Interview with Drummer Larry Lynch

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

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

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

So I asked Larry for an interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you find work as a musician?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Touring Sideman Jesse Bond

Jesse Bond is a fantastic guitarist out of Atlanta that makes a living as a touring sideman. I met Jesse through a mutual friend and after learning about his career and artists with whom he’s recorded and toured, I knew he’d have a lot of great information to share through our working musician interview series.

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

JB: I started playing guitar around 14 years old. My mom is the one that actually got me into the guitar. She was the music director at our church and picked one up when I was about 13 so she could accompany herself and lead the band.

I had friends in high school that were starting metal and punk bands so music and guitar were all around me. I joined a band and also started taking lessons.

My sophomore year in high school is when I started looking at colleges and my counselor suggested Berklee college in Boston. It sounded like a good idea so I made the decision to pursue music seriously then. I also joined my high school jazz band.

Jesse Bond guitaristDid you study music in school? How has that impacted your career?

I did end up going to Berklee and it has definitely helped me in many ways. First off, the musical knowledge that you get at a school like that is amazing. There’s so much info that you actually have to forget half of it and just play when you get out.

On top of what you learn at a school like Berklee is the connections you make. The networking is worth its weight in gold. I got my first big touring gig (Anthony Hamilton) from a Berklee connection.

I did take high school lessons as I said earlier, and I took two high school music theory classes as well. My advice for all who are considering music school:

  • Know as much as you can before going. The more advanced you are is the more you can pull from your teachers.
  • Get the text books early.
  • Test out of classes.
  • Take a few semesters off before starting.
  • Take general education classes first.

That’s what I wish I would’ve done anyway.

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

My career today is mainly dependent on touring with artists. I moved to Atlanta to play with PJ Morton in 2002. I started playing in churches soon after, and in Atlanta that’s a decent steady income stream for a musician.

I then got on Anthony Hamilton’s tour in 04. My biggest touring gig was Kanye West from 07-09. I’m currently music directing for Melanie Fiona (since 2010) and we’re opening for D’angelo and Mary J Blige as we speak.

I also do studio work but touring makes the bulk of my income. I’d like that to switch in the near future however.

How do you find work as a musician?

I find work as a musician by networking and networking and networking… and networking. It really is less about how you play and more about who you know and your professional reputation. I know that I would rather hire a friend than someone I don’t know. It’s important to be on time, personable, dependable to learn material, etc. Make friends and be professional. Work will come.

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

Other skills that help me are definitely on the engineering side. I have the capability to cut guitar tracks out of my house via email. I also program live shows for artists and run their tracks from stage. It’s the age of the home studio so know how to be self sufficient.

Also… The Nashville number system is the fastest way to chart. Learning that system streamlined the way I learn music.

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

Stay humble; soak in as much information as you can from your peers and mentors; learn your music; develop your ear; learn your tunes; don’t overplay; be prepared to step out and shine when you need to; look the part as well…

And, make sure you get paid for what you do. If you’re spending 8 hours a day at a day job, you only get 4 hours or so to work on your craft. You’re already behind because others are spending 8-12 hours a day specifically on their craft. The raw number of hours spent just won’t allow you to keep up. Demand compensation.

And write write write! One song placement can get you the same compensation as a year or two worth of gigs.

Keep your head up in the hard times (and slow times) and don’t forget why you started playing in the first place… because it’s fun!

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More about Jesse Bond:

Jesse Bond is an Atlanta based guitarist and producer that originally hails from Reno, Nevada. He is also a graduate of Berklee College of Music (02′).

He is a member of the PJ Morton Band and has toured and recorded with Kanye West, Rihanna, Celine Dion, Anthony Hamilton, Ledisi, Melanie Fiona, Toni Braxton, Faith Evans, Janet Jackson, Ne-Yo, John Legend, Jazmine Sullivan, Chrisette Michelle, Mary J Blige, Mary Mary, Kim Burrell, Adam Levine, India Arie, and many more.

He is a husband and a father and is currently music director for Melanie Fiona. Follow Jesse on Twitter to keep up with his life as a touring guitarist.

Interview with Pianist Sonny Paladino

This week’s Working Musician Interview is with pianist and music director Sonny Paladino. Sonny and I worked together on several Broadway shows and readings and he’s a fixture in the New York theatre scene. Lately, though, Sonny’s been finding more opportunities in both LA and NYC to music direct for big-name pop concerts. I wasn’t surprised, then, when I went on Facebook a few weeks ago and saw a photo of him playing a gig with Ke$ha.

Here Sonny tells us a little bit about himself and how he got started.

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

SP: I was given a piano and lessons as a Christmas gift from my grandparents when I was 8 years old.  I took lessons, but eventually, being a kid who would rather be running around outside whenever he could, quit.

My mother encouraged me to try taking lessons with another guy that we new from the neighborhood who was a musician that I had seen play around town. I agreed and at my first lesson he taught me a short chord progression I-vi-IV-V and I learned it that week and brought it back to the lesson. He heard me play it and said great! He then got up from beside the piano and went behind the drum set that was also in his little studio. He counted off 1-2-3-4 and we started playing together.

I was instantly hooked. Up until that point I was “taking piano lessons,” and at that moment I was “making Music.” I remember getting in the car with my mother and saying, “Mom, I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I’ve been pursuing a career in music ever since!

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

SP: I did study music in school. First high school (we had a great music program at my public high school and I literally had 5 music classes.) Then I went on to attend Berklee College of a Music in Boston. I left after one year because I felt that my contacts would be in Boston, and I knew that I ultimitaly needed to be in NYC. So I transferred to CUNY City College where I studied jazz music under the guidance of many great musicians including the legendary bass player Ron Carter.

I learned a lot about music in college and I continue to use these skills everyday as a professional, working musician. What college doesn’t really teach you though, is how to be an actual working musician. I find that most college programs focus solely on the artistic side of music, which is great, and important. But to be a working musician you’re going to have to play many styles of music: pop, rock, jazz, classical, hip-hop… you name it. It is important to keep those musical styles fresh and “under your belt.” you never know when you’re going to need to be able to play, write or arrange for those various styles.

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

I used to work solely as a Broadway Musican. And in many ways I still do. It took razor sharp focus for me to get established in that world. I did several national tours then decided I would stay put and do nothing but work on Brodway Shows. I started subbing around and then got a few opportunities to conduct the orchestra for several musicals. To date I have worked on 10 musicals and have been the assistant conductor on four of them.

