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.

How I’m Building a Career as a Songwriter

You know what I would have loved? I would have loved to have been part of the Brill Building history between the 1940s and the 1960s – where some of America’s most popular songs were written. If you don’t know the history, check it out on Wikipedia.

Just a taste:

By 1962 the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses: A musician could find a publisher and printer, cut a demo, promote the record and cut a deal with radio promoters, all within this one building.

Or you know what also would be have great? Jingle writing between the 1940s and 1980s. What a sweet time to be a songwriter or a studio musician. Writing songs, recording them, hearing yourself on the radio, collecting big royalty checks – man, that would have been cool.

But, alas, that era was very short-lived and we were not lucky enough to be a part of it. So what do we do?

I’m not satisfied to just throw my hat in and say that it’s too hard to work as a songwriter. There are people out there doing it, and if they can do it so can I.

I’m going for it.

The Goal and Strategy

Let me be clear: I don’t want to be a singer-songwriter. I want to be a songwriter. I want other people to perform my songs. I know full well that I have limited skills as an entertainer, and I know my place.

My goal is to have recording artists cover my songs on their albums, secure film and television placements for my music, and to work professionally as a songwriter and composer. A difficult goal, to be sure.

People don’t know what you want unless you tell them. So that’s what I figured I’d do. I decided I would show people my music, tell them what I want, ask them to help me, and see what happens.

The Tools

I know about how to build a website, so I started there. I searched for the right URL to purchase and, to my complete surprise, I was lucky enough to secure I can’t believe that URL had not already been taken by a Silicon Valley start up, but I’m glad to have it.

I build a site there using WordPress and a $30 theme from The theme has a nice structure featuring a portfolio, a contact form and a blog. I added an “About” page, found some photos to use and set it all up. The website took me about a day to put together.

In the portfolio section I put all of the songs I want to showcase. For many of them I included a free mp3 download, lyrics, chords and even sheet music. I used Soundcloud players for the recordings – and made sure I used the HTML5 players so that they would work on iPads, iPods and iPhones.

Autoresponder Email List

Next I set up an email list through

I want people to listen to my music, but I can’t expect to just put it on a website and have people listen through it one by one. People are busy.

So I set up an “autoresponder” email list that would help. Everyone on the email list is sent a free download of one of my songs – complete with a little description, photo, lyrics, chords and sheet music – once a week.

Everyone on the list gets the songs in the same order, one at a time, once a week. It’s a playlist of songs, but doled out in a way that’s not overwhelming to listeners busy schedules. People may not sit on and listen to every one of my songs in an afternoon – but, sure, they’ll listen to one of my songs once a week.

In each email I make sure to reiterate my goal. If the reader likes it – consider covering it on your next album. Would it fit in a film or commercial you’re putting together? Great, hit reply. Know anyone that could help place this song? Pass it on.

Soundcloud, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, RSS feeds

Sure, I’m not an entertainer. Hell, I’m not even much of a singer. But unless I sing my songs and get them out in the world – no one’s going to ever know about them.

So guess who’s singing now?

I put my tunes on Soundcloud. I set up a Facebook page. I make videos for YouTube.

When I find a song I like, or a record a new demo of a work-in-progress, I put it up on the blog. The blog posts feed to Twitter and Facebook through

Getting Involved in the Community

The best way to get a gig as a songwriter is to know other people who are gigging as songwriters. I know I need to get involved in the community.

I sang a few weeks ago at the Sunday night singer-songwriter open mic at the Bitter End in NYC. Boy, that made me nervous. For a guy who’s used to performing 8 shows a week on Broadway you’d think I’d be cooler about it, but I was shaking in my boots.

I tried to think of resources that might be helpful to other songwriters. When American Songwriter magazine comes out I like to make a Spotify playlist of all the music mentioned in the issue, then post a link to the playlist on the blog.

I put my songwriting friends new songs up on the blog – and those posts, too, get sent out through Twitter and Facebook.

Making Quality Recordings

The recordings I have of most of my songs are demo quality. Creating radio quality recordings is much easier today than it was 20 years ago – so much easier that it’s become expected. I know that most of my demos aren’t going to cut it.

So I’ve started reaching out to producers in Chicago, Nashville and New York (to start). I’m hiring them to arrange, produce and record my songs in their studios. I leave the song treatment completely up to them. I tell them only this: Our goal here is to get a film or TV placement. Make me a recording of this song that I can pitch to FTV.

I give them a lump sum upfront and, if the song is placed in FTV, I promise them a higher-than-average percentage of the gross income on the master side. My hope is that it gives the producers a higher-than-average incentive to pitch their recording to their FTV contacts as well.

Submitting Recordings to Placement Services

I’ve submitted music to PumpAudio, YouLicense and similar services. I find the process incredibly tedious and (especially with PumpAudio) painfully slow. It feels a lot like throwing a penny into a well and hoping to one day get your wish.

I have not joined Taxi, and I suspect I never will. Their claims are just too good to be true, and there is too much noise about their service being a complete scam. It’s too expensive of a service to take a chance on. It’s like throwing $300 into the well instead of a penny.

There are better placement services out there, but it will take me some time to garner their attention. I’m hoping that the portfolio I’ve built at will help me pitch to them when the time comes.

Submitting to Songwriting Competitions

This is a tough one, because it costs money. Most competitions cost between $15 and $35 to submit a song. It’s difficult to know which songs might work in which competition, so it’s tempting to submit multiple songs to each competition.

