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.

Start Your Own Wedding Band

Finding a safe, viable career performing music is no easy task. While it might not be the first choice for every aspiring musician, one way to make a decent bit of money from gigging is to start your own wedding band.

It takes a bit of time to get your wedding band off the ground, but for me it was an obvious choice–starting up a professional gigging band, such as a wedding band, offers a better guarantee of regular income than you might have with your original music.

Why do most musicians start or join wedding bands? The money. Unlike an original band, you don’t have to worry about how many people are coming through the door or how well you promoted the show. Once a wedding band has established itself it can have gigs booked a year out, all with guaranteed money.

And the money is good! As a wedding band you can expect to charge anything from $1250 upwards per show. Even in times of economic downturn there are still a lot of people willing to spend big money making their special day a memorable experience.

To run your own wedding band, you need to think of it as a business enterprise that will need a little bit of time and money invested up front before it pays off. It is, however, a rewarding career choice both in terms of the money and the people you meet. Finishing a night’s work knowing that you’ve helped make someone’s big day an especially memorable experience is rewarding in itself.

This article aims to help you set up your own wedding band and give you advice on how to run it as a successful, rewarding business.

Step 1: Putting together the band.

Like any band it is important you have a group of people that you work well with together musically but what is hugely important in this field is having a group of professional minded people that can look and act the part and not jeopardise future bookings (see 5 Traits of a Professional Musician).

All of you will be representing the band on and off stage so having a group of people that look and act accordingly is key to your success. From my experience the two biggest pitfalls that wedding bands face are having someone that feels they are above manual work or having members that you would be worried about talking to wedding guests.

As well as being able to play well together it is worth considering how each member can contribute outside of their duties as a musician. Think about what everyone can bring to the table to cut down paying additional crew – is someone in the band quite business minded? Do you have a marketing wizard that could make your self-promotion stand out? Can someone act as a sound engineer? Do you have enough drivers/cars or someone with a van? Without these, the journey ahead will be a lot harder if not impossible.

You will be expected to be a self contained unit so can’t rely on crew that a venue might ordinarily provide. It will make all of your jobs a lot easier if everyone pitches in on unloading gear and setting up.

The best wedding band jobs I’ve had in are when everyone contributes in their own unique ways and gets along. Having a group of people you actually like spending time with is important and avoiding infighting can be the difference between this being a rewarding lifestyle career and another day at the office.

Step 2: What will you need?

Equipment

One of the biggest problems you will face on setting up a wedding band is having the capital to get all of the equipment you’ll need to go out and gig. One solution to this is going out and playing some bars as a cover band when you’ve got a set together and using some of this money to fund it. Not everyone has the money up-front to cover these costs and if you want to avoid using a credit card / loan this is a good solution that will mean you won’t have to worry about debt before you’ve even started.

As a basic set-up you will need professional quality instruments and gear, a PA system capable of handling large venues and enough lighting to make sure you’re well lit when a venue doesn’t have these facilities.

Often the places you play aren’t designed for bands or will be located far away from any music hardware stores so remember to bring a spare of everything you can and plenty of power extension cables and multi-sockets with a decent fuse on them in case there aren’t sufficient power supplies at the venue.

Think about your set up as a mobile stage that can be easily transportable and can set up in as minimal time as possible. In this line of work I have played venues from teepee’s to large scale halls and often you won’t know what to expect until you arrive so it really doesn’t hurt to be over prepared.

A lot of venues (especially at corporate events or though booking agents) will want to know that all of your electrical equipment has undergone all of the necessary safety checks and that you are covered for public liability insurance so it’s best to get this sorted as soon as possible to avoid losing bookings.

Dress

Depending on what sort of music you are playing and how you want to put yourselves across as a band this will differ in each wedding band but it is important to dress right for the gig. Just look smart and try to look like you all belong together.

You will be expected to look the part and it is your choice whether you choose to go for matching outfits or try to fit into a visual theme. It is important that you are dressed formally but set yourselves apart from wedding guests/waiting staff.

A lot of wedding bands opt for matching colour themes, but there is no rule of thumb. Check out what other bands are wearing and think about bands that stand out in your mind for how they look (Temptations, Bruno Mars etc…).

Picking a visual theme that works for your band can make all the difference, especially on agency sites where people are browsing a variety of groups.

Step 3: Coming up with a repertoire.

Choosing your repertoire will depend on what sort of band you want to be. There are a huge variety of bands that people book for weddings such as jazz trio’s, big bands, pop covers.. so it is up to you to decide whether to want to cover a niche market or try to cater for everyone.

Unless your wedding band is playing a specific genre and you feel that your set will meet the expectations of this you are going to want to try and cover all of the bases. Most wedding bands will have a style that they play in but try to keep everyone happy. There will be a broad age range so it helps to have a few from each popular genre – 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, disco,some light rock classics and try to throw in a few recent chart hits for the kids!

You will be booked largely on the basis of what type of music you play so be careful to monitor which songs go down well with crowds and consider learning songs that are popularly requested.

If you’re largely out of touch with pop music, try asking a younger friend/relative or keep an eye on the charts for songs you think your band could do a good job of.

What some bands do is offer the client a song request of their choice if booked far enough in advance. This can be really useful for first dances or for songs that hold a sentiment to the newly weds and can make quite an impact if played right and make it all the more memorable for the client.

When it comes to learning the songs it is rare that the band will follow charts so being able to improvise and have a good rapport with the rest of your band will make your lives a lot easier and cut down on practice time. Considering how many songs you’ll need to learn, especially in the first few months before you’ve got a set, you’ll probably want to spend as little time in practice room as possible.

Successful, well functioning wedding bands I have been in in the past have discussed songs together, picked a key that works best for the singer and then learnt the songs in our own time. Practice time can then be spent productively once everyone knows the songs and is largely time to try out putting songs into medleys or adding exciting motifs to the music to make the show memorable.

If you have a prominent musical director type in the band they might have their own ideas for arrangements and each band will play songs in a unique style to themselves as you are trying to make a wide spectrum of music sound good with one set-up.

Some bands choose to learn songs exactly as they are on record while others favour fitting them into medley’s with other songs or doing their own thing with them. How you decide to approach this will affect the product you’re trying to sell, as some bands rely on authentic and true-to-record versions as a unique selling point.

It is unlikely that you are going to be passionate about every song you play so it might help to try leaving your personal feelings towards music at the door. By the hundredth time you’ve played any song you will feel relatively indifferent to it but it is important from the audience perspective that it looks like you’re enjoying every moment like it’s your favourite song.

Step 4: Booking gigs.

First and foremost, when you’re up and running and ready to get gigs, you need to think about booking from the perspective of somebody planning a wedding.. typically the bride. While I often pick up weddings from playing bars and club nights, many brides-to-be don’t want to dedicate a lot of their time to watching different bands as they have a lot of other things to think about and entertainment might not be on the top of their list of priorities.

You might consider paying money for advertising in wedding magazines, websites or wedding planning phone app’s. Some of these will cost you so are worth waiting for later down the line when you have the dollar to fork out.

There are booking agents that you can audition for / apply for but from personal experience these are not to be relied upon for consistent work. They will also take a generous commission and you may find that it is better to think of these as a way to fill the occasional date rather than use them as a long term solution.

Wedding expo’s are another route to take although again, will depend on some money up front to be there. This can take a few different forms from playing occasional slots during the day to sitting at a table with a display talking to potential customers. This is where a full on charm offensive can be of utmost importance and often serves as a fantastic opportunity to network with other wedding related businesses who may choose to promote your wedding band through their own work (e.g.- recommending your band in bridal wear shops or putting a link to you on their website in return for the same).

This is a huge industry to itself though, and while it will cost you to be there it is a rare opportunity for a captive audience of wedding planners to take an interest so use each second you’re there to push yourself and chat with people. Even if you don’t get as many bookings as you’d hope for it will help you get into the mindset of your client and understand what people are looking for in a band.

Having a strong online presence is important as many people will do the majority of their wedding planning online. So get yourself a website made, don’t overwhelm the viewer with information just tell them what package you offer, what sort of music you play and try to provide some pictures/audio clips of you playing, any other media is an added bonus.

Equally, social networking sites and free ad sites can be a useful tool for directing people towards your band. There are plenty of sites out there that will advertise on your behalf for little to no money so try and be creative when you’re writing the description for your band to make you stand out.

You should try and get a testimonial from each gig you play and put these on your website and it is useful for clients to see whether paying customers feel that they got their moneys worth.

Generally, wedding bands are booked far in advance of the day itself so when you start out you shouldn’t expect to be playing any high paying gigs for a while. It is important to manage your diary effectively and plan up to 2 years in advance but putting in the time will pay off in the future. Use this time to play more immediate gigs, it will help strengthen you as a band and make sure you’re well practiced in a live scenario before you’re asking for serious money.