I am currently expanding to different genres of music. I am trying to play more pop music and work as a music director for pop acts.

But day to day, I do everything from playing piano for rehearsals for a show, to writing songs for various shows, to arranging music for vocals, for full bands, to having an artist come to my apt for a vocal coaching session. You name it, I probably do it. You must be versatile in this business. If I am asked to do something that I’m not 100% comfortable doing, I will usually say yes and learn on the fly as I go. It’s a varying life with no set schedule (or payment structure,) but it’s really fun and rewarding!

MW: How do you find work as a musician?

Every way under the sun. Here you have to be creative. It’s really 100% word of mouth. So it’s about meeting the right people and staying in contact with them. There is definitely no set way to do this and getting started, getting people to know you is really the secret. How to do that is different for everyone.

For me, I would volunteer for anything. Play any gig I could. For free. It didn’t matter, I wanted people to know me. The other thing that I always tell people, is to be nice. When you do meet these people, be genuine. Don’t ask them for a gig, but rather befriend them. Truly. Once you become their friend, then they will trust you and might recommend you for a gig that they can’t do, or that they think you might be better suited for than them. A smile and a genuine interest in people goes a lot further than you can imagine. Try it!

Oh, and when you get that first opportunity to play some gig or cover a rehearsal, be prepared. Over prepared. No one knows how many hours you put into learning the material… They only hear you play, and hopefully they say, “Wow, he/she can really play!”

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

SP: Every skill imaginable. This business is not only about going into a situation and making great art. I wish! No, you’ll have to be a band leader at times doing arrangements, you’ll have to be a side musician and learn that now you’re role is to keep quite and go with the flow, you’ll have to be a composer, a manager, a friend. And at the end of the day, you’re actually running a business. You are your business. Better brush up on your accounting skills!

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

SP: I will share some advice that Herbie Hancock gave me when I was 17 years old and asked him for advice after seeing him perform a concert. He said, “Man, you’ve got to get your life together first, ’cause unless you have a story to tell in your music… no one will care.” I think musicians will always listen to great masters and think, ok, I have to practice every day for 25 hours to get that good. But remember that with music, people are looking for an individual. If you can say something with your music, if you can make someone feel something (and this can be achieved playing something as simple as comping on a four chord progression tune- see story about my first time “making music” in question/answer 1) then you will be the type of person people want to work with.

Interview with Guitarist Alec Berlin

For this week’s working musician interview, I talked to guitarist Alec Berlin. I’ve gotten to know Alec while subbing for him on a show. He’s a fantastic guitarist and also a very humble and hardworking guy. I learned a lot from him through the show, so he was a natural choice for this interview series.

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

AB: I started playing the guitar when I was 7. I didn’t really have a realization that I wanted to do it professionally – it just sort of happened, after I had invested a lot of time, energy, resources, interest, and passion in music for any number of years. The goal was just to keep doing it and keep doing it and keep doing it, etc.

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

I received a Master’s of Music in Jazz Studies from the New England Conservatory. Music school allowed me the opportunity to log in many, many hours on my instrument, under the guidance of some incredibly insightful and talented teachers.

Also – perhaps more importantly – it was the first time in my life that I was in such a big musical environment. In high school and college, musicians were few and far between, just a few random stragglers amidst a much larger population. Being surrounded by musicians all the time was invaluable – from a creative perspective, of course, but also in terms of thinking about and understanding what it meant to commit to a life as a professional musician.

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

For the last several years I’ve done most of my playing in theater – ranging from grungy independent productions like The ATrain plays (a 24-hour theater project) to super high profile Broadway productions like Green Day’s American Idiot. And lots in between.

I’ve spent a lot of time subbing for any number of different shows, which has it’s joys and it’s annoyances. What most appealled to me about subbing in the first place was the instrumental challenge – it’s not a gig that values personal interpretation, and if you are okay with that, then the challenge becomes trying to own the music as thoroughly as possible – including being comfortable playing on the show guitar, with that particular conductor, on that particular rig (ie with that amp and those pedals), with that particular rhythm section, etc. At times I’ve subbed on as many as 6 shows at a time – so maintaining that much music, and that many different scenarios – it’s no mean feat!

I’ve always valued musical variety, so I appreciated situations where I’d be playing a matinee that consisted largely of acoustic blues and an evening show of disco music. Followed, the next day, by big band swing. And so on. It requires a lot of time, patience, and adherence to some very particular ground rules – but as I said, if you are okay with all of that, then subbing on shows can be very rewarding.

Having your own show, on the other hand, is a whole different matter. The challenge to that gig is to try to be as consistent as possible in your playing while still feeling enthused about your gig, your instrument, your time, your output. In my experience, this requires balance – musical and otherwise. I’ve found balance partly in outside, original music projects, and partly in trying to have a well-rounded life, trying to read and see movies and hear music and excercise and spend time with family and friends and generally engage with the world.

How do you find work as a musician?

Be visible. Be respectfully persistent – no one likes a nag, but you also can’t risk just being wall paper. Be excited and humble. As Joni Mitchell said, “Heart and humour and humility… will lighten up your heavy load.” Basic psychology – what you put out comes back – so put out good energy, enthusiasm, and sincerity.

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

For theater work – organization. Reading skills. Attention to detail. Thoroughness. Good nature. A good ear. Good hands. A sense of humor.

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

Just to reiterate – follow your passion. There are ways to make money and there are ways to be creative. Ask yourself what role those two objectives will play in your life. Do you want to work in a wedding band? Play in Broadway pits? Write music for commercials? Play original music in a band?

Try to be as clear about your goals as possible – and then commit to it hugely. Don’t apologize for anything and don’t look back – just keep moving forward.

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More about Alec:

Alec Berlin has released 2 albums of original rock music – 2007’s Beauty, Grazing at the Trough, and 2012’s Innocent Explanations, both available on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and cdbaby.com. His theater credits include Rent at New World Stages, Green Day’s American Idiot (at the Berkeley Repertory Theater and on Broadway), and Next To Normal at Second Stage. Subbing credits include: Lion King, Rent, Next To Normal, Billy Elliot, The Color Purple, Mamma Mia. He has performed with Green Day, Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, and James Taylor. He has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America, and the Tony Awards live from Radio City Music Hall. He appears on the Grammy-winning Soundtrack to Green Day’s American Idiot and A Colbert Christmas. Check out www.alecberlin.com, www.facebook.com/alecberlinmusic, www.twitter.com/alecberlin for performance information and music samples.

