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.

Trustworthiness.

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.

Organization.

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.

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.

Summary

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

PCS.

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.

My Ever-Changing Career as a Musician

When I was in college, I held several part time jobs to make ends meet. One of those part time jobs was playing guitar at a few restaurants every month. Nothing glamorous, but I was happy to be playing guitar. I started keeping track of how much money I made on those gigs to see if I could justify quitting one of the other part time jobs.

It turns out keeping a detailed list of my music income has served me well over the last 10 years. I was eventually able to justify quitting all of my day jobs and become a full time musician, and since being a full time musician, I’m able to keep a finger on the pulse of my various streams of musician income. Just as a shop owner keeps track of her inventory and carries whatever products are in demand, I’ve been able to assess and adjust my inventory of music jobs that keep me in business.

Over the last 10 years the way I make a living has changed dramatically. I’ve never made a lot of money, but I’ve been able to make more each year despite the changes in the music industry and economy in general. Here’s my method and what I’ve learned along the way.

Multiple Streams of Income

One thing I learned early on was to diversify my income. If one stream hits a drought, you can lean on the others to get by. Here’s how I categorize my income:

  1. Non-Union Gigs
  2. Union Gigs
  3. Recorded Music Sales/Streams
  4. Royalties
  5. Miscellaneous

Anything that pays me to be playing guitar falls under one of the gig categories. Performances, rehearsals, recording sessions, etc. Additionally, I separate my gigs between non-union and union, mainly because my accountant tells me to (taxes are withheld from my union paychecks), but it also gives me a good understanding of where I make more money. Currently, that’d be non-union gigs.

My recorded music income is essentially anything I make from my distributor: CD and download sales, streams, ringtones and whatever other formats exist today.

Royalty income is earned through BMI. There are other avenues to earn royalties, but for now, I’m only earning money through BMI. This income is also reported in a separate space on my tax return, so I keep strict records for my accountant.

The miscellaneous category covers a lot of ground, but none of it is significant or regular enough to warrant tracking under it’s own category. Some of this income includes:

  • Licensing
  • Commissions
  • Teaching lessons/masterclasses/clinics
  • Revenue from websites (MusicianWages and my own)
  • Transcriptions/charts
  • Arranging/orchestrating
  • Backend earnings that don’t qualify as royalties

Broad Categories for Musician Income

Dave Hahn and I have often discussed musician income in two broad categories: Active/Passive and Yours/Others. Naturally, I think of my earnings in this way as well.

Active Income / Passive Income

Active Income, also known as Earned Income, is a finite amount of money paid for specific time or services. Everything under the Gig categories and about half of the jobs under Miscellaneous count as Active Income. Every month I try to make sure there are enough jobs that create Active Income to at least cover my expenses.

Passive Income is the money I make from my recorded music, royalties, website revenue, and various other backend percentage agreements. I usually have an idea of about how much Passive Income I’ll earn each month, but experience tells me that you can’t count on the check arriving before rent is due. Nonetheless, this money is vital in rounding out my income, especially when there are holes in my calendar for Active Income jobs.

Your Music / Other People’s Music

This broad category is pretty easy to understand:

Your Music is basically anything you create as an artist or songwriter. If you have your own original band and play shows and sell CDs, then you’re making money from your own music.

Everything else is Other People’s Music. If you work as a sideman, play in a cover band, in a church, in musical theatre, teach, or any other type of musician job we’ve ever discussed on this site that you can’t call your own music, then you’re making money from other people’s music.

How My Streams of Income Have Changed

Creating Passive Income with my Original Music

In 2007 I was working a full time job at a major record label, a job I’d somewhat fallen into through temp work a couple years earlier. Meanwhile I was playing a few times a month with my own jazz trio, performing mostly original music from an album I’d independently released earlier in the year.

The day job helped me cover rent and bills, which freed up most of my music income to be reinvested. In other words, I could use my music income for things like paying my band, saving up to make a new album, or buying new gear–all things I felt would have long term benefits to my career as a musician. I was my own patron, supporting myself as my art developed.

At this time, most of my music income came from music sales, and most of that was through iTunes. You see, for a brief period of time I figured out a way to use iMixes in the iTunes Store to help people discover my music. I started making enough money that in early 2008 I quit my day job and took a pay cut to become a full time musician.

Because I was making most of my money as passive income with my own music, the logical thing to do was create more content–or write and record more music. In 2008 and 2009 I wrote and recorded a new album for my trio while also creating several DIY albums with friends under various monikers. I figured each recording was a new asset that could potentially earn more passive income down the road. And for a time it did.

By the end of 2009, however, it was clear that the decline in music sales that had been decimating record stores since 2001 was finally catching up to the small, independent artist and DIY scene that had gained some footing a few years earlier. Despite having three times as many albums (for a total of nine) available on iTunes and other online stores, my distributor was paying me a quarter of what I had been making on average the year before. It’s even less today, and unless I wanted to get a day job again, I needed to beef up my other streams of income.

Generating Active Income with Other People’s Music

Having worked for a record label, I knew that a decline in my record sales was inevitable. Once I quit my day job, I had a lot more time to start playing with other people. I began networking with other musicians and gradually started playing as a sideman.

Playing other people’s music is a much different gig than playing your own music.

When you write and perform your own music, it’s easy to cater to your strengths. When your job is to play other people’s music, you really can’t have any weaknesses.

To become a well rounded guitarist, I started transcribing players from all genres, especially genres in which I had less experience, like country. Gradually I felt confident copping the styles of many major guitarists. You never know when the person hiring you will ask for a David Gilmour lick in one song and a Vince Gill lick in another. You don’t have to play like every guitarist all the time, but you have to convincingly play like any guitarist some of the time.

I also had to think about earning active income, which meant playing a lot more gigs. One of my goals was to play 100 shows in a year, and doing whatever was necessary to make that happen.

