How to Get Hired as a Music Teacher

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

Demonstrate you’ll support your employer.

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

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

Know the business.

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

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

Musical ability.

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

Care about education.

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

Teaching ability.

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


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


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

Fitting in.

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

Sum it up:

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

Good luck in your search!

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

The Ill Effects of Multitasking

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


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

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

Here’s an example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try to receive every second of your life.

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

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

1. It takes you out of the moment.

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

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

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

2. It scatters your mind.

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

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

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

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

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

More time spent practicing is NOT always the answer.

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

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

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

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

Do you notice that you multitask throughout your day?

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

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

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

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

Creating a Structured Practice Routine

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

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

What To Practice

A good practice routine should accomplish three things:

  1. Maintenance
  2. Improvement
  3. Expansion

Maintain your current skills and repertoire.

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

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

Improve your technique.

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

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

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

Expand your repertoire.

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

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

Time Management

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

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

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

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

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

Repetition. Rest. Repeat.

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

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

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


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

Transcribing utilizes everything we would ever need to practice:

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

When in doubt, Beatles.

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

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

Take lessons.

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

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

Flying With Musical Instruments: Know Your Rights

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

PUBLIC LAW 112–95—FEB. 14, 2012

41724. Musical instruments

‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What This Means

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

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

Best Practices for Flying with Musical Instruments

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

Don’t Argue

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

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

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

Be Nice to The Flight Attendant

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

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

Board Early

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

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

Know Your Aircraft

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

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

Safe travels!

Tips For Surviving As a Musician in New York City

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

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

Setting Yourself Up for Success

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

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

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

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

Paying the Bills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Gigs

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

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

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

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

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

6 Steps for Successful Audio Mixing

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

1) Gain structure 

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

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

2) Gain structure……. again ! 

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

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

3) Throw up the faders 

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

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

4) Group your instruments

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

5) Color is quicker

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

6) Masterful processing

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

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

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

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

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


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

Contract Negotiation for Musicians

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

My First Contract

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

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

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

The Art of Negotiation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Tips

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

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

How To Help Protect Your Health as a Musician

Hard working musicians subject themselves to irregluar working hours, late working hours and often find themselves in areas of slightly different risk compared with many other professions. This article is definitely not meant to replace seeking medical and postural advice if you have a problem that needs addressing. However it does offer some basic and sensible advice which is easy to neglect during periods of heavy work load and stress, whether you are writing an album or on tour as a musician.

Protect your hearing

One of the most important facalties for a musician is their hearing, ears are sensitive and it is a good plan to protect the longevity of your hearing. Each country has a set of guidelines that provide safe sound pressure level values and exposure times. The louder sound is the less exposure time is recommended. Try and get a handle on your sound exposure levels and take steps to reduce and minimize it. Your career relies on the longevity of your ears and hearing, so use ear plugs to protect them from excessive SPL’s (Sound pressure levels) whenever possible. Like much of the advice within this article it might not be very rock and roll to wear ear plugs but it bears serious consideration as your career relies on it. Nowadays you can get ear plugs with a tailored frequency response which offers good protection but stops the music sounding too dull and makes it less problematic to hear some of the musical details on stage.

Take care when lifting

There is a right way and a wrong way to lift heavy items, the wrong way can have you with an accute back problem in no time. Lugging guitar combo’s, stacks, drum kits and full size keyboards and flight cases is not trivial, some of these items can easily weigh 20Kgs. When you lift your equipment consider your back. By and large it is safer to lift heavy items from the ground by keeping the back straight and bending your knees. Again your local medical authority will be able to advise on how heavy items are best lifted with minimum risk. Also make sure you do not hyper extend yourself when lifting (i.e. lifting items when stooped over… and arms fully extended) Being directly over the item is generally safer. If something is too heavy don’t feel like a wimp get a band member of stage hand to help you out, better safe than sorry.

Consider a flu jab

I personally take a flu jab annually, this is up to your own discretion. I feel the cost versus the potential loss of earnings from being on your back for 10-14 days is minimal. Letting people down and losing income from having the flu adds insult to injury. The flu is a very unpleasant and a common malady during the winter months and is best avoided. The flu jab is definitely worth considering before the winter period starts.


2 camps of opinion here, they don’t make any difference and they make a worthwhile difference. I am of the latter persuasion personally. Now rather than list scores of vitamins I will suggest a few that I believe will be of most benefit to musicians.

Fish oil (Omega 3) – known to protect joints, so if you want to tickle the ivory’s and keep on strumming for years and years to come this supplement will assist in keeping your joints in good shape, critical for being able to play an instrument.

Vitamin C – an important vitamin for keeping away the common cold and other minor viral infections, again playing out when under the weather is not fun or recommended so try and keep these mild illnesses at bay with a 500mg of vitamin C a day.

Lutein – Lutein is a suppliment that can help protect the retina of the eye. Musicians often work in dimly lit conditions, be it on stage or in the studio staring at a computer monitor for hours at a time. On stage this is often coupled with harsh lighting. Anything capable of protecting eyesight is going to be a bonus.

Vitamin D – we all know the joke about a “studio tan” well there may be more truth in it than one might think. In the northern hemisphere vitamin D deficiency is very common place especially towards the end of winter. (compounded by working indoors and lack of sunlight) It is a very important vitamin not to be depleted of.

A multivitamin tablet will be a good general daily suppliment especially if irregular and fast food type meals are consumed when in a hurry or on tour. A daily multivitamin will keep the basic nutirents topped up until you are eating better again.

Water vs. mental and physical performance

It is said that dehydration can reduce mental and physical performance so try and take a bottle of water wherever you are and keep well hydrated. A human being is recommended to drink approx 2 litres of water during the course of a day to keep peak mental and physical performance.

Sleep makes a difference

Eveyone knows that being deprived of sleep can have a large impact on mood and general well being. Of course musicians gigging are often night workers and long nights in the studio have almost become a cliche. Thats fine as long as you are getting 6-8 hours of sleep a day. It’s important for mental and physical well being to get rest. You are likely to be more creative and have more energy which is exactly what performing and creating music requires.

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. 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.

Learning Musical Styles with Transcription

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

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

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

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

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

And so, M.’s question to me was this:

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

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

That’s a good question, M.

Commercial Music in Theatre

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

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

The Twenty Year Itch

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Write It Down

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

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

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

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

Keep It Up

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

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

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

(In 20 years.)

Finding Work in a New Scene

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

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

I felt duped.

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

The Job Search

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

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

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

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

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

My First Job!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it all fell apart.

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

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

Lesson learned.

Sustenance Work

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

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

And I’m just getting started.

Related Post: Best and Worst Day Jobs for Musicians

Breaking In To a New Scene

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

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

We’ve all had to do it.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Getting There

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

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

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

Automobile Blues

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

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

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

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

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

A Place For Hat Hanging

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

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

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

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

The Devilish Details

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

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

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

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