premium on the premium rate in my area, and I had 20 students within 10 months on an advertising budget of $0.

A wise soul once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  How do you want music teachers to be perceived? Be that teacher.  Believe in your own worth.

Together, we can stop this insane culture of undercutting each other’s lesson rates to be more “competitive.” We can be empowered businesspeople. We can give ourselves a raise, take enough time off, speak confidently about our lesson rates.   We can acknowledge what we’re worth and have confidence enough to charge it.

We empower our students when we believe in ourselves and create a teaching environment that enables us to be our best selves. By this path, we lead them not only to better musicianship, but to better humanity.

You are a uniquely qualified, highly skilled artist and educator. It’s your passion. It’s your profession. It’s your soul. Believe in your worth as an artist and teacher, and others will believe it, too.

*If you are interested in reading more about the study I cited above, here are links to the original research:

Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness; Plassman, et. al. 2008; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol.  105 No. 3

Wine Study Shows Price Influences Perception (Media release about the study)

How To Put More Money In Your Pocket By Increasing Student Retention

One of the most important things that music teachers tend to ignore is how long they are keeping each of their students. As music teachers and school owners, we are constantly focusing on getting new students and developing new marketing materials to bring clients to our businesses. Keeping the flow of students coming in to your business is great, but if you are not keeping your students for very long, then it can be a big waste of time and effort. I track the retention of all my teachers at my school. Shooting for longer periods of time (3-5 years), greatly reduces the amount of marketing needed to keep your schedule full.

If your average student retention is 12 months, you will need to find a new student every month to stay at your current enrollment. If your retention is 3 months, you will need to find 4 new students every month to keep your enrollment at the same level. If your retention is 24 months, you need to find a new student every other month. Can you see now, how working on retention can help your business?

So how do you increase the overall retention of the students you are working with?

1. Keep A Detailed Log

So many teachers wing each of their lessons. They have no plan for their students and will just see how the lesson goes. I understand that sometimes lessons can take their own turn depending on the students needs, but having a general plan of what you and your student will be working on will give your student confidence in your teaching and their lessons.

Additionally, when students are feeling a bit disappointed by their progress, you can show them your detailed log with all of the skills, songs and techniques they have learned over the course of their lessons. Most students are impressed that you have taken to time to keep track of everything. Not only that, it gives them a boost to see all of the skills they have learned since starting.

2. Check In With Student Goals Every 3 Months

As students learn new things, their goals and expectations of the lessons will change. When most students walk through my door, they have absolutely no clue why they are taking lessons. They are not sure what their goals are because they do not know whether they even have the skill to play an instrument.

After the first 3 months of lessons, I do a goal check-in with students. They usually have a better idea about where they want their lessons to go, what songs they want to learn and where they want their lessons to go. If students are still not sure, I will ask them very specific questions. For example, with a gutar lesson I may ask a student, “Would you like to learn more complex rhythms?” “Do you have an interest in finger picking?” “Are you interested in learning a guitar solo?” And so forth and so on. This sometimes helps student decide what they are really interested in.

Keep checking in with your student about their goals and make sure to write them down as they evolve.

3. Lessons Are About The Student, Not How Good Your Are

Students honestly do not care about your skills or how great of a musician you are. All they care about is that you can teach them to do the things they want to do, so do not waste their lesson time showing off your cool skills. Remember, it’s about what they want to learn, not what is on your personal agenda.

Keep in mind each student is different. Not everyone is going to be into improvising. Most of my female acoustic guitar students just want to play and sing songs. So we do not delve into scales and improv as much as a would an electric guitar player that wants to rock a solo. Not everyone is going to love music theory, but I will try and work things in in bits and pieces. I will wait for a moment when they ask a question that requires a music theory answer like: Why is it called an A7 chord? This gives me the opportunity to say, “That’s a great question. To answer that, we are going to have to learn a little music theory.”

I will not spend weeks teaching something the student does not like. Students need to always feel motivated about lessons. If they are not motivated, they practice less. When they practice less, they make less progress. When they make less progress, they get frustrated and quit lessons. This is why the 3 month check-in mentioned above is so important. It allows you to get feedback on how you are teaching the student and correct your teaching approach if you are heading in the wrong direction.

4. Make The Student Feel Like They Are Part Of A Community

Probably one of the biggest things you can do to increase student retention is to make students feel like they are a part of something. Hold student hang outs where student can meet up to play music together, or even just meet up at a bowling alley to have fun. Activities with your students do not always have to be music related. Hang outs like this allow students to meet other students that are just like them.

I recently held a Band Program at my school for adult players. Every single student asked the same questions, “Will I be the worst player?” or “Is everyone else going to be better than me?” Students really do feel like they are alone sometimes in the learning process. Meeting other students that are at the same level is encouraging and creates a sense of community. All those band students have given rave reviews about their experience and most of them have only taken lessons for about a year. They can’t wait until the next one.

Create little get togethers with your students, and you will create a community where students look forward not only to their lessons, but hanging out with the other students.

5. Build More Personal Relationships

As you can see, a lot of these tips have nothing to do with actual lesson material. Teaching lessons is more about pschology than the actual lesson. Every student has a different reason for taking lessons. Learn what those reasons are, and learn about your students’ lives outside of the classroom. Remembering that little Sally had a birthday party last week means a lot. Asking an adult how life is going gives them an opportunity to vent frustrations. I sometimes joke that some of my students think I’m a psychiatrist, but I know it means I have connected with them. When your students feel comfortable opening up to you, you know you have done a good job of building a relationship.

Always strive for the best in your students, but do not forget to build amazing relationships with your customers along the way.

How to Get Hired as a Music Teacher

Do you want a job as a music teacher? In my line of work I often find myself interviewing teachers and deciding who to hire. It occurred to me that many potentially good candidates don’t know what their prospective employer is looking for. Here are a few tips from inside to help you with your next interview. Good luck!

Demonstrate you’ll support your employer.

We’ve all had a job where we had to do things we didn’t fully understand or agree with. I’ll do my best to explain our school’s policies. Help me by letting me know how you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt when it comes to supporting those policies and decisions.

Internal conflict can put organizations in gridlock. I am not a space alien with inscrutable motives. You should try to support your employer unless they ask you to do something unethical, in which case your duty is to refuse. I have good reasons for the decisions I make. It’s frustrating when my teachers agree with me “on paper,” but then in the “lesson room” they don’t seem to be interested in the guidelines. If my policies are mistaken, how can I find that out if you won’t carry them out for me?

Know the business.

Reading a book or two about being a private teacher will give you an idea of how the business works. Basically, we meet prospective new students, and want them to come back to take more lessons. We want our students to attend the lessons because missed lessons is an indication of a student at risk of not meeting their potential, and eventually leads to them quitting their lessons. It’s all about enrollment and retention. Some teachers hang onto their students for years, and others for months. But from a business perspective, that makes quite a difference. A school that attracts 5 new students per month with an average length of study of 6 months can reach an enrollment of 30 students before leveling off. But if students stay for an average of 12 months, that number doubles to 60. It really matters.

I ask all candidates questions intended to measure their knowledge of how to attract and keep good students, and to gauge their awareness of how important this is. This has been a disqualifying factor during my interviews. I know most people can eventually learn this stuff, but I can’t afford to hire someone if they don’t know the first thing about the business. The bottom line is I’m looking for a teacher who can build good relationships with their students. This criterion has consistently helped me make good hires that have withstood the test of time.