In New York City, original bands play about once a month locally, more if they tour. Cover bands might play once or twice a week. Broadway and Off-Broadway shows run 8 times a week, and as a sub you can usually count on at least a few gigs a month. In order to reach 100 shows, it was clear I needed to play a lot of different gigs as a sideman.

This was a lot easier to do without a day job. Learning music can be a full time job in itself, and for every band you play with you can expect at least one rehearsal each month. Networking also takes time. I spent many late nights going to friends shows trying to meet other musicians.

Eventually I began playing with singer/songwriters, rock bands, pop singers, a bluegrass band, jazz vocalists, and occasionally playing private events and club dates. At first I didn’t ask for much money, but as I got busier it was easier to value my time. I found that if a gig wasn’t paying much, and especially if I wasn’t that into the music, it was best to walk away amicably because a better gig was always around the corner.

In 2012 I’m on pace to play about 125 shows. The active income I’ll earn from playing other people’s music this year will more than make up for passive income I’ve stopped earning with my own music.

Nurturing the Odd Jobs

Along with playing and recording, there are many types of musician jobs to supplement your income. These jobs help round out your days and can often get you through sales droughts and slow months for gigs.

The first job that comes to mind is teaching private lessons. Now, for many musicians, this is actually their main gig. I enjoy teaching motivated students, but for the most part I never have more than a couple weekly students at a time. Most of the time I’ll teach a few lessons to intermediate to advanced level students that want to work on something very specific. I’ve attracted many of my students by posting semi-regular free guitar lessons on my website. Currently I have one Skype student and one local student.

Other services I offer include recording demo tracks for songwriters, writing easy to read charts for bands, and arranging horn or string parts. These are all active income jobs.

Although recorded music sales are dwindling, there is still money to be made from recordings. Licensing your music is an incredibly viable way to keep some passive income flowing. I’ve delivered most of my music to various music libraries and fostered relationships with people in music supervision. The music I’ve recorded so far has been licensed more and more frequently, and I’m also earning quarterly royalty checks through BMI. The big money, however, is in exclusive custom jobs, and I’ve submitted several demos for commercials. I haven’t landed anything yet, but eventually I will.

I also earn some money through my websites. MusicianWages.com was created as a passion, but Dave and I have built it up to a point where we can make a little bit of money each month.

Looking Ahead

There are limitations to the work I’m doing now, and I’m constantly thinking of solutions.

There’s only one Friday and Saturday night a week, and as I get busier I get more calls to play those nights. Eventually some of those bands are going to have to replace me with somebody that’s more available. The only way to make more money is to land gigs that pay more. These gigs are higher pressure and have more competition, so I try to play all of my current gigs as perfectly as possible. You never know who’s listening. I sometimes tell people who ask me about my career that I’m no rockstar, but if a rockstar called and needed me for a tour, I could get the job done.

Another option is to find gigs earlier in the week. Most of these gigs pay less, with the notable exceptions of tours and Broadway gigs. This year I started subbing on a couple shows off Broadway, including the revival of Rent, and I believe I’m well equipped to play more of these highly competitive gigs.

I also see the importance of writing music. All kinds of music. Publishing is still a viable source of income for musicians, and if you have a writer credit on a few successful songs, you can make decent money. I try to write something every day–even if it’s just four bars of melody–and am always open to collaborate with other musicians.

And finally, I’d like to keep developing my own music and create art for the sake of art. After all, that’s the reason I started playing music in the first place!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the music industry, it’s that these days nothing stays the same for long. Multiple streams of income makes it easier to adapt. Owning the rights to my albums means I can exploit them however I see fit in the future. Playing a lot of gigs with a lot of different bands prepares me for bigger, higher paying gigs. If any of these miscellaneous jobs turn into a bigger gig, I’ll be prepared for that, too. I can’t control when opportunity will knock, but I know I’ll be ready.

Advice for New Army Musicians

I recently attended 7 weeks of “senior leader” training at the illustrious Joint Base Little Creek Ft. Story in Va Beach.   Since I’m seasoned (old) and having been doing this job for a while, this was actually the third time I’ve been an extended guest.

I did a lot of practicing, rehearsing, over-eating and binge drinking. But I’m not going to tell you about me.  Because by the time you civilians out there in cyberland attend this training (about 10-15 years from now, if you were to drop everything and enlist today) my experiences would be outdated, obsolete, and irrelevant… Although I imagine the boozing and gorging would still apply.

Instead I’m going to tell you about what I saw going on with the basic students – the Army’s newest crop of musicians. What they did, saw and felt. Much has changed since I went through 15 years ago. If you’d like to read about that check out my blog ……  But if you’d like info that’s more relevant what happening now, read on.

Let me break it down for you:

You’re looking at ten weeks of intensive Music/Army school. What used to be 6 months has been condensed, compressed, revised and redesigned.  You will not be taught how to be a functioning musician. It is assumed that you are already a  competent musician before you ship off to basic. You will only be refined and repackaged to be a functioning musician in the Army.

Notice I did not say Army music school.  You will be learning how to function as an Army musician, but you will also be learning how to function in the Army.  This is still training.  It’s true,  you’ve finished with Basic Training,  but until you graduate from A.I.T. (advanced individual training – what this is) you’re not a full-fledged member of the team. You are a trainee. And (hint hint) nobody is supposed to enjoy being a trainee.

During your time in training you’ll live in the barracks. Two to a room with your own bathroom. Men and women live on different floors. You’ll be told how to make your bed and where to place your shoes. Barracks life is similar to dorm life -minus the clouds of pot smoke and across campus streaking.

