Cameron’s Best of 2008

1. Blogging

In May of this last year, I quit my day job at a record label. To stay up to speed on what was happening in the industry, I quickly subscribed to several blogs. Soon after that, I started my own. It wasn’t long after that Dave and I started this website.

If I had to name the single action that has changed my career, it would be blogging. By openly discussing what it’s like to be a musician and sharing my thoughts and strategies with others, I’ve connected with some really great people.

2. Google Calendar

One of the challenges of working as a freelance musician is keeping your schedule organized. Google Calendar helps me schedule rehearsals, recording sessions, conference calls, dinner plans, gigs, you name it. Among other cool functions, it allows you to share calendars with the people you work with so you can quickly and easily find an opening in each others’ schedules, and it syncs with my Blackberry for easy reference when I’m at a gig and trying to schedule the next show.

If you haven’t checked out the Google Documents software, I recommend it. Dave and I use it to share ideas for this website and track expenses. You can also use the spreadsheet function to capture information from fans, such as email addresses when you give away some of your music.

3. Adam Gussow’s YouTube Lessons

In 2007, some friends showed me Adam Gussow’s Blues Harmonica Secrets Revealed videos on YouTube. At the beginning of 2008, I bought a harmonica and started learning how to play blues harp. In the first episode, Gussow describes how he looked through YouTube for harmonica instruction and was really disappointed with what he saw, so he decided to make his own videos and just “give it all away.” He discusses all the nuances of playing the instrument; the small techniques you can’t pick up from just watching somebody else play.

To say these videos influenced me would be an understatement. Not only have I really enjoyed playing blues harmonica, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Chicago blues artists, which in turn has influenced my guitar playing. His lessons also demonstrated the power of owning your niche and openly sharing your knowledge online (which has how I’m trying to approach blogging). There are other blues harmonica lessons on YouTube, but none like Gussow’s, and he has a strong following because of his unique approach.

4. Taylor Guitars, Fender Telecasters, & Bogner Amplifiers

I bought three major pieces of gear this year–a Taylor 210ce acoustic guitar, a 2008 American Standard Fender Telecaster, and a Bogner Duende tube amplifier. Both have expanded my sound and filled some gaps in my rig.  I’m a big proponent of learning how to be as diverse as possible with the gear you have, but at a certain point it really helps to have the right tool for the job. Along with my 1967 Gibson ES-175, Cordoba classical guitar, and ESP Eclipse, I can now cover the gamut of sounds most guitar players need for live gigs or in the studio.

5. New Music Strategies

Andrew Dubber’s New Music Strategies has quickly become one of my favorite blogs on the music industry. His thoughts, ideas, and questions about how the business is run and how independent artists can use the available tools should be required reading for every musician.

6. Heather McDonald’s Music Careers Blog

Dave pointed me in the direction of Heather’s blog after she featured Chronicles of a Cruise Ship Musician on her site. To be blunt, her blog is a gold mine for independent musicians. Read Heather’s feature on this site and you’ll learn about her grassroots, bootstrap experiences in the music industry. On top of that, she’s been a great friend of our site.

7. HiFive

HiFive is a virtual record label model that provides some much needed services to everyone from small independent labels to the majors. I’ve done some production work for them and after seeing what they have to offer, I really believe this kind of lean, efficient, experienced team of music professionals will be the future of the music industry. Individual artists cannot do everything on their own, but also don’t really need the full support (and overhead) of a label to be successful. Hiring a dedicated team that can work your new album passionately for a few months could make all the difference in your career. If you’re an artist or small label that needs a great marketing and sales team, distribution, social media management, or simply somebody to quarterback the whole project, talk to these guys.

8. Twitter

I was turned onto Twitter by a collegue using it for marketing purposes, as many folks seem to do. After playing around for a bit, I’ve discovered some great ways to connect with people who like the same music as me, which often means they end up liking my music. What’s best is that I don’t even have to talk about my own music, they manage to discover it on their own.

9. Videotaping Your Gigs

This year I got a digital camcorder and managed to convince my wife to record several gigs. If you think hearing your own voice on the answering machine is brutal, try watching a video of yourself sweat all over your guitar. I’ve heard recordings before, but actually seeing what my band looks like during a show really gives me a new perspective. Not only will it help me improve my guitar playing, it will help me improve my band’s shows.

10. Textures

I did a lot of producing and recording this year, and one of the best, simplest ways to keep things interesting is through changing textures from one section to the next. Slight changes to instrumentation, dynamics, or tone can really take a good song to something more.


Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention some of the great people that have helped me out this year.

First, there are the many friends of this site that have been kind enough to use their web presence help spread the word: Heather at, Andrew at, Drew at, David at, Alex at, Derek at, Carla Lynne Hall at Rockstar Life Lessons, and Jason at

Of course we wouldn’t be half the site without the musicians/writers who have contributed such insightful content: Gary Melvin, Craig Pilo, Doug Ross, Dave Jolley, Lauren Zettler, Heather McDonald (again), Ethan Stoller, Matt Baldoni, and our friends in My Brightest Diamond and Clare and the Reasons.

This site wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for my good friend Dave and all the hard work he’s put in to making this really happen. is only a couple months old, but this idea was something we’d been talking about for a long time. We just finally had the time, experience, and organization to actually get it done.

The experience needed to write for this site wouldn’t be possible without my wife Jill, who has believed in me and supported my goals as a musician. It can’t be easy being married to a jazz guitarist!

Thanks for reading, and here’s to a happy and prosperous 2009!

Dave’s Best of 2008

1. Google Alerts

Google Alerts are something truly extraordinary.  For the uninitiated, this is how they work: you save a search term with Google, such as “keyboardist wanted.”  Everyday Google will send you new webpages that include the term “keyboardist wanted.”  I find that as soon as somebody writes it I get it.  I have alerts set up for everything relevant to this site – musician, professional musician, cruise ship musician, obama + arts, Broadway – and I get the daily news on those subjects everyday.  The emails Google Alerts send me end up being like different sections of the most interesting daily newspaper.  Much of the news related subjects I talk about on this site are things I found on Google Alerts.

2. Culture Pundits Art Ads

You may have noticed that we serve ads on this site.  The ad revenue goes toward the cost of the site, and if they make money, to the writers for their time.  When I was setting up the site this year I looked into many different advertising networks.  ValueClick, Adsense, Chitika, Yahoo…there are so many these days!  ValueClick had irrelevant, annoying ads.  Yahoo seemed like Adsense but not as good.  Chitika doesn’t seem to be working for us.  Adsense is great, but I kept looking for something even better.