This part of the strategy seems like an expensive crap shoot to me. The quality of a song is a really subjective thing, and if I win one of these things it might just be because the gods smiled on me that day. Who knows?

But if I do win…well, that would be great. There’s always a chance – so I do it (sparingly).

A few months ago I submitted a song to the Song of the Year competition. I received the Suggested Artist Award, which I understand puts me in the top 5% of the contest.

But, I ask rhetorically: who cares? Unless you win the top prize on one of these competitions it doesn’t mean much.

Writing for Musical Theatre

Consider this:

  • The movie Titanic, since it’s release in 1997, has grossed $658 million in box office results. Very impressive.
  • The musical Mamma Mia, since it’s opening in Toronto in 2000, has grossed over $2 billion worldwide. Much more impressive.

I’m not saying that I can write the next Mamma Mia or Wicked, all I’m saying is that it’s worth trying. I’d settle for 0.1% of the financial success of Mamma Mia ($2 million, for those of you adding it up in your heads).

I’ve worked in musical theatre a long time. I’ve studied the form and tradition. I’ve conducted shows on Broadway. I write music – why not write a musical?

I have two in the works right now. Why not? The best way to fail at writing a musical would be never to try at all.

Next Steps

Songwriting & composition is what I’ve always wanted to do. Nothing compares to the elevated feeling that accompanies creation, and for me that feeling is strongest when I write music.

Becoming a professional songwriter seems like an impossible challenge, but I think with the plan and tools that I’ve described above will help me start the journey.

I hope you’ll visit and let me know what you think. If you are a performer or recording artist I hope you’ll check out my songs. If you are a songwriter I hope you’ll get in touch with me.

Marketing Yourself as a Musician

Editor’s Note: This article is part 4 of a 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.

“It’s like this. Did you ever have a fish tank as a kid? Remember when you would bring a new fish home you would have to put it in the tank in the bag that it came in so that the temperature of the water could normalize and the other fish could get used to the new fish? That’s you right now, man. You’re in the bag and the other fish are looking at you to see if you’ll make until the water reaches homeostasis.”

A friend with a splendid little gift for metaphor laid this on me recently. Pretty good, right?


I had one tiny foot in the door of a pit in that I had just finished a tour of a show that was still running in New York. I had worked with the MD of that show years ago which helped a lot. He was also the music supervisor for the tour.

I was able to sit in the pit once before the tour went out and once after I moved here. Both were great experiences and I met two drummers who have been here doing what I want to do for many years. Both were very gracious and answered every question this tenderfoot threw at them.

Some important advice came out of this. Common sense stuff for sure, but it certainly bears repeating.

  • Take every gig (at least at first), and treat it like you’re at Carnegie Hall. Makes sense. No matter what the gig is, you never know who is on it that can hire you or who is in the audience listening.
  • Don’t pigeonhole yourself. Just because I moved here to do theater does not mean I should be turning down any other kind of work.
  • Don’t leave town. I was told you can be a tour guy or an in town guy, but not both. Once people find out you’re out of town they lose your number. A harsh reality, but there are thousands of people vying for very few jobs. Half the game is outwaiting the competition.

I’ve found that all of these are difficult at times for different reasons. Nobody likes to play for free but I have to balance the lack of pay with the possibility of exposure and playing with some great people. It bears mentioning that the highest profile gig I’ve done here with the heaviest players was for free.

I’m pursuing theater gigs because it’s what I have the most comfort and experience with. It’s also the neck of the industry woods that I know the most people and that I am best networked. However, some of the best paid and most fun gigs I’ve had here are completely outside of that realm and frankly outside of my comfort zone.

The idea of turning down work outside the city has been a tough one to come to grips with. I was offered nearly a year’s work on the road with a much higher compensation package than I had ever been offered a few months ago. It was hard to turn that down so that I could remain here and have no real steady income. I’ve never had much if any success with making decisions based purely upon the fiscal. A right choice ultimately, but a tough one to say the least.

The Cold Call

An interesting point was made by one of these guys related to marketing oneself. He said that when he got to town a few years ago, he didn’t do much ‘cold calling’ or calling and emailing strangers that were doing the work that he wanted to get into. In this case, playing Broadway shows.

I have to admit that his approach is more my style. I’m uneasy with the whole idea of the cold call and like to meet people more organically. And this guy has had great success going about it in this way. There are, however, innate problems with this system of networking that I have run up against.

Anyone I have contacted in town has been through at least one mutual friend. If we don’t have at least that commonality, you haven’t heard from me. Problem is, it’s been slow going.

There are people cold calling people systematically who are getting work and moving up the ladder. There is an excellent article on this very website telling you in explicit detail how to go about doing just that.

Trusted friends have told me I need to lose the timidity and start knocking on doors. In an effort to not offend or bother people who don’t know me, I have successfully managed for those people to not know me. Or call me. Or let me sit in their pits and watch them play the book.

So, it’s with all of this in mind that I begin to bother strangers who in all likelihood bothered strangers to get to where they are. Sausage making can be ugly. However, if my protein starved vegetarian brain recalls correctly, the end result can be quite delicious.


My strategy of non-aggression has gone about as well as Chamberlin’s same tack in Munich, if I may delve into hyperbolic historical equivalencies…

Faux intellectualism aside, I have to admit that when I turned in my bio for the first installment of this series and wrote, “David Jolley is a freelance drummer/percussionist in New York City.” there was a shocking mixture of unadulterated pride of arrival and pure and poignant terror. Now it’s out there in the world, now I really have to do this.