Here’s some good news – the Drill Sergeants you’ve grown so fond of during Basic Training are long  gone.  You now have Platoon Sergeants (they wear different hats). Platoon Sergeants have a similar role to the Drill Sergeants.  They are prepping you for all non musical aspects of Army life. From nutrition and wellness to moving under direct fire (in case you need to get the morning paper while people are shooting at you).  You’ll see them every morning as you learn to exercise the Army way. And if you have any issues (your car’s been repossessed, your kid’s been expelled, you contracted V.D… again) it’s their job to help you work them out.  Be forewarned – these are seasoned combat vets. If your jackass-like antics turn them from mentors into babysitters,  they will not be pleased…  and then you will not be pleased.  Stupidity is not a trait they value in potential bandsmen.

The next biggest influence on you life at school will be your MPT (music performance team) leader.  They are the ying to the Platoon Sergeants yang. While the Platoon Sergeants mold you into combat ready Soldiers,  the MPT Leaders will make you shine like rock stars!

Shortly after arriving, you will be split into MPTs based on your instrument and experiences.  Spoiler Alert- There is a Strong possibility you will be placed out of your comfort zone. Classical Trumpet player who doesn’t improvise, you may find yourself in a New Orleans style Brass Band; Latin Guitarist who loves Bossa Novas, get ready for SlipKnot and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The MPT’s are student driven.  You’ll pick the songs and should have a sense of pride and ownership in your group. The MPT leader will act as a guide working with the groups to create the best product. With everything culminating at an end of course concert attended by all of the faculty and your fellow students.

These MPT’s will be a large focus of your time here.  You will learn staging, programming (how to build a set list), choreography – basically how to put on the most entertaining show possible.

We, the senior class,  got to sit in for some of these sessions.  Now I’ve been gigging for years and was pretty skeptical about “live performance coaching”.  But the information was sound.  And even I, grizzled and jaded, picked up a few tips.

In addition to all of this you will receive private lessons – you’ll take an audition when you arrive,  and you’ll need to pass a final audition to graduate (for more information on the auditions check out my last blog). You can also expect concert band, marching band, master classes, physical fitness tests, deliberately imposed stress and very little free time.

Some words of advice I was asked to pass on to you:

  1. Be prepared for your audition.
  2. Be physically fit (Basic Training should help with this).
  3. Be flexible (with your daily routine – not folding yourself into a pretzel).
  4. Know how to manage your time effectively.

Of the students I spoke to,  all the reviews were very positive.  They found the experience musically rewarding and physically exhausting.

You’ll make friends and meet a wide variety of people from our field.  Some of whom you may end up serving with down the road.

And after 10 weeks it will be graduation day.  You’ll stand with your classmates reflecting on all you’ve accomplished while anxiously anticipating the future. And on that fine day, I’ll tip my hat, extend my hand and say “Welcome to the team.”

How can I learn how to be a Broadway conductor?

I often have people email me who are interested in becoming Broadway conductors. It’s often musicians still in high school or college who have been bitten by the theatre bug and have developed a passion, but maybe not the skills, for the industry. They ask me,

“How can I learn how to be a Broadway conductor?”

The answer I send back is usually long. There’s no easy way in, really. I mean – I was 12 when I decided I wanted the job and it took me until I was 30 to actually get the job. There are very few college programs geared toward the career, and the path to the top is usually known only by those who are already there. Yet, it’s one of the best jobs left in a troubled music industry and a viable career choice for many collaborative pianists.

I write about the job here on MusicianWages because I want to help others who are interested in conducting and music directing musical theatre shows. I started to feel like I was perhaps writing too frequently about music directing here on MusicianWages.com, so I helped found a new website, TheatreMusicDirectors.org, to dedicate to the topic.

And now I’m helping organize an afternoon of master classes in NYC for anyone interested in music directing for theatre.

On June 25th I’m bringing together 3 Broadway conductors to each give a 2-hour master class. Joe Church (the original MD for Lion King on Broadway, now conducting at Sister Act) will discuss piano-conducting technique. Jeff Marder (Associate Conductor for Priscilla Queen of the Desert on Broadway and synth programmer for Newsies) will give a class on music technology and synth programmer. Sonny Paladino (Assistant Conductor for the Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar will talk about breaking down and performing all the different styles of music required for modern musical theatre.

It’s going to be very cool. And after the classes are done John Miller will join us for a 1-hour question and answer session.

If you are interested in music director for theatre or one day conducting on Broadway – you should register for these classes on June 25th. You’ll meet 4 Broadway conductors (including me) and John Miller and you’ll be able to ask all of us any questions you might have about how to get started in the business.

I wish I had something like this when I got started. I’m telling you, this is a really unique and valuable opportunity.

Class sizes are limited and there’s a chance they will sell out. So please register right away. Here is the ticket form, or you can find out more info our EventBrite page.

Learning Musical Styles with Transcription

I received an email today from M., who’s in college now and interested in working on Broadway one day. He asked me about a comment I made a few weeks ago.

I wrote an article talking about how I got my current gig, and I gave the advice that younger musicians shouldn’t over-emphasize their theatre experience when hustling this job. Broadway, in my opinion, prefers musicians that have learned different musical styles from outside of Broadway. Here’s the section:

Whether its true or not, Broadway music is largely seen as a derivative art form among the Broadway musician community. Look at shows like Jersey Boys, Million Dollar Quartet, In the Heights – these shows showcase rock n roll, country, hip hop and salsa – none of which originated on Broadway.

The last thing you want to say, therefore, is that you learned to play R’n’B by playing a summerstock version of Dream Girls. Broadway wants authentic players that have learned music styles from the source, not from itself.

I really think this is true. I just don’t feel like you can learn jazz by playing musical theatre scores. You have to learn jazz by playing jazz.

And so, M.’s question to me was this:

I am classically trained and I personally feel any style other than classical has been learned from playing MT repertoire. I feel that I am very limited because of this. I feel intimated and do not know where to even begin learning these styles.