Step 5: Managing the business.

While there are obvious benefits to playing music that people already know and love and a decent wage at the end of a night, it’s important to remember that like any other business you are going to need to give it a lot of attention to keep bookings coming in.

Be prepared

When you have some gigs booked, there are a few things to think about and plan ahead to make sure the day goes smoothly. Think about how long will it take to get to the gig and when you are going to be able to set up and sound check. You might be left with a tight schedule to do this if guests are arriving early or the venue is being used earlier in the day so don’t turn up a few hours before you’re due to go on and expect that people can work around you.

It’s worth taking into consideration that there are also additional things to budget for like new gear, food costs and transport costs.. all of these things mount up so try and keep some money in the bank if you can and always try to keep some money free in case of emergency. If an expensive piece of equipment breaks down you will need to be able to cover hiring gear if you aren’t otherwise able to borrow any.

When you are negotiating a price with the client it is best to have a clear price structure in mind beforehand; often people will try to get away with charging as much as possible and the client will smell the BS a mile away.. look at how much other people are charging for what you’re offering and try to give a fair price for what you offer.

Offering a range of packages to suit the clients needs

As well as the wedding band itself, you might want to consider offering a range of different packages in different price ranges; these can include:

  • Offering a DJ service in addition to a band – often the client will want to book the evening’s entertainment in one package rather than pay for a band and a DJ separately so if this is something you can provide then it’s seriously worth considering. Even if it’s just a laptop with a good range of music some people will be more than happy with this, just be honest about what you’re offering up front.
  • Incentives for booking early – this will help to encourage clients not to hold off until the last minute and secure you bookings for the future.
  • An acoustic set for reception/meal – this can be a really nice extra touch if you want to provide some light dining music before your main set and can make you a talking point before the evening begins

Setting aside a marketing budget and using it wisely

To be more efficient with your marketing budget it’s best to keep track in the first year of how you’re getting each booking which will help you determine what is the most effective way that works for you. You can analyse this in your second year and help you plan a more focussed strategy with minimum waste.

One way to do this is by keeping a spreadsheet so that you have a clear record of what’s working for you and what you could spend less on in the future. It’s all about figuring out what works for you best but once you have a more refined strategy you will find it this a lot easier.

Conclusion

Playing in a wedding band is all about delivering a great experience for the client. It is natural for a lot of wedding band musicians to feel like they are selling their soul a bit by playing cheesy pop covers but you are aiming to provide an evenings entertainment that will cater for as many people in the room as possible.

Keeping your ego in check is important as well, as nobody wants to hear a rip-roaring guitar solo and the focus is going to be very much on the bride and groom. It’s not to say that you can’t stand out or offer something truly memorable but bear there are limits (http://youtu.be/KaZdQtwkQfg) so do what you are paid to do.

Word travels fast in this businesses and it is often the case that when someone is getting married, they will have friends doing the same before too long. Making a good impression at one gig can lead to further bookings so it is important, even if you’re just playing a bar, to look like you’re having the time of your life. Reputation is everything.

Finally, I’d say that the most important tool you can have in playing in a wedding band is a good attitude. Try to approach the band from a customer perspective and find creative ways to showcase what you do. Being a solid, exciting band that people will remember is important but you will find that the relationships you build by being a professional and reliable character will go a long way to ensuring your success.

And smile, always smile. It’s their special day.

The Skinny on Promotional Packages and Booking Agents

OK, you’re ready to get out there and perform.  You have the skills, you have a promotional kit and you can visualize yourself working five nights a week and making pretty good bread.  Your plan is to network with other musicians at jam night and find out who’s gigging where and how much they’re getting paid.

You then cold-call club owners, hotels, event planners and drop off or e-mail your promotional material.  They never call you back.  You cringe as you make that follow up call. You ask them if they reviewed your material, but in the back of your mind you get the feeling they couldn’t care less about you, let alone remember you.

The digital promo kit you sent to their inbox is one click away from the spam button or the kit you delivered to them has been shredded and your CD was frisbeed into the trash can – but they did save the CD jacket for their own collection.

Are you struggling with the business of getting gigs?  Chances are if you’re a passionate musician or performer you may not have the entrepreneurial skills, time and energy to finding your own gigs.

In this article, I’ll be sharing a few ideas that will help with understanding your strengths, how to put a solid promotional package together and finding trustworthy and motivated booking agents.

Getting Your Act Together

As you know, competition is fierce.  In the West, there are hoards of incredibly talented musicians and most of them are playing the same tunes or following the latest trends; fighting for the tiny morsels of glory and money left over from a disintegrating live venue gigging scene.

Before you begin to put together your promotional package or approach a booking agent, you need to ask yourself:

  • What makes me unique?
  • What makes me or my band stand out above the rest?
  • Why would anyone want to put their reputation on the line and find gigs for me?

Don’t despair, perhaps this will make you feel better:  You don’t have to be the best to get gigs – here’s a little secret – you just need a U.S.P.

U.S.P – (Unique Selling Point) This is something which sets your product or service apart from your competitors.

Interestingly, most businesses and musicians out there don’t know what a U.S.P is and how vital it is to have one.  The only leverage they use for securing sales or gigs is price manipulation.  “Well, maybe people will buy my product if it is cheaper” or “…tell you what, my band will play for less, give us the gig.”  They’re missing the point and not realizing their potential. The products that sell well or the musicians who are working consistently have identified and use their U.S.P to their advantage.

So What’s Your U.S.P?

The following are some examples to consider:

  • A clear and unique sound and repertoire
  • A wardrobe or “look” that carries your message visually
  • An ability to interact with the audience

Bands and artists who have a U.S.P

(I’m not associated with any of these acts they only serve to illustrate my point):

  • The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band
  • Dread Zeppelin
  • The Shaggs
  • KISS
  • DEVO
  • Bob Log
  • Yma Sumac
  • Tom Waits
  • Nina Simone

I think you get my drift.  Once you have discovered your U.S.P., it’s time to move to the next step.

Your Physical Promotional Package

Today most acts have a virtual promo kit, but I highly recommend having a physical one as well.  Remember you need to be unique. And most folks appreciate getting mail.

Your promotional package should include enough information about you or your band so that it inspires a booking agent to imagine the money making potential for you and for them. The basic pieces should include:

  • Letterhead and business cards.  Use your graphics and print style in your business cards and letterhead. Your business card should communicate to people what you’re all about. Keep it simple. What can you include on your card to help people remember you? Use good quality card stock and be sure the information is easily read and accurate.
  • A truthful bio– the music circle is a small one, you don’t want to be known as a bullsh**ter.
  • A video – no fancy filters or editing.  One camera, straight on the subject (that’s you)
  • An audio recording as you sound in a live situation (no overdubs)
  • A song list
  • Professional pictures and posters that clearly convey your U.S.P
  • Press releases
  • Social network and website information

A consistent image helps perpetuate your brand. Your business cards and envelopes should have your name or bands logo on them.

Be very bold with your mailing envelopes too.  Which envelope would you be inclined to open first?  A plain, boring manila envelope? Or a shiny, florescent orange one that screams “you really want to open me right now!”

(Side note: having promo photos and a video where you look scruffy, wearing jeans, looking mean and miserable won’t cut it – if you want the choice gigs, you need to look the part.)

OK, you did your homework.  Now what?

You’ve created a unique and fabulous act and assembled an eye catching and professional promotional package; you’re way ahead of everyone else. You’re now ready to present yourself or your band to booking agents – or anyone for that matter – who has the skills, contacts and motivation to get you in the gigging game.  But let’s deal with the booking agents.

What are booking agents looking for?

Booking agents are looking for:

  • Acts that have a U.S.P
  • Acts that are really good at what they do
  • Acts that have a polished promotional package

Hey, that sounds like you!

There are so many booking agents out there – who can I trust?

Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous people with fancy websites who claim to be booking agents.  But because you have a killer product, and with that, a new found sense of confidence, aim high and don’t be shy.  Search for the bigger and better established booking agencies who book relatively well known acts.  They will identify you as an act that has vision and confidence: They will help you if they see you have potential.

Hotel gigs

If you’re interested in hotel gigs, one way to find the more reputable booking agents is to get in touch with the hotels’ Food and Beverage Manager.  Find out what kind of entertainment they have and what they’re looking for. If they don’t deal with hiring acts, kindly ask them who takes care of their bookings for them.

The international booking agent

There are many musicians who are looking for gigs outside of their own country.  There are quite a few gigs out there, particularly here in Asia. But be very wary.  As I mentioned earlier, there are folks out there who claim to be legitimate booking agents but in reality they’re looking for a quick buck or they may even have a more harmful agenda.