I finally found something that I thought would be great for the site.  I found the Culture Pundits ad network through  At the top of every single page in this website you see these 728×90 banners.  Sometimes they serve ads for art museums, for creative seminars – but when they run out of paying ads like those, they serve artwork.  If you click on the artwork banner, you’re taken to a website that talks about the artist and exhibits their work.  On one hand we aren’t paid for displaying those ads, but on the other hand I think they add an aesthetic to the site that is sometimes quite striking.  Also, as a site that is dedicated to musicians, I think it’s great to support another form of the arts.

Orchestration Lessons on

You know the Rimsky-Korsakov book, Principles of Orchestration, that you had to read in music school?  It’s touted as “the” orchestration book in the history of western civilization.  The book is great, but it has tons of excerpts as examples and it’s very difficult to look up the recordings, find the exact measures, and study it properly. has posted the entire Rimsky-Korsakov book online with audio of the excerpts included.  It is a MUCH more effective way of learning the material, and if you are interested in that kind of thing I encourage you to check it out.

4. Transcribe!

This is a computer program that has helped me out immensely this year.  Some musicians don’t like using technology to help them transcribe, and I completely understand the philosophy.  You can’t exercise your ear if you make it easy.  But the transcription jobs that I frequently do are on a tight schedule and are often quite difficult – coming from crappy mp3 recordings or worse: YouTube videos.  This program allows you to slow down recordings, loop sections and isolate frequencies with the EQ to help you pick out all the notes of an arrangement.  I highly recommend it.

5. Audio Hijack

Another program that I found very useful this year.  Say you get a job, as I did, to transcribe a song from a YouTube video.  If you want to feed the audio into a program like Transcribe! or Logic to manipulate it, you’re going to need to get it in mp3 form.  Audio Hijack will record the audio coming from any individual program (like Firefox or Finale), or from your computer system-wide and turn it into an mp3 you can use.

Also, if you have a protected mp4 from iTunes and you need to send a clip to a friend for a gig, you can capture it with Audio Hijack for that purpose.

Naturally, I’m not advocating piracy.  These are just things that modern musicians need for work.

6. WordPress

See this website?  It’s all WordPress.  I’d never fooled around with WordPress until this year, when Cam and I decided to make this site.  The last blog I kept was maintained with a essentially homemade backend using ASP.  What a mess that thing had become!  I couldn’t code a thing in ASP and after 5 years of working with it I’d never figure out much of anything.  So this time I decided to get with the program and learn PHP, SQL and WordPress.  Coming from ASP, this is such a breath of fresh air.  It’s so easy to work the backend, there are so many great extensions, and it works so well with the interconnected nature of the internet.  I haven’t used the other major platforms, but I don’t think I’ll ever need to.  I think WordPress is tops.

7. Sound Music Sound Money

This is a blog written by Doug Ross, who also wrote once for us a few weeks back.  I really like his practical, money-managing-for-musicians blog.  I wish I knew all that he does about both money and music.  It’s a great resource.  One of the top websites I’ve found this year.

8. This Is Your Brain on Music

Have you checked out this book?  You should check out this book!  This will literally change the way that you think about music. Author Daniel Levitin explains how music affects the brain, how practicing changes the brain, and explains literally hundreds of other brain-related facts that are incredibly useful to all musicians.  It’s not necessarily written for musicians, but it should be required reading for all of us.

9. Barack Obama

I volunteered for Obama’s campaign in Virginia this year and together we turned the state blue for the first time since the 1960s.  It was a historic race, the first one I took real ownership and responsibility for, and it has really changed my perspective on politics and how the world works.  I’m a news junkie now, and very interested in how policy in Washington affects musicians and citizens all over the world.  It’s influenced the topics I write about on this website, and instilled in me the feeling that ordinary people can make a difference with the right leadership.

10. iTunes Genius Button

Man, I can’t say enough about this little feature on the 2008 release of iTunes.  It’s changed the way I listen to my music.  I lavished more praise on it several months ago in this article.


So that’s my Best of 2008.  I’d also like to say that I’m really grateful for all the readers we’ve had to this site this year and all the gracious bloggers that have linked to us.  New Year’s Day will mark this website’s 2 month birthday.  We’re very young(!), yet we’ve been welcomed warmly to the scene.  I especially want to thank: Heather at, Andrew at, Drew at, David at, Alex at, Derek at, and Jason at for all their help, guidance, example and link-love.

Another special note of personal gratitude, of course, to my buddy Cam for starting this site with me and to my girlfriend for putting up with all the late nights of coding and writing.  Here’s to a great 2009!

Recording, Releasing, and Performing Cover Songs

Cover songs have an interesting place in the musician lexicon. The term cover song originated in the early part of the recording era, when record labels’ distribution was often limited regionally. When a song grew in popularity in one region, competing labels in other regions would record and distribute the same song to cover their region. A similar practice occurs today, online with digital music stores like iTunes. Some popular bands refuse to sell their music on iTunes. When they release a new album, a cover version of the single will invariably appear on iTunes, often by a studio band.

Cover songs reveal much about artists, from their ability to simply sing or play their instruments to their own tastes in music. For independent musicians, cover songs are usually a way to make money, grow your fan base, and a means for creative expression.

Many of the musicians I know and work with play in wedding or dance bands. They are expected to know a long list of popular tunes, and play them exactly as they were originally recorded. These cover band gigs usually pay pretty well, and perform frequently. Steady, paying work is something every musician needs, and this is one way to get it.

Performing Cover Songs

For musicians that write and perform original music, cover songs are a chance to add some familiarity to their performances. In fact, one of the best ways out of obscurity is to add a handful of cover songs to your repertoire. While your fans may know the words to all your songs, people that are new to your music will appreciate hearing a familiar song. Furthermore, recording cover songs can help people find your music. This is especially true if you sell music online, as a search query could turn up your version of a popular song. More on this later.

Taking the notion of familiarity a step further, musicians can re-work a cover song to the point it’s hardly recognizable save the lyrics or melody. There are a handful of artists known for their cover versions of songs, usually because their versions are a stark contrast to the original. In this case, the song is often used as a grounds to measure creativity. For example, jazz artists usually know a great deal of standards, which are simply tunes many other jazz musicians have recorded or performed. Because a large part of jazz is improvisation, these standards are the familiar ground on which the creativity takes place.