[Do] you have any advice on how to learn jazz, blues, gospel, latin etc…?

That’s a good question, M.

Commercial Music in Theatre

First off, there are plenty of good gigs for classically trained musicians in the New York theatre scene. Shows that are in the traditional theatre style might be a good fit – for instance the current revival of Porgy and Bess or the long-running Mary Poppins. These shows showcase old-school theatre or operetta styles and need great classical players.

However, Broadway’s musical styles have always followed popular music trends, and you can see that with today’s shows as well. Most of the shows on Broadway today are shows that require commercial musicians that understand how to play jazz, rock, funk and world styles.

The Twenty Year Itch

As a side note, I’d just like to register my own complaint about Broadway music – yes, we follow popular music trends, but must we follow so far behind? If you look at the shows open on Broadway right now – Jesus Christ Superstar, Mamma Mia, Godspell, Rock of Ages, Priscilla, Memphis, etc. – not one of those shows features music that was written less that 20 years ago. Among other reasons – how can we instill a passion for theatre in younger audiences if we ignore music written during their lifetime?

The exception this season, of course, is Once which features music from the 2006 movie. Bravo, Once. Where is everyone else? No indie rock musicals out there? No bachata musical?

Anyway – M., here’s my answer (and I’m sure others will have valuable answers in the comments below).

The thing about commercial styles of music – by which I mean most non-classical styles – is that they can’t be learned from books and sheet music. The rhythm, groove, and feel of commercial styles needs to be heard and felt.

So my best advice is to transcribe different styles directly from recordings.

Recordings

And – these days – there’s no excuse not to transcribe. When I was coming up it was difficult to get access to recordings of different styles – recordings cost money back then (imagine!). Now you can get a Spotify subscription for $10/month and have almost anything you’d ever want.

For example – just the other day I found a Spotify playlist for every song in the Real Book. Are you kidding me? Do you know know how hard it would have been to gather all of those recordings together when I was in jazz school? Now there is no excuse to not have intimate knowledge of several different versions of each jazz standard.

Actually – I’ve thought a lot about this recently – I’m anxiously awaiting a new breed of musician to come out of the Spotify generation. There are kids growing up today who have unprecedented access to every style of music recorded over the last 100 years. I can only imagine what kind of musician I would be if I’d been listening to Miles at birth instead of discovering him – like most white, suburban kids of the 1990s – as a teenager in my high school band room.

The musicians that come out of music school in 20 years will have no excuse not to be monster players. What kind of jobs will be available to them…well that part is anybody’s guess.

Transcribe

Back to transcribing. M., transcribing gets better as you go. It’s tortuous as first, but addictive as you get the hang of it. Here’s how you should start:

Find a recording of a new musical style that you really dig. Put in on your phone and listen to it over and over. Listen to it as you’re walking to class, while you’re eating, when you wake up. Sing along to all of the solos, know the form, figure out the instrumentation. Get to know that recording really, really well.

Then – after that listening phase – sit down at your instrument and start playing along. Figure out the key, the harmonic structure, pick out of a few key notes. This is how I like to start – I just get a cursory feel for the harmonic content of the song. Some musicians are much better at this part – even without perfect pitch they can start picking out almost all of the song on the first go. Personally, I’m much slower at this, especially when I started out.

Then take sections of the song and learn every note. For example, I was once trying to learn to play a better jazz blues. I took the recording of “Freddie the Freeloader” from Kind of Blue and transcribed Wynton Kelly’s solo from 0:45 to 2:13. That’s a great solo to transcribe, actually, because you get to play along with Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums) and their swing is so killing on that whole record.

And that’s the thing with transcribing – you are picking up not just the notes, but the rhythm, groove and feel that I mentioned before. You’re picking up on all the thing that sheet music can’t teach you.

Then transcribe more. Learn the difference between Basie swing and Ellington swing. Listen to the play between bass and kick drum in disco music. Listen to where the open strings are on Simon and Garfunkel recordings. Figure out what the hell that voicing is that Chick Corea is using on [insert Chick album here].

Write It Down

Under NO circumstances are you allowed to even glance at any published sheet music during this process. You’ll quickly find that sheet music is a poor representation of music, anyway.

However, that said, the next step is to write down what you’ve transcribed. This part can be particularly difficult – especially on, say, Charlie Parker transcriptions…so don’t start with that. But it gets easier.

Jason Crosby Solo TranscriptionHere’s an example of something I transcribed a few years ago. Jason Crosby plays a great Hammond solo on Susan Tedeschi’s version of Don’t Think Twice. I loved it so much I had to transcribe it and play it myself. Here’s a copy of my transcription.

Of course, you don’t have to write it out in Finale like I did – but it doesn’t hurt to practice those Finale chops. You’ll need those, too, when you get out of college.

Keep It Up

I think any commercial player will agree that learning musical styles by ear is the best way to absorb them into your playing. And I think everyone can all agree that it’s not an easy thing to start to do if you’ve been classically trained and haven’t learn music that way before.

But it’s invaluable. It’ll change your playing. And more importantly, it’s absolutely necessary. It would be nice if, instead, we could just go on tour with a great swing band like our past legends did…but those days are long gone. The best thing we can do is learn the recordings inside and out.

Although – by all means start a band and go on tour making new music. Then write an indie rock musical so I can play it.

(In 20 years.)

How To Audition for Cirque du Soleil as a Musician

I want to preface this article with this: I didn’t get the gig. I got a free trip to Japan for 5 days of interviews and auditions, but in the end the gig went to the other guy.

So I can’t exactly tell you how to get a gig with Cirque, but I can tell you how to audition (and, maybe, what not to do).