Interview with Drummer Travis Whitmore

For this week’s installment of our working musician interview series, I spoke with drummer Travis Whitmore. Currently settled in Virginia, Travis thrives as a studio drummer through online collaboration, built upon his experience as a working drummer in Nashville.

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

TW: I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by music at a very young age. Whether it was listening to mom play piano or just playing along to records, music has always been a big part of who I am.

According to my parents, my first drum kit was given to me at around 4 or 5 years old. I remember it was soon after high school in 1995 that I realized I wanted to give this music thing a go professionally.

A couple of years later, I packed up and moved to Nashville and spent 5 years there working in the music business. I worked at Pearl Drums Corporation, toured North America and tried picking up as many studio sessions and live gigs that I could.

Being completely submerged in the music business was certainly challenging at times. However, I was able to improve not only as a drummer, but through all of the experiences I learned what it meant to be a professional musician.

Drummer Travis WhitmoreDid you study music in school? How has that impacted your career?

In High School, I was part of basically anything music related that was offered. Then in Nashville, I studied music theory and music business. I also studied with other professional drummers in the area and took courses on studio techniques.

Of course, any type of study related to something you love is always beneficial. That said, whether on the road or in a session, the experiences and interactions with other musicians, producers and engineers was (and still is) the most beneficial form of education. To this day, I still work hard to incorporate all of the things that impacted me early on.

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

I’m currently settled back in my hometown in Virginia and I have a home studio where I offer onsite recording projects and custom drum tracks via online collaboration. I have always been a huge fan of studio work and love the creative process that comes from the studio environment and recording process. Essentially, I built a home drum studio in my basement where I can still offer studio sessions.

The great thing about online collaboration is that I can offer my services to anyone in the world who may need real drum tracks on their songs or projects and don’t have the resources or time to set up and track a drum kit. In addition to studio work, I also play in a local horn driven funk band and offer drum lessons and a blog on the studio site with recording tips and musician resources.

How do you find work as a musician?

In regards to studio collaboration, the social resources available today has had a huge impact on finding work. On my studio site, I offer a blog with tips and resources for fellow musicians and drummers. As a result, I have clients finding my services through not only the blog but other social resources such as Facebook and Twitter.

Aside from the online activity, I find work by simply working with other musicians, going to live shows, meeting like-minded musicians and just being available for anything that comes my way. Word of mouth has also been an important aspect of finding work.

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

First and foremost, I believe that consistent practice in your instrument is key, no matter your expertise. As a drummer, I am always striving to be better and am always mindful of finding quality time to practice.

Whether live or in the studio, a few key skills that are vital to be successful are:

  • Pro Tools (or your DAW of choice)
  • Microphone placement
  • Recording techniques
  • Playing along to a click track

Other skills that are often overlooked is:

  • Listening to the other musicians in the band
  • Playing what’s right for the song
  • Showing up on time to the gig
  • Doing your homework on the songs to be played or recorded

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

There are a couple of major lessons that I learned early on that I continue to be mindful of to this day. As I stated above, make sure you find ample time to practice your instrument. Whether you are a beginner or expert, practicing will keep you sharp and on your toes.

Second, be careful to not spend all of your time with your own kind. In other words, if you are always spending your time meeting and hanging out with fellow drummers, you most likely won’t get a gig. Instead, thing of ways to meet and get to know other musicians (Keyboard players, singers, bass players). These are individuals that will call you the next time they need a drummer.

And last but not least – have a great attitude! Probably the most important lesson of all. It doesn’t matter how many chops you have, if you’re showing up to a show with a bad attitude or a negative demeanor, it will eventually cost you. On the other hand, showing up on time, doing your homework and having a positive attitude will keep those gigs coming and your reputation as a professional will spread like wildfire.

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More about Travis:

Travis Whitmore is an experienced session and touring drummer/percussionist. Having worked as a Nashville session drummer, Travis has either played on the same stage or recorded with a variety of world-renown musicians and recording artists. Whether he’s playing a shaker, hand drums or a full drum kit, his main goal is to always serve the song. Based in Virginia and working out of his own SilverLake Studio, Travis offers recording services and custom drum tracks via online collaboration. Travis is also passport ready and available for live shows, studio sessions and lessons.

Interview with Freelance Musician Tony Maceli

At Musician Wages, we’ve always believed there are as many ways to be a freelance musician as there are freelance musicians. Every musician we’ve talked to has their own combination of jobs that, combined, make up their career. We’d like to share the experiences and advice of more working musicians on our site through a series of interviews. Each musician will be asked the same questions, but their answers will reflect their unique career.

Our first interview is with New York bassist (and multi-instrumentalist) Tony Maceli. You can often find Tony playing or hanging out in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, an area known for it’s music scene.

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

TM: I started playing trumpet when I was 10 years old. I loved it right away. My band director featured me in a piece in the spring concert and I told my parents, “I want to be a musician!” To which they answered, “That’s nice.” I knew right away I wanted music and it’s been with me ever since.

From there, I picked up the electric bass at 15 years old, but never really got serious with it till later. I played in different rock bands and used the bass as a tool to meet girls–even the least coolest kid has a chance playing in a band. Trumpet was my bag for my early years, though.

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

I went to the Crane School of Music for my undergraduate degree in music education with a concentration in trumpet performance. After I graduated, I taught for a few years to save some money.

It was at 25 years old that I bought an upright bass and really began my bass playing career. I took a few lessons with Cecil McBee and went off to pursue my Masters of Music at Indiana University in jazz studies. Once I finished at IU, I came to NYC and have been here ever since, finishing a doctorate in music education at Teachers College Columbia University.

Studying music is a lifelong endeavor, one you can hone in college, or by practicing and learning on the scene via the school of Hard Knocks. Sometimes I look back and wonder whether or not I should have saved the money I spent on my education and come straight to New York to learn from the school of hard knocks, instead of taking the over-educated route.

For me, balance has been the key. At times, when I feel like getting out of the music rat race, I know I have other options, so I can investigate my options and not feel trapped. Ultimately, my music career prevails, but it helps knowing that I can try other things and am making the choice to live the life I am living.

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

Cellist Dave Eggar (someone everyone should know about and can learn a lot from) once told me that your music career is a portfolio. I think that’s the best description for what my career looks like.