When you perform cover songs, the writers and publishers are paid through performing right societies such as ASCAP, BMI, SOCAN, or PRS. One way these performing rights organizations (often referred to as PROs) collect royalties is by charging a fee to bars and live music venues. Next time you walk into a club, look for a PRO sticker on the door or front window. That means they are paying their dues so they can have a jukebox, DJ, or live bands that might play cover songs. There are two important things to keep in mind about PROs:

  1. They collect royalties for public performances, not for the sale of recorded music. That is considered private use.
  2. As a performer, you do not have to pay performance royalties. These are paid by the venue which hired you to perform. However, if you record your show and sell it as a live album, you will need to pay for the compulsory licenses, discussed later in this article.

Posting Cover Songs on YouTube

A great deal of musicians make videos of themselves performing cover songs at home and upload them to sites like YouTube. This is another great way to leverage people’s familiarity with the covered songs as a gateway to your original music. From my experience, videos of cover songs get many more views than videos of original music. Be sure to use the video description and tags wisely to help people find your cover song video and then link to your music elsewhere online.

You are allowed to post your cover songs on YouTube… sometimes.

Initially, YouTube ran into problems with copyright holders (mainly publishers) because legally speaking, these videos are a form of distribution that requires a synch license. This issue is gradually being cleared up, however. YouTube allows publishers to claim their copyrighted material and monetize the videos. In other words, a publisher might have the ability to make money from ads on your cover song video.

As of now there is no way of knowing which publishers have inked deals with YouTube and your videos can still run the risk of being pulled down. Proceed with caution, and for a more in depth read on this subject, check out “Music, Copyright, and YouTube” by Suzanne Lainson.

Recording Cover Songs

If performing cover songs is a great way to reach a few new fans, recording them is a great way to reach hundreds or thousands of new fans. Just as playing a cover song at your gig can attract the attention of new fans, putting a cover song on your album or EP might encourage people to check out more of your music.

One clever approach to deciding which cover songs to put on your album is to choose a somewhat obscure song by one of your major influences. While most people might not immediately recognize the song, die hard fans of the original artist will be more interested in hearing your version. After all, if they are fans of the music that inspired you, they’re much more likely to be fans of your original music. For more ideas on how to chose which cover songs to record, see “Cash For Covers” by Alex Holz.

How Do I Release Cover Songs Legally?

Sharing of an audio recording in any form, paid or unpaid, constitutes distribution. Distribution can be in the form of downloads, streaming from any website, including yours, or any physical product such as CD or vinyl. When you distribute a recording a song somebody else wrote, whether it’s for commercial use (making it for sale) or promotional use (giving it away for free), you are still required to obtain a compulsory license and pay royalties.

In order to share your cover song recordings, you must obtain a license.

Many independent artists are weary of putting cover songs on their album because of the hassle of obtaining a compulsory license. I was among this group of people until I figure out how to use an online licensing system such as RightsFlow’s Limelight service. I licensed four cover songs on one of my albums for both physical and digital distribution.

Through Limelight or Harry Fox, royalties are pre-paid. There is also a flat fee per song regardless of how many licenses you purchase. It takes a little guess work to estimate how many licenses to pay for up front, which will add to the initial cost of your release, but this is an extremely convenient way to obtain a compulsory license. If you want to record and release a cover song, I highly recommend using one of these services. If you have any questions, consult a music lawyer ahead of time.

If you want to avoid paying royalties altogether, you may be able to find popular songs in the public domain. Generally speaking, these are songs that were written before 1923. Most traditional spirituals and hymns fall into this category. To prove a song is in the public domain, you will need to be able to produce published sheet music that displays the copyright. With the vast number of resources online, this is pretty easy. One other warning here–original arrangements of public domain music can be copyrighted. Before you record a public domain song, make sure you’re not using a copyrighted arrangement.

The benefits of releasing cover songs outweigh the hassle of tracking sales and paying for royalties, especially with services like Limelight! streamlining the process for independent musicians. The cover songs I’ve released have generated more sales than my original music, either from individual downloads or by leading people to buy my full album as either a download or CD. I’m currently working on a covers album with a friend (and regardless of when you read this article, that statement is probably true). This is simply an easy way to create some steady income as a musician.

Make Cover Songs Work for You

I’ll leave you with one tip for releasing cover songs: Get your metadata right! The biggest advantage of releasing cover songs online is that people will find you in search results. Make sure you’ve optimized your key words, and it’s a good idea to experiment with a few searches and see what comes up on various sites. Understand how people search for songs (usually by the original artist, album, and title). Make sure you spell everything correctly.

Good luck!


Article topics for the week of 12/29

Happy New Year! These are the upcoming articles for the week of 12/29. Subscribe to our RSS feed and have them automatically delivered to your inbox or feed aggregator!


Recording, Releasing, and Performing Cover Songs – we’re featuring very helpful article that Cameron wrote a little while ago about the legalities and licensing involved with playing cover songs.  A vital read for any band!


Dave’s Best of 2008 – Pianist David J. Hahn lists the best things he found online in 2008.


Cameron’s Best of 2008 – Guitarist Cameron Mizell’s list of his favorite things of 2008.


Losing Weight and Staying Healthy As a Touring Musician – Is your New Year’s resolution to lose weight?  Get healthy?  Dave is going to tell you his stories of gaining weight and eventually losing weight as a traveling musician.

Like our site? Subscribe to our RSS feed, we’d love to have you back. Really like our site? Maybe you should write for us! We’re always looking to feature other musicians and their careers. Everybody benefits from hearing your story. Get in touch!

Volunteer Opportunities for Musicians

Ok, enough talk about making money as a musician – let’s talk about not making money with your music.

My grandfather played organ, accordion and clarinet for most of his life. From the time he retired until just a few years before he passed away, he played organ every week at the local nursing home. I believe it was every Thursday afternoon for an hour. He never talked much about it, but the people that knew him did. To this day I have people back home telling me stories about my Grandfather’s playing. He gave a gift to his community that people still appreciate.

Music is a powerful thing, and there’s plenty of reasons to gift your music to people that need it. Music brightens dark times, heals the soul and brings hope. The truth is that while we all need to get gigs to pay the bills, sometimes its the music we don’t get paid for that ends up feeling the best.