It was January, 2010, when I got a call from a colleague of mine. He had previously worked as a keyboardist for Cirque in Vegas and had since operated, now and then, as one of their recruiters. He told me Cirque was looking for a new music director for a tour they had in Asia and my colleague had recommended me for the spot.

He wasn’t sure what the pay would be, but he estimated that it would pay about as much as a music director on Broadway would earn, which is somewhere around $150,000+/year. Of course I said yes. I told him I would go through the audition and recruiting process and make him proud.

My colleague forwarded me the music that I would need to learn for the audition. That included 9 selections from the show, along with demo recording of the songs and backing tracks that I could record to.

Registering with Cirque’s Jobs Website

The first step with Cirque, though, is to register for their online application system, located here:

www.cirquedusoleil.com/jobs

I want to emphasize this – they seem to be very strict about their application process, and there are no exceptions – you have to follow the rules exactly as they present them or your application will be disregarded (or simply lost in their system).

So I registered for their jobs site, then set about to make my demo video.

The Demo Video

Cirque du Soleil is smart about it’s videos. They don’t want professional-videographer-quality videos for auditions. I think they know, like everyone, that professional quality videos and recordings can include a great deal of smoke-and-mirrors – including punch-in overdubbing, auto-tune, huge reverb, and all the other tech tools that can turn an otherwise average musician into a virtuoso.

They don’t want any of that. They just want you to put a camera in the corner and hit record.

So, for my video I used a regular ol’ digital camera – my Panasonic DMC-FS15, a 12-megapixel point-and-shoot camera that I got for Christmas the year before. I used the built-in microphone and edited the video (minimally) with Mac’s stock iMovie application. Nothing fancy.

It took me 5 days to learn the songs and make the video, working from morning to night. I would practice a song until I had it polished, then hit record on the camera.

In the video instructions they requested that I talk a little about my background and why I wanted to work for Cirque. So I also videotaped myself talking (which I now find impossible to watch without cringing).

Here is my final audition video that I sent to Cirque:

The Application

Applying for Cirque also requires some paperwork. In addition to the video demo I needed to send them:

  1. A cover letter (PDF)
  2. Resume – including date of birth, nationality, contact info and all school and experience marked by year (PDF)
  3. 3 photos – 2 headshots and 1 full-length shot (jpg/PDF)
  4. One audio demo (mp3)
  5. One 5-minute video from a recent rehearsal

I sent them my grid-based resume that you can read about here. I found 3 photos and sent along my standard demo recording. Here is a copy of the cover letter I sent (with specifics blacked out).

For the 5-minute rehearsal video I brought my little point-and-shoot into the gig I was doing at the time and hit record. Back home I edited out a 5-minute block of time that showed me playing and interacting with singers. I would show you that, but some of the performers there were equity actors and rules are rules – I can’t post the video without their consent. Anyway, it doesn’t matter – I’m sure you can picture it.

Submission

Once I had all of this material together I submitted all of it to Cirque through my profile on their jobs website. I remember finding that process a little confusing – the job site’s interface can be difficult to use – but eventually I was able to submit it.

Altogether it took me 6 days to put together and submit my application to Cirque. I worked on nothing else for that time. It was very time consuming.

After successfully submitting my materials I called my colleague and let him know. He then alerted his contacts at Cirque’s headquarters in Montreal and we were all finished.

Basically, that’s the end of this article. That’s how you audition for Cirque du Soleil.

But perhaps my experience might help you with yours, so I’ll tell you the rest of the story.

A Call from Cirque du Soleil

Normally it can take Cirque a long time to get back to applicants. I’ve heard of people being called out of the blue, 4 years after their application, for a gig. I imagine it was because I had been recommended, but this is not how it went for me.

I got a call from Cirque’s headquarters 3 days later. They told me that the job that I had applied for was no longer available. In fact, they told me that someone had been in negotiations for that job for some time.

All I could think was…geez, I just wasted nearly a week on this thing – and in the end we’d been given bad information?

It was a nice phone call, though. I was still grateful for the opportunity to be recommended and apply anyway. They said they liked my playing and would keep me in mind in the future.

Another Call From Cirque du Soleil

Three weeks later Cirque called back again. They said the position was, suddenly, available again and they would like to consider me for the job.

Great!

The next step was a Skype interview with the higher-ups in Montreal, which we scheduled for a few days later. At the interview I met with, if I remember right, three people who were all from the recruiting/human resources department of Cirque. It was a nice interview – we spoke primarily about chain-of-command issues and management styles. Like any music director gig, it’s always less about music and more about how best to manage people. I felt very confident coming out of the interview.

They told me that they were considering 3 candidates for the job, and they would advance only 1 candidate from this round of interviews. That candidate would basically have the job, but would need to fly to Japan to meet the tour and make sure it was a good fit.

A few days later they called again and told me I’d advanced to the next round! Great, I thought, that means I’ve basically got the job!

This was on a Monday or Tuesday, and they asked if I could fly the Japan the following Monday. I cleared my schedule, told all my friends I’d (basically) landed a job with Cirque and packed my luggage.

The Catch

The catch was that I would need to agree to the terms of the contract prior to flying to Japan. There was good reason for this, of course. They didn’t want to pay for me to take a trip to Japan only to find, when I returned, that I wouldn’t sign the contract.

This is where things got weird, though.

They were reluctant to tell me what the pay or benefits of the job actually were. They weren’t entirely sure, even, where the tour was going over the next two years (which was the length of the contract).

I thought that was a little weird, but I didn’t worry too much. I called my colleague for advice and we both agreed that I should just have my lawyer take care of this part of the negotiations. What do I know about contracts this big anyway? This is how it’s done on Broadway (the scene I know most about) – when you are hired to be a music director you have your lawyer negotiate the contract.

So I called my lawyer. To my complete surprise it turned out that my lawyer was the same firm who had been negotiating the previous candidate’s contract – they told me that those negotiations had fallen apart when Cirque offered too little and the candidate had walked away from the table.