I’m happy with the progress I’ve made these past months but not satisfied. I’ve come to the conclusion that by pursuing my own path, it’s become about pursuing many different paths at once. It’s been testing and stretching my boundaries and reshaping long held ideas about the way things worked and where I fit.

I’m rediscovering an idea that I’ve known for a while but chose to ignore: Growth in career is endlessly and intimately intertwined with personal growth. This is not an easy idea for most people. It involves figuring out what I like about myself and what I need to change. A heavier idea than ‘how do I get that job?’.

It also calls into question my system of values. What am I willing to do to get to where I want to be? And what is the motivation?

Part of this you’re witnessing firsthand. I had to be ceaselessly goaded into writing about my experiences and putting it out there in the world for strangers to read. I guess from here it’s not that far of a reach to email someone privately and ask to buy them a coffee. Worst case, they don’t respond.

I can probably live with that.

Networking in a New Scene

Editor’s Note: This article is part 3 of a 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.

There’s this elegant, seductive, and sometimes profane dance we all have to do.  It goes by the name of ‘Networking’.  Some are masters at it.  Your present company is not.

It was a startling jolt to my system when I discovered that much of what I am trying to do is based not on my proficiency at my instrument (or lack thereof) but  upon who I know, who knows me, and what we have surmised we can do for each other.

It feels a bit like I’m pulling back the curtain on the wizard over here.

It should be fairly obvious.  I can’t think of an industry out there where the idea of ‘who you know’ isn’t at least a part of how the business operates.  It’s on every resume in the world under the heading ‘references’.  We all get jobs by knowing the right people and having those people exert whatever influence they might have on whoever is doing the hiring.

I have so crassly decided to categorize these into old and new friendships. In what could be the most obvious proclamation on the whole of the internet, I am here today to tell you that friendships matter greatly.



One of the biggest mitigating factors of our move to New York was the fact that it has the largest concentration of our friends of anywhere in the world.  It is also a hub that many other friends pass through often. This gives us the opportunity to see people who are important to us more often than the once every few years that we had grown used to.

I would have never considered moving to New York had I not had a bevy of incredibly loyal and loving friends living here and encouraging me to do so.  They provide a safety net. This support can come in many different guises, from the practical to the emotional.

Some examples:

We needed a place to live.  Friends offered their apartment for sublet though it broke a long standing rule about not renting to friends as to maintain a business relationship with the renter.

When unemployed and struggling to find work, I’ve alternately been overpaid by friends to transcribe, babysit, and write articles though these are things I would have gladly done for free had my financial situation been different.

I had another friend get me an interview to assist a jazz luminary’s widow in the day to day operations of running the estate and tribute bands.  My friend’s boss was the this woman’s daughter in law.  There’s a stretched connection for you.

Turns out I wasn’t IT savvy enough for the gig (huge surprise) but it was incredible to sit in her living room surrounded by her late husband’s instruments and hear her call Dexter and Sonny by first name.  A familiarity with the legends usually reserved only for undergrad jazz majors…

Perhaps most importantly, I have at least ten numbers on my phone that I can dial and the person who picks up would walk through the fire with me without hesitation or question.

A trusted confidant recently told me that I am slightly ahead of the game based upon one fact.  I have people at different rungs up the ladder from where I am who believe in me and are willing to push my product.  Most if not all of the  people I have met and who have consequently hired me since I moved here have come through these friends. These same friends also hire me whenever possible.

So how do I parlay these votes of confidence into dollah dollah bills?  The rub therein lies.

It should be said that though I am roundly considered by most to be an absolute joy to be around, (ahem), were it not for some level of proficiency at my job, the above mentioned patrons would be great friends from afar.  Neither myself nor anyone I’ve met in this business would be willing to stake their reputation on you or me if it could possibly paint them in a bad light.  It would be delusional to expect such a thing, friend or no.

Knocking on doors until the call comes is one thing.  Getting the call and delivering the goods is quite another.


Last year after the tour was over, some friends (see the pattern?) let us live in their incredible apartment in Manhattan for a month for free under the auspices of dogsitting while we got our bearings and worked out all the life stuff.  It was our first month in the big bad city and provided us with a ‘soft landing’.

One particularly savvy, well liked, and well networked friend introduced me via email to a drummer friend of his. My old friend suggested that my new friend organize a ‘drummer meet up’ some time in the near future.  He had had some success meeting and networking through these meet ups in the past and thought that it would be a good way for me to meet some people and start making some contacts.  Drummers hire drummers.

It was my first dalliance into the netherworld of networking.  It consisted of a lot of beer buying and verbal resume sharing.  Many times I felt myself minus a container of sorts in which to catch all of the names being dropped.  The majority of whom I hadn’t ever heard of, it should be mentioned. The needle of my hubris and hokum meter was buried at times.

The hardest part of this dance was what I call the ‘size up’.  On a crude level they find out what I’ve done, what I’m about to do, who I know, and most importantly, what I can do for them.  And then I do it back.  A coarse and vulgar exercise or a keystone in the foundation of this network I’m building? Both, I think.

I was and continue to be pretty far out of my comfort zone when it comes to the politics of networking.  There just doesn’t seem to be an uncontaminated way to go about it.  However, Reality cares not for my weak constitution and has not offered to change the rules of the game just because I’m squeamish in such matters.