I’ve performed on broadway (as a sub), in the studio, orchestras, club dates, cover gigs, indie band gigs, tours or anything I’ve been called for. I’ve played on electric bass, upright bass, electric guitar, trumpet, keyboards, and even banjo for a gig. Also, I’ve done several arrangements, be it big band, string or wind parts for a studio record, or something simple for a rock band. I’ve been a musical director for benefits, rock bands/ensembles, and large productions. I’ve even been on the road playing bass, tour managing, and driving (sometimes all at once).

Lately, I’ve been really learning Pro Tools and Logic and getting into the production end of things. I’ve submitted music for commercials (nothing’s stuck yet, but I’m trying to get my foot in the door, just like everyone else), and been working with artists to produce records. I’m always looking for new ways to broaden my portfolio.

Any one of these skills, by themselves would not be enough to sustain my living, but put together, it fits who I am and how I like to go about my business.

How do you find work as a musician?

Generally speaking, finding work is all about the hang.

I was a school teacher for 15 years before I really became a musician (I was 36 when I quit my job). I didn’t realize that finding work as a musician was a full time job and I was trying to do it part time.

Once I quit my job, I realized that I didn’t know anyone, so I ended up going out every night to meet people. Money was an issue, so I had to get to know the bouncers at clubs that charged a cove or go to places that didn’t charge a cover. From there, I’d start noticing a lot of the same musicians playing most of these gigs. I got to know these folks and eventually, someone recommended me to play a gig. I did my best (which probably wasn’t great) and they called me back because I was a nice guy and had the right attitude. The gig didn’t pay much (maybe $75 for a gig and a rehearsal) and I went from there.

Without a doubt, the amount I hang is directly correlated to how much work I get. Go support good music and you’ll eventually get asked to play. Don’t be pushy or a professional hand shaker. Hang loose, keep supporting and you’ll eventually get a shot.

Also, people talk a lot about your network and I think that’s a key. It’s simple math. If you know 3 bands/songwriters that you play with and they all play once a month, you have 3 gigs a month. That’s not going to cut it. If you know 30 folks and they play once a month, that’s roughly one gig a night. That’s if you’re everyone’s first call.

That’s why it’s best to know thousands of folks. That math always works in your favor. Finished playing a gig, you’re part of the hang, stick around. Not working that night, go out and support your colleagues. It can feel overwhelming, but start small and eventually you’ll meet more and more folks. Be patient and know it takes time.

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

This is different for everyone. Figure out what you love to do and make that your focus.

For me, I like being completely ADHD and doing as many things as possible. I make sure I’m completely focused on the project at hand and do my best to nail it. If I have a pop gig that requires bowing on the upright, I’m all about practicing my classical chops. If I have a gig that’s a jazz gig, I do my best to play standards that week, and so forth. There are friends of mine that just love playing jazz and that’s all they do with a focus and purpose and that’s cool too. That’s for the music.

I know this might sound like common sense, but don’t be late, and know the material (memorized-avoid charts). If you don’t do this 100 other people will. Think of that bumper sticker, “Don’t be a Dick” – stick to that.

I imagine this post is for folks that are not established, so I recommend memorizing music and being on time, always. If someone like Will Lee or Mike Visceglia are reading this, then it doesn’t matter for them. They’ve been around and are completely established and can do what they want because they are in demand. I would venture to say, however, those guys still come on time and super prepared (just a hunch- that’s why they work a lot).

For me, I make a living, but don’t feel that I am established enough to be slacking off – we’re only on this planet for a short time, make it count, no matter what you’re doing.

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

First, try not to get involved in a situation asking what you are going to get out of it. Ask instead what you are going to give to it. Sometimes, you are needed to be an audience member. Sometimes it’s to be a guitarist. Other times a background vocalist, and the list goes on. Figure out what you are contributing and people will feed off that positive energy.

Second, think of being a musician as opening a business. That’s what you are – a one person business.

I think of it like a coffee shop (who doesn’t love coffee?). Let’s say I can make the best coffee and only do coffee, but is that enough? Is my coffee that good? Do I need the cup holders that make sure my customers don’t burn their hands when holding a hot cup of joe? How about pastries? Do I want to sell music in my coffee shop like starbucks? etc, etc, etc.

You play an instrument – that’s obviously the coffee. How much do you charge for coffee? The price changes by the pound (gig), you offer other frills such as pastries (background vocals), cup holders (instrument doubling), and the list goes on. Make conscious decisions about what you want to be so you have a focus.

This is how you create your brand. I know this part is so unmusical and it kinda is something I’m terrible at, but I acknowledge it’s existence and my shortcomings in it. At present, I choose my brand to be unfocused because I’m kinda all over the place. I realize that limits the type of work I can get, but for now it makes me happy. When it’s time for a change, I’ll change.

Third, try to divide your day up so that you can hit what you need to hit. I don’t write this down everyday, but I have an idea of what I’m going to do. Maybe something like this:

  • 11am-12pm – Internet time/coffee/breakfast
  • 12pm-1pm – Upright warmup/bowing exercises
  • 1pm-3pm – Learn tunes for Friday gig
  • 3pm-3:30pm – walk around park
  • 3:30pm-6:30pm – rehearsal for friday gig
  • 6:30-7pm – Dinner
  • 7pm-9pm – Rockwood Music Hall to watch two shows
  • 10pm – 12am – Living Room for a show
  • 12am – 2:00am – Back to Rockwood for late hang

Fourth, be in it for the long haul. If you have the proverbial, “If I don’t make it by the time I’m (a certain age),” attitude, don’t bother trying to be a musician. A musical career takes years to establish. Being short sighted will come across and no one will want to play with you. They’ll see the stars in your eyes and run the other way. Besides, if you wake up in the morning and your job is to make music, and that’s all you do, you’ve made it. Regardless of how much money you make.

Finally, for anyone new to New York, I have a musician hang/community night once a month at Rockwood Music Hall. It’s called Full Vinyl (www.facebook.com/fullvinylnyc). The night is populated by performing songwriters and working musicians in New York City. It’s like our office holiday party once a month. We pick a theme (i.e. – Stevie Wonder night, 80’s Movie Music themes) and everyone performs a song relating to the theme. No rehearsal, just throw down and know your part. I try to involve everyone in the night in some way, shape or form, but can’t get everyone in due to limited slots. It’s a great place to meet folks and support the music community. I try my best to help connect folks, so stop by.