I was in a better position, though, as I had less credits than the previous candidate and would probably be much better suited to the results of the previous negotiation.

Great!

However, the offer from Cirque was considerably less than I expected. It was more in the $60,000/year range…which you might remember is less than half of what I’d expected all this time.

My lawyers worked to get the offer increased, but Cirque seemed reluctant to budge. By the end of the week they’d moved a little bit and I’d accepted the terms. It wasn’t as much as I expected, but it was enough. I was excited about the job.

Japan

On Monday I left for Japan. My friends (and employers) all figured this was the last they’d see of me for awhile and they wished me well. I found subs for all of my gigs.

On Monday morning, while I was at the airport, Cirque called again to let me know that the other candidate and I would be staying at the same hotel, and perhaps we could meet up at the airport in Japan.

The other candidate?

I’ll spare you the drama that followed. I’m not entirely sure how things went down, but the story I ended up with was something like this: 2 days before I left for Japan they called another candidate who hadn’t previously been part of the process and told him to get ready to leave for Japan. He was being considered for a music director job with the same tour in Asia.

Why did they do that? I’ll never know. My guess is that they didn’t like that I’d lawyer’d up…but I had only meant to do the professional thing. Perhaps they just didn’t like my lawyer? I really don’t know. For whatever reason they started to get a bad read on me – and, actually, that part doesn’t bother me. Why they still took the time and expense to send me to Japan for a week is the part I can’t understand.

What followed was 5 days of interviews, meals and meetings. It was really tense, to be honest. The other candidate and I knew that we were competing with each other for this job, both of us wanted it, and we were thrown together in this strange situation in the middle of Japan.

There were personality tests, auditions on tape, auditions with the music director, meetings with the crew, lunches with the artistic director, dinners with the other band members, more interviews late at night.

I’ll admit it – I really wasn’t mentally prepared for all of this. I thought I was going to Japan to meet my new co-workers, not fight with a stranger for a job that paid half of what I expected it to.

You can imagine about how well this all went. I did my best, but I’m sure they saw a little shadow in my eye that hinted at my misgivings. I don’t fake emotions well. I’m sure I seemed a little put off. I was.

Back Home

We left Japan without any indication about who had won the job. It was a full week before I got the call from Cirque that told me that they had given the job to the other candidate. My reaction was a mix of disappointment and relief. I felt bad that I’d lost the gig, but the Japan experience had left a bad taste in my mouth that I wasn’t eager to revisit.

I had to rebuild things here in NYC after that. Obviously I’d made a big deal about how I was very close to working for Cirque du Soleil, and I had to retract all of that, apologize to subs and employers and get my old gigs back. It wasn’t as hard as it sounds, I think I just found it a little embarrassing.

Final Conclusions

I still think that Cirque du Soleil is an incredible company that puts on high quality shows. I’m not sure if the situation I went through with them was a normal recruiting process, but I’ll say this – they are a private corporation that has grown and seen a lot of success. Corporations don’t make a cake that big without breaking some eggs, you know? They do what they have to do to get the best product possible. And I think I just caught the bad end of that stick back in 2010.

Bottom line, they are a major employer of musicians and other artists worldwide – and for working artists that is something that can’t be ignored. I recommend auditioning for Cirque. Once you get the gig they really seem to take care of their people.

If you’re interested in the Cirque gig, take my story with a grain of salt. Sign up for their jobs site and make your own story.

Finding Work in a New Scene

Editor’s Note: This article is part 2 of a new series by Dave Jolley, an accomplished drummer who recently moved to New York City and is settling into a new life and a new scene.

Amazingly, there was nary ticker nor tape to greet me as I drove into Gotham. The Don of the Broadway mafia didn’t meet me with the unrefusable offer of: “What show would you like to do for how much money?”

I felt duped.

Flush with tens of dozens of dollars from our months on the road, we had to figure out how to fund the lavish Astorian lifestyle we had chosen.

The Job Search

I consider myself fortunate in that I haven’t had to have a ‘real job’ since achieving the lofty heights of soaker/degreaser in my college cafeteria’s dish room as a part of the work study program. A place where fresh faced boys were molded into pruney handed men.

As a result, I had/have very few marketable real world skills besides as the hitter of things at relatively the right place in the space/time continuum. I decided to see how I could translate my experiences as a musician into a broader and more financially reliable template. Necessity breeds innovation, I suppose.

The very best scenario would find me working full time as a musician playing music that I love and earning a living wage. Reality being what it is, I had to broaden my search and think outside the box to land my first job here.

I started searching Craigslist in the weeks leading up to our arrival to see what was out there. I used phrases such as ‘musician’, ‘drummer’, and ‘percussionist’ under the many categorical headings such as ‘all jobs’, ‘all gigs’, and ‘all community’.

Doing this many times a week for many months has scored me exactly one job and two auditions. Not bad.

My First Job!

I got lucky very early on. Steady work, decent money, and playing the drums all intersected not long after the move. I came across an ad looking for an outgoing drummer who is good with kids. As my wife opined, I am at least one of these things. I submitted my resume, got an audition, played well, and presented myself in a positive light.

In the first example of what will become a leitmotif throughout this series, I knew the right person. Someone I’d been on tour with was adored by the person auditioning me. That person’s name (mysteriously) came up. 4 days later I was playing classes for kids all over the city.

Now clearly this is not what I came here to do, but instead of donning a tie and jumping into the soul sucking (for me) fray of corporate America, I was able to find a job that fit snuggly into what I am trained to do, though not necessarily in a manner that I would ever think of or seek out on my own.