Before we tip the scales too far to cynicism, let me say that out of that experience I have made a couple of new friends whom I think will become old friends with time.  I’ve been welcomed into a circle of likeminded drummers with similar goals and interest.  While true that we are competing for the same jobs, it hasn’t stopped anyone from feeling genuine elation for one another’s successes.

And that ain’t nothin’.

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

Start Your Own Wedding Band

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Putting together the band.

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2: What will you need?


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Step 3: Coming up with a repertoire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 4: Booking gigs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 5: Managing the business.

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

Be prepared

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

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

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

Offering a range of packages to suit the clients needs

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

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

Setting aside a marketing budget and using it wisely

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

How To Find Work as a Gigging Musician

There’s a scene in the movie Inception where Cobb asks Ariadne how they came to be sitting outside a cafe in Paris. When she couldn’t recall, Cobb pointed out that we can’t remember how our dreams start; therefore she knows she’s dreaming if she can’t remember how she arrived someplace.

Sometimes I try to remember how I arrived at this point in my career as a musician and struggle to define when it even started. When did I become a professional musician? Was it when I got my first $20 weekly gig when I was 16, or when I told the IRS my occupation was Freelance Musician? Waking up every day and practicing guitar for work and not knowing how I got here… yeah, this is starting to feel a bit too much like a dream.

How does a musician find gigs?

Regardless of whether you aspire to tour as a sideman, play in a symphony, work in a Broadway pit, compose for TV and film, teach private music lessons, or more likely doing some combination of all these jobs, there are two factors that will directly effect the frequency and quality of your work:

  1. Your skills as a musician.
  2. Your reputation and ability to network.

First, you have to be a superb musician. Period.

That said, the best jobs do not always go to the best musicians. Most gigs do not require insane technical chops or mastery of the melodic minor modes. They do, however, require timeliness, cooperation, preparedness, and professionalism.

Finally, you need to learn about the people that hire musicians make an asserted effort to connect with them. It’s up to you to make the first inroads for your career.

Hone Your Skills

At the risk of offending some of you, one of the reasons you might have trouble finding gigs is that you’re just not good enough. Yet.

Music is a very competitive field with many factors outside our control. Our skill level is not one of them. Every outstanding musician went to great lengths to practice, practice, and practice some more. If you want to be a professional musician, practicing is your 9-5. Learn how to practice.

Growing up, I was fortunate to have a neighbor that played viola in the St. Louis Symphony. He outlined some of the basic skills I should start working on immediately:

  1. Ear training: Know what a minor chord sounds like compared to a diminished chord. Recognize the sound of every interval inside an octave. Learn the sound of music theory. Musicians communicate with these sounds, you must learn the language.
  2. Learn to read and write music. You don’t have to be the best sight reader, but if you really want to make a living as a musician, you can’t afford to turn down work because it involves written music.
  3. Finally, have a performance ready piece of music, that you can play by yourself, ready to go at all times. If you can’t sound great on your own, you’ll never sound great in a group.

That is some of the best advice I was ever given. I would have learned it eventually, but I’m thankful for being schooled early on, allowing me to internalize all of those skills.

In my experience, one of the best way to develop these skills is through transcription. Learn how to play exactly what the masters play. Teach yourself by ear, then write it down. Every great musician starts this way.

Honing these skills will help you learn new music faster.

To make a living as a musician, you’ll probably have to start by spreading yourself across many different gigs. Your private students want to learn new songs every week, the singer/songwriter you accompany just wrote three new songs for the gig this weekend, and you have to learn three hours of cover songs to sub in a wedding band. It’s a lot of work, but with practice, you’ll be able to learn music quickly and efficiently.

Build Your Reputation & Network

When I recently looked over the past two years on my gig calendar, I realized about 95% of the work I’d done can be traced back to my musician friends, either because they were already on the gig, or they recommended me.

In this regard, the best piece of advice I can give you is something you’d expect to hear from your mom:

Work hard, be a good person, and associate with other hard working, good people.

If you do this, you and your network of friends will get in on the ground floor of each others careers have a greater chance at becoming successful working musicians.


My dad once told me that he would follow up interviews with a hand written note. People remember those kinds of gestures, and even if you haven’t asked for anything in return, there’s a good chance your thoughtfulness will be repaid.

This, he explained, is called reciprocation–the act of responding to a gesture with a similar gesture. People do this all the time without realizing it. We’re all programmed to keep balance in our lives.

I transferred schools my junior year of college. Being the new guy on campus I wasn’t getting very many calls for gigs, but I wanted to play. I set out to book as many gigs for myself as possible. I needed people to play with me, so I called the musicians I’d become friends with, paid them whatever I could, and helped us all get some more working experience.

Many of the musicians I was hiring were playing with other people as well. Gradually, the guys playing on my gigs recommended me to other musicians in town. The work I was creating for some was reciprocated through a job with somebody else.

Paying it Forward

This idea of reciprocation goes beyond the “I give you a gig, you give me a gig” scenario I just described. Musicians that have more established careers know the importance of helping each other out, and often pass work to younger players that they feel have earned a shot at more lucrative jobs.

Of course, these seasoned pros don’t necessarily go looking for their proteges. You have to be proactive and reach out to musicians who are doing the kinds of jobs you want to do. There are a lot of ways to reach out: go to their gigs, ask to sit in, take a lesson from them, or simply offer to buy them coffee and talk shop.

In turn, pay it forward as you become more successful.

College Connections

The core of my network happens to be friends I met in college. It’s been 10 years since I was a student, but I work regularly with musicians I met in college, including Brad Whiteley, the keyboardist in my trio, and Dave Hahn, my MusicianWages cohort.