Thanks for reading and I wish anyone pursuing a career in music the best.

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Tony Maceli has performed with many artists including Dave Egger, Jenny Own Youngs, Elizabeth and the Catapult, Elizaveta, Ian Axel, Bob Kinkel, Vienna Teng, and many more. He has also subbed on Broadway shows, including the original production of Rent. Connect with Tony at the next Full Vinyl show at Rockwood.

Introducing the Working Musician Interview Series

MusicianWages.com is dedicated to helping the musician industry thrive. We’ve offered advice and tips to help working musicians make the most of their careers. Along the way we’ve also spoken to many of our peers and learned about how they make their living. We really believe that there are as many ways to be a freelance musician as there are freelance musicians.

To help illustrate that point, we’re going to start posting more interviews with working musicians. You may not recognize all of these musicians’ names, but you are probably familiar with their work, or can relate to the types of gigs they play.

We’ll start tomorrow with an interview of New York’s Tony Maceli, a multi-instrumentalist that’s done just about every type of musician job imaginable. Meanwhile you can read some of the past interviews on our site, including keyboardist Brad Whiteley, producer Steve Migliore (aka Mr. Mig), guitarist Lance Seymour, indie artist Allison Weiss, music director Tom Carradine, and more.

Freelance Musician Profile: Guitarist Lance Seymour

Several months ago I was looking for a specific piece of gear. I couldn’t find it on all the usual places you go to shop for used items, but then I saw a friend post something in a Facebook group called Gear Talk: Classifieds. I promptly joined the group and found the pedal I wanted, er, needed (as I explained to my wife).

I later learned that Gear Talk: Classifieds was an extension of a Gear Talk group where musicians, mostly guitarists, just chatted about gear. You see, guitarists can have vastly different ideas about politics, religion, and even different tastes in music, but we all see eye to eye when it comes to a sweet rig.

It turned out the Gear Talk groups were started by Atlanta based guitarist Lance Seymour. As the original group continued to grow, Lance saw the need for smaller regional groups, and groups for bassists, drummers, pro players, praise and worship guitarists, acoustic instruments, and more. Collectively these groups have become an enormous network for guitarists and other musicians all over the world.

Over the last several months I’ve gotten to know Lance. Before he started Gear Talk, he built a career as an in-demand freelance guitar player in the Southeast. On a recent visit to Atlanta, I got together with Lance, played some guitar, and talked to him about his career and what he’s learned about building online communities with Gear Talk.

Guitarist Lance SeymourCM: Tell us about your career. How long would you say you’ve been playing professionally?

LS: I have been playing professionally for about 10 years in Atlanta. I started doing gigs quite a few years before. Small bar, cover band type stuff. I also played in church almost immediately after starting to play music, 13 years ago, or so.

What kinds of gigs are you doing these days, not just playing, but any sort of musician job that puts bread on the table?

You could say playing guitar has been my main source of income for the last 10 years.

I definitely have been playing the ‘jack of all trades’ role as a professional musician. My gigs are so spread across the board, playing everything from Rock and Pop gigs, to Classic country, and new country and of course playing gospel and contemporary Christian music all the time. Atlanta is really as diverse as it can be, music-wise. But I think that’s a good thing. I love one night getting to play classic country and then the next night play RnB, and get up the morning after that and play at a church somewhere. Makes for A LOT of music to learn.

As for other things that put bread on the table, I teach several instruments. I just started teaching Skype lessons, which has been incredibly rewarding. I am also the band leader for a few different artists. I write charts for them, which I’m paid for.

How do you find your gigs? Or how do they find you?

Typically gigs find me. Fortunately I have been able to play with so many musicians in the last 10 years, that my number gets passed around. I get calls constantly where the conversation starts with “Hi, I got your number from ….so and so. I’m looking for a guitarist.”

The key is being a professional when you’re on a gig. I often say “the gig you’re on right now is an audition for your next gig.” If you do your job and are a great hang at the same time, it’s impossible not to get called for work.

What advice would you give specifically to young guitarists that want to make a living playing music?

HA! Why would anyone want to make a living playing music? No, I think being a professional musician is awesome and I would not trade it for another job.

I think it’s important for young musicians to learn the type of things that really get you work:

Knowing tons and tons of songs and playing them all authentically is huge for getting gigs. Constantly be adding to your repertoire.

Learn musicians’ language, terms and phrases so you know what people are talking about in rehearsals and on stage.

Also LEARN NUMBER CHORDS. It’s so important for musicians to be able to recognize chords by their numerical name. No excuse for not knowing them and being able to read them.

I think for guitarists in general, need to be able to able to tailor their tone to whatever style they happen to be playing at the time. Guitarists have so many choices when it comes to gear and effects, in general. It’s important to know how to dial it in and make it feel right for the song.

One piece of advice I give to younger players all time comes from that saying “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Meaning basically to do every gig like it’s your dream gig. Just because you’re doing what you consider a ‘less than stellar’ gig, you have no excuse to give less than 100% to it. It’s disrespectful to the people you’re working with and to yourself. That attitude will lead to the gigs you actually want to be doing.

Changing directions a little bit, you’ve also been actively building a community of musicians on Facebook with the Gear Talk groups. What made you start the first Gear Talk group?

Gear Talk started for a couple of reasons. First being, I wanted a place for me and my friends could go and talk about guitar gear. Pedals and amps and all that sort of stuff. I found myself on the phone constantly with my gear head friends, having two hour long conversations about guitar pedals. Like really passionate debates. I wanted there to be a network online where all my gear head friends would talk and debate and learn.

Also, just over a year ago, when I started Gear Talk, I had several guitar pedals I wanted to sell. I posted them on my newsfeed on Facebook and got zero responses. I thought it was strange considering the majority of my friends are musicians. Did my post just go down Facebook’s timeline and hardly anyone saw it? I figured I’d create a group and add all the guitarists I knew might be interested in buying my pedals! The whole thing kind of snowballed from there.

Why did you decide to do it on Facebook, verses a different online platform?

Facebook seemed like the ultimate platform. Everyone is on it and are using it all day. They know how it works, there’s not much of a learning curve. It has a great mobile app that’s easy to use.

I could not have invited all my friends to join some random gear forum somewhere else online and expect them to join it. The members were already built in to the network. Seemed like a perfect place for gear nerds to commune.