Don’t even consider dealing with an agent who:

  • Isn’t clear about where you will be performing
  • Isn’t clear about your accommodations
  • Asks you for money (Never give an agent money. Period.)
  • Asks you for your passport (Never give your passport or passport number to anyone unless they’re travel agents, consular, embassy or immigration officials.)

Use common sense and touch base with your survival instincts

  • If an international booking agent is interested in hiring you, ask them for a list of performers they booked and contact them.
  • If you’re a female artist, be very careful.  Do your homework. Investigate the agent or organization thoroughly.  There are “Booking Agencies” out there who are drug runners and sex traffickers.
  • Have everything in writing/email.
  • If you’re Skypeing or on the phone with the agent, record the call and make sure you let them know you’re recording the call.  “I’m just letting you know I’m recording this call.”  If the agent sounds uncomfortable-be alarmed.
  • Be skeptical, and learn to say no

I hope this helped you gain some insight and if you would like more information about the gigging game, please feel free to contact me.

5 Tips to Keep Your Gig

Much has been written recently on the topic of networking, and as a freelance musician, I fully understand and appreciate the importance of constantly seeking new sources of work.

But what about keeping the gigs you already have? Assuming you have a handle on the most commonly discussed factors like punctuality, reliability, playing in tune, keeping your chops up through regular practice, and even personal hygiene and social skills, there are other less obvious traits I’ve discovered (many through trial and error) that can make a lasting impression.

Unlike musicians who perform and compose their original music, a sideman’s key to success is understanding, meeting and ultimately exceeding the expectations of the artist to stand out from the thousands of other players available for the job.

1) Immerse yourself in the material.

This issue is a personal favorite, and one I feel very passionate about.

As a freelancer, there may be weeks when you’re learning material for 4 different bands, and full immersion simply doesn’t seem feasible, but I highly recommend listening to the songs at least enough to recognize each one by name. A blank stare at the mention of a specific tune can make it appear that you’re planning to mail it in.

I’ve found songwriters to be very appreciative when a band member demonstrates that he or she isn’t hearing something for the first time at rehearsal or intending to just sight read the charts and hope for the best.

There’s an excellent article on this site by Matt Baldoni titled, “Learning Music Quickly and Efficiently,” which thoroughly examines this topic and details a ritual I’ve successfully followed for years.

When people ask what music I’ve been listening to lately, my response is usually, “The songs I have to learn for shows this week.” It ‘s definitely a sacrifice that can seem excessive, and perhaps even a little obsessive, but if you ace the gig and get invited back regularly, the steady work is well worth the initial time investment.

If it turns out to be a one-time thing for reasons beyond your control (the songwriter moves away, decides he can’t afford a band and goes solo, etc.) the effort still isn’t wasted because you establish a reputation with your musical peers as someone who does his homework.

2) Be a supportive team player.

During a typical week, I record, rehearse and perform with a wide variety of people in a handful of different projects. When songwriters choose to hire full-time freelance musicians, they’re usually aware that our survival is dependent upon keeping busy with multiple bands, and willing to accept a smaller overall time commitment in exchange for efficiency and professional musicianship. That being said, I believe that during the two hours you spend in the club or practice space, the artist deserves 100% of your energy and enthusiasm.

If the bandleader has a carload of PA equipment, grab a heavy speaker, and unwind a few cables. If there’s a rush to start on time, offer to help with the set list.

If you’ve already recorded and uploaded a rehearsal to supplement your own learning, it only takes a few extra minutes to email the files to your band mates. Not only does this ensure that everyone is on the same page (especially with last-minute arrangement changes) but it also shows that you’re genuinely interested in the overall success of the performance, and not just in it for a quick buck.

You can separate yourself from the competition by consistently going above and beyond for the people who hire you, and becoming a valuable, and hopefully irreplaceable, part of their support system as a team player. If you maintain that reputation over an extended period, it’s possible that someone may even value your contribution enough to have flexibility with booking and plan shows around your schedule.

3) Play the part you were hired to play.

A few years ago, I got a call from a drummer friend to fill the bass position in a singer/songwriter project. As with many bands of this type, it quickly became apparent that my role was to provide a simple, solid foundation with the kick drum. After the first rehearsal, he expressed relief and thanked me, explaining that the previous bassist was an accomplished fusion player who used the songs as a vehicle to showcase his ferocious chops and rarely ever played a root note–clearly not playing the part the singer/songwriter wanted to hear.

In other situations, with wedding and corporate event bands, I’ve seen world-class jazz virtuosos fired because they felt it was beneath them to learn a Billy Joel song or insisted on re-harmonizing the chord progression of a Journey power ballad.

One of the most difficult challenges for younger musicians, especially recent music school grads with a high level of proficiency and a strong improvisational background, can be adapting to a sideman situation where a “less is more” approach is required. If you agree to work with an original or cover band and the idea of playing a three-chord song just like the recording makes you cringe, remember that you’re getting paid to execute the material a certain way.

It’s not always about you, so whenever possible, be flexible, be aware of what’s expected of you, and most importantly, be willing to check your ego at the door.

4) Be thorough with your pre-gig communication.

Another way to make a good first impression and instill confidence in your musical employers is to be thorough with your communication and address any aspect of the set list or the material itself that isn’t clear.

With original gigs, I usually start out by asking if there are mp3s and/or charts for the songs, and whether they accurately reflect the most current arrangements. Even if charts exist, I compare them to the recordings, and frequently end up making my own if I discover discrepancies or omissions.

In subbing situations, clear communication can be even more crucial, especially for weddings and club dates, where players are often expected to show up and nail a list of 40-50 songs with no rehearsal. Most seasoned musical directors will include the keys and artist names with the title and tell you up front whether they generally stay true to the original.

When you receive emails containing audio files, always listen to the attachment, and never assume anything, even if you’re convinced that the version in your iTunes library is the definitive one. Within the standard club date and wedding repertoire, there are multiple versions of many popular songs.

For example, if the song list includes “Soul Man,” you can avert a potential train wreck by asking if they’re doing the original Sam and Dave version or the Blues Brothers remake. The latter is in a different key, and repeats the intro for four extra bars after the bridge.

There are also common titles shared by completely different songs (“Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars and Billy Joel), as well as extended dance mixes, acoustic versions, and even an occasional customized edit a bandleader might make to fit a special dance request or guest entrance. Never assume anything!

5) Have patience and a sense of humor.

There’s a good reason for the immense popularity and widespread quoting of This is Spinal Tap among musicians. I read once that The Rolling Stones couldn’t bear to watch the movie because it hit too close to home, but I personally love to exchange stories about double booking debacles, no-shows and blown lighting systems.

Obviously, when you’re in the middle of a set, a technical meltdown is anything but amusing, but when you’re sharing stories of past shows, are you more likely to recall that funk gig where everyone nailed the outro section of “What is Hip,” or the retirement party where the jeweler downstairs went ballistic because the bathroom flooded and leaked all over his display counter?

One of my first paying gigs during college was a beach party for some wealthy young clothing company executives who offered $20 per man and free boxer shorts as payment. Every few years, when I mention the event to any of the other musicians from that night, nobody really remembers what we played, but everyone recalls very clearly (and with hearty laughter) that the band set up on a narrow concrete pier in a lightning storm, and made it though about 5 songs before the skies opened up and the guests lunged forward to cover our equipment with wet, sandy tarps.

When you perform several nights a week, year after year, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter plenty of adversity. A large part of paying dues as a musician is repeatedly dealing with humbling experiences, like getting ripped off by shady club owners, or arriving to play at a crowded house party with the promise of great exposure and learning that you’ll be singing to a pile of coats in a remote bedroom.

If a band loses a weekly engagement because one of its members has a volatile temper and engages in altercations with belligerent drunks over Skynyrd requests, there’s a good chance that person won’t have their job for long or won’t be asked back at all if they’re a sub. There will be nights when you want to sell your drums as firewood, or slam your guitar down mid-song and make a dramatic exit, but your ability to keep a cool head and see the humor in these absurd fiascos will endear you to your fellow musicians and demonstrate that you’re mature, professional and emotionally stable.

All of these tips basically boil down to having your act together and being so dependable and reliable that, when you’re committed to a date, the person hiring you feels more relaxed and confident. Obviously, self-discipline, musicianship and dedication to your instrument are very important, and helped you land the gig in the first place, but to keep it, you need to exhibit a greater sense of professionalism that can’t be learned in a practice room.

How Do I Get a Job After Music School?