There are lots of opportunities for musicians to volunteer in their communities. Consider volunteering for your local chapter of the Salvation Army, who sometimes send out brass bands or soloists instead of bell-ringers on their donation drives at Christmas. Consider playing for an afternoon at a local rest home, as my Grandfather did. Hospitals are places often in need of hope and healing – call your local hospital and tell them that you are interested in playing for their patients.

Consider this organization – Musicians on Call, a non-profit organization that brings live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients in healthcare facilities. They have branches in New York City, Philadelphia and Nashville. Here’s their informational video:

Also visit the website of Hospital Audiences, Inc., another New York City organization that “provides cultural access through music, dance, theatre and the visual arts, reaching out to the frail elderly, mentally and physically disabled, seriously ill children at health and social service facilities, and youth in grades K – 12.”

Another opportunity for musicians to volunteer is galas, performances and events. Many non-profits throw lavish parties to attract big-money donors to their cause. Some organizations put together talents shows or other performances. You probably won’t be able to track down opportunities like this (they will more likely track you down!), but when they call, consider saying yes to the gig if you believe in the cause.

Also – if you do decide to donate your time to volunteering, read Doug Ross’ well-written article on researching the organizations you are interested in. As he puts it, “it is wise to actively choose your charities, rather than passively let them choose you.”

You might find that playing music for those that need it most is an opportunity not just for the audience – but also for you.

160,300 Arts-related Jobs in New York City

The AFM Local 802, the Arts Alliance and Cornell University produced a study in 2007 that measured the economic impact of the arts industry on New York State.  In New York City alone, they found that the arts produce 160,300 jobs, $8.2 billion in wages and $904 million in taxes to the city.  Overall, the arts injected over $21 billion into the local economy.

The study is available for download (PDF) here: Arts as an Industry: Their Economic Impact on New York City and New York State

The study tracked the expenditures of non-profit organizations, motion picture & television companies, commercial theaters, art galleries, as well as the arts-motivated tourists that came and spent their money in New York.  The study did not, it seems, include the impact of the live music scene at bars, clubs and non-traditional venues – but while that information would be very valuable, it must be, admittedly, difficult to track.

With a proposed budget in 2007 of $59 billion, the $904,000 paid to the city by it’s arts organizations may seems like a small amount of money – but the economic impact of arts orgnizations goes beyond just the taxes that they pay, and goes beyond the limits of this Cornell study.  Much, if not most, of the $8.2 billion in wages paid by the arts orgnizations to it’s workers ends up spent in New York businesses – restaurants, dry cleaners, groceries, etc.  Additionally, lest we not forget all those indie hipsters living in Brooklyn, the theatre crowd in Astoria, the music students on the UWS and punk rock bands on the LES – they are all paying rent, buying metro cards and plane tickets, groceries and clothes, etc., etc.  Those students are paying top dollar to study at NYU, Mannes, MSM, Columbia, Marymount and dozens of others.

The point of the study is to highlight the measurable, practical, financial importance of the arts in the local economy of New York with charts that they could point to when bureaucrats and politicians start talking about cutting funding to arts education, the NEA, symphony orchestras, theatre companies – and on and on.

This shows us musicians another thing, though.  It shows us that there are JOBS here, people!  It shows that there are gigs, and that people are making money as artists.  $8.2 billion in arts-related wages in New York alone?  Think about that.

Should Washington Give $6 Billion to the Arts?

There’s a petition circulating the internet, Facebook, and now Obama’s website (inaccurate) that is asking for 1% of the anticipated $600+ billion stimulus package to be spent on the arts.

68492573_c9aef0ceaf_oThe petition cites the 1930’s Federal Art Project, which was funded by the WPA and Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. The makers of the New Deal understood that the Great Depression had increased unemployment across all industries – including the arts – and, accordingly, the Federal Art Project was created in 1935 to create work that suited the special talents of artists. The project created signs and posters for school, libraries and hospitals (like the one pictured here).  The Federal Art Project was also responsible for the Index of American Design, which cataloged the history of American design from early colonialism until the 19th century.

It was, in the eyes of artists and those Americans sympathetic to the arts, a hugely influential and successful program in the history of American culture. Several famous artists emerged from the program, including Jackson Pollack.

As for the stimulus package, Obama’s financial advisors have stated that they expect the pricetag to be at least $600 billion, and possibly more.  Obama and democrats want the bill to be passed by both the House and Senate before Obama even gets sworn in, so that he can sign the bill on day one – simultaneously saving the world and clinching his 2012 re-election all within the first 24-hours of taking office.

Republicans are reportedly not as eager to pass the bill so quickly, despite passing a $600 billion bailout for Wall St. in just a few weeks this past fall.  (Ah – but that was before the election…).  According to the LA Times, Republicans are afraid that the stimulus package will be fraught with pet projects and pork spending and want to take their time constructing the bill and the regulating committees that will oversee it.

I know I’m getting off the subject here, but if the discussion on Capital Hill is going to center around inappropriate spending of emergency government funds, perhaps they should look to the $1.6 billion of the October bailout money that was spent on executive perks.

Back to the petition.  The cynic in me feels that Republicans may interpret “the arts” as some kind of pork-barrel, pet politicking of the sissy Dems, but it’s worth a shot.  I’m not convinced that online petitions have any impact on legislation, but if you feel strongly in favor of the idea, putting you name down can’t hurt.

Update, 12/23/2008: The petition has been revised to include music and the theatre arts (it previously only included visual and literary arts).  It also includes a short history of the FAP’s sister project, the Federal Music Project.  I quote here from the Facebook page:

Employing around 16,000 musicians at its peak, the Federal Music Project ensembles — orchestras and chamber groups; choral and opera units; concert, military and dance bands; and theater orchestras — presented an estimated 5,000 performances before some three million people each week. Music projects had local cosponsors — schools or colleges, government or civic groups — and small admissions charges helped meet costs.

The Federal Music Project also provided classes in rural areas and urban neighborhoods; in 1939, an estimated 132,000 children and adults in 27 states received instruction every week.

Broadway show closings liquidate 150 musician jobs

December 22, 2008

Between the closings of Xanadu on September 28th and Hairspray on January 18th, 150 musician jobs will be liquidated from the New York City theater industry. This does not include the musician positions in the limited-run or seasonal productions of Christmas Spectacular or Liza at the Palace.