Also, one of the big advantages of Facebook over traditional forums is that there’s no anonymity. People tend to be friendlier and more honest because they are using their real names and you can see their picture. Nobody is hiding behind screen names.

Do you have any plans to create a website for the group outside of Facebook?

Yes. As a matter of fact, I am about to launch GearTalkOnline.com. It’s a site that will cater to Gear Talk members’ interests. It’ll have articles, gear reviews, interviews with professionals in the industry and lessons.

So essentially, it’s not a forum to try and take Gear Talk members off of Facebook, but a site that offers them more options than Facebook groups allow and is custom tailored specifically for already existing Gear Talk members.

What are you learning about building communities online?

I am constantly learning. My goal was not to start a forum and get a ton of members in it. There’s really no reason to have tens of thousands of members in these groups if they’re not passionate about gear.

What was great about Gear Talk as it started with me and a bunch of full-time working musicians. It was not something I started to create a business. It’s been really organic from the get go and I think that’s what people find cool about it. It’s not sponsored by some company trying to sell you anything. It’s a great hang for gear heads from all over the world now.

I think as the groups have grown, I am able to spot things that need to be fixed and improved, so things in the group evolve. Sometimes rules are made. Sometimes I have to re-direct to focus of the group/groups.

One thing I have learned, is people love to feel part of a community. Not part of this massive monster forum of anonymous people. This is why I started Gear Talk regional groups, in order to help people network in their own regions and also make buying/selling/trading much easier.

Last March you hosted the Gear Talk Expo 2012 in Atlanta, which turned out to be a big success. Tell us a little about why you decided to put that together and how it’s effected the online community.

Yeah, GTE2012 was amazing! It was also an idea that snowballed into this huge thing.

Several months ago, we were talking about having a get-together for Gear Talk members in Atlanta. It started as a backyard BBQ sort of idea. Bring your gear, hang out, eat some food.

A friend of mine, Damon Breeland, works for Avatar Events Group in Atlanta suggested we host it there. Seemed like a perfect location. Right in the center of Atlanta and a venue that is quite comfortable with guitar geeks cranking up their amps. Since Avatar has a stage, I booked Damon’s band, Nigredo to play. They’re a terrific instrumental band. Sort of an amazing wall of sound created by dozens and dozens of amps and guitar pedals.

Iconic guitarist/Co-Founder of 65 Amps/producer/sideman, Peter Stroud has been an active member on Gear Talk, and also lives in Atlanta. I emailed him and asked him if he’d be interested in doing a clinic at the get together. There really was not a better choice. Peter was incredibly cool and agreed to come out.

After Peter/65 Amps were on board, it seemed like a good idea to invite other builders in the area to bring their stuff to show off. I asked Richard Goodsell of Goodsell amps and he was in. Then Fuchs amplifiers, thanks to Bryan Akers who works for Avatar. After that, companies from all over the country started contacting me asking me if they could come.

I had about 40 days to organize and promote GTE2012. It ended up exceeding my expectations with number guests and amazing networking. The cool thing about it was, it was not corporate at all. It was grassroots. It was not sponsored by some corporation. I financed the entire thing myself! It came off exactly how I wanted it. A get together among gear heads with a bunch of special guests and some truly amazing gear.

What’s next for Lance Seymour?

Tons of gigs. I am pretty slammed right now and working on GearTalkOnline.com. Been one of the busiest years of my life. I am already planning GTE2013. I can’t wait for it. I am working on ways to develop Gear Talk for members and companies. Just recently, i started the group Gear Talk: Marketplace as a way for companies to promote their products for free to Gear Talk members without coming off like they’re trying to post a commercial on one of the Gear Talk groups. It’s been really successful so far.

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Visit guitarist Lance Seymour’s website and Facebook page to learn more.

If you’re interested in being a part of the Gear Talk community, join one or more of the groups below!

Interview with UK Music Director Mike Dixon

Since he first started his career in musical theatre in 1979, Mike Dixon has become a respected and renowned music director and music supervisor in the UK. After talking to him, it is easy to understand why he is so successful, as he is as kind and inspiring, as he is passionate about his craft.

What does it take for someone to be a music director?

To be a theatre music director you need to know what drama is all about, and you need to know what music is all about.

Lots of people in theatre don’t understand music, the nitty gritty of how music looks, and they get quite scared about that. I think one of your jobs is to be able to put people at their ease about that. You have to say, “look, we’re looking at a 18-piece orchestra, we can make that change, but not like that.” Sometimes you do have to explain that.

Here is a case in point. When I was first talked to about We Will Rock You the producer said: “All the music exists, so we don’t need an orchestrator or vocal arrangement.” I said: “So where does it exist?” “Well, its’ on cds.”

So you have to say: “Look, say we get the show up and running in London with people who can work from their heads, but what if the show goes abroad and we can’t be there? How are you going to transmit exactly what the show is gonna be?” You have to take them down the path of understanding.

Enjoyment is also really important. If you are up on the podium, or in front of your piano, and you look like you’re not enjoying yourself, that will transmit to whoever you’re working with.

Do you prefer to be a piano conductor or a standing conductor?

They are very different things. In my early career, I really liked to have the keyboard in front of me, and get into the playing of the piece.

The first time I stood up in front of an orchestra was when I was the associate music director for La Cage aux Folles. After I conducted the orchestra for the 1st time, a brilliant saxophone player, John Franchi said: “You did a really good job. You were completely clear, we all understood everything you were doing. But just answer this question. You know the beginning part of the song “Masquerade,” how did you subdivide that into 28?!!”

Because my hand was shaking and the tempo was very slow, his joke was that it looked like if I had subdivided it into 28 (laughs)!

And when you play the piano, people can’t see you shaking!

That’s not true! For the Queen Jubilee concert in 2002, we did four songs from We Will Rock You with the full cast. I was playing the piano and conducting, and just before the big moment, the camera was right over me, and you can see very clearly my fingers absolutely shaking, just as I’m playing!

What is the difference between a music director and a music supervisor?

Being a supervisor is like being the music director, but once the show opens you leave and let the show happen, just like the director and the choreographer do. The music director needs to conduct the show every night, while the music supervisor sets up the show and gently goes off into the background.

Does the music director loose some of his authority when there is a music supervisor?

Yes, I suppose he does. I try to empower the music director and to give him or her responsibility, but sometimes there are some decisions where the music supervisor has got to go “it’s gonna be like this.” If you’re in that rehearsal together, the supervisor is the head.