T., a guitarist and soon-to-be music school grad, wrote us last week with this question:

I’m getting my degree soon, but I feel that I don’t really have a lot of actual work experience to flesh out my resume. How far do you think a degree can take me and where would be the best place to help get some work with my skills?

That’s a good question, T., and I’m sure there are other MW readers that are in the same boat.

So, you’re about to leave music school and you need a job. You don’t have a lot of credits on your resume and you’re not sure how to get started.

Let’s start off with what jobs are available these days. I often think about jobs in the musician industry split into to categories:

  1. Your music
  2. Other people’s music

Your Music

There are two of us that maintain MusicianWages.com – Cameron Mizell and myself. Cameron is an expert in category #1, so instead of rambling on about things I don’t know, I’ll defer to his incredible breadth of knowledge.

Here are some of Cameron’s articles that will help you create a career with your own music:

Also read the archives of Cameron’s articles, I’m sure you’ll find a ton of useful information.

Other People’s Music

Although I do write and record my own music, I make my living playing other people’s music. I freelance as a Broadway musician, a church musician, a for-hire accompanist, a music director for theatre, a vocal coach, and many other things.

So let’s say you’re like T. and you’re about to graduate college and you want to be a freelance musician like me. Aside from experience (which I’ll get to later), what do you need to succeed?

  • Sight-reading

    I would say that this is the real value that I give to my employers – if you take everything else away, this is the one thing that they are really paying me for. I show up and I play whatever they put in front of me. It saves them time and money – it cuts down on prep and rehearsal time, it allows them the convenience of thinking about other things, and allows them the flexibility of changing music at the last minute.

    If you’re sight-reading isn’t up to par, you can improve it. I’ve written about the subject before, and it basically boils down to practice. The more you sight-read the better you’ll become.

  • Recommendations

    I never audition or apply for positions in my business, all work is passed around through word-of-mouth. That can be really frustrating for someone starting out, but I promise it gets easier. Make sure that you keep in touch with your fellow classmates from your music school – those will be your first contacts. As they find work, they will pass work to you and vice versa.

    Giving away work is worth pointing out – you should have a small list of colleagues that you pass work to now and then. They’ll do the same for you when they have gigs they can’t take.

    There are some colleagues that will take the work and never pass anything back to you – and those are probably the wrong colleagues to have on the list. Generally, creating a sense of generosity and community around you is much more effective than creating a sense of competition.

  • Geography

    Look, if there isn’t any work where you are, you should move somewhere else. If you want to work as a freelance musician, I’m very sorry, but you just can’t live anywhere you want. You’re career will always be limited by the amount of work available (divided by the number of musicians) in your city. I just don’t see any way around that.

    When I was just out of college I moved back to my home town in the suburbs of Chicago. I took all the gigs I could get. I music directed local theatre shows, I played cocktail music at the country club, I accompanied at the local schools, I joined a band, I taught lessons. I made about the same amount of money as my friends that had entry-level day jobs. It was cool for awhile.

    But check it out – I was playing every gig in town. I’d already hit an income ceiling and I was 25. I tried Chicago for awhile, but I felt like the scene in that city was locked up tight and paid worse than the suburbs. So I left.

    I worked the regional theatre market for awhile, and eventually settled in New York – not because I necessarily wanted to live in New York – but because there was a lot of work here for my skill set.

    I think I’ll always live in New York. I can make a living here. Other players like me are making a living here. It’s not a musician utopia or anything like that – but there is a need here for musicians and I am a musician – so this is where I ended up. Luckily, I’ve also grown to really enjoy living here.

    You don’t have to live in New York. There’s a good discussion in our forums about the best cities for musicians. See what other musicians have to say.

Experience

Ok, so now on to your actual question – how far can a degree get you and how can you get more experience.

Your degree is a piece of paper, and it won’t get you a gig. What you really paid for at your college, as I touched on before, is the connections you have with your faculty and fellow students. This is for real – stay in touch with your fellow students. That’s where your work will first come from.

There are several entry-level positions for freelance musicians. None of them are particularly well-paid or comfortable, which is why they are relatively easy to get.

  • Cruise Ship Musician

    Cruise ship musician is the route I took. It’s pretty easy to get a cruise ship job – you take an audition with a talent agency and then wait for a call. Read this article for more info on how to book the job.

    If working on a cruise was a totally amazing, satisfying, well-paying gig, nobody would ever leave it. But in reality, it can burn you out within a few contracts (see: What Was There To Be Dark About?). But if you are just looking for some experience, it’s perfect. Take a contract or two and hone your chops in the real world. Think of it as your internship.

  • Theme Parks

    There are other gigs like the cruise gig. There are summer gigs at theme parks. Try this link at Backstage.com and search for “Theme Parks”. Expect the gigs to be long, hot and poorly paid. But don’t worry, just work the gig and get the credit on your resume. You gotta pay your dues.

  • Non-Union Broadway Tours

    Non-union musical theatre tours are a step or two up from entry-level. They can be pretty cool gigs if you get on a good tour. They can be brutal if you don’t.

    Jobs at this level start to be word-of-mouth placements for musicians, but you can submit your stuff. Networks is a major non-union touring company. Bookmark their jobs page and send your resume and website to musicresumes@networkstours.com. You can also visit BackStageJobs.com (search for “Musical” under the Departments category), they sometimes list these kinds of jobs.

    Also, dive into this discussion in the forums for more info about non-equity tours.

  • MusicianWages.com Jobs Board

    I have to give a plug to our musician jobs board here at MW. We have a growing list of musician jobs categorized by instrument and location. Subscribe to the RSS feed and have the jobs sent to your feed reader. I moderate that list myself, so it’s only good stuff going up. You might find a gig there.

I hope that helps – good luck T!

Interview with New York Rhythm Section Founders Ben Kogan & Danny Wolf

Bassist Ben Kogan and drummer Danny Wolf want to be in your band. The Brooklyn based duo founded the New York Rhythm Section, a collective of New York City musicians that can be hired as a backing band for a variety of musical projects. The idea isn’t revolutionary, but they execute it extremely well. Along with providing musicians, the New York Rhythm Section has a space in Brooklyn that can be used to rehearse and record, cutting some costs for the singer/songwriters they work with.

I recently talked to Ben and Danny about how they started working together, how they got the New York Rhythm Section off the ground, and what it takes to be successful sidemen for so many projects.

CM: How’d you guys meet and how long have you played together?

Danny Wolf: Ben and I met down at the University of Miami while we were getting our studio music and jazz degrees.

Ben Kogan: That was back in 2003. We played in a few ensembles and informal jam sessions at school. We played a bit there but once I moved to NYC we reconnected and started playing all the time.

When did you get the idea for New York Rhythm Section?

DW: We got the idea when we moved to New York and decided we wanted to make a living playing as much original music as possible and not go the typical route of getting a wedding band gig or something like that (I’m still doing a wedding band, haha). There’s no better way to do that than to get singer/songwriters to hire us to play for them.

BK: For years we saw so many singer/songwriters without a band, or with less than desirable players, and we thought we could make them sound better. Also, I saw so many ads on Craigslist for individual players and thought we could consolidate the process. We know a ton of players, and it’s a lot easier for us to meet musicians at jam sessions or on other gigs than it is for many singer/songwriters that just focus on their own music.

Did you start by pitching the idea to singer/songwriters or did you just put the word out and see if anybody would call you? How did you spread the word about New York Rhythm Section?

BK: We told friends, made a website, but most of our gigs come from Craigslist. It was originally conceived as a one shot deal, but a lot of the singer/songwriters we work with want to keep a steady band together, which is good for the music.

DW: We would also try and go to open mics… well at least Ben probably went to one or two.

You guys also offer recording services at Danny’s studio, right? That  seems like a nice package for a songwriter–hire a band that can also  make your demo or EP. Tell us a little about how that works, and how often you record with clients.

BK: Again, it was originally conceived as just a live band-for-hire situation but while we were talking about it, Danny was getting his studio ready. As a matter of fact, the first time Danny and I met up after I moved to NYC was for a rehearsal/recording session. I had some friends from Boston coming down and we wanted to jam. My job was to find a drummer. I called Danny that day, he happened to be around, and unknown to me he had a recording setup. Almost immediately, we started making recordings for New York Rhythm Section clients.

DW: Yeah, it does work nicely because a lot of singer/songwriters need a demo of some sort to get gigs.

BK: As a natural progression of a band, people who are playing live want to record. It helps to have a recording to sell on the road and it proves your legitimacy in the scene. It makes sense to have the same band you’re playing with live in the studio. They know the arrangements, and you can rely on them to know the parts.

DW: We pretty much take care of everything and for a fraction of the cost of going to a real studio, yet the result is the same. Sometimes better because we don’t have time limits. We really take the time to give the music the attention it deserves.