This number represents over one third of the musician workforce currently on Broadway (407 total musicians prior to the closing of Xanadu).

The break-down is as follows:

Show Closing Date # of Musicians
Xanadu 9/28/08 6
[title of show] 10/12/08 1
Legally Blonde 10/19/08 18
A Tale of Two Cities 11/9/08 18
Grease 1/4/09 8
Gypsy 1/4/09 26
13 1/4/09 7
Young Frankenstein 1/4/09 26
Spamalot 1/11/09 18
Spring Awakening 1/18/09 7
Hairspray 1/18/09 15
Total 112 days (3.5 months) 150 jobs

257 musician jobs in the most popular or newest Broadway shows remain active after the current round of Broadway show closings, including 2 of the largest pits on Broadway, South Pacific and Phantom of the Opera.

Show # of Musicians
South Pacific 32
Phantom of the Opera 32
Shrek 24
Lion King 24
Wicked 24
Little Mermaid 19
Billy Elliot 18
Mary Poppins 17
Pal Joey 16
Chicago 14
In the Heights 13
Jersey Boys 9
Mamma Mia! 9
Avenue Q 6
Total 257 jobs

Some of the current show closings are a result of the natural ebb and flow of the theater market – for example A Tale of Two Cities opened in September to scathing reviews and poor attendance and posted its closing notice soon after. Others have commented that shows such as Hairspray, which has run since 2002, have simply run their course.

Most producers and news outlets, however, point to a troubled economy and a smoldering tourist market as the impetus for the current round of show closings on the Great White Way.

Several new shows have been postponed or canceled, and musicians will have to wait until February for the next round of Broadway shows to begin previews.

Show Previews Opening Date
Guys and Dolls 2/3/09 3/1/08
Hair 2/10/09 3/5/08
West Side Story 2/23/09 3/19/08
Rock of Ages 3/20/09 4/7/08
9 to 5 4/7/09 4/30/08
Spider Man TBA June, 2009
Vanities Postponed Postponed
Godspell Canceled Canceled

The number of musicians that will be hired for upcoming shows has not yet been made public.

Preview: article topics for the week of 12/22

Edit (12/25/2008): Links added.

It’s Christmas week, but we’re not taking a break.  Here are the articles we have scheduled for the coming week. Subscribe to our RSS feed and have them automatically delivered to your inbox or feed aggregator!


Broadway show closings liquidate 150 musician jobs – a mathematical look at exactly how many musician jobs are currently active on Broadway, how many jobs will be lost in the current series of show closings, as well as a list of up-coming Broadway shows and the dates they are slated to open.


160,300 arts-related jobs in New York State – we look at a 2007 study by Cornell University that measures exactly how much money the arts bring to New York State and New York City. You’ll be surprised just how valuable we are!


Volunteer Opportunities for Musicians – in the spirit of Christmas Eve, we list opportunities that offer musicians a way to use their talents to give back to their communities.


Make yourself a merry little Christmas album – Merry Christmas!  Cameron discusses why you should record and release a Christmas album.

Also, for those procrastinators out there, don’t miss our list of great gifts for musicians that we posted this past Friday.

Like our site? Subscribe to our RSS feed, we’d love to have you back. Really like our site? Maybe you should write for us! We’re always looking to feature other musicians and their careers. Everybody benefits from hearing your story. Get in touch!

Tales From the Pit: My Career as a Professional Drummer

So. I’m going to assume that you’ve been trying to eke out a living doing what you love to do, while holding on to the last vestiges of your confidence and pride. You have come to a point where anything, ANYTHING, will be helpful to get you out of that next shift at the Burger Hut. Chet, your 19 year old boss, frequently complains that the rhythm of your patty flipping is slowing the “line flow” to an extent that your 16 year old peers are messing up the order of condiments. Chet knows rhythm. In fact, his emo-nerd-prog-zydeco-funk explosion recently broke up because the lead singer’s girlfriend “managed the band’s finances” to the point of extinction and he’s chosen to take it out on lucky you. Maybe you are waiting for Stevie Wonder to hear a clip of you on You Tube and say to himself, “Stevie, I gotta have that guy in my band and pay him ten million dollars a show!” Or perhaps, you are like me and a great deal of my musician friends stuck here in the middle, trying to make things happen and having decent success, but at a loss as to what the next step may be or how to make the most of opportunities at hand.

Fear not, dear reader. There are thousands of us out here. But there is work, Some of it rewarding. Anyone who has the skills, personality, and ambition to take the necessary steps to shed that scratchy, polyester Burger Hut uniform and invest the time and energy can make a go as (dare I say) a professional musician.

Mine is not a archetypal story in the labyrinthine halls of this industry. Luck and timing played a large part in where I find myself today. I am a resident percussionist at a theater in Phoenix and have been for the past seven years. Atypical in the fact that I have a yearly salary, benefits including health and dental, and a 401k that, in light of recent economic developments, will allow me to retire at age 93. That said, I have been incredibly fortunate to arrive at this point but it didn’t come without a modicum of preparation and a certain level of musical and personal ability.

I have worked in many facets of the industry including regional theater, national tours, cruise ships, club gigs, casuals (i.e. wedding bands), industrials (i.e. corporate gigs), and all things in between. I have taught privately, for stores, and for school districts fairly extensively over the past 15 years. I hold a BM (worth about as much in the real world as the more famous acronym for those letters) in Percussion Performance from a state school in the Midwest. I had a cup of coffee in graduate school but did not finish. This is not to disparage the value of education, but I have yet to be asked to produce a diploma before being hired for any gig.

So how, you might ask, did I get from there to here? My story starts as a small town son of a music teacher who for whatever reason was drawn to the drums at an early age. I started playing in 5th grade in the concert, “stage”, and marching bands. Throughout those years until I went off to college, I was the sole individual in the percussion “section”. This was helpful in my later years as I often have to synthesize percussion parts into one grand score. My mom got me my first gig playing “Brigadoon” for a community theater that she was involved with in the summer before 7th grade. No pay, but a gig’s a gig at the tender age of 12. Methinks I was pedigreed to be a theater musician. I ended up playing all of their shows and made connections that landed me my first paid gig a few years later. $125 for 7 rehearsals and 6 performances of “The King and I” for a community theater in a larger neighboring town with “huge” budgets.