The gig involved learning a crazy amount of music up front. Recordings were provided. A quick ear came in very handy. Some of the tunes were played in every class and then seven or so changed from week to week and location to location. The challenging part, besides the steep learning curve at the start, was keeping track of which set went with which location. Sometimes I played three different sets at three different venues in the course of an afternoon.

Before I sprain my wrist patting myself on the back, it should be pointed out that Zappa this was not. However, it was still challenging enough to keep my interest and saved me from the scourge of slinging venti non-fat-soy-triple-pump-peppermint-prune macchiatos to harried New Yorkers. (Were I even qualified for such a job. Turns out, I’m not.)

It ended up being a much more enjoyable job than I was prepared for it to be. I was getting lots of hours in many different parts of the city and working with other musicians whom I generally and genuinely enjoyed. And the kiddos were adorable.

And then it all fell apart.

Due to circumstances way up the pyramid from me, there ended up being too many drummers for too few classes. It was a classic struggle between the corporate and the mom and pop. There was a split from the big guys and I remained loyal to the lone entrepreneur who had originally hired me. My gut told me one thing and my wallet told me another. I went with my gut.

It’s hard to say at this point if that was the right choice. Certainly the part of me that likes to eat food and sleep in a bed under a roof regrets the righteousness of that call. Had pragmatism won the day, I would still be gainfully employed. It’s a fine line between scruples and our daily bread.

Lesson learned.

Sustenance Work

I’m sure you’ve noticed that everything I’ve talked about so far has been pointed toward the idea of the day job. Just about every one of my musician friends living and working here or in any city has one. This is especially true while one is trying to get established in a new and bigger pond.

I’m discovering that the hardest part of this reality is doing a lot of what you have to so you can do a little of what you want to. Make no mistake. Part of dream livin’ and real keepin’ is dues payin’.

And I’m just getting started.

Related Post: Best and Worst Day Jobs for Musicians

Army Band Auditions

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on his shirt already, mom’s spaghetti” – Eminem.

I think Slim Shady captures the feelings associated with auditions as well as anyone.

Personally, I hate taking auditions.  I’ve always felt that they were staged, artificial, and at best a poor representation of my abilities. Back in college I sweated more over my piano proficiencies than any final exam.

It seems they’re always crammed into a stuffy little room while several people sit behind me scowling and scribbling down notes. Their pencils frantically trying to keep up with all the wrong notes belching up from the piano.  My fingers chunk across the keys like bulbous misshapen sausages, and lick and phrases that were burned into my memory the day before have all but vanished.  Leaving only hollow whispers of things that should have been so amazing.

But unfortunately for most of us, they are a necessary evil.  And if you find yourself heading into the Army…. auditions are a bona-fide GUARANTEE!

You’ll have to endure three auditions before you even get to your first band:

  1. Audition for a band liaison (liaisons are Army musicians whose sole purpose is to find and recruit capable musicians into the Army Band)- proving that you know what you’re doing AND that you would be an asset to the Army Band field.

    You’ll actually take an over-the-phone interview with a band liaison before the audition is scheduled.  They’ll want to know about your musical experiences, education, skills.  WARNING: if you’ve never heard of a minor scale, or can only play songs in the key of “C”,  you may need to head back to the woodshed before picking up that phone.

  2. Audition during your first week of Army Music School. Where you will be assessed, strengths and/or weaknesses identified.

  3. Audition during your final week of Army Music School (10 weeks later). Checking to make sure you can play at least the minimum level required to be functional in a band. (The minimum just ensures graduation. A higher score is always better).

And now the good news…

For that 1st Audition,  (the one that allows you to sign up for this gig) the ball in entirely in your court.

You can spend all day long practicing (assuming you have no life, no job, no family, no bills and no other responsibilities) and set up the audition when you’re good and ready. This will change after you’re in uniform.  – In fact, I’ve been told more than once, that people find more time to practice AFTER joining.

But once you leave for Basic Training, those next two auditions are coming whether you’re ready for them or not.

The audition consists of 4 parts:

  1. Patriotic music.  Shocking, I know.   The Star Spangled Banner, the Army Song. Trumpets get to play some bugle calls. You can do your best Toby Keith impersonation. The liaisons should be able to hook you with the proper versions.

  2. Prepared music. Pick 3 or 4 pieces that you can rock the house with, and “bring it”. They should be contrasting styles. The idea is to make yourself look (and sound) as good as possible. Don’t pick something that you can sort-of play, but hope to one day.   Play your stuff that knocks it out of the park. Playing with backing tracks/play-alongs is encouraged. If you’re in a band, see if you get have the guys play a tune with you, or better yet, bring the liaison to a gig. Pianists should have a solo piece ready to go.  This is the meat of the audition, dazzle ’em!

    …And when I say contrasting styles, I don’t mean country AND western. I mean country and samba,  baroque and death metal, trip-hop and dixieland.  The Army is a gig where versatility counts.

  3. Quickly prepared material. This used to be sight-reading,  but recently the Army realized that we almost never sight-read on a performance. So… they removed sight-reading from the audition (Which in my humble opinion, RULES). Now you get the music the day before the audition.  Giving you roughly 12 – 24 hours to become familiar with it. It will probably be around 5  pieces of music in contrasting styles.

  4. Additional skills.  This is essentially the “extra credit” part of the audition. You get to show off all the extra skills that make you more valuable than the next guy. You can sing, improvise (more for the horn and oboe types), double on trombone. Drop some street knowledge with a verse of “The Humpty Dance.”   Anything else that you can bring to the table, should come out here.

That’s it. Audition Complete.

*Preparing for auditions could be a blog all its own.  But I’ll just share a couple of tips that I’ve found beneficial.

  1. Have your stuff ready now.  Don’t wait until you’ve scheduled the audition to start putting your music together.  That’s stress you don’t need. Keep several pieces polished and ready to go At All Times. 