If you’re undecided about whether or not to study music in college, I interviewed several pro musicians that majored in music for another MusicianWages article called Advice On Using a Music Education. Each of them felt studying music in college gave them an advantage after school.

There’s also a certain camaraderie felt among music alumni. I’ve worked with guys that went to the same school as I, but at a different time. Immediately, we’ve got some common ground.

Additionally, there’s credibility associated with going to one school or another. It assures other musicians that you probably know what you’re doing. It’s a thin veil, though, lifted as soon as you start playing.

How to Really Use the Internet

As I mentioned, about 95% of my work comes from my network of friends. The other 5% comes from my internet presence or being at the right place at the right time.

A good internet presence is important for musicians, but only because it reinforces the networking you do offline.

People you meet should be able to quickly find you online by searching your name and maybe the instrument you play. Once they find your site, make it easy for them to contact you, buy your music, etc. All this is possible with a well optimized website.

Similarly, social networking sites are a great way to stay connected with people you meet on the scene. Drummer Jeremy Yaddaw wrote an article about Facebook networking for musicians that describes exactly what I’m talking about.

Who Hires Musicians?

Let’s take a look at some of the people and places that hire musicians. Click on a list item to skip ahead:

  1. Music Venues
  2. Other Musicians
  3. Music Contractors / Music Directors
  4. Music Producers
  5. TV/Film Professionals
  6. Churches
  7. Schools
  8. The Military
  9. Event Planners
  10. Regular People

Music Venues

Public places that regularly book live music typically fall into one of two categories:

  1. Those that use live music to attract their clientele.
  2. Those that use live music to enhance the atmosphere of their establishment.

The Bitter End in New York, Hotel Cafe in LA, and The Basement in Nashville are all examples of places people go to when they want to hear live music. Since the music is the primary draw for customers, bookers or talent buyers are interested in artists that will fill their room with paying customers.

If you can sell tickets, you can make a lot of money.

Restaurants, wineries, and hotel lounges are the kinds of places that hire musicians as background music. These gigs often go to solo musicians or smaller groups that play niche styles. For example, a solo jazz guitarist could be a good fit for Sunday brunch, a string quartet would sound nice at a winery, or an accordionist playing traditional Tarantella would create the right atmosphere at an upscale Italian restaurant.

If you can play music that will enhance or add authenticity to an establishment’s atmosphere, you should be able to find some work.

In both cases, you’ll probably have to deal with a talent buyer, manager, bartender, or some other employee at the venues. While in college, I worked at both types of venues–a bar that booked bands six nights a week, and a restaurant that hired background musicians on the weekends. I learned what to do, and what not to do, if you want to be booked at these venues, and wrote another article called What I Learned Working at Venues.

Other Musicians

Booking your own gigs is great, but it’s also a lot of work. Another way to land the same type of gig is to be hired by other musicians.

These are typically sideman jobs, that is, you are hired to be a supporting band member for another artist. Some of the best musicians in the world have lucrative careers recording and touring alongside popular artists.

Fellow musicians might also hire you to help with tasks they can’t do themselves, such as transcribing, writing charts, or acting as their music director.

In my experience, the first musicians that are going to hire you will be your friends. As you perform more often and continue meeting and working with other musicians, your network will expand. When artists need to hire somebody for their band, they ask often their friends and band members for recommendations. If you’ve built a solid reputation, people will start recommending you.

MusicianWages has several articles on working as a sideman. To better understand the job, check out A Guide To Being a Successful Sideman.

Music Contractors/Music Directors

Music Contractors and Music Directors are two different jobs with different responsibilities, but because they’re sometimes done by the same person, I’m grouping them together. Both jobs are management positions that oversee performing musicians.

Music Contractors, also called Music Supervisors in musical theatre, oversee the hiring of musicians for a particular gig. Even though the contractor does the hiring, he or she usually isn’t directly involved with the music.

Music Directors are responsible for teaching the music to the performers. In many cases, the MD is also in the band.

Jobs with Music Directors on board typically enjoy bigger budgets, which means more pay to the musicians. The most lucrative jobs are very competitive. Contractors and MDs often act as a filter to find the right musicians for a job, and they usually start with people they know and trust.

Again, this comes down to being a great player and networking. If Contractors and MDs hear your name enough, eventually they will call you with a job. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to reach out and let them know you are available.

Dave wrote a great series explaining how he became a Broadway musician, and discusses exactly how he reached out to music contractors, music directors, and everybody else that works with musicians on Broadway. If you haven’t read that series, I highly recommend you check it out. Even if you don’t want to play on Broadway, you’ll find some vital information in his articles.

Music Producers

In the music industry, the music producer’s job is to oversee the making, or production, of a recording. Originally, making a recording was simply (or not so simply) a matter of capturing a live performance in a studio. As technology progressed, multi-tracking and post-production sound manipulation broadened the role of the producer. Today, for better or worse, the technology needed to produce a modest recording is easily accessible to anybody with a couple thousand dollars.

One of the producer’s roles is to hire musicians for recording sessions. They need musicians that can learn the music very quickly and nail their parts in few takes. Having a great ear, professional sound, excellent time feel, and the ability to sight read are all important skills for a studio musician.

The recording scene has been greatly decentralized with the rise of home studios. Now, wherever somebody is making an album, there is potential for studio work.