Now the money’s just rolling in! Next stop, Broadway! Or at the very least, Motley Crue is gonna need a new drummer. Who woulda thunk that Tommy Lee would last this long? But I digress…Growing up, I was extraordinarily fortunate to attend a life-changing percussion camp at a nearby college which I would later attend. For one week a summer I was awash in some of the greatest musicians in the world who took the time with myself and others to teach music and life. I studied with some of the best in the biz and decided then and there that music was the deal for me.

At 15, through a friendship with one of the instructors, I was given a full scholarship to attend a music festival in Houston. This is a case in point of the importance of fostering connections in this business which I will touch upon later. I was woefully unprepared for what was to come. Eye opening does not begin to describe this experience. It was a festival of classical music. I was the youngest attendee and was thrown into the fire, so to speak, with some really amazing musicians. However, my knowledge of classical music was limited to playing the opening motif of Beethoven’s 5th on my mom’s piano.

First day, first rehearsal. Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite”. You know, something light and easy to break in. I was an absolute disaster drawing the ire of the conductor who was nice enough to say “My dear Bass Drummer” before berating me in front of the 80 piece orchestra. Super great times. Wait, but music is supposed to be fun. C’mon guy! I’m 15. Excuses never helped nobody, and certainly did not help me in that situation. Welcome to the real music business. That night, I spent hours in the music library moving the record (yes record) needle back to the bass drum entrance that I had not hit yet. The next day, I still didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I nailed that entrance. Which led me to my next pillar of musical belief. Classical music is hard ya’ll.

So. Off to college. The school I attended had a bevy of good players and a great faculty by in large. Had to find my groove. Had to learn to read actual notes while playing in actual time with actual rhythms with other actual people actually listening. Enter: Stage Fright! My program was geared towards being a well rounded player on every instrument. Specialization was something you did on your own time. For the first 3 years, I owed my soul to the marimba. Yes, that wonderful instrument upon which there are lo, so many gigs to play. I also was involved in drumline, percussion ensemble, wind ensemble, orchestra, African ensemble, Latin ensemble etc. etc. My last two years (for those of you counting that equals five years in undergrad) I took every jazz course I could. By some miraculous alignment of the stars, I won the top big band and top combo. Out of all the classes and ensembles that I was in, the jazz stuff is what I found to have helped me the most as far as real world applicability.

Needless to say, I was headed in exactly every direction. Somewhere along in there (likely after I failed my second Junior Standing jury), I decided that I couldn’t do it. It was all just, well, too hard. I called up a mentor of mine that I had met at the percussion camp years earlier who is a world renowned jazz drummer and told him the news. What he said to me left an indelible mark and has gotten me to where I am today and where I hope to be in the future. He said, “Work on your person. The music will take care of itself.” Heavy. But wait, is he saying that I’m a bad person? Knowing myself, maybe. But what I took away from it was, you can be the greatest musician with the greatest of talents and gifts, but if you’re not a decent human, nobody will hire you anyway. Unless, of course, your name happens to be Barbra Streisand. Once, after many years, I started to understand this, the music did start to come online. Not only did I practice becoming a good musician, but I also practiced being a good person. This is something that is oft neglected in this or any business.

That said, if you’re the kindest, most generous, well rounded, giving, caring, benevolent of souls, and you didn’t learn your rudiments, scales, history, and every other facet of your instrument that you could, chances are, you won’t be playing “The King and I” at you local theater for $125. Talent can take you far, but hard work, practice, networking, and just plain luck are the things that will carry you through your musical career.

So. I’ve gotten through the rocky part of college and have to figure what to do with what I’ve learned so as not to rock the polyester at the Hut whilst living at my parents’ house. Undergrad gave me technical facility on the instruments and opened my ears a great deal. Now it is time to take that blind leap into the unknown world of application as opposed to theory.

Let’s talk timing + luck. A great friend of mine from school recommended me for a summer stock theater gig about 30 miles from the college. I had “tons” of theater experience at that point (a solid 10 or so shows under my belt. The word, I believe, is “expert”…) If memory serves, I was making $300 a week plus housing. Come to find, this is a professional theater stocked with professional actors, technicians, staff etc. Much bigger deal than I signed on for. I grew up in the area, and was aware that this theater existed, but didn’t think it was such a big deal until I got there. Crash course. Sondheim. Hard stuff. Hot seat.

We did two week runs of five shows over the course of ten weeks. The band consisted of myself, trumpet, trombone, woodwind quadrupler, and our music director who played piano and ran the recorded track and click track. These guys were great players. I was, not for the first or last time, out of my league. Our little pit usually had 3 days of rehearsal before we were thrust before an adoring yet judgmental audience. At the time, I was cavalier enough (read: young and dumb) to think that I could fluff over the hard parts. Who was really listening anyway? I thought that this was a play date with my friends. Keg stand anyone? First of many GIANT misconceptions about the real world. Most people may never truly know what constitutes a good musician, but they surely know what a bad one sounds like.

I made it through, but looking back I coulda and shoulda taken the whole thing a bit more seriously. This taught me an extremely valuable lesson. Ready? Always play like you’re at Carnegie Hall and be as genuinely nice to everyone you meet as you possibly can. In this business, you never know who’s gonna help you out. My story plays out like this, thankfully and oddly to my advantage.

I played the summer gig and went off to grad school. I was stuck in the world of academia where consequences were a B instead of an A if you sucked. At the time, I was either gonna be the next great “young lion” of the jazz scene or play timpani for the New York Phil. So many tough choices for someone so blissfully ignorant of their skill set. Little did I know, there are tens of thousands of people who are after the same thing and who are taking it exponentially more seriously than I. Sometimes I look back at the me of the past and say, “Wow.” as I shake my head and giggle softly.

Grad school for me turned out to be a weigh station. I had no idea what I was going to do with what I had learned thus far and was frankly scared of the real world. So, why not tread water for a bit longer? I put in my time but that was about it. It’s hard to imagine approaching burn out at age 23 but it was starting to happen. I no longer wanted to practice and the fire was dying. Scary stuff. In retrospect, I couldn’t see where any of this education and hard work would lead. In all honesty I was ready to either hang it up or get out there and see if I could do it. Then my phone rang with another offer to do another summer gig.