BK: It really is the most affordable deal in the city. Believe me, I’ve looked. All of our clients have recorded with us or will be recording with us in the near future.

What musical skills are needed to be successful at your job as a sideman for so many bands? Do you have to read music? Memorization? Sing back up vocals? How versatile do you have to be?

DW: Well, we are good readers yet most of it is listening. If the songwriter has a recording then we learn it before the first rehearsal. One client we had didn’t have a recording so I had him come over and play an acoustic version and recorded that. I sent it to everyone in the band and we came up with our own parts.

BK: Memorization is very important. We’re hired as a live band, so we need to really be good performers. That doesn’t mean telling jokes, but it’s hard to get a vibe on stage if everyone has their head stuck in the page. The most important thing for the musicians we work with is learning the songs before rehearsal, and also being easy to work with.

What about the business side of things; one of the goals at MusicianWages.com is to help musicians value their skill set and get paid a fair price for their services. What’s the key to setting your prices and getting paid?

DW: We decided that we needed to make our prices reasonable so that most singer/songwriters could afford us. Independent musicians aren’t the wealthiest people. We decided on two free 2 hour rehearsals before the first gig–one to get the arrangements down and the second to run the set and make sure everything is solid–and one free rehearsal before each following gig. Any extra rehearsals would be $20 for each musician. For the gigs, we charge $100 for each musician.

BK: Danny explained most of this pretty clearly, but yes we try to keep our prices as low as we can. We don’t want to bankrupt the client, that’s no good for anyone. It doesn’t make sense to charge $200+ a gig per man plus $50 a rehearsal. Although that would be nice, most people who are hiring us don’t have a lot of money. At the end of the day, we really just want to play.

Oh yeah, and as far as the key to getting paid, I prefer brass knuckles.

###

Learn more or get in touch with Ben and Danny at TheNewYorkRhythmSection.com and be sure to check out their original band, Musaic.

5 Traits of a Professional Musician

Being a musician is awesome. It’s almost a crime that people are allowed to play music for a living. But like crime, music doesn’t usually pay. To get the gigs that pay, and keep getting them, musicians need to exude a high level of professionalism that is often a lot less glamorous than the sexy life of a rock star. While these qualities might seem obvious, you’d be surprised at how many prima donnas out there don’t get it.

1) Follows directions well.

Because most musicians make a living playing music for other people, they have to be good at doing what those people want. If that sounds vague, it is. Whether you’re hired to play a wedding, write a jingle, perform as a sideman, be a studio musician, be a pit musician on Broadway (or your local community theater), you have to be good at taking directions.

More often than not, those directions are poorly communicated by people that don’t know music, but a professional musician knows how to translate any kind of instruction quickly, without getting frustrated, and make the client happy. Other times you’re getting quick directions from a music director that knows exactly what she wants, and your ability to adapt quickly is key. These are one way communications where there’s either no time to ask questions. Performing well in this type of scenario will get you recommendations and ultimately more work.

2) Well organized.

In a nutshell, keep a calendar and learn how to tell time. There’s nothing more frustrating or embarrassing than tardiness. In a world of great players scraping together $50 gigs to make ends meet, schedules are usually both busy and erratic. Everyone is trying to squeeze a rehearsal in before teaching a lesson and then get to a gig later that night. But if you can’t keep track of everything and be where you need to be on time, you’ll lose work. Plain and simple.

Additionally, you will probably need to keep track of a large amount of material. Many sidemen play in multiple bands and have to learn both original music by songwriters that hire them, and cover songs for weddings or corporate gigs. Storing all this music in your head gets easier with practice, but in the beginning you’ll need to learn how to organize it. Matt Baldoni, a successful and very busy freelance guitarist, wrote an article on learning music quickly and efficiently.

There’s a saying among musicians that goes something like this:

An amateur practices until he gets it right, a professional practices until he never gets it wrong.

3) Good communication skills.

When dealing with people that don’t know anything about music and not much more about the business, you have to be able to lead most of the conversation. Offer suggestions, draw up contracts, and know how to say what you want without coming off as brash or greedy. Don’t be too proud to ask questions.

At the other end of the spectrum you’ll be dealing with other musicians. Show up to the first rehearsal with the music prepared. If it’s your gig or you are the music director, make sure your music is written neatly or created in a program like Finale or Sibelius. Make sure the sheet music communicates the road map of the tune clearly (repeats, coda, etc.). If you expect the other musicians to learn from a CD or MP3s, make sure they have the proper tracks and are aware of any key changes or cuts that are not on the recordings. These things will make the first rehearsal run as smoothly as possible.

4) Plays well with others.

This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised. Not only should you be able to play your butt off, you should be able to tone it down and play what’s called for in the music. Stereotypically speaking, guitar players are notorious for turning their amps up too loud and never shutting up. Singers zone out when they’re not singing and miss their entrances. Drummers are too loud. Horn players don’t listen to each other and sound sloppy as a whole section. This is all Music 101, but it’s often over looked.

While it’s very important to nail your solo, it’s more important to blend in with the ensemble or make the soloist sound better. Playing tastefully and in the appropriate style will get you more calls than being able to shred.

5) Prepared for the job.

Ultimately, the big difference between a professional and everyone else is preparation. This is the same in any field. A professional salesman is expected to know his product. A professional marketer is expected to know her target audience. A professional custodian is expected to know what kind of cleaner to use on what surface. Likewise, a professional musician is expected to show up for the gig with the right instruments, dressed appropriately, and prepared to nail the music. Let me repeat part of that. A professional musician dresses appropriately. Whatever the gig, make sure you know what to wear. Flip flops are probably a bad idea unless a grass skirt is involved.

In summary, if you want to establish yourself as a professional musician, step back and evaluate these five qualities. Music is a highly competitive field, and mastering your instrument is simply the first step to becoming a working musician. For those that want to take their craft to the next level, the thing that sets professionals apart from the rest is what they can do beyond playing their instrument.

When To Take an Unpaid Gig

You get a call. It’s a friend of yours, they are throwing a big party, and they want you to play for the guests. They don’t have a lot of money, though, so they can’t pay you. But you can pass out business cards and try to sell CDs. There will be lots of important people there and it’ll be great exposure they say.

You get another call. [Paper]tiger Jams {Explored}
Creative Commons License photo credit: Cameron Cassan
It’s a local non-profit. They are throwing a fundraiser at a fancy venue and they want you to provide entertainment for a couple of hours. They can’t pay you, but you’d really be helping out the cause if you would do it.

A third call comes in. It’s a local venue. They are having an event next month and 5 bands are playing a 30 minute set each. They’d like to invite you to perform. It doesn’t pay, but everyone gets a free drink and you can set up a merch table in the corner.

So what do you do? Do you take these gigs? You know that you have to make a living, but you know you also have to get out there and play for people.

People Die of Exposure

In my experience, taking a gig for “exposure” has questionable value. What kind of exposure are you really getting? I mean…are you playing the Tonight Show? The local news? Or are you playing for a group of 20 people that are generally not your target audience?

There’s a big difference between general exposure and specific exposure, and I think that’s the thing to consider in these situations. People that call you and use this term often mean it in the general sense.

Definition of general exposure:

There will be a room full of people, and there will be you. You will play your music. It will travel through the air between you and the people, and the people will hear this music. In this way you will expose yourself to these people, and it’s conceivable that they will care one way or another.

But I’m telling you, this kind of general exposure is usually not valuable. If the situation is not targeted to the kind of audience that you are looking for, you’ll waste your time. Say you are a sci-fi string band and you get a call to play at a Star Trek convention – that is good exposure. But say the same band gets a call to play the Christmas party for a ladies luncheon group. Sure, it’s possible that someone at that luncheon will be a sci-fi fan and care, but the odds are not good.

Definition of specific exposure:

There will be a room full of people that love the kind of music you play. They will resemble your target audience in every way possible. You will play your music and they will listen to your music. It’s very likely that many of them will want to know more about you, sign up for your email list and maybe buy an album.

My point is that you should be very, very cautious anytime someone uses the term “exposure” in the sense that it is some kind of compensation. Oftentimes that is the sign of a pro bono gig that will waste your time. It’s your responsibility to make sure that the exposure they are peddling is relevant and valuable to you, in a specific way, before you take the gig.

Will You Enjoy It?

I’ll tell you a story. When I first came to New York I got a call from a celebrity. She’d been on TV, on Broadway – my mother was a big fan. Imagine my surprise. She asked me if I would play at a non-profit event at the Plaza Hotel. She couldn’t pay me, but there’d be a ton of rich people there (it’d be great “exposure”) and I’d get a free meal. And bonus – I could bring 2 guests to the dinner.