How should a music director handle difficult personalities?

I think you should always treat people as equally as you can. If you treat people how you would want to be treated if you were in that position, then usually you’ll do ok. You have to respect people’s sensibilities and where they’re coming from. When somebody continually gets something wrong, try to figure out what it is that’s so hard.

You also have to be able to diffuse a situation. I think I’ve lost my temper maybe three times in my career, and two of those times in the first couple of years!

I’ve seen some music directors absolutely shouting to people and being unpleasant. I don’t think it gets them anywhere. Personally I prefer to have people working and performing with me because they enjoy it, not because they’re frightened.

What do you think are some common mistakes that young music directors make?

I think the biggest mistake is thinking that they’re really important. Of course music and being a music director is an important thing, but I think a lot of young music directors think that when they’re called a music director, it gives them importance, and it doesn’t. Because like any other position of authority, any respect you get is earned, it isn’t automatic.

Part of being young is having an idealism and a drive, to want to make things exactly right. I think a lot of young music directors find it difficult to compromise. That’s one of the things they have to be careful of.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first got started?

The one aspect of music directing that isn’t talked about very much is how important it is to be a communicator and to be a receiver; to understand that you might have an absolute view of how music goes and how it should be, but musical theatre is a completely collaborative process.

If you think that music is more important than anything else, you’re wrong. Music is as equally important as the lyrics and the book.

In which ways has your music directing changed over the years?

As you get older, you are more able to see a bigger picture. If someone makes a mistake and you’re younger, you will want to go over that mistake and make sure that doesn’t happen again. As you get older, if you’re dealing with experienced musicians and they make a mistake in rehearsal, you don’t make a big thing about it. Maybe you just have some kind of eye contact with them, and then let them make the decisions as to whether they want to do it again.

Obviously you never stop learning, and you also learn from people much younger than you lots of time as well. One of the nice compliments I’ve had from a number of people is “you’re just the same as you were Mike,” which is a nice thing. I’m always amazed at the quality of the musicians and of the actors that I work with. I’m lucky, and I sometimes pinch myself and go “have I really been doing this since 1979?”

Any last thoughts?

Real life is more important, it’s not a matter of life and death. I know if a show has not been received as well as you wanted it to be, or if things are going badly in a show, it feels like that. But you have to go: “This isn’t real life. I’m doing something that 90% of the people in the world don’t get to do, and I’m in that lucky 10%.”

Interview with UK Music Director Tom Carradine

Tom Carradine is currently the Children’s Music Director on the UK tour of The Sound of Music. He previously toured as the music director for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Hi-De-Hi, and worked as the music programmer for the current tour of Evita. He also worked as the assistant music director on the UK tours of Scrooge and Cabaret.

He has music directed multiple regional UK shows, such as Red Peppers, The Jungle Book, Babes in the Wood, Mother Goose, Oklahoma!, Spring Fever, Iolanthe and The Mikado, Dick Whittington, and a studio cast recording of the rock musical Area 51.

What is it like working as a children’s music director?
I really wanted to do it for years. I love working with kids. They’re sometimes better behaved and more switched on than the adult performers.

On The Sound of Music we have three teams of kids, and each team does three to four days, and then has a week off. My job is to make sure that when they come back, they fit right back in with the show. If the show has changed even slightly in the time they’ve been away, they have to fit back into that show perfectly.

I’m often inspired by the kids energy, professionalism and adaptability. Only last week one of our Kurts had to come off the show during intermission as he wasn’t feeling well. As we don’t tour an understudy boy, the other kids had to take on his spoken and vocal lines, and some of his staging. They took this all in their stride and continued as if they’d always done it that way.

Are You A Music Director?

MusicianWages.com hosts a job board for regional theatre companies seeking music directors. If you are interested in these kinds of jobs you should bookmark that page, visit often and subscribe to it’s RSS feed.

Theatre companies are also encouraged to use this resource.

If you are a theatre music director, you should also visit and join these resources:

Music Director Groups

Yahoo email list: Ask questions to MDs in this private email list where only MDs are allowed in

Twitter: Network in a fun way with other MDs @MusicTheatreMD

Facebook: Find and post articles, videos and jobs

What’s the difference between music directing a long running show and music directing a show from scratch?
On a long running show, you’re stuck within a framework that’s already been set out for you. Tempos and stylistic things are set, so it’s your job to bring consistency to the project.

For example, when I music directed the UK tour of Joseph, the show worked well, so my responsibility was to make sure that the band and the vocals remained consistently tight, within the realms of the ebb and flow that you have on a show day to day.

It’s a tricky thing to find that balance between consistency and letting the performers “breathe,” – responding to the audience every night when they’re feeling a moment. That’s how you’re creative as a music director on a daily basis.

When you do a show from scratch, the creative freedom is broader. You’re working with a director and choreographer, and you can mold things and change things as the new production is created. Collaboration is important.

What are the challenges of music directing a long running show?
You have to be producing the same product eight times a week, even twelve on the UK tour of “Joseph.” That’s quite hard. You have to be consistent within the realm of creative freedom.

I also find it tricky to be at my peak level of performance for the show. You get up late in the morning, have an afternoon rehearsal, or relax, and then have to be on top for the show at 7:30 pm.

You’ve also worked a lot as an assistant music director. What are those responsibilities like?
Depending on the producer or music director, you’re often responsible for leading the daily vocal warm ups before the show, for playing a keyboard part in the show, playing for rehearsals, and taking understudy rehearsals.

In addition to that you may also regularly conduct the show, in order for the music director to take notes from out-front or take time off. This really depends on the producer. As assistant music director on Joseph I would conduct the show twice a week, whereas on the tour of Scrooge I conducted only one performance on the whole tour.

It’s also an organization job. You have to keep an eye on things and make sure that the “dep diary” is up to date with who’s on or off in the band. For some producers, I’ve had to keep the arrangements, orchestration and band parts up to date when changes are being made in the show. On a touring show the assistant’s responsibilities may also include packing and unpacking the scores and band parts in each venue.

I pride myself on being a good assistant. You have to second guess everything, and always be a step ahead of the music director.

How did you get into programing and sequencing? Would you say that those important skills for music directors to have?
I think it’s important for music directors to be aware of the technology that’s out there – what it’s good for and what it’s not good for.

It’s useful to know how to reprogram keyboards, for example if something goes down during a show, or an understudy needs to change keys which may require changes to the programming. You may have to change the mapping- set the keyboard to play more than one note when you play a single note in order to simplify complex sections.