  2. Play your audition pieces for everybody. I grab anybody I can for 15 minutes and say “please listen to me play this.” Musicians, non-musicians it doesn’t matter.   I tell them to scowl and take notes (or just doodle) while I play.  Trying to replicate that “audition vibe.”  Once you’ve grown accustomed to this setting, the audition itself will be much less foreign.

Good Luck!

If you’d like further info on specific instrument auditions, or any other Army Band information, check out www.bands.army.mil/careers

Breaking In To a New Scene

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a new series by Dave Jolley, an accomplished drummer who recently moved to New York City and is settling into a new life and a new scene.

Leave a comment below to connect, say hi and ask Dave any questions you have about breaking in to a new scene.

We’ve all had to do it.

Never because it’s easy, not because it’s fun. We’ve packed it all up and moved to the big bad city. In my case, the big bad Apple.

This is part one of a series about the ups, downs, trials, and tears of breaking into a brand new scene as a gigging musician. I will share what has worked for me and what hasn’t. Everyone has a different recipe for the mechanics of such an adventure and I hope to start a discussion about good strategies to that end.

Much of what I want to discuss will be based upon my experiences here in New York, but I think many of the ideas will hold in any market, large or small.

Background

My wife and I moved to New York last summer. Prior to that, I was the drummer/percussionist on an international tour of a show with some very naughty puppets. Even prior-er to that I was the resident drummer for a regional theater in Phoenix for 9 years with bouts of touring peppered in there.

It has been a long time goal of mine to play on Broadway so a move to New York was required from a purely spatial standpoint. My wife is a wonderful and talented actress and rumor had it there was a bit of decent theater going on in NYC.

In March of 2011, we had two months left on the road and started to discuss our options. We were free agents for the first time in our ten years together. Extraordinarily freeing and not just a little bit scary.

After much prodding from our many friends in the city including Dave Hahn (cofounder of this site and champion of itinerant drummers), we found ourselves drawn to the idea of New York City. When you’re unemployed and the country is in the middle of a recession, what better idea could there be than moving to the most expensive city in that country?

Nothing ventured nothing gained. Greater risk greater reward. Cue ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

Getting There

In part one, I’m going to discuss the basic practicalities of our move to New York, the myriad of things that we had to think about. We all know what joy a move across town or across the country brings to us. It’s a fun filled stress free time in life.

First we had to figure out how to get ourselves, our stuff, and my drums from Phoenix to New York. We have a fly 2006 Toyota Yaris named Atticus and generous family and friends who allowed us to couch surf across the continent.

We decided that we were going to only bring what would fit in the car. No small task as drums tend to take up space. We shipped the rest of our belongings to my dad’s house via cube freight technology and went about dismantling and remantling my childhood room to accommodate our parred down collection of life’s important detritus. And drums. Mountains and mountains of drums.

Automobile Blues

The last day of August we drove into ‘the city’ for the first time. I would be remiss were I to say that driving here the first time wasn’t just a little crazy. Canine v Canine.

There was much discussion amongst our New York friends as to whether or not having a car here was a good idea. It’s not necessarily necessary but has come in very handy in transporting drums and being able to buy paper towel in bulk at the Queens Costco.

That said, I don’t drive anymore than I absolutely have to as New York has great public transit options. It was an added cost, however, to get the car registered and licensed in the great state of New York. And what they say about the DMV here isn’t true. A solid 25% of the people I encountered working there didn’t yell at or belittle me. Pretty good.

In an ironic little twist, a man was rapidly backing down a one way street as we were pulling out of the DMV parking lot. I honked for the 5 or so seconds before he plowed right into the front of us. The relief of having jumped every bureaucratic hoop to legally drive in the state quickly dissipated. His question to me was, “Why didn’t you get out of the way?” Translation: “Welcome to New York.”

Speaking of car insurance, Flo gave me quite a shock when I switched states. Luckily she said I could sign up for a program that tracks your driving habits for a specified length of time. Assuming you’re not a Nascar driver impersonator, this can lead to a pretty significant discount. I still have both kidneys, thank you very much.

A Place For Hat Hanging

Finding a place to live can be a daunting task anywhere that you move. New York finds particularly sadistic pleasure in this venture. Since we decided to bring just the basics, we settled upon that wonderfully common idea of the sublet. As luck would have it, we had friends who were going on the road for 8 months and for reasons that remain unclear, trusted us to live there. Great place and affordable (for New York).

Had this not been the case, a large chunk of capital is required just to get into a place. And references. And good credit.

First, last, deposit, brokers fee. Sometimes one of these can be dropped if you’re lucky but that is hard to come by. Let’s say you found the perfect place for $1000 per month. We’re talking 3 to 4 grand just to get in the door. Granted that you get some of that back in prepaid rent and deposit if you’re not channelling the behaviors of a mid-80’s hair metal band.

Craigslist is an excellent resource in most major markets for housing. There is everything from nightly, weekly, and monthly rentals to long term sublets and multimillion dollar mansions in the sky. One just has to be cautious as there is not a lot of recourse if you get scammed. However, some of the best and lowest fee deals are under the heading ‘by owner’.

The Devilish Details

Above are the bigger ideas involved in moving but what about all of those little things that keep that tend to get neglected?

  • Change of address
    • Do this through the post office, usps.com, and any online accounts
  • Find a ‘local’ or nationwide bank
    • Look for that ever elusive ‘free checking’ account
    • Look at credit unions and online banks for the best deals
    • Check to see if your union has a bank affiliation
  • Find a place to practice
    • It is rare that your neighbors appreciate your ‘art’ as much as you do
    • Private lock out studios, shared spaces, and hourly studios are available
      depending on you budget

I’m sure I have missed some things. I’d love to hear any of your stories or suggestions about making this inevitable happenstance in life go smoothly.

Stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll wax philosophical about setting up shop in a new market.