I played some cocktail jazz during the event, passed out a few business cards, chatted to some of the guests. At dinner I brought 2 friends for an incredible meal. We sat next to the celebrity and a city councilman. We all took gift bags full of perfume at the end of the night. I followed up with the celebrity and city councilman afterwards. I gave the perfume to my girlfriend.

Altogether it was a cool event. I’m glad I did it – but certainly not because of the “exposure”. I never got another call afterward from anyone involved. The truth is that is was a lot of fun. I was able to treat 2 friends to a fancy dinner, I played at a historic venue, I met a celebrity, and I gave my girlfriend a bag full of perfume.

I enjoyed it – and that’s a perfectly good reason to take a free gig. Being a musician can sometimes get you into the hippest situations.

Meeting New Colleagues

It would be great if you took a free gig and suddenly you had 100 new, dedicated fans who, from that day on, buy everything you ever create. Great plan, but let’s assume that won’t happen. Ah! – but what if something better happens?

In everyone’s career there are key people, friends, usually, that help further your success. I’m talking about colleagues and collaborators. You are both heading down the same road, but maybe there’s a time that they travel quicker toward success and they bring you along. And then at another time you are traveling faster down that road and you take them along.

These relationships are really important in a musician career – the best successes usually involve a team of people like this. Playing free gigs is sometimes a great way to meet these kinds of friends, colleagues and collaborators.

I’ll tell you another story. I volunteer regularly for a non-profit in New York that puts on big productions at least once a year. They contact musical theatre composers and lyricists and ask them to write new music for the events. I music direct the production, and we find great musicians to perform with us.

Throughout the process I meet and work with tons of new people. Some of them I really click with and we become fast friends. Months down the road maybe they are working on something else and they give me a call to music direct, or play piano, or whatever. And maybe this time it’s a real gig that pays.

That’s a best case scenario! I took a free gig, I met a ton of colleagues and we collaborated later on something else. I think the key here is that the free gig was a big production involving a lot of artists all working toward a common goal. Compared that to the Plaza Hotel gig where I was the only musician in the room and there weren’t any colleagues to connect with. Two gigs, I’m glad I took both, but for very different, specific, reasons.

What Is In It For You?

You can’t just play everywhere and anywhere for free. This is a career. People expect musicians to play for free much too often. There is value in what we do, and most of the time we should get paid for it. When someone approaches you with a free gig think specifically about what value the situation holds for you. They are getting something out of it – what about you?

Let’s take the 3 situations I opened with. I can’t give you definitive answers, but I can give you the questions you should consider.

Ok, first situation – someone calls for a private party and wants you to play for free. My first question would be: why can’t they pay? It’s a private party, not a fundraiser for a good cause. It’ll probably be a room full of 20-30 friends, drinking and having a good time and…uh…that’s called a gig.  It’s supposed to pay money.

Sure you can sell CDs, but who’s going to buy a CD in that situation? It’s not a house concert, they aren’t specifically there for the music. Who knows if they’ll even like your music?

Personally, I wouldn’t take that gig.

Second – a non-profit calls for a fundraiser. First question: do you believe in the cause? You’ll be donating your time to the organization, and you should think of it just like you’re donating money. Forget the “exposure” you’ll get – the people that attend the event will be there for the cause/organization and it’s unlikely they’ll also spend a lot of energy on you too. So it really comes down to whether or not you want to donate to the cause.

The third call – a local venue wants you to play. This could be good. Do you know the other bands on the event? Are they a similar genre, or at least a similar target audience, to you? Are there musicians in the other bands that you’d like to meet? Do the other bands have a creative team (manager, publicist, etc.) that you would like to meet?

If this is a situation where you could meet colleagues and future collaborators – I say take it. If it sounds like the venue is just trying to fill a spot and there’s nothing in it for you – your instincts are probably right.

What If Someone Else Calls?

A 4th call comes in. It’s for a real gig with a band you regularly play with. Unfortunately it’s for the same night as the unpaid gig that you’ve already committed to. Now what?

If the unpaid gig has enough value to you that you committed in the first place, this shouldn’t matter. Nobody should ever cancel on a valuable gig – and if it wasn’t valuable, why’d you take it in the first place?

This is a problem that is so common that you should plan on it happening before you take any unpaid gig. Expect that someone will call you with something that does pay for the same night as the free gig and make your decision with that in mind.

Live Music Is a Valuable Thing

The truth is that live music is a valuable thing. These days people have constant access to music – but it’s not usually live music. There is an energy in live music that humans just can’t get enough of. People love live music so much that they will pay money just to be in a room where it is happening.

So when someone approaches you to give away this valuable thing for free, it’s fair that you should still expect something in return. Maybe the compensation is new fans, new experiences, or new colleagues.

On the other hand, if there is nothing in the situation for you, don’t take the gig. If you take an unpaid gig and it ends up being a dead end – no one bought a CD, no one seemed interested, there wasn’t any worthwhile networking, it didn’t manifest any future gigs – then maybe you took the wrong unpaid gig. Before you take an unpaid gig, ask yourself: what’s in it for me?

Booking Your First Tour

Getting your band off the ground is full of “chicken or the egg?” situations. One of the things I commonly hear bands say that if they just had a booking agent, they could really get things moving. But booking agents only want to work with bands that already have things moving.

Just because you have to book your own shows doesn’t mean you can’t go on tour. Even if you don’t have much experience booking gigs, a little organization, creativity, persistance and flexibility will make booking your first tour a simple enough task. After you get the first tour under your belt, going on the road in the future will not be as daunting.

Don’t Over Think It

The easiest thing to do is come up with all the reasons you can’t go on tour. This is often referred to as paralysis by analysis. If you or your band can put on a solid performance, the only thing keeping you from going on tour are your excuses! Going on the road is a lot of fun, and nothing will make your band sound better then a string of 5 or 10 shows in front of unsuspecting audiences.

Write it down.

Just getting something on paper will help you get started. Write down cities and venues where you’d like to play. Write down bands you’d like to share a bill with. Find email address, phone numbers, or contact forms online. Start building a list.

I’m a big fan of Google Docs, especially when it comes to planning something with somebody else, like your bandmates. By creating a spreadsheet of venues, contacts, and dates, you’ll not only be able to see the tour start to take shape, you’ll have a great list started for future tours. More on how I’ve used Google Docs for tour planning later in the article.

Choosing Your Tour Stops

Many people will tell you to book your tour in the markets where you have the most fans, sold the most CDs, had the most spins on local radio, etc. This is great advice, but not always practical for your first tour.

Rely on friends and family.

Other than booking the actual gigs, nothing stands in the way of planning your tour like finding some place to sleep. For a first tour, you’ll want to avoid the cost of hotels whenever possible. And sleeping in a van sounds like a romantic story of touring bands following their dreams, until you have to do it.

Thanks to Facebook, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with your friends all over the country. And where you don’t have friends, you might have family. These people probably want to help you and would love to offer their sofa or spare bedroom if you ask.

Friends and family will also (probably) come to your show, bring their friends, and buy your CD. Sometimes a couple gigs with a lot of friends and family in attendance can bring in enough money to get you through the club gigs in towns where you know nobody and play for an empty house. The bad gigs are inevitable, so try to buffer them with a few shows in front of a loving audience.

Rely on your fans.

Nobody wants to see you play more than your fans, and given the opportunity, they’ll help you set up a show in their town. All you have to do is ask for their help.

Make an announcement on your website, blog, Twitter, email list, and anywhere else you can think of, that you’ll be in or around certain cities during a window of dates and you’re trying to book a show. Your fans might have connections with local bands or venues, or they could host a house concert.

In my experience, having a few house concerts on a tour is refreshing. They pay better than most clubs, there’s usually food, and sometimes even a place to stay for the night. Not to mention, your fans will be thrilled to say you came and played in their house.

Tip: Create a page on your website that explains how house concerts work. Make it easy for them to prepare for the show, and save yourself the stress of answering the same questions over and over again.

Contact other bands in target markets.

I see this suggestion everywhere, and frankly, it’s a great idea. Local bands will already have relationships with venues in their area, and can probably get you a gig if you’ll return the favor when they come to your town. They’ll also be your ally when promoting the show and can tell their fans about you.

Planning Your Routing

You should try to book your tour stops somewhat close to each other to avoid using too much gas or running the risk of being late for your next show. In my experience 5 hours of driving the day of a show is about the most you should try to do. Construction, weather, accidents, and just plain traffic can easily add an hour or two to your trip. Not to mention, driving can be tiring, so go easy on yourself. You don’t want to be in one of those traffic-causing accidents.