One problem is that most people with home studios are trying to make albums as inexpensively as possible, and cannot afford to hire session musicians. Sometimes, though, opportunities to work with young producers can turn into long term collaborations that will be valuable to your career down the road. It’s important to know when to take an unpaid gig, but occasionally they can pay off in the long run.

It’s also possible to work for producers without ever actually being in the same room as them. Virtual session musicians record their parts at home and send them to the producer online. For a thorough read on this topic, check out Scott Horton’s How To Be a Studio Musician Without Leaving Home.

Finally, some of you may have dreams of working in high end studios and playing on pop stars hits. I hate to break it to you, but the days of storied groups of dedicated studio musicians like the Funk Brothers or Wrecking Crew are long gone. Session work at that level isn’t as sustainable as it used to be, and won’t be for the foreseeable future. It still exists but on a smaller scale, allowing fewer musicians to make a good living playing sessions exclusively.

TV/Film Professionals

Composing for TV and Film can generate a great income for musicians, but the industry has been changing over the last decade or so. Instead of in house composers and studio bands, much of the music you hear on TV and in the movies now either comes from a music library or is licensed directly from an artist or record label. Nonetheless, there is still good money for musicians in film and TV placements.

Ethan Stoller, who composes, produces, and edits music for TV and film, wrote about his career for MusicianWages. He offered a few pieces of advice for musicians interested in these jobs: Be prepared for the job you accept, be someone people want to work with, and connect with people in your local film making community.

Once again, hone your skills and network. Read his story and you’ll see how his connections from high school turned into his big break.

Note: If you’d like to do this type of work but are not in proximity of film makers, you have to consider moving.


Churches, synagogues and other places of worship have always employed musicians. There is a wide variety of music in churches, from traditional and classical to contemporary rock, pop, and gospel.

Most churches employ at least one full time musician, such as an organist, who might also be responsible for all music related activities. In larger churches, there may be more full or part time musicians on staff to share these responsibilities.

In addition to their staff, churches often hire freelance musicians for holiday services, musicals performed by the youth, or sidemen for contemporary worship bands. Churches may also commission music by freelance composers.

Staff positions are typically hired by church leaders. For example, when my parents’ church recently hired a new organist and music director, candidates met with the pastor and a congregational committee. When churches need to hire musicians for their staff, they’ll likely post the positions on musician jobs boards, religious jobs boards, or in classified ads.

Freelance positions, on the other hand, are usually hired by the music director. It’s possible she’ll post the jobs in classified ads, but more likely that she’ll look for musicians in the community, either through members of the congregation or by recommendation of other church music directors.


Schools, like churches, have several methods of employing musicians.

First, there’s staff. Band, choir, and orchestra directors, and if the school has a large enough program (and budget) they might employ private instructors, accompanists, and other specialists. If you’re interested in being a music teacher at a school, you’ll need a degree in music education (bachelors at least, masters for higher education). Then you’ll be able to apply for teaching positions as they open up.

Next there are contracted positions, for example, somebody hired to help instruct the drum line in a high school marching band. These are part time positions that aren’t needed during the entire school year.

Finally, there are clinicians–professional musicians hired to teach a masterclass or give a lecture. These are basically freelance jobs that typically last a day or a week, less than the contracted positions.

Clinicians and contracted musicians are hired by a school’s music teachers. To start finding this type of work, contact your old high school band director! Start with the people that already know you and try to learn who is hiring outside help for their programs.

In my opinion, musicians that are passionate about teaching make the best teachers. Education takes a lot of patience, planning, and expertise. Just because you’re good at music does not mean you’ll be good at teaching it to others.

The Military

Joining a military band isn’t something most musicians consider when they first pick up an instrument. However, it can be a great gig with a salary, benefits, and plenty of playing opportunities. I’ve known a few musicians that joined a military band because they were struggling to make ends meet, and they ended up loving their military career.

Granted, this gig isn’t for everyone, and I don’t know enough about it to give you proper advice. Lucky for us, Staff Sergeant Joshua DiStefano, a pianist in the U.S. Army for 14 years, has been a regular contributor to MusicianWages. Read about Josh’s experiences in The Life of an Army Band Musician.

Event Planners

Event planners are people or companies that organize and oversee upscale private parties, weddings, corporate events and other special occasions. Most of the time, these events include live music. Musicians call these jobs “club dates.” Club dates are commonly high paying jobs, especially in large cities.

Because club dates and private events can pay so well, there are companies that operate multiple corporate party bands and event planners specifically to book these gigs. They hire musicians through auditions. If you’d like to play in one of these bands, contact corporate bands in your area and ask them for an audition.

Many times, however, the event planner usually deals directly with one musician acting as the music director, who in turn hires the rest of the band. When events only need a small group or soloist, the event planner might deal directly with the musician or group.

If you’d like to be hired directly by even planners, search the internet for “event planners” or “event planning” in your area. In a big enough city, you’ll find anything from large companies to individuals offering event planning services. In all cases, event planners need a network of trusted vendors, including musicians, to do their jobs effectively.

Don’t expect them to call you, though. Make first contact, explain what you can offer (type of ensemble, repertoire, etc), and tell them you’re available immediately. If they don’t have an event for you on their calendar, politely follow up every few months.

Regular People

Finally, there are plenty of jobs to be found from people outside the music and entertainment industries. Regular people hire musicians to teach private lessons, write a song for a special event, perform at their anniversary party, company holiday party, or a house concert.

How do these people find musicians? The internet, neighbors, churches, schools, local music venues, or anywhere musicians work.