Come to find, the MD (music director) of the summer stock wasn’t all that impressed with me. He had hired the rest of the band for a major national tour after the first summer, but was content with me disappearing into the halls of graduate school perdition. The second summer, he gave me another shot, though I owe the trumpet player for talking him into using me again. There were some heavy drum books that year and he wasn’t sure that I could pull them off. I had made my decision to leave grad school, so this time around, I took the gig seriously. Not leaps and bounds better, but my intention was headed in the right direction.

Skip to the end of the summer. OK. I’m not going to school. I have to get a gig. Any gig. Shit. I go to the MD and tell him I’m leaving school. Does he know of anything? ANYTHING? A couple of weeks later, he hires me for the same national tour he was on the previous year. No audition. Great salary and per diem. Four months on the road. Hotels paid. Lucky? Most def.

Point? You can regain your reputation. It’s not impossible but try not to put yourself in that situation. Luck, to me, is when preparation meets opportunity. Had I taken the first summer more seriously, it wouldn’t have been such a stretch for the MD to hire me the next season and ultimately for the tour. This is when I started to figure out that often the people who do the hiring look and hear past the latest Dave Weckl lick you can throw over “I Could Have Danced All Night” and into what it’s like to work with you. There are tons of guys who can cut the gig. Probably better than you. Or, more specifically, me. I went to school with these guys. I watched them in the clubs. However, preparation met opportunity. I showed the MD that I could pick things up in a hurry. I made solid musical decisions but was malleable enough to change things up when they weren’t working. I stayed with the click track. I didn’t waste time in rehearsal. I didn’t show up wasted. I was easy to get along with on and off the bandstand. I was becoming a professional.

In Part 2 of this article I will wax (and wane) philosophically about life on the road, cruise ships, and (hopefully) how to negotiate the tenuous halls of the entertainment racket to your advantage.

Need a Job? Derek Sivers is Hiring.

There’s got to be a lot of pressure on Derek Sivers.  This is the guy, afterall, that came up with a really good idea at a time when the music industry seemed to be all out of them.  Sivers founded CD Baby in 1997 as a way to distribute his own music over the internet.  The idea caught on among his friends and 11 years later he sold the company for $22 million to Disc Makers.  As of July, 2008, CD Baby had a roster of nearly 250,000 musicians, had sold over 4.6 million CDs and paid out over $85 million to independent musicians all over the world.  I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that CD Baby completely changed the independent musician industry.  For starters, we no longer needed record deals – CD Baby made it easy to sell directly to our fans.

It makes your heart ache to know that you didn’t think up that idea, right?  What a great thing he made!

I went to a CD Baby meet-up in Chicago once about 5 years ago.  To everyone’s surprise, Sivers showed up and gave a short speech to the group.  From the vibe in the room that day, you would have thought that Abraham Lincoln himself had risen from the grave and given a recitation of the Gettysburg Address.  People were shocked that he, Derek Sivers, had come to our little gathering.  I kid you not, it was like the king had come to a peasant’s birthday party.  He is a celebrity among musicians.

So now that he’s sold CD Baby and moved on…what next?  The pressure must be enormous.  He’s still a young guy and full of good ideas.  Every dinner party he goes to must be stocked with people asking, “So what are you doing now?”

And he’s come up with something!  He hasn’t released much information about it, but the idea – as I understand it – is a service that will work as an (affordable) personal assistant to musicians.  The core idea is, perhaps, not his – websites that sell virtual personal assistant services are plentiful – but selling the idea to musicians is new.  I can’t say I understand the concept fully, but nevertheless, I think he’s a smart guy to get into this industry early.  An article in the Huffington Post states that the annual revenue from virtual assistant services is expected to grow to $2 billion by 2015.

And he’s hiring!  This is probably the best testament to Sivers’ credibility among the musician community.  This guy doesn’t even have to tell us exactly what the idea is – and we’ll still apply for a job doing it.  Here’s the link:

MuckWorkers Wanted

According to the website, Sivers is looking for two kinds of workers – professional musicians like us, as well as experienced virtual assistants.  The first group can expect to make somewhere under $20/hr and the second group can expect to make somewhere under $10/hr.  That is, at least, what the website says.  He explains it better himself – you can find the info at the link provided.

The End of a Cruise Ship Contract

So here I am, just about five months into my contract, and doing my first transatlantic crossing. They have warned us to make sure we have ways to kill time because of the amount of boredom on sea days. For most departments, sea days are the hardest. It’s no different for us than it is for port days, but we don’t have to rush around at port to make sure we’re back for rehearsal. So, in a sense, it’s more relaxing for us.

On a typical cruise, the sea days are the formal days, and we play big band sets. I enjoy playing in a big band, but for this gig, it’s a real drag. The arrangements are godawful, both musically and legibly, and it’s a seven piece big band, and the music is uninspiring at best. Then again, you can’t really expect to play Maria Schneider charts out here, can you?

Musical communication seems to be frowned upon on the ship, so it’s very easy to just sit there and read the notes on the page rather than play around the changes. Some of the charts are so poorly written, however, you have to juggle between the changes and the written notes to actually play something coherent. Sometimes the notes are wrong or handwritten and barely readable, and sometimes the changes are just written on top of other changes, making it a general ink blot. Also, some of the music is so old, the ink has faded over time. Every now and then, they have us do four of these sets in a night. This could very well be considered a musician’s hell. What I have gained, though, is better technical facility on the electric bass, and if someone wants me to read the ink, I can now do it just as second nature as reading changes. While I never had a problem reading, my teachers sort of encouraged me to come up with my own bassline and make the tune my own. It’s easy to forget to play one way when you’re so used to playing another.

For this cruise there’s still only three formal nights. Usually sea days are the formal days. The rest of the sea days are typical shows for us. So we have our rehearsals in the afternoons, and then the two shows. We have lots of time to kill. A bunch of us have been gathering in my cabin, since it’s one of the bigger ones for crew (I had to wait four months for this cabin), and have been watching Heroes. Between that, I have just been playing computer games, arranging, and reading.

At this point in the cruise the end of the contract seems bittersweet. I feel like I have been robbed out of a better experience because my first two months of the contract were so horrible, . It’s gotten better since then, and I feel like I want to stay and get that enjoyable time back. But I want to get off the ship just as much. More, even. When you’re on a ship like this, you feel as if you put your life on hold. All your friends, family, and general living are on land, and you’re living a completely different life while on board. How you act, what you do, and especially the amount you drink. I rarely get drunk, but you will have at least one drink a day, and that’s if you’re keeping it light. But I will miss the ports, the friends, and the lack of bills, of course.