Musical ability.

The easiest way to judge this is to listen to a few examples of your musical recordings, so have those ready. I’m not interested in your production skills, but your ability to perform the instruments I’m hiring you to teach. I’ve found the difference in musical ability shows here, and it’s hard to hide, even with production magic. Many times I made it to the last round with several otherwise wonderful candidates but after listening to their musical samples I could not deny that some of them just didn’t yet have the requisite musical ability to represent our school.

Care about education.

Look, it’s a teaching job. It doesn’t come with a bowl of all-brown M&M’s. But if you want to be a teacher, you need to see some meaning in it. If you just want the paycheck, get real. There are higher-paying jobs out there, after all. Trust me, you don’t have to look hard to find joy and meaning in sharing the gift of music with others.

Teaching ability.

Since I can’t judge this by watching you teach a lesson, I’m going to ask questions about your teaching philosophy. I’m going to find out what your total number of teaching experience is in hours. I want to know what makes you think you can teach.


I’m asking myself: do I trust this person to keep my students safe? Because you may conceivably end up alone with your students, that means I have a responsibility to society to investigate your moral integrity. I’ll determine this by asking some questions, checking your references, and doing criminal record checks where allowable by law.


The best teachers I know of keep their lessons organized. They take lesson notes, they track student progress, and they’re always trying to point their finger at a very precise spot in the student’s playing that is weak and needs improving. I don’t expect to see this kind of insight in someone who is disorganized. When I see a teacher that is organized and collected, I think “here’s someone that will make a good teacher.”

Fitting in.

What do you bring to my team that I don’t already have? I want to build a successful music school. That means providing my students with different options. It would benefit you to take a look at my current team so you can find out what it is that you will be bringing to the mix. Maybe you play a different style, or maybe you just have a unique background or life experience. When I list a job opening, it’s common to get 20-30 applicants. You should let me know what makes you stand out.

Sum it up:

  • Show support for company policies
  • Understand the basics of how the business works
  • Bring 2-3 recordings of your best instrumental performance
  • Be passionate to teach
  • Ideally, have some teaching (or equivalent) experience
  • Demonstrate trustworthiness and moral integrity
  • Demonstrate organizational skills
  • Highlight your unique strengths

Good luck in your search!

Disclaimer: the ideas expressed herein are solely the personal opinion of the author and should be interpreted as general advice only. There are many factors going into every employment decision. The author accepts no responsibility for your results should you choose to follow this advice. The author is himself not limited to these criteria, and this article should not be construed as insight into the author’s own individual hiring decisions.

The Ill Effects of Multitasking

When I was growing up, I learned that multitasking is a positive thing. The better at it you were, the more efficient you could be, and you would have more time for things you actually wanted to do.


Well, actually I don’t believe multitasking is that great for you and your musicianship.

I’ve done some investigating on the topic during my everyday routine, and I want to share some of my discoveries with you. I’ve found that the more stuff I try to pack into one short time period, the more scattered I feel and the less I get done, not to mention the quality of whatever I’m doing decreases. Can you relate?

Here’s an example:

The other day, I was cooking breakfast, and noticed that there was a heaping pile dishes in the sink from the night before. I figured it would be easy enough to cook and clean simultaneously, so I put food on the burners – grits, steamed kale, fried eggs, bacon, and toast. Then, I proceeded to clean the massive amount of dishes in the sink – oh, I had music playing as well.

I instantly got sucked into the task at hand, ignored the music completely, and forgot there was food on the hot stove. All of a sudden I heard sizzling, and smelt burning butter. I looked over and the stovetop had gone rogue! I sped up my dishwashing (I only had a couple bowls left!), hurried to the stove, turned the heat to the minimum, ferociously stirred the grits, flipped the bacon and eggs, and turned the toaster oven off.

It was a close call, but in the end, the breakfast was decent, and the dishes were mostly clean. Both jobs were poorly done, and I didn’t hear a single bit of the amazing music that was playing (Glenn Gould playing Bach’s English Suites, if you’re interested.

Though I completed all of my tasks that morning, the results were subpar and barely productive, all thanks to multitasking.

Check it out – This cooking example can be used as a metaphor for a practice routine, or really anything you do in life, such as your career or your health.

If you read a book with headphones on, chances are you aren’t fully receiving what either art forms are offering to you.

I even consider thinking randomly while you’re practicing or listening to music as multitasking.

The entire point of giving yourself to the moment is to fully concentrate (without extraneous thoughts) on the task at hand, whether it be taking a shower, listening to music, or washing dishes.

Try to receive every second of your life.

If you watch television while you practice, you wont be giving your full attention to your craft or T.V. show that’s playing. If you’re going to watch a show, do just that. Let yourself be completely taken by the task at hand, with no other distractions. This is a simple enough concept to try out in your everyday life, and after you try it, I guarantee your life will feel fuller, more invigorating, and more satisfying.

So why exactly is multitasking inefficient and a waste of time?

1. It takes you out of the moment.

When you musically improvise, it’s essential that your mind does not get in the way. True creative improvisation comes from the heart. Your logical, thought-based mind needs to step aside for pure creation to happen.

If you’re thinking about tempo, fingerings, chord voices, or playing in time, you wont be able to create at your fullest potential.

Stay in the moment – the moment where your unique creativity lives.

2. It scatters your mind.

A scattered mind is an untrained mind. The better your concentration skills are, the less likely you are to make mistakes when you’re playing your instrument. You’re ability to become immersed in the music with enhance, and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more.

You have the ability to literally change your brain’s structure. If you can practice doing one thing at a time, your brain will shape to support that. Unfortunately, the opposite can occur when you multitask, so it’s important to practice mindfulness as much as possible.

The next time you notice your mind is in a frenzy, check yourself. Are you trying to do to much in one moment?

Close your eyes, breathe, and take a minute to relax.

3. It prevents you from seeing and feeling real, lasting improvement.

More time spent practicing is NOT always the answer.

The way in which you live your life in every moment can transform the way you perceive and play music.

I went through a period of time were I thought I need to practice 4 or 5 hours a day, just to “keep up” with the other musicians in my circles. My thoughts were competitive and ego-based, and ultimately, they weren’t supportive.

I learned that if I could change my everyday habits and start to shift my thinking to allow for more focus on a single thought, feeling, or action, being happier about my life and playing happened with little or no effort. Also, as a result of less multitasking, my musical abilities improved at a much faster rate.

The way you live your life and focus your thoughts is a direct reflection of your musicianship.

Do you notice that you multitask throughout your day?

Maybe you can see it, maybe you can’t, but now that you’ve read this post, you can make change happen.

The first step to changing anything is becoming aware. If you notice yourself multitasking at some point, take a moment to really feel what you should be doing in that given moment.

Chances are all you need to do is slow down, notice your breathe, and make a simple choice.

Try this, and leave a comment to let me know what you did and how it felt!

Creating a Structured Practice Routine

Like many of you, I teach private lessons to supplement my musician income. In every lesson, regardless of the student’s skill level, I spend a lot of time teaching one thing: How To Practice Guitar. After all, the real progress does not come from the hour the student and I spend together, it comes from the hours they spend with their instrument in the six days of the week between lessons.

This goes for all of us. Our progress as musicians relies on how effectively we spend our practice time. The New Year is always a great time to establish (or re-establish) better habits. Even if you’re reading this in June, today is the first day of a new year. Decide today how you will approach your practice tomorrow.