I haven’t looked at a Yellow Pages in years, but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t much of a musician section like, say, plumbers or pest control. There aren’t many directories people can use to find local musicians, so it’s up to you to let people know you’re available. By simply mentioning you do private events on a business card, your website, or postcards at your other gigs, you’re making it easier for people to hire you.

Tying it All Together

This article is just the beginning; there are many links embedded throughout it that lead to words of wisdom by other musicians. Learn from every opportunity, strive to be a better musician, a good hang, and contribute to the musician community by helping others. Please feel free to share your tips in the comments below!

Good luck everyone, and happy gigging.

The Skinny on Promotional Packages and Booking Agents

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Your Act Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

So What’s Your U.S.P?

The following are some examples to consider:

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

Bands and artists who have a U.S.P

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

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

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

Your Physical Promotional Package

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, you did your homework.  Now what?

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

What are booking agents looking for?

Booking agents are looking for:

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

Hey, that sounds like you!

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

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

Hotel gigs

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

The international booking agent

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

Don’t even consider dealing with an agent who:

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

Use common sense and touch base with your survival instincts

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

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

7 Easy Steps to Teaching Music Lessons Online

When I was asked to write this article, it gave me the final impetus I needed to grow my teaching business.

In recent months, several of my students have moved interstate but wanted to learn music online.

I was hesitant because, as a singing and piano teacher, I wasn’t really sure how I was going to make this move, especially for singing, because it is so interactive and personal.

Now I’m ready to experiment and I thought it would be interesting to have some company.

So please join me as I detail the steps I have taken to set up my Skype teaching business and please feel free to benefit from my mistakes or copy the methods which worked!

Step 1

Set Up Your Teaching Business

If you haven’t already set up your teaching business please read this article as it goes into great detail and outlines what you need to have in place before you take the next step of launching yourself worldwide as an internet teacher.

I also recommend you have a substantial amount of one to one teaching practice before you commence Skype teaching, as you will need your experience to help cover the distance which may be caused by giving Skype lessons.

Step 2

Install Skype and Other Software Programmes You May Need

Installing Skype is a very easy thing to do.

Go to and simply follow the instructions for download on your computer.

I have decided to make use of some other programmes to give value for money and help me self assess.

These are:

  • Ecamm recorder, available at  This software isn’t expensive but it enables you to record both sides of the Skype conversation on video or just voice call.  You can edit the recording as well.

    My idea is to send a copy of the lesson to the student so they can review it if they want to.  Also, I thought it would be a good way for me to assess my own teaching.  But please make sure your student is aware that this process is in place and give them the option to refuse recording.

  • As I am teaching singing, I have to think about the delay live accompaniment may cause, so I am sending my students backing tracks they can sing to that are in their key as well. This means I need to have a recording facility, which can produce tracks that will convert into downloadable MP3 format as they will be sent to the student via email prior to the lesson.

    Your student needs to have the facility to open these files and play them back or record them onto disk as well.

Step 3

You will need to be able to receive payment for the lessons you give.

The simple way to do this is with Paypal.

On their website, they have some different options for merchant services.

I chose the easiest, quickest and least complicated one, which was to email requests for payment.

Students can pay by direct deposit or credit cards when using this service and I request that payment is made prior to the lesson.

If you decide you would like to advertise your services on other websites and blogs, you could think about setting up a Clickbank account at .

This is a affiliate programme market place which means that people will advertise and sell your product (your lessons) for a percentage of each sale.

Clickbank manages the funds for you, the affiliate marketers and your students.  It is a more complex way of doing things but something you may wish to consider.

Step 4

Set Up Your Teaching Studio

In just a few seconds of meeting people or walking into a room, we make value judgements, therefore, it is important that your studio looks professional and tidy (as well as yourself) when you are teaching.

You need to take into consideration the view that your student is getting, so make sure your camera is angled and adjusted to give the clearest picture for demonstration and also make sure you have good lighting in your studio.

I rearranged my studio to suit Skype teaching and it has actually turned out to be much better for all my teaching and learning needs now.

Here is a view, in case you are curious.

Lisa Brown's Online Teaching Studio

Step 5

Get Your Paper Work In Order

As mentioned in Greg Arney’s article on setting up your teaching business, you need to have decided on your Terms and Conditions of teaching.

However, you need to consider other situations when teaching online.

What will your policies be on:

  • Payment – How much?  When to receive payment?  Refunds?  How will students pay?
  • Cancellation – How much notice should you receive?  Will you reschedule lessons?
  • Technical interruptions –  What will you do if this happens during a lesson?
  • Equipment – What software and hardware should your students have in order to interact successfully in skype lessons?

I have composed a Terms and Conditions document, which is emailed to students prior to lessons and which they then type their name on and email back to me.  This acts as an acceptance of the terms and conditions stated, so both parties are clear on what to expect.

When payment is received, I am informed by Paypal and I then send students another email confirming receipt of funds as well as their lesson time and date.

It is highly important you make sure you are aware of time differences and take these into consideration when booking appointments.

Step 6

Teach Your Lesson

I have discovered that teaching online requires creative thinking and some different approaches to normal lesson delivery because of some restrictions caused by the technology.

    • Skype is unable to transfer simultaneous audio

      Surprisingly, there is little delay when communicating on Skype.  I thought this was a great thing because I could then accompany my student until I discovered …

      When there is audio coming from both parties, Skype is unable to transfer both signals clearly at the same time, which means each of you experience cutting out.   Such a shame!!!