If you were brought up musically about creativity, you will feel caged into doing exactly what’s on the ink, even just playing as vanilla as possible on the “jazz” sets. With the old MD, he really just wanted us to play an Abersold style backing during the sets, and would take us off to the side and yell at us for interacting with the soloist. “What if he was going somewhere else?” he would say. He was usually talking about himself, so we were like “what if you were going NOWHERE?” Playing something other than a root on bass in the “jazz” sets would get me a threat to being fired. Playing different basslines while backing some guest entertainers can give some funny looks from them. Since you get used to playing with the same guys over and over again, you tend to learn how far you can go with them. But honestly, with most of the music, you really can’t go very far before it changes the character of the tune. Even trying to play the original Jamerson line on a Motown tune might not work with the arrangement you were given. And that’s just sad.

One thing I am not going to miss is the way crew and staff are treated. Musicians seem to be looked at by everyone except the Cruise Director as a liability, as in someone that will cause trouble if given enough time. On most ships, musicians are staff–which is one step above crew, and one step below the officers. Staff gets more privileges than does crew, but less than officers, naturally. Jealousy can kick in here. For instance, we are allowed to eat in the pizza/pasta bar. It’s not great, but it’s better than the staff mess. Get the right guy serving you, and you can get eyeballed. With casual dining, we have to get permission and have forms signed. Even with those forms signed, they will either outright try to deny serving us, or just pretend they don’t notice us and hope we go away. Same with drinking in guest lounges. The crew serving us are watching for us to make a mistake. If we do, it’s reported right away in hopes our privileges are taken away, and the CD has to go to bat for us. It helps here to tip well when you eat in areas that you are served.

In Lanzarote a few days ago, we had to take a shuttle to get to the city center. Of course, crew had to move back to the back of the bus. We had a few laughs about it, whatever. But on the way back, the only reason I didn’t have trouble is because I happened to get on the shuttle when the person in charge stepped away for a minute and didn’t notice me. I found out that had I not done that, I would have been late to my training, because other crew members had to wait over an hour and a half. They were told they couldn’t board the bus until the guests were on there first. Well, guests kept coming and coming, and before they knew it, they had more than a (double decker) busload of crew that was denied the right to board the bus. They even brought an officer out to warn the crew complaining to not make a scene. Many people were late that day, and I’m sure they were the ones who got in trouble.

There are a few other cases like this, and some of them could have been more serious, like a sick crewmember turned away from the medical facility because he didn’t show up during one of the two hours during the day that crew was allowed treatment.

In any of these instances, if you so much as express your displeasure about it, you will be reprimanded faster than you can say “signed off” and they may take the “privilege” from your whole department. While guests should come first, when it starts showing problems, especially healthwise, something needs to be done. I’m sure a guest wouldn’t mind if an obviously sick crew member were to get treated outside of the allotted hours, or that some crew were waiting for the bus long before those guests were and should be on a first come, first serve basis. And in both of those situations, we’re not in uniform, so as far as the guests know, we’re guests, too.

There are plenty of reasons to not go over the top about it, though. You make some great friends. You see some great ports. I would even love to go back to some of those cities and take a week exploring. Even more. The food off the ship is great. When else would I have said I’ve eaten authentic Greek or Turkish food? Italian is hard to say. I’m Italian-American, and I had to work very hard to get some good dishes in Italy. The pizza in Naples is great, but I’m still partial to New York pizza.

Would I do this gig again? Yes, in the right circumstances. I probably would not do a six month contract again, unless I really needed the money. After seeing the people that made this a career, it makes you think. Many of these guys have something funny about them. It must take a toll being on a boat that much for years, and to have only fleeting relationships. There’s no way to have a steady relationship with anyone, even family. People in your life come and go, and if you are lucky, you will see them again sometime in the future. Most musicians I’ve already met weren’t doing six month contracts any more. They do short ones to kill time between the poor guys who do the six month ones. In this way, you’re not away from home for too long, and it’s a little easier on the mind.

Some of the things that you will want to do as soon as you get off of a contract this long:

1. Sleep

While, yes, you do sleep quite a bit as a musician, the beds are small. Especially for someone like me. There’s no box spring, just a mattress on top of a piece of sheet metal bolted to the bed frame. A bedroom with a window is something to look forward to as well. You’re just going to want one of the best slumbers you’ve had in a while as soon as you get home.

2. Eat some of your favorite foods

You will miss your mom’s dishes. You will miss your favorite local grinds. Some of my favorite foods are the dishes I cook. You can’t cook here. I can’t wait to have a simple American sandwich. Some hot wings. REAL (not tourist-made) pasta dishes. You can find some in the right places in Italy, but it was a big ordeal to look for it. Inevitably, you will sit around with friends on the ship and discuss the first places you’re going to go eat at when you get home. The ship makes an attempt at hamburgers, and instead of hotdogs, you get some weird tasting pig-in-a-blanket. You have to wonder if anyone in the galley has ever had a real hotdog or hamburger. Since San Juan is American, we are going to at least find some American chains we know have good food and stuff our faces. And the entertainment department is looking forward to a real cookout on the beach.

3. Drive

Even if the gas prices suck these days, getting behind the wheel is something I like to do. Besides all else, I’m in control.

4. Internet

I can’t wait to just get on the internet and surf, and leave it on.  Windows hates not being connected; I get notifications like on the hour that there’s a connection problem.  You don’t even realize how much you rely on the net for just general information.  I spend quite a lot less money than most crew members on the ship–usually around $30 a month.  Some go through hundreds in a pay period just to surf around.


Even in college, I didn’t play this much. You need a mental rest. A few days here and there to clear your head to have a clean start musically. The longest break you will have out here is a day, and that’s more than most crew get. Even music that isn’t really deep, I still feel things from performances jumbling around in my head without giving them a chance to get out and let me start playing with that clean slate. Then again, my current roommate said one of his ships gave the musicians three to five days off at a time. That would be a little weird for me there.

I realize in the future, I will be sitting around wherever I am, and missing these experiences. But this isn’t the first time music has taken me around the world, so I can be sure it won’t be the last. The trumpet player has told me about a popular touring brass group he’s a part of and that I am qualified for, provided I can get my brass chops back up. He said the pay is considerably better. Maybe that’s my next adventure.