What To Practice

A good practice routine should accomplish three things:

  1. Maintenance
  2. Improvement
  3. Expansion

Maintain your current skills and repertoire.

Freshman year of college, one of my instructors told a roomful of incoming guitarists, “There will be no other time in your life where you will be able to learn as much as you’ll learn in the next four years. After college, you’ll mostly try to maintain what you’ve developed here.”

That is scary, and largely true. Real life is not friendly to your practice routine. Maintenance is important, but also relative. Will you always need to be able to shred Giant Steps? Probably not. But intonation, technique, sight reading, a good ear, and a standard repertoire for whatever scene you’re in must all be maintained to continue performing at a high level.

Improve your technique.

As good as you may be, there is always room for improvement. Take any skill you’re maintaining and push yourself a little further–speed up the metronome, change keys or modes, apply it in a new way.

For years I practiced four note 7th arpeggios up and down within a scale. I could comfortably do this pretty fast and in any key. One day I decided to add a fifth note at the bottom, simply starting on the 7th. The five note pattern completely threw me off at first, but it brought my awareness back into this little element of my routine. It also turned an exercise into a cool new lick!

Music is essentially a variety of patterns, some are very complex, but they all break down to the same basic problems. If good technique allows you to play a scale with ease, excellent technique will prepare you to play whatever piece of music lands in front of you on a gig.

Expand your repertoire.

Growing up I had a neighbor that played viola in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. When I was about 14 or 15 I told my parents that I wanted to be a musician. None of us had any idea how you do that, so my dad took me up to that neighbor’s house for a chat. I brought my guitar. The first thing he asked me to do was play a song. I couldn’t play a whole song by myself! I was embarrassed, but the lesson stuck with me:

If you’re going to be a musician, you better be able to perform a complete piece of music, by yourself, on command. Everything else we practice is in vain if we can’t play a tune. Always, always be learning new music.

Time Management

None of my students are professional musicians. They all have jobs or school or hobbies outside of music (why, I will never understand). We spend some time talking about how to schedule their practice time. If they can practice for one hour a day, here’s how I might ask them to spend that time:

  • 20 Minutes – Warmup / Scales / Arpeggios
  • 10 Minutes – Getting to know the fretboard; learning every place to play a note, chord, etc.
  • 30 Minutes – Work on repertoire

If they have two hours to practice, I might recommend the second hour look like this:

  • 15 Minutes – Free Improvisation or Composing
  • 15 Minutes – Working on roadblocks, such as difficult chord changes
  • 30 Minutes – Work on repertoire

Scheduling your practice time into hour blocks with a few different chunks of time can be very helpful. Set a stop watch or timer so you can keep track of how long you’re working on something. If it helps, write down how long you spent working on something, just like you’d track your exercise at the gym. Perhaps you’ll come up with a few different “workout” variations for each block of time, and you can vary which workouts you do each day.

Repetition. Rest. Repeat.

Just as repetition and rest builds muscular strength, the act of repeating a skill over and over creates stronger connections between neurons in our brain. However, those connections won’t be immediately apparent. Rest plays an important role in allowing our brain to process what it has just learned.

Once I was on the road, sleeping on the couch in a friend’s apartment. He was trying to learn a melody on a glockenspiel, but since he didn’t play any instruments, he was having a hard time getting it right. Before he went to bed, I told him to play it ten times, focusing on playing the correct notes and not worrying about speed or rhythm. The next morning I woke up while he was on his way out the door. I stopped him and asked him to play the part on the glockenspiel. Running late for work, he hesitated for a moment, but then picked up the mallets and to his surprise, nailed it.

Think about all the times you struggled to learn something one day only to find it made complete sense the next. Or think about all the times you pulled an all-nighter cramming for a test and barely retaining any of the information after it was over. Our brains need that rest to process information. There’s simply no way around it.


The absolute best way to improve yourself as a musician is to transcribe, transcribe, transcribe. What better way to master our craft than to emulate the masters?

Transcribing utilizes everything we would ever need to practice:

  • Aural skills – Your ears!
  • Musicality – Learn not only the notes, but the tone, inflection, and nuances of each note.
  • Technique – Master those difficult passages.
  • Scales, arpeggios, chords, rhythm – The building blocks of all music, directly applied in the piece of music you’re learning.
  • Composition, improvisation – These skills are two sides of the same coin. Learning somebody else’s composed melody or improvised solo requires the same skill and reaps the same benefits.
  • Notation – Memorize your transcription first, but then write it down. Not just for posterity, the act of writing down transcriptions will help you see the music, which will help you improve your reading.
  • Expand your repertoire – You’ve just learned a new piece of music or lick.

When in doubt, Beatles.

When all else fails, when I’m burnt out on my usual practice routine, when I can’t decide what to transcribe, when I start making excuses as to why I can’t practice right now, I learn a Beatles song. My default rule was to learn the second cut on every album, in chronological order. The fewer decisions I have to make before I start practicing, the more likely I am to simply practice.

The Beatles repertoire is my practice safety net. It could be Bach, or tone rows, or Miley Cyrus. Well, maybe not Miley–it helps to have a safety net with a deep catalog–so how about Rush? Whatever it is for you, choose something that will always give you something to practice when all else fails.

Take lessons.

All of us, regardless of our skill level, could benefit from private lessons every now and then. If you’ve tried to structure your practice time and still can’t decide what to work on, perhaps it’s a sign you need to take lessons. Many musicians, myself included, teach via Skype. No matter where you live, all you need is a good internet connection to take lessons.

Good luck on your practice routine, please share your progress in the comments below. Remember, decide today how you will approach your practice tomorrow!

Flying With Musical Instruments: Know Your Rights

If you’re like me and will be traveling with a musical instrument this holiday season, you’ll be happy to know that by law, you have the right to bring your instrument onto the plane as carry-on baggage so long as the instrument can be safely stowed. The clause is part of Public Law 112-95, which was signed by the President and went into effect on February 14, 2012. Below is the section dedicated to musical instruments, copied verbatim (emphasis mine) from pages 74 and 75 of the law, which can be found on the Federal Aviation Administration”s (FAA) website right here.

PUBLIC LAW 112–95—FEB. 14, 2012

41724. Musical instruments

‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—

‘‘(1) SMALL INSTRUMENTS AS CARRY-ON BAGGAGE.—An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage, if—

‘‘(A) the instrument can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or under a passenger seat, in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator; and

‘‘(B) there is space for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.

‘‘(2) LARGER INSTRUMENTS AS CARRY-ON BAGGAGE.—An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a musical instrument that is too large to meet the requirements of paragraph (1) in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to the cost of the additional ticket described in subparagraph (E), if—

‘‘(A) the instrument is contained in a case or covered so as to avoid injury to other passengers;

‘‘(B) the weight of the instrument, including the case or covering, does not exceed 165 pounds or the applicable weight restrictions for the aircraft;

‘‘(C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator;

‘‘(D) neither the instrument nor the case contains any object not otherwise permitted to be carried in an aircraft cabin because of a law or regulation of the United States; and

‘‘(E) the passenger wishing to carry the instrument in the aircraft cabin has purchased an additional seat to accommodate the instrument.