      However, here are some suggestions for combating this problem:

      1. Email accompaniment tracks

        You will have to make sure your student then burns these tracks onto a CD and plays them from a source outside the computer.

        This is because the tracks tend to be too loud when they are coming from the computer onto Skype and you can’t hear your student clearly enough.

      2. Consider different teaching strategies

        There are many strategies you can employ in your teaching so you don’t have to use play-along or accompaniment.  You can focus more on technical aspects, mentoring and sound production and get students to demonstrate their work in home recordings or play-along in subsequent lessons, when they are playing with a backing track.

    • Introduction and check student set-up

I would suggest you set up a Skype meeting with your student before you teach your first lesson with them.  This will:

    1. Help your student feel more comfortable

      Many people are shy and especially first-time students.  Introducing yourself to them on Skype will help break the ice so that your first lesson will run more smoothly.

    2. Check the student’s set-up

      You will need to check that your student has set up Skype correctly and everything is in working order.

      You both need to direct each other so that the camera is positioned to get a clear picture on both sides, and also make sure the student has received any resources you want them to use.

      If you are using written resources, they too will have to be sent to the student as when you hold up writing to the camera, it has a mirror effect.  It’s hard enough to begin reading music, let alone backwards!

Step 7

Self Assessment

Self-assessment of your teaching practice through reflective work is necessary if you want to engage in a high quality standard of teaching.

Teaching on Skype will take some adjustment of the way you normally deliver your material.  Your first couple of lessons could be challenging but with some problem-solving you will be able to work it out.

You will also have to consider whether moving your business online is going to be worthwhile as there is a little more work and organisation involved.

However, I feel that once you have made a routine of preparing, emailing and having standard contracts and stationery set up, it could definitely be a worthwhile practice.

I am going to give it a go for a while with a few students.

And so, in conclusion:

The disadvantages of teaching online for you are:

  • You will have to organise and think about your teaching practice in a different way to cater to this format.
  • It may be a little more work and be a little uncomfortable to begin with.

The benefits of online teaching for you are:

  • You can become an international teacher and expand your student base.
  • You can teach at odd hours if you want to.
  • You can become a trail-blazer in a field which will, no doubt, become more popular in future!  And
  • If you are smart, discover a new niche market because…

Some of the benefits for students are:

  • They don’t need to leave the comfort of their own home or office!

This would be attractive to people who:

  • clock up a lot of time working and don’t have time for to go to a lesson,
  • people in isolated areas without access to music teachers,
  • people who find travel difficult or who have limited access to transport, and
  • carers or parents who can’t leave their premises for very long.

Some disadvantages of learning online are:

  • The student misses out on some of the personal energy created in a real-life meeting, however, as they get to know you, this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • They will have to be more active in helping their lesson to run smoothly, making sure their set-up is in place and they have all resources at hand but I also see this as an advantage as it helps the student learn to be independent and resourceful which are qualities needed to pursue music.

I hope you’ve found this helpful and I’d love to hear about any feedback you may have.  So, please leave a comment below and good luck!

Building a Community at

Cameron and I started almost 3 years ago now. Over the years we’ve worked to make the site grow – adding a forum, curating guest posts, building the jobs board, making friends and writing our own articles.

It’s been really gratifying to see our audience grow, especially in the past year. Last month we broke our traffic records again with an incredible 60,000+ visitors to the site. For a niche blog like ours, that focuses on a very unique part of the arts economy, I have to admit that feels like a lot of support. We’re really grateful to everyone that has helped us and humbled by the responsibility we’ve been given by our community of readers.

There’s a lot of content on the site now, many useful tools, and a huge list of important readers and contributors. I just wanted to take a minute and highlight some of my favorite things about and how being a part of this community can help your career.

Shout out to my peeps in the forum!

It takes awhile to get a forum going on a new website, and it was no different for us. Our forum might still be a little sleepy compared to the forum giants like All About Jazz or Harmony Central, but we have really good group of people that make up our little community.

Big props to Andree-Ann, Brian, and Joe Stone, who have been hanging out and helping people in the forums since the beginning.

Check out the help Andree-Ann gave a fellow Canadian last week when he asked for info about coming to the states. And see the help that Brian and Andree-Ann gave each other when they both moved to LA around the same time. That’s some career-changing stuff right there.

And a big thank you to James Higgins, Nick Rosaci and Wedding-Pianist, who have been contributing a ton of great info in the past few months.

Great Articles

We’ve never been the kind of blog that posts 6 days a week. Our posts are usually of article length, and they try to shine a light on a topic or technique that would be important to our readers. How-to guides, career advice, economic/political discussions – that kind of thing. We’ve always called them “articles” instead of “posts” and if we can get one article out a week – that’s a good week. It takes time to write a good article.

And there are some great articles on this site – nearly 400 now, which is a big number for us. Here are some of my favorites articles on the site:

  • Registering Copyright for Musicians
    Like everything that Cameron Mizell writes, this is a well researched, comprehensive guide to the topic. Written specifically for working & recording musicians, this article is a must read.
  • The Musician’s Guide To the Self-Released Album

    One of the cornerstones of the site is Cameron’s articles about recording, releasing and selling your own music.

    This series is a good representation of all the articles here on – in that Cam never gives any techniques that he didn’t, himself, use. We made a rule early on in building MW that we would only give advice on things that had personally worked for our own careers – and we hold our guest bloggers to the same standard.

  • Start Your Teaching