I learned that the hard way. I did a production of Cats with a West End production team in Cyprus for the Larnaca International Festival. When we arrived, we realized that both Key 2 and 3 were missing the chain of patches for Act 2. Unfortunately the back-up floppy disks for these had been left in the UK.

The other keyboard player Tim Davies and I had to reprogram the keyboards for Act 2 on the afternoon before the dress rehearsal. I’d never used a Kurtzweill before, and it was completely different. I learned how to program quickly that day!

What is your advice to new music directors?
Do everything: fringe, cabarets, cocktail piano, auditions, rehearsals, amateur shows. To be a good musician, especially for musicals which imitate so many different styles, you need to have an awareness of every style.

You never know who you’re gonna meet. In this business it’s definitely not what you know, it’s who you know. You only get one chance to prove that you can do it.

Also, be careful to not pester music directors and band fixers. I’ve been on the receiving end of persistent emails and, even though I’m more than happy for people to come and sit in on a show that I’m working on, I know quite a few people who have been black listed because they’re persistent in a bad way.

What are qualities that you think music directors must have?
Be humble. As a music director you’re there to facilitate the performers, both on stage and in the pit, to give their best performance. Trust your musicians and don’t get in the way of them doing a great job.

For young music directors it’s probably even more important. Don’t assume that if you’ve music directed a number of small shows, you’ll only ever work as a music director.

Confidence is also an important thing. It takes a lot to stand up in front of pit full of talented musicians, in front of a stage of experience performers and in front of an auditorium.

I like to be personable and approachable. I think the only way to get a good company and band feel is to have a happy working environment. Being humble helps. I don’t think you can get a good performance from your performers if you instill fear into them.

Also, I’m all for going with the guys for a beer after work and I think you have to be willing to have a joke and a laugh, but it’s important that you, and the players working for you, know where that line stops.

Interview with New York Music Director David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn is a music director and pianist in New York City. He toured as the conductor of Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town (2007 revival, North American tour) and has music directed regionally throughout the United States. He has music directed new works and readings at Playwrights Horizons, New Dramatists and the Laurie Beechman Theater and made his music directing debut at Town Hall in 2010.

Dave worked as the Assistant Music Director at the New York Stage and Film reading of Michael Mayer’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” He teaches, accompanies and music directs at New York University and subs on Broadway.

In this interview he speaks about the kind of relationship music directors have with their cast, their band and their director. He also gives insights on how to prepare for rehearsals, and how to conduct from the piano.

 

What does it take for someone to be a music director?

First off, music directors need to be able to clearly communicate, and to work with a lot of different types of people. The music director is the point person who translates all of the different ways people talk about music.

You also have to be an incredible musician, with a skill set that is very advanced in music, conducting and performing.

A good understanding of management skills is also important because different musicians are motivated by different things, and you have to talk to them with those motivations in mind. Some musicians play because they want recognition, or money, or they do it for the art. Being in a middle management position, you need to communicate between the directors and the producers, and the actors and musicians.

 

How does a music director prepare before rehearsals start?

I always listen to as many recordings of the productions beforehand, because you have to learn the book and get the show under your fingers. It’s also good to sing through the show even if you’re not much of a singer so you don’t run into surprises in rehearsal.

Also, there are often meetings with the director and the choreographer to see what their vision is for the show, and with the stage manager to decide what the schedule is going to be for teaching the music.

 

What is the relationship like between a director and a music director?

The director has to have the vision for the project, and everybody else has to go with that. I like to follow a director’s lead on everything, follow their vision.

For example, I prefer when the director is in the room when I teach the music, so they can have input on it. Sometimes you end up in situations where you may feel that the director is overstepping their bounds, but I haven’t run in that situation very often. I usually love the directors I work with.

 

What do you do during tech week if someone has a difficult personality or isn’t playing the part well?

One lucky thing I’ve found is that the higher up you go in the industry, the less and less you have to deal with hard personalities. The most successful music directors and musicians that I’ve met are also really lovely, genuine people.

But if you do have the misfortune of working with a difficult personality, there are three steps that I suggest. If a musician isn’t performing well, the first thing to do is to talk to them in private and tell them clearly what the problem is and what you want them to do. If it doesn’t work, the next step is to address the problem at a group rehearsal, so they’re accountable in front of the whole group. If that still doesn’t work, you have to fire them, there’s no way around that.

I think it’s a delicate situation in a pit when you go on tour and you need people to stay on your side. Tech week is difficult, you’re bombarded on all sides. When you get there, you have to bring up all your flexibility, work well under stress, work well with others and keep your cool.

 

Is a music director better off as a standing conductor or as a playing conductor?

I’ve done both and I prefer to be a playing conductor, but some people feel differently.

When I play it’s easier to get the respect from the band, and to get a different sense of camaraderie than I do as a standing conductor. Or maybe it’s just that I like playing piano!

Conducting from the piano is hard at first. The secret is breathing. A band that breathes together comes in together. The biggest mistake is to assume that piano conducting is something that comes naturally. When you’re just playing with the cast you have to practice as if there’s a band there, even if nobody is looking at you. The biggest complaint from bands is that music directors don’t have the coordination to put their head nod and the beat together.

One thing to consider – when you have long runs, musicians require less and less. They just need cut offs, tempo changes within a number; things that you can do from the piano without micro managing.

 

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started as a music director?

I was 25 on my first big gig, the national tour of Wonderful Town. I was the youngest member of the band, and the conductor, and I was still learning how best to lead an ensemble. Music directing can be tough because there isn’t much mentorship in the career path.

On that tour I sometimes tried to create respect by trying to be tough about things – which didn’t help anything. People give you the most respect from being confident and from knowing what you’re doing. You can’t create artificial respect. As I’ve gotten older, I don’t try to create an atmosphere of discipline in a rehearsal. I learned that you need to be a pro, and treat others as pros.

 

What makes the difference between a good and a bad music director?

How easy the music director is to work with. Whether or not they’re successful is about how people feel about the experience afterwards. When the project is done and people are moving on to the next project, whether or not people want to work with the music director depends on if they like him or her, and if they trust their music direction.

 

What do you love about being a music director?

It’s the best job in the world. I show up every day, I get to play music that I love, and I’m part of a bigger community, a bigger tradition. I love playing piano and I love people. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

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.

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