When Lauren Zettler and I booked our first tour, we started with a single show in the Midwest. Every other show needed to be within a few hours of that show, along our route to the Midwest, or in a town with friends or family. Even though we both live in New York City now, we both grew up in the Midwest, so we had plenty of friends and family to rely on.

To help book the other shows, I made a spreadsheet in Google Docs (I realize I’m excessively organized for most musicians). We made a list of every possible venue in each of our target cities. Then we made a separate list of all the dates we’d be on the road and filled in which city we’d like to be in on which date. That gave us an outline of our most ideal routing.

Next we contacted every venue on our list, specifying which date we’d like to play, but also giving them a 5 day window, just to see where things would land. We ended up with more zig-zagging than we’d hoped, but the 5 day window allowed us to book more gigs than being rigid with our dates. Despite our best efforts, we were still left with holes in our routing. That’s when we turned to the fans and started booking house shows.

By relying on friends and family for places to stay (and all the unexpected food) our tour had a very low budget and actually made a decent amount of money. We documented the whole thing on a blog, which you can still see here: http://midwestorbusttour.tumblr.com/

Contacting Bookers and Talent Buyers

When you start contacting the people that will actually book your shows, you must make a good first impression. There are several schools of thought about what you should say, but to be honest, everybody prefers to see something different and there’s no template to making everybody happy.

Start building your contact list by visiting the venue websites. Many venues will explain how they like to be contacted, or what they look for in a band. Some even have online forms to fill out. Always start by following their rules, and then send more information when you follow up.

What to include in your email.

Actually, let’s start with what not to include. NEVER include MP3s unless asked. That’s plain and simple email etiquette.

Keep your email to the point and give them the useful information. More facts, less opinion:

  1. What kind of music do you play? Name a couple artists other people compare you to.
  2. Where you are from? Let them know you are on tour.
  3. What’s the line up of your band? They don’t need everyone’s bio, but clue them in on whether you are a solo act or 12 piece band with a breakdance crew. They might have the perfect slot for you on a night with similar bands.
  4. Have you ever played in their town before? If so do you have a draw? If not, maybe you have a significant number of people on your email list in that town and you think they will come out to your show. Don’t lie.
  5. Links! Send them the best links where they can hear your music, see a video of your live performance, or read more about you. Don’t send too many, just keep it simple.
  6. Your contact information. Email and phone number. Don’t expect them to look for anything. They won’t.

My approach is to anticipate the questions they’re going to ask, and answer them before they have a chance to ask. You get the hang of it after a few exchanges.

Follow up.

If you haven’t heard back two weeks after your initial email, follow up by forwarding your first email with a polite note asking if they’ve had time to listen to your music. Chances are this person does more than just book bands, and they probably have a lot of bands emailing them. Persistence is polite. In fact, some clubs don’t book bands that only email once. They might get so many inquiries that their first filter is to see who gives up easily!

It’s entirely possible that they’ll write back and say they’re booked up and can’t help you, but that’s fine. It’s simply one more place to cross off your list so you can focus on the others. Make sure you write back and thank them for their response and you will be in touch on your next tour. If you’re polite, I bet they’ll remember you.

A few more tips

Once you’ve confirmed the gig, ask about the club’s backline. If every club you’re playing is going to have a drumset, that might save you a lot of space in the car.

Tune up your tour vehicle. Oil changes and properly inflated tires save gas money, and help prevent breakdowns that could make you miss a gig (and cost you a lot of dough).

Never leave anything in your car. Yes, I am a paranoid New Yorker, but I’ve never had any gear stolen from my car. No matter how tired I am, I unload the car every night. It’s definitely worth the cost of my equipment.

Finally, bring plenty of merch to sell! You’ll make most of your money from selling CDs, shirts, or whatever else you can think of. Make sure you have plenty before you hit the road!

Create Invoices, Get Paid

As a freelance musician, or freelance anything, making sure you get paid for your services can be a tedious task. Individuals or small contractors might be overwhelmed or not very organized and you’ll have to follow up to make sure the check gets in the mail. Large companies tend to have a lot of red tape, and your invoice has several departments to pass through before a check is processed. To speed up your payment, look like a true professional, and make your own book keeping more organized, you should get in the habit of creating detailed invoices for every job performed.

What goes on an invoice?

In it’s most basic form, an invoice is simply a bill stating how much is owed to you and where to send payment. For the sake of professionalism, I recommend including a little more information. Some companies may require certain information before they can process an invoice, so it never hurts to ask before submitting. The information I include on all my invoices was, at one point or another, required by a client.

  1. The word “INVOICE” – This is easily overlooked, but how else will people know what you’re giving them? Some large clients might require a properly labeled document for processing.
  2. Date – Record the date you are sending the invoice to your client on the document, and perhaps even the date(s) of the services performed.
  3. Invoice Number – Similar to a check number, the invoice number will make it easier to refer to the specific job performed.
  4. Purchase Order Number – Also referred to as a P.O. #, these are used on invoices for products. For example: If you design a poster for somebody, you do not need a P.O. # for your service. However, if you’re the printer that sells the actual posters, then you may need a corresponding Purchase Order number.
  5. Bill To: Address – This is the address of your client–the person or company you are charging for your services. Even if you’re emailing your invoice, it’s still good business practice to include the Bill To address for the sake of specifically identifying that client. On some occasions, if I’m just billing an individual person, I will use their email address and phone number instead of a mailing address.
  6. Amount Due – Don’t forget to tell them how much they owe you!
  7. Services Performed – My invoices include a basic table that breaks down the job and how the Amount Due was calculated. I use four columns:
    1. Time/Amount: How many units of measurement I’m charging for (hours, sheets of music, etc.)
    2. Rate: To specify how much I charge for one unit of measurement
    3. Service/Job Description: A brief summary of the work performed. Sometimes I might include a separate page for a more detailed description.
    4. Line Total: This should be the Time/Amount multiplied by the Rate. Add up each line total for the Amount Due.
  8. Payment Terms – This may vary from client to client. My default term is “Due upon receipt.” Terms for Net 30 means the payment is due within 30 days of the invoice date, Net 60 would mean the client has 60 days to pay, and so on. You may also request payment by a certain date. A good rule of thumb is to ask for payment upon receipt unless the client has asked for a different set of terms before services are rendered.
  9. Payment Instructions – On my invoices, I simply have the words: “Please Remit Payment to:” followed by my name and mailing address. This verbiage is a formality required by some of my past clients, so I include it on every invoice.
  10. Tax ID (optional) – If this is your social security number, I do not recommend including it on your invoice. This information should be on file if you’ve turned in a Form W9 for tax purposes. But if you have a business tax ID, it doesn’t hurt to put it on the invoice to help processing.

Is there a standard layout for invoices?

The short answer, no. I’ve seen invoices that are no more than the above information listed down the side of a Word document. I’ve also seen very creatively branded invoices. The most important consideration is that your invoice is easy to read. Invoice templates can be found in standard accounting software programs, or you could use the Tables feature in your word processing program to do something similar. If you haven’t seen an invoice before, look at a packing slip from Amazon or any company that ships you something you bought. That is pretty much how most invoices look.

If you want to get creative, be consistent and keep the important information away from your fancy design elements. I used to work in the Creative department at a record label that employed a handful of designers on a regular basis. Each of their invoices was uniquely branded, but also very easy to read. I noticed a few advantages to their branded invoices. First, people remembered whether or not they’d seen the invoice, which helps if the invoice has to go through several people’s hands before it’s paid. Also, branding your invoice simply looks more professional. Putting your logo in front of the people that hire you one last time just might help you get another gig.

What file format should I use?

If you can email your invoice, I recommend sending a PDF. That way it can be opened on any computer, and it can’t be altered. I’ve also received invoices that are no more than the information mentioned above in the body of an email. That might work, too. When in doubt, mail your invoice!

Templates:

Here is a basic invoice template as described above. There are two formats, both are available on Google Docs which you can download and edit on your computer:

Musician Abroad: Making it in Europe

Okay, so you’ve had enough of the good ol’ US of A, or you’re just restless. You want to put those two years of middle school Spanish to work, or you heard that the cost of living in Berlin is really low. Whatever the reason, Europe calls.

After experiencing Europe’s enticements through international tours, many high-caliber musicians have gone on to settle down across the Atlantic. To us rank-and-file freelancers on the other hand, the idea of Tuscan villas and French girlfriends seems like a pipe dream. Villas aside though, settling down in Europe is a very realistic possibility for versatile musicians looking for a less-beaten path. In this article, I want to talk about some logistical questions that often pop up when people think about moving abroad, and offer my story as inspiration.

Why Europe?