‘‘(3) LARGE INSTRUMENTS AS CHECKED BAGGAGE.—An air carrier shall transport as baggage a musical instrument that is the property of a passenger traveling in air transportation that may not be carried in the aircraft cabin if—

‘‘(A) the sum of the length, width, and height measured in inches of the outside linear dimensions of the instrument (including the case) does not exceed 150 inches or the applicable size restrictions for the aircraft;

‘‘(B) the weight of the instrument does not exceed 165 pounds or the applicable weight restrictions for the aircraft; and

‘‘(C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator.

‘‘(b) REGULATIONS.—Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this section, the Secretary shall issue final regulations to carry out subsection (a).
‘‘(c) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The requirements of this section shall become effective on the date of issuance of the final regulations under subsection (b).’’

What This Means

Your instrument will be treated exactly like comparable carry-on baggage. It does not get preferential treatment over another passenger’s roller bag just because it’s more fragile, but it’s no longer subject to any additional fees, as some airlines used to charge. If you have a larger instrument, that might fit safely in a seat, you may buy a ticket for it and may not be charged any additional fees as long as it meets the airline’s requirements. If you check your large instrument in a flight case, you are no longer subject to any additional fees as other checked baggage as long as it meets all checked baggage requirements.

Common sense still applies. If your instrument does not fit or somehow creates a safety risk to other passengers, you’ll have to check it. Be sure to plan ahead of time for the worst case scenario.

Best Practices for Flying with Musical Instruments

We have another article on this site called Airline Travel With Musical Instruments written by well-traveled multi-instrumentalist Nick Rosaci. He offers some great advice, and I highly recommend you read it as well.

Don’t Argue

In my experience, the most resistance I get from traveling with my guitar is from the gate agent, who will hand me a gate check tag and instruct me to drop of my guitar at the end of the jetway as he or she swipes my boarding pass. I never argue with the gate agent. This person is simply doing what they’re told to do and trying to make the flight attendants job easier by sending less carry-on baggage onto the plane.

Sometimes I get on a plane behind other passengers carrying a guitar. The gate agent hands them a gate check tag and the passenger immediately goes into a rant about how he has the right to carry his guitar onto the plane! How dare you tell him otherwise!

This really accomplishes nothing other than making people upset. If you argue, there’s no way that person is going to help you, and if you enter the plane upset, the flight attendants are going to pick up on it and be less likely to help you. They have to deal with enough crabby passengers, don’t be another.

Be Nice to The Flight Attendant

Instead, I make my way onto the plane with my guitar, smile at the first flight attendant I see, and ask them how they’re doing. “Is this your last flight of the day?” or “Heading home?” or any other question that tells them I’m not a completely self-centered jerk that wants them to solve my baggage problem. Then I motion to my guitar and politely ask if they think we can find it a safe place onboard.

In the summer, the first class coat closet is usually empty and they might be able to stow it there. Sometimes there’s also space behind the last row of seats in first class. Otherwise you’ll be looking for a spot in the overhead bins. That’s where it pays to be polite to other passengers, who might be able to help you by adjusting their bags to make room for yours. Again, a smile can go a long way when you’re boarding an airplane.

Board Early

If at all possible, be one of the first to board the plane. Overhead bins are first come, first served, and once your instrument is safely stowed, they cannot remove it from the plane without your permission (which you don’t have to grant).

If you travel on the same airline frequently, look into their premium membership programs. These always come with early boarding, and typically a little extra kindness from the airline staff. If you don’t fly that often, maybe one of your relatives belongs to one of these programs and can book your ticket, which sometimes transfers the benefits to you. And if all else fails, many airlines sell upgrades to your ticket, including early boarding. This is a way for the airline to make some extra money, but hey, it’s also a way for you to get your instrument on the plane safely.

Know Your Aircraft

The above law only works if the airplane is actually large enough to fit your instrument. Shorter flights often use regional jets, such as the Embraer 145 which is only 3 seats across plus a small aisle, require all passengers to gate check their carry-on baggage. Only coats and personal items are allowed onboard. My guitar would never fit on one of these jets so I try to avoid routes that use them. If that’s unavoidable, I make sure my guitar is packed well to avoid damage when checked at the gate.

You can usually find out the type of aircraft used when choosing your itinerary. Take a moment to look up that aircraft and you’ll have an idea of what to expect.

Safe travels!

Solving the Symphony Crisis

The San Francisco Symphony has been on strike for over two weeks, demanding wages equal to similar caliber orchestras like the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony.

In Chicago, however, things may not be any better. Chicago had its own strike earlier this season and a 2.5% pay cut in 2009. How can the San Francisco Symphony demand Chicago’s wages, if Chicago can’t even afford Chicago’s wages?

San Francisco and Chicago are certainly not alone in their financial troubles. Just in the past year we’ve seen crises at the symphonies in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Cleveland, Baltimore, and others. More emergencies are certainly on the horizon.

So what’s the problem?

Both the musicians and the management of our major orchestras are overpaid. They have failed to adapt to a changing market. Over the past 30 years they have demanded higher and higher paychecks while ticket sales and recording revenues have continued to drop dramatically. There is no business in the world that can sustain a negative revenue model like that.

Furthermore, there are too many of them. There are 51 major ICSOM orchestras and 80 more part-time ROPA orchestras through the United States. Surely we can all agree that orchestral music deserves a permanent place in American culture, but if the market (or public/private funding) can’t support 131 professional orchestras, then we should have less of them.

Decline in attendance at symphony concerts in U.S.The numbers are clear: classical music recordings represented just 1.9% of the music purchased in 2012 (an overall decrease of 20.5% in total album sales from the previous year), a number that surely indicates a general lack of interest by the U.S. consumer. The League of American Orchestras have recorded a significant decrease in concert attendance (see chart) between 1967 and 2000, and studies have shown that 73% of major orchestras operate on a deficit.

2% of working musicians

Americans’ disinterest in classical music is not sign of decline in our culture or an anti-intellectual climate. It’s not a referendum on the importance of music in our country. It’s not even a comment on our regard for most working musicians – because we’re not talking about most working musicians.

The ICSOM orchestras employ 4,000 musicians in North America, a number that represents just 2% of the professional musicians in the United States (source: 2010 US Census). The high-end, “luxury” orchestras (such as Chicago) are making enormous sums of money (Chicago: $173,000 average salary, plus benefits) compared to the average, full-time American musician, who makes an average annual salary, without benefits, of $27,558.

Why? Often the argument is something like this: “Classical music is harder than other kinds of music, requires more training and, therefore, demands higher compensation.”

Putting aside the overt classism that an argument like that requires, the supporting evidence is wearing thin. Yes, there was a time when classical musicians were subject to a duration and expense of training that far exceeded that of non-classical musicians – but that is no longer true. Jazz musicians and pop musicians now begin their formal training at an early age and study at the same over-priced colleges and conservatories as classical musicians.

So, then, why are symphony musicians paid so much more than other musicians?

The American Federation of Musicians

The answer lies in the story of the union – in this case the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). The AFM, unable to cope with the rise of synthesized music starting in the 1980s, then also unable to adapt to the changing music distribution technology of the late 90s and 00s, has all but lost its grip on the American music scene. The AFM has spent the last 30 years retreating; falling back to what it feels are its most defensible positions: major symphonies, Broadway shows, and the last vestiges of the formal TV/film recording scene in North America.

These positions are important for the AFM, not just for its legitimacy as an organization, but for the financial solvency of its pension fund. The aging membership of the AFM has put increasing pressure on this fund, which has been artificially propped up by the revenues of these last remaining assets.

It’s no wonder that the major orchestras have seen an unrealistic rise in wages over the last 30 years. According to a study done by the Stanford Business School in 2008, “the salaries of symphony musicians increased more rapidly than the pay of most other groups of workers in the late 20th century.”

Well, how else would the union make up for the loss of pension revenue?

The fallout

Unfortunately, the major orchestras are now paying the price. After so many years of wage gains coupled with attendance decreases, they find themselves in a particularly untenable position. Their members (and the thousands of highly-trained, college-debt-saddled pros that audition for every open position) have come to expect the current level of compensation to continue to increase, and they will fight for it.

In fact, they will even fight the AFM itself. In 2011, “under the guise of bankruptcy,” the Philadelphia Symphony was allowed to leave the AFM pension fund and start its own private retirement plan. This, obviously, paves the way for the other 130 orchestras to follow suit.

Would that happen? Who knows. But if it does, don’t look to Broadway and LA’s decimated recording scene to make up the difference. They are having their own troubles.

So what do we do? I would like to propose a solution.

Adaptation and innovation

Above all, the United States symphonies must adapt. They must do the same thing that other businesses do when their revenue models have become obsolete: they innovate.

Let’s begin by listing the assets that each of the major orchestras possess:

  • They have a highly skilled and educated workforce. Most orchestral musicians have an education equal to a graduate degree or higher, plus decades of supplemental training and experience.
  • They have an abundance of time. Despite musician’s legitimate needs for outside-of-work practice time, most major orchestras take summers off and spend only 20 hours a week at work.
  • Large facilities. Most major orchestras have large performances spaces housed in enormous buildings.

What can we create with these assets?

Imagine a symphony center that is divided into multiple uses. One side of the facility houses a state-of-the-art museum, full of music history exhibits curated by the musicians themselves (they certainly have the training for the job), and the other side includes large and small performances spaces for these musicians to rehearse, run master classes, and perform. Downstairs includes a music library of sheet music and rare recordings, as well as small rooms filled with enough internet-enabled technology to allow the symphony musicians to teach lessons in person, or via teleconference, to anywhere in the world.

The mixed-use facility would open up revenue streams for museum fees, performance fees, lessons fees and rental fees. With an expanded cultural footprint that now includes performance, museum curation, and education, the symphony organizations would be able to apply for a much wider range of local and federal grants. They could cast a much wider net in their private fundraising. Most importantly, the symphonies would serve a much more active, relevant, and valuable role to their community.

Yes, the musicians would have to work more hours. Yes, they would have to teach lessons through the symphony organization; no, that is not customary. Yes, these increased hours would cut in to their practice time.

Their lives, as a result, would look a lot like the other 98% of musicians who work long hours every day, while still finding enough time to practice. As someone who spent many years of my life as one of these working musicians, I would be happy to welcome them to the community. It’s likely that they would still make a lot more money than the rest of us.

New ownership models

And why not consider new ownership models for our major symphonies? Haven’t we grown tired of the cat and mouse games of Management vs. Musicians that exemplifies our orchestras?

Why not explore other models – like co-operatives or collectives? Symphony musicians have more than enough education, intelligence, and expertise to run their own organizations.

The union must also adapt

And what would happen to the union? The American Federation of Musicians is quickly losing its grasp on its last strongholds. The AFM desperately needs two things:

    1. Instead of constant brinksmanship and intimidation, the AFM needs to find new ways to incentivize businesses and members to use their services. The drop in AFM membership over the last 30 years is not a result of musician’s laziness or business’ greed (as it is often portrayed). The AFM’s lack of market penetration is a result of systemic problems in the union’s approach, and their near-complete irrelevence, to the modern musician industry. They are the ones that need find the solution.
    2. The AFM needs to attract young, educated and enthusiastic workers to fill its leadership positions. The current AFM management seems to be paralyzed by the expectations they formed during the music industry’s heyday (RIP 1940-2000) – which was, undoubtedly, an economic anomaly that will never repeat itself.

In conclusion

The major symphony orchestras in the United States are facing an increasingly dire financial situations – not just because of a decrease in consumer demand and a decade of economic recessions – but because of systemic, short-sighted and self-inflicted deficiencies in their current business models.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Symphonies deserve a permanent place in American culture, and if they can adapt to the modern music industry — using the suggestions offered above, or better ideas still to be found — it’s possible that they can turn the tide on their long decline.

Tips For Surviving As a Musician in New York City

For most artists, living in New York is the only place where they can have a legitimate shot at making a living doing what they love. Unfortunately, a good deal of those people leave empty handed and the ones who stay either struggle to get by or find some other field to make a living. There are always exceptions, so being prepared can make a big difference when you’re going for broke.

There are a lot of things that I had to learn on my own when I first moved to New York City in 2005. I had some things going for me, but I could have set myself up for greater success if I had a heads up about what to expect and how to approach making a name for myself in the big city.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

First of all, if you’re fresh out of college and are eager to hit the ground running, rethink an immediate move to New York City. If you think it’s all shedding (practicing) during the day and gigging at night, think again. It’s actually quite the opposite.

I would suggest moving to New York with a substantial amount of savings. This way, if you run up against hard times you will have a safety net.

In my case, I worked on a cruise ship for a year and a half saving up enough money so that I wouldn’t have to find a day job right away.

I also moved to New York for graduate school. This to me was an easy transition. It allowed me to be in New York but not feel like I had to make it on my own without any contacts. My professors were some of the top jazz musicians in New York City and the other students in my class were experienced players who were already making a name for themselves. For me it was all about making connections and practicing. Having a day job didn’t fit into my schedule. But when school was out, I worked.

Paying the Bills

If you have to have a job to pay your bills, try to keep it in music.

Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of private teaching opportunities in New York City like you would think, at least for certain instruments. Arts programs are always being cut and wind instruments are first on the list. Plus, these kids have their pick of any professional in New York, so why would they go with a newcomer?

What there is an abundant supply of are piano and guitar students. Being able to play one or both instruments fairly well will more than likely lead to private teaching gigs. Parents independently want their children involved in some form of the arts, especially when it is not a part of the general school curriculum.

If you are a talented piano player and have experience accompanying vocalists, you can find work as a musical theater or opera vocal accompanist. If you like working with very young kids, there are opportunities to work as a toddler day care music specialist. These jobs usually require you to play guitar and sing. It may not be playing at Birdland, but it beats sitting at a desk answering phones all day.

If you don’t have the skill set to play piano or guitar, make sure you have your office skills in top shape. Temping is one way that most artists make a living between big gigs. These jobs are usually in offices that need receptionists who can type fast and direct calls. There’s not a lot to it, but you are required to know the basics of Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, Power Point, and Access. The more you are familiar with these programs, the better your pay will be. These jobs usually pay $15-$20/hour.

The good thing about temp jobs is that you can leave the job whenever you have a gig or tour coming up and usually come back to it when you are available. And they generally occur during regular office hours: 8am-5pm, so it doesn’t interfere with practicing/gigs. The downside is that it is what is: temporary. Some jobs are long-term and can be flexible enough with your schedule to make it work for you. Other jobs are short-term and are only booked for a certain amount of time.

There is a good deal of money to be made in the food service industry, but those jobs don’t allow for the freedom to gig. Especially on last minute sub calls.

Finding Gigs

So you’ve got your job taken care of, now how do you get gigs?

First and foremost it’s all about contacts, especially on your own instrument. If you’re moving to New York City without any contacts in music, the best place to start is by going to jam sessions and meeting other musicians. If jazz isn’t your thing, then find out where a lot of musicians who play your style hang out. There are certain bars in midtown, for example, where a lot of Broadway players hang before or after a show. Craigslist is another good place to start.

Be prepared to play and rehearse for free. Remember, you’re trying to make a name for yourself and this is one way to do it. Taking a couple of non-paying gigs or joining a band that is just starting up is a great way to make contacts that can lead to other gigs.

My first gig in New York was playing with an Afro-beat band that I found off of Craigslist. I wasn’t really into the music or the band but I did make one contact (a sax player) that I have used on numerous occasions and became good friends with. This led to other gigs and got me into playing around the city. I also joined a jump swing and blues band that rehearsed about once a week for six months without a gig in sight. Once we finally played our first gig, we were booked every week at a club in midtown. This again led to other work from members of the band. Another good outlet for gigs is taking private lessons. Once a player becomes familiar with your playing, they may call on you to sub for them in the future. This happens quite often so it’s worth the investment.

Here’s the bottom line: living in New York is expensive and is not easy on musicians or artists of any kind. Having a heads up on what to expect before moving here can help you deal with the struggle of being a starving artist. A good number of musicians leave and come back multiple times before they feel like they can handle it. They say that this is a seven year town, meaning that it takes about seven years before you start to see any real work. So if you’ve got the patience and the determination, it will probably pay off in the long run.

6 Steps for Successful Audio Mixing

Mixing is an art form that takes a lot of time and skill and even though we may spend a long time on any given mix it is a good plan to be able to have a strategy for commencing a mix down session. To some degree this is going to be influenced by the genre of music that is to be mixed but there is a lot one can do to start off on the right footing to create mixes that are likely to have good traits as opposed to bad traits. We are going to discuss mixing strategy and these pointers will assist with consistency and efficiency.

1) Gain structure 

This is fundamental and both technical and artistic, we will focus on technical reasoning for now. We want to avoid noise and distortion which occupy the extremes of the systems which we will use for recording and mixing. Too quiet and we risk hiss, too loud and we risk the dreaded crunch. In analog gear 0Vu was the level to aim for, people are often surprised when I say this equates to approximately a peak level of -10dBFS. (though it depends on transient information and the frequency content of the source)

DAW manufacturers do not help us by making  -10dBFS on the metering in their DAW’s look very  low indeed. Fact is if you keep your levels around -10dBFS you will be mixing at around the same electrical level as those professionals who mix on a big analog console. I suggest thinking very carefully about your gain structure when recording and mixing and a great tip is to always record and mix at 24 bit resolution. At 24 bit there is absolutely no need whatsoever to hit the level meters hard in record or mix stages. It serves no purpose (with the caveat of saturating a specific device for subjective effect) other than to diminish your headroom and create a higher chance of distortion in either the analog or digital domain.

2) Gain structure……. again ! 

So pointer 1 explains why good gain planning is good, now we need to consider how to practically achieve good gain structure. Arguably mixing starts in recording, thats what learned engineers know and teach. So when you record, record at 24 bit and leave headroom. Take level from a practice performance and peak at -12 to -14dBFS to allow for the enthusiasm of a “real take”.

This leaves your signals at just the right level to start mixing with plenty of headroom. Use a ‘peaky’ source in your mix down session like your snare and kick drum and use them as a reference to start your mixing. Let’s say you peak your kick at -12dBFS then add your snare then the rest of your kit, great…. except you are likely to want to process with EQ or compression at some point. This obviously changes level, so bear in mind you do not want to move your reference too far from where you started. So as you eq and compress try and bear in mind your -12dBFS ref and keep the peaky sources in this ball park. You do not have to do this religiously after all the goal is some head room not a bad sounding mix balance based on numbers ! It’s a balance, the right level to leave headroom and the juggling of level and balance that mixing by it’s very nature requires.

3) Throw up the faders 

Mixing is an iterative process for many so it is difficult to describe “how to mix” exactly. However you must start somewhere and no better place than introducing the faders with sources on and obtaining a rough balance. A rough balance is important as it allows you to consider what problems  exist and what ones can be rectified with your tool set. It starts the brain firing off in the right direction as to what sculpting might occur. Usually this is a process which happens extremely fast. You might get a quick succession of thoughts… like… “kick drum is muddy, snare needs some brightness, cymbals are harsh, a short reverb would be nice on snare from plug in “X”, overheads sound a touch wide, a touch of de-essing required on lead vocal, guitars have excessive hiss on them in the pauses, things like this.  If you need note them do so, but often if they are enough of a problem they will stick in mind or be rectified within a couple of minutes. In this way I think software is an advantage as it is very quick to load a plug in and act.

So assuming technical ability a rough mix can be a prototype mix within the hour if you have your chops together. That first hour has always been one which invokes slight excitement and nervousness in myself as you fathom what the sources have the potential to be. The judgement on the the individual sources and shaping them to become something greater when well blended is very exciting. This is where you gauge the potential of the sources and how hard you will need to work to obtain a sonic vision be your own or a producers.

4) Group your instruments

Groups are useful, predominantly for globally adjusting the level of a set of like instruments on a single fader but also for global processing. This could be using send effects such as reverb delays, chorus etc. and of course insert processing like compression or equalization. It is definitely worth setting up a few groups for your drums, guitars and vocals even if you are not sure you will use them at the outset.

5) Color is quicker

Making your project easier to navigate is going to make things more efficient. It might be a good plan to create some colour coding of tracks and channels. You may wish to develop your own colour templates which relates either to your own music or other types of music if you mix professionally. An electronic music production may have differences to acoustic r rock music for example. Once you have decided on a colour scheme that makes sense in your own mind you will find, mix after mix this becomes embedded in your way of working. This can speed up project navigation very nicely and keep the thoughts, impressions and remedial actions in a flow which gets results.  It can be a good idea to colour your groups something specific and as a whole as there tends not to be too many of them.

6) Masterful processing

Stereo master bus processing is very personal, some people like to mix with nothing on the master bus whereas some like to use their favourite eq or compressor. This can of course be digital or analog on the way to your monitoring. I recommend keeping things subtle and if you find yourself using anything that could be deemed as extreme the chances are you probably need to work a bit harder with your mix sources first.

Limiters are extreme processes, by and large they are not necessary to create a good mix. I can understand the reasoning behind them finding their way onto a master bus. A few reasons are that you are doing your own self finalizing so you want to hear how the mix responds when being driven into a limiter or you might want to get a rough idea of what the track might sound like when professionally mastered. Some people simply like the sound of a limiter, after all not all limiting is bad.

With limiters it is most important to consider not boxing yourself into a corner. Mixing into a limiter for whatever reason will effect your mixing decisions. Drums and bass/present vocals will especially will especially be effected. Novice mixers will crush their mix to hold things in place (even limiting on channels), this will stunt your mixing skills progress in my personal opinion. It will also hinder any self mastering or professional mastering procedures. One reason some mixes sound good is often because there is space, interaction, dynamic interplay and transient information that adds excitement and power. Extreme use of limiting reduces all of that.

I would say to use bus compression and equalization you need to have a very true monitoring environment. You should be confident of the accuracy of the response of your monitors in room otherwise you can easily compound problems that already exist. This may make them more difficult to rectify later should you realize there is a problem with translation.So use these processes with care and attention to subtle tweaks rather than extreme changes. If a compressor or equalizer is adding something subjectively euphonic to a mix then there is no problem whatsoever. However if they are there to increase perceived volume only they are best left bypassed.

If you use the right gain structure there will be no need to protect digital zero with a  limiter  as ample headroom will be built in to the stereo master bus.


Mixing is often a very personal technique but applying some well grounded technical information and continuity between projects can bring enhanced results. This makes the way you mix more efficient and can definitely assist in achieving more consistent results and keep the mic down work flow logical and efficient.

Contract Negotiation for Musicians

Unfortunately there are a lot of important aspects of the music business that are never dealt with in college. After receiving two degrees in music, I can’t think of one instance where the topic of contract negotiation was discussed. This is unfortunate for the student because he or she will more than likely be taken advantage of the first time they are presented with contract work. Knowing what to ask for and how to ask for it can make any job that much better. In the contract world, there is no fairness, only shrewdness. Those who get paid more usually are the ones who ask for it.

My First Contract

My first experience dealing with contracts came after I graduated from college. Like most new graduates, I wanted a job and was willing to take anything thrown my way. I had been in contact with a couple of cruise lines and desperately wanted to get booked on a ship. I was offered my first cruise ship contract with Celebrity Cruise Lines. At the time they were using an agency to contract all of their musicians. Little did I know, getting hired for a cruise ship through an agency was not the smartest move. The reason is that any agency has to take a cut for finding you work. I believe their commission at the time was 20%. Now, musicians who have worked on ships before know that any commission taken out of how little we get paid is a crime. The standard for the agency was to start new musicians out at around $1,750/month after their commission. This was way too low! But I didn’t know any better and gladly took what they offered. So I signed the contract and boarded the ship.

After I proved that I could do a good job working in a show band, I was transferred to the flagship of the fleet. This would have been a perfect time to renegotiate my contract, but I was still a little green and no idea how to do it or what to ask for. So I took the job and hoped for a raise. I ended up getting $50 more a month. While I was working for $1,800/month, other musicians were making $400-$500 more a month than I was. They were older and had a relationship with our new contractor and were able to negotiate a higher pay. I couldn’t hold that against anyone but myself. If you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it.

I stayed at that pay rate the entire time I worked on cruise ships, which was about a year and a half. My last contract was for just one month and when I received my contract, the contractor had given me $1,750. A decrease in pay! I immediately called them and asked for more money. Their response was, “The contract has already been written. There’s no changing it now.” This is completely false! It was a contract that had not been signed or agreed upon. I had the right to renegotiate but they knew that they could strong arm me and get me to agree, which I did. They completely took advantage of me and my inexperience. This was not going to happen again.

The Art of Negotiation

I quit the cruise ship industry after that contract and went to grad school. Upon completing my graduate degree, I was offered a job playing for the national tour of Peter Pan. Again, I had no idea what the standard pay was for a non-union theater tour but this time I had a little more experience and knew that I was worth more than what any cruise ship had ever offered me. Their offer was pretty good but I was able to negotiate a little more being that I was being called to fill a spot that they had trouble filling. Apparently they had gone through three other trumpet players who couldn’t handle the work. This was a key point in negotiating. Not only did they need someone right away, but they also needed someone who could handle the book. They were willing to work with me and find a price that we could both agree upon.

Here are some points to keep in mind when negotiating money for a contract:

  • Always be polite. Show that you are grateful of the offer and opportunity. Say thank you.
  • Be willing to turn down a contract that doesn’t meet your needs. Be able to feel good about turning it down if you must.
  • Know what you are worth and be confident when asking for what you want.
  • When talking about money, let them make the first offer. It may be more than you were expecting. If not, kindly ask them if it is possible to raise it closer to your standard. In some cases they may come back with an offer without even hearing your counter offer. If they do ask for a counter offer, go a little above what you would accept and work your way down.

There are many other areas of contract negotiating that will be discussed later on.

After I completed my first tour, I was not eager to go back out on the road. Nevertheless, I was contacted by another company to perform on another tour. Just to see how much I could get out of the company, I made a list of demands in a very arrogant way to the contractor. He hadn’t even given me the official offer before I started in on what I wanted to make it worth my while. He was just calling to get a sense of who I was and if I was interested in the show. I immediately turned him off to the prospect of hiring me for the show. As it turned out, I didn’t get the tour and possibly ruined my reputation with that company. Bad move.

About two months had passed before I was offered another tour by another company. This company had a good reputation and I didn’t want to make the same mistakes that I had previously made. They offered me the role of second trumpet on the tour of Annie. Now, I have never been a fan of musical theater and this show was not what I considered to be on the list of high quality music. This contract was going to come down to numbers, plain and simple. I was very kind and respectful of the call and let them tell me about the company and the tour. After we had discussed various topics about the tour, i.e. how long the contract was, where it was going, etc., I kindly asked how much the position payed. It was well below what I had made previously. About $200/week lower than my last tour. I knew that this was for the role of 2nd trumpet but my standard had been set and I was not about to take any less than that. I politely thanked them for the offer, told them what my rate was, and told them to keep me in mind if another position became available that met my quote.

Sure enough, a few weeks after that conversation, the same company contacted me again with another offer for another tour, The Wizard of Oz. I found out as much as I could about the tour from the contractor which included one vital piece of negotiating information: they were hiring me as a replacement. This told me two things: they needed someone and they needed them quickly. After hearing their offer, I used the information that I had in order to negotiate a slightly higher pay. I politely asked them if they could bump up the offer to meet my quote. They came back and met my request. It wasn’t a show that I was dying to do, but at least I was getting paid enough to make it worth my while.

Additional Tips

My experiences have helped me to look after myself in the music business. No one else was going to do it for me. Freelance musicians do not have the luxury (or the money) of having an agent so we must know how to ask for what we want. Here are some additional points to keep in mind when negotiating contracts:

  • Find out as much as you can about the company. How big they are, what is their show budget, how many people they employ, their reputation, etc. This could help to determine how much you are able to negotiate.
  • Find out if you are the first call or a replacement. Replacements can usually negotiate more easily.
  • Discuss the housing situation. Will the company be paying for hotels or are you required to pay? If you are required to pay, does the per diem cover it? Most companies that pay for hotel rooms provide a per diem of $250-$300/week. If they do not provide housing, then the per diem should be enough to pay for it: about $500/week. All per diem is non taxed.
  • Find out if the company offers some form of health savings account.
  • Discuss if the company offers any form of incentive plan for completing the contract, such as overage compensation. In other words, do they give a percentage of the projected sales that are exceeded back to the company members at the end of the contract?
  • Make sure that you have an “out” in your contract. If you need to leave the contract for any reason (hopefully a better gig) have it stated in your contract that you must present the company with 3-4 weeks notice before leaving. This protects both you and the company.
  • Contact the contractor at the end of the contract to say thank you for the opportunity. This will keep you fresh in their mind and possibly first on their call list for future employment.

Moving in the Military Band


AKA: Permanent change of station.

AKA: Like it or not, you are moving.

PCS. How three little letters can mean so much. You will be uprooted. Things will be chaotic. It will be very stressful. Say goodbye to your friends, coworkers and supervisors. You are leaving.

I recently heard that moving is the third most stressful event in a persons life. Preceded only by death of an immediate family member and divorce. Pretty serious stuff.

I have just PCS’d to Germany from Belgium. I was very happy in Belgium and would gladly stayed for three or four more years, but Uncle Sam said it was time to go. So I went.

Four hours down the road. I’m now a member of the 33rd Army Band. My NATO days are a fond memory.

You would be amazed and how much paperwork and hoopla is involved for such a short move. Granted, I did leave one foreign country to move to another one, but come on! It’s only four hours away!

So why am I writing about moving here at musicianwages? Because moving is a big part of life in the Army band. I’ve been doing this job for almost 16 years. This is my 6th band. If you consider Basic Training, Army Music school and a couple of combat tours in Iraq as well, I’ve moved 10 times. That’s a lot of moves.

Allow me to shed a little light on the PCS process. There are several steps that can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple of months depending on where you are coming from and where you are going to.

First you must clear your current post

You will run around the base getting paperwork and signatures from anybody and everybody. This always involves lots of backtracking, frustration and revisiting the same folks various times. An extremely important signature is always needed from someone who just left for a 3 week vacation. And when you go to get your last stamp and turn in all your paperwork, you’ll be thrilled to learn the office is taking a half day, because it’s Friday. Not to worry, they’ll be back on Monday, but you’re flying to Spain the next morning… Groan.

You must pack up your house

The good news is that the Army will pay a company to move you. They come to your house, pack up all your belongings and load them onto a truck. All you have to do is stand around and point (I usually buy them lunch, as well). This can be a bit unnerving as you watch the movers sprint from one room to the next grabbing random items (trash can, toys, bed sheets, toaster) throwing them all into a large box before sealing it up and labeling it… clothes.

You take a vacation

This is not mandatory, but I highly recommend it. And you are completely free to relax. There’s nothing lingering at work. No big project on the horizon. You are totally finished with your last post, and have yet to start with your new one. It’s as close as you can get to being unemployed, while still getting paid.

I left cold and rainy Belgium to spend a week on the sun drenched beaches of Spain (also highly recommended). Then I moved to my new home, cold and rainy Germany.

You arrive at your new post. You now repeat the process in reverse.

You find a house

You will be given between a week to ten days to franticly scour the area searching out a home in your price range. You’ll consider all the important questions – Do they take pets? Is one toilet enough for a family of four? What school district will we be in? Is it really a good idea to live on top of a bar? You will be given a monthly housing allowance based on your rank.

Of course, if lodging is available you could choose to live on post. You won’t receive a housing allowance, but you don’t have to worry about paying rent or utilities. Go ahead, keep it at 90 degrees all winter and 50 during the summer. It’s covered.

Personally, I prefer to live off post. This is mainly due to the fact that I enjoy driving AWAY from my work at the end of the day. But that’s just me.

You in-process your new post

Same deal as before. Run around visiting lots of folks you’ll most likely never see again until you need their signature to clear.

You get your stuff back

The moving truck rolls up and you get to discover what didn’t survive. The movers unload you, reassemble your furniture and place things in the room of your choosing. You can ask them to unpack all the boxes, but I don’t know anybody who has actually done that. And besides, then you’d miss the pleasure of discovering that all your workout shoes came over in the cooler… mmmm cold beer anyone? If anything is destroyed you will be reimbursed.

You go back to work, at you new job

Believe me, by the time you finally get to this point, you are READY to start playing in a band again!

If all this sounds like an inconvenience, I’m not doing it justice. It’s Much Worse. And I’m a bit of a nomad. I actually enjoy living in different places every few years.

I just don’t like moving.

Interview with Drummer Larry Lynch

I went to a wedding in California a few months ago. There was a live band there called Larry Lynch and the Mob.

Now, I’ve worked as a professional musician for 18 years. I’m afraid those years wore down my affection for live music. I’m not saying that’s good, I’m just being honest. My fiance refuses to bring me to live music events anymore. I’m a real drag. If everything isn’t in tune, or in the pocket, or if the sound sucks, or whatever it is – I know I turn into a really lousy date. So when we walked into the reception and a live band was on stage, my fiance gave me her “please don’t do that thing you do” look.

But, man, this band killed it. The pocket was locked up tight. The vocals were great. They could play anything. The dance floor exploded and people danced for hours and hours. Including me! We want to hire them for our wedding, too. They were really great.

So I asked Larry for an interview.

One thing you should know that Larry doesn’t mention below: Larry was the drummer on the song Jeopardy, which hit Billboard’s top ten in 1983.

MW: When did you start playing music, and when did you realize it was something you wanted to do professionally?

I started playing music when I was 14 years old. That’s when I bought my first set of drums.
I realized I wanted to start doing it professionally when I was 6 years old. I thought Elvis was the most amazing performer and I just thought that was the only thing to aspire to (and I thought that everyone would want to do that).

Did you study music in school? How has that impacted your career?

I am totally self taught, I would play for hours everyday to my record collection in the bedroom.

Music has impacted my life so much, I made it my career for about 20 years (solely) and it’s still an important part of my life and it is still a very substantial part of my income. I now have my own second business (carpet and upholstery cleaning) to augment my income to prepare for my future years.

Briefly describe your career today. What kinds of work do you do to make a living?

I am currently the band leader to my band “Larry Lynch and the Mob” and I have had this band going for 28 years and counting (www.Larrylynchandthemob.com) – We mainly play weddings on the weekends.
I also have a carpet and upholstery cleaning business (www.Larry’s-extremeclean.com) It has been extremely successful also.

How do you find work as a musician?

The way I find work as a musician is: put together a great looking website, to be very personable and accommodating to my clients by delivering great customer service (learn specific songs, work with their timeline, responding to their e-mails and phone calls promptly, being on time, dressing properly, etc.) One of the best advantages for us, is we offer clients to come see our band play live at our studio. It serves as two terrific ways to secure the wedding date. One, you find out and play the songs they would like to hear you play live. And two, it allows them to meet you and the band and see how responsible you are and it also allows them to ask you questions about the specifics of their wedding. It’s also helpful to contact all the booking agencies in your area and send them any promo you may have. And follow up, don’t give up. Be willing to play for exposure and the opportunity to establish your act and the money will follow –

What skills are necessary to be successful at your job (or jobs)?

The skills necessary to be successful at your job (many are listed above) are to be reliable, on time, communicative, courteous, playing at a comfortable volume, dressing properly, not to drink alcoholic beverages, finding out the songs in advance they would like to hear (we encourage our clients to look over our song list on our website and send us a list of the songs they would like us to play), taking our breaks at the appropriate times according to their timeline, such as during cake cutting, toasts/speeches, etc. Also it is important to not take too much time in between song selections – it keeps the momentum of the party going, and look like you’re enjoying yourself (smile) and encourage audience participation.

Put the customer first and let them know your priority is to provide them the best entertainment that will be the highlight of their event. Remember, this is about them and their special day, not about you. Your job is to focus on giving them the best of your ability.

Finally, do you have any advice for younger musicians aspiring to be professionals?

To all aspiring musicians I would give this advice: If you love playing and entertaining, then never give up. The secret is to keep going (persevere), but only if you love what you do. There will always be challenges and disappointments but to be a good musician, nothing comes easy especially if you’re not enjoying it. So make sure it’s what you really want to do. Music not only brings joy, it keeps you young.