There’s a lot that could be said here, but for musicians there are some specific advantages to living in the Old World. Not least among these is the exchange rate. As I write this, www.xe.com reports a rate of 1.29 Dollars to the Euro. Rates in the last couple years have been as high as 1.60, which means your 100-Euro gig at the local Schnitzel Shack will magically turn into 160 bucks when transferred overseas. Okay, it’s not that simple: if you live in Europe, you’re not only earning Euros, you’re spending them too, and the cost of living in cities varies greatly (and don’t forget taxes!), but you get the idea.

In my opinion, the biggest draw in Europe is the audiences. They’re attentive, they’re receptive to artsy experimentation, and they’re willing to pay for good music. As a jazz musician, I am constantly surprised how deathly silent the room gets as soon as a band takes the stage, even in the dingiest of dive bars. There is an inherent respect for musicians in Europe: introducing yourself as such will yield widening eyes, and “ooohh.. when can I come see you play?” as opposed to the response I usually got in the USA, which was a smirk and a “yeah, but what do you do for a living?”

…and then there’s the rest:

  • the chance to learn another language and culture
  • meet really interesting musicians with completely different backgrounds
  • cheap health care

What do I have to do legally?

A lot. Consider this another plate to spin if you plan on moving abroad. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I want to be held accountable for anybody that reads this and does something silly, so I’m only going to make a couple of suggestions. For further info, go to the US State Department website.

As an American, you are allowed to travel for 3 months as a tourist in Europe. After that, you need a visa. You’re also not allowed to earn money in Europe without a visa, though some countries thankfully offer special artist visas for those with proof of musical training and sufficient means of income.

There are two avenues you can take which simplify this whole process.

Avenue 1: Enroll

A university education in continental Europe costs very little. In the German-speaking world, you’ll be looking at less than €1,000 per semester, more likely around the €500 range. As a student, you can get a special visa that entitles you to live, study, and (to a limited extent) work in Europe. I know, you’re a pro: you’re done with school, you want nothing more to do with ear training tests. If it makes any difference though, Europeans study a lot later in life than Americans, and they dabble in university courses long after they’re done, so you won’t be the only adult around. That, and nobody said you had to attend university, just enroll.

Avenue 2: Teach English

Europeans speak pretty good English in general, but they’re always looking for a chance to improve. Little did you know that the language you grew up speaking could turn into your most valuable skill. It’s really the perfect day job: it’s specialized labor, so you can get away with charging as much as you would for music lessons, plus it’s flexible if you’re just giving private lessons or tutoring. As far as certification, many people go through certified TEFL courses before getting their feet wet, but it’s by no means a necessity. Your American-ness and an ability to improvise convincingly are really all you need. Because you’re doing a job that is specifically tailored to foreigners, your road to a visa is much easier.

My Story

I studied abroad in Vienna when I was in college. During that time I polished up my German and made some connections with other American expatriate musicians in the city who encouraged me to come back when I graduated, so I did. I started working at an American institute during the day, though musical work became frequent enough that the day job became more of a burden than a boon, so I quit.

Nowadays I freelance as a musician in styles such as opera, jazz, hip-hop, Austro-pop (don’t ask) and Balkan. The change in musical culture has been refreshing, though frustrating at times (the stereotype about Europeans having trouble swinging is partly true), and the prevalence of experimental and/or high-brow music sometimes makes one long for a good ol’ wedding gig playing Top-40 hits. In general though, I’ve been very happy over here, and I think for some who are jaded with the musical culture in the states it’s a great change of pace.

Top 10 Gigs You May Not Have Thought Of

1. Transcribing songs

There are a few different ways to get paid for this.

I once worked with a singer-songwriter who didn’t read or write music, but worked with musicians who did.  His situation called for written lead sheets, so we would sit down together once or twice a week and write down his songs.  He’d play them (slowly), and I’d input them (quickly) to Finale.  In the end he’d have professional lead sheets and I’d charge my hourly rate.  It was a good gig – one of those odd jobs for musicians.

Another thing I’ve done is transcribe and arrange songs for musical theatre singers.  Sometimes singers really want to audition with a particular song that they’ve heard on the radio or YouTube, but either they can’t find the sheet music, or the sheet music is totally lame.  Arranging singers’ “books” for auditions can be good jobs for musicians with great ears and notation chops.

Is there a similar gig you can think of in your scene?

2. Applying for grants from local arts councils

A few years ago I received a $1,000 grant from my home town’s arts council to play a recital at the library.  I had to come up with a theme for the recital, fill out a one-page form, and the check came a few months later.  I hired two guys and made it a trio event – it was a great gig!  That particular arts council gives away grants each year to a number of local artists.

Check out this article on grants for musicians.  There is some really great advice in there.

3. Church gigs

When I first showed up in NYC, I had some ideas of what I thought I’d do here.  I planned to hustle theatre and other contracted musician jobs, and if that didn’t work out I’d temp or teach.  Good plan; good back-up plan.

A job I certainly hadn’t thought of was playing organ for a primarily Spanish-speaking Catholic church in the Bronx, but that’s what happened.  It turns out that New York church-goers take their music very seriously, and pay much better than the churches I’d known in my home town.  At the going rate of $100/service (and sometimes 7 services a weekend at larger churches), the Catholic church pays better than some off-Broadway shows.  Organist gigs and some worship band jobs are worth looking into if you haven’t considered them before.

4. Hotel gigs in Dubai

I promise you that I have never heard of this one either.  Check out the info from Natalie, one of our readers, who was good enough to explain the job in our forums.

5. Accompanying at schools

Sorry if this particular one is piano-centric, but that’s what I know best.  In fact, before I’d starting touring and traveling with theatre, I’d made a lot of my bread as a piano accompanist at the high schools, middle schools and 2-year colleges near where I was living.

There are countless music programs in cities across the country that are lead by teachers that either don’t play piano themselves, or have the budget to hire separate accompanists. These gigs can be great jobs for musicians that can play piano well, and working with kids (but not having to be the teacher!) can be a very rewarding experience.

In my experience, the best school accompanying jobs are college-level (even community colleges) because they have the budgets to pay you what you’re worth.  I have also seen some full-time high school positions with benefits, which could be great for someone looking for stable work.

6. Clinics/master classes/assemblies/business seminars

I’ve lumped all these things together, not necessarily because they are all the same, but because they all involve a similar hustle.

I know of a conductor in NYC that gives business seminars on leadership by bringing in a full orchestra and showing how a performing orchestra is a model of teamwork.  I have a friend in Chicago that is an inspirational saxophonist that is frequently hired for clinics and master classes at middle and high schools.  Schools look for educational and inspirational programs to perform at school assemblies.

What knowledge do you have that you can share?

7. Transposing music & various other copyist work

This is the younger cousin of #1 on this list, and also includes computer notation skills.  Key changes most often happen for singers (not to single y’all out, sorry), but also for those times that your music director wants the oboe part re-written for the clarinet, etc.  It takes some quick inputting to Finale or Sibelius, a few clever mouse clicks, and BAM, you’ve got an easy job for a musician.  There are a lot of people out there that never have the opportunity, time, or whatever to get past the learning curve of Finale or Sibelius.  They are often happy to pay you to do it for them.

There are often other, miscellaneous copyist jobs here and there if you have notation skills (and obviously there are great big, successful copyist jobs too, but you’ve probably thought of those).  I used to do some work for a choir near Chicago that wanted a jazz bassist to play with their group.  They hired me to write out (and transpose up 8va) the bass notes from the piano part.  Now there’s a gig you didn’t expect, right?

8. Page turner

I’m serious.  It’s a job.  NPR wrote a story about it. According to the report it pays $50-100 per concert in Minnesota (where the story was done).

9. Recitals for local social groups

I was hired once by a women’s league that wanted a jazz musician to play a recital at their luncheon.  The year before they’d hired a inspirational speaker, and apparently the guy had been a perfect bore.  Feeling some pressure to come up with something a little livelier, they’d found me on a recommendation.

There are lots of social groups (leagues, committees, sci fi conventions, who knows?) that have periodic meetings that need interesting entertainment for their membership.  See if you can find some in your area and ask them if they’d like to hire your group for a recital.

10. Teaching lessons on a secondary instrument

This idea is so widespread that I maybe shouldn’t include it here, but for those of you that haven’t thought of this yet – you don’t have to teach lessons on only your primarily instrument.  If you had to, don’t you think you could teach beginner piano lessons?  Or guitar?  Or whatever instrument you know a little about?  If you have a firm foundation in the fundamentals of music and a familiarity with a second instrument, I bet you can keep a few lessons ahead of your beginner students.

I don’t mean to advocate teaching something you don’t know anything about, I’m just saying that a beginning pianist doesn’t need their first lessons from Glenn Gould.  You should give it a shot.

What do you think?  Do you have any unexpected musician jobs to add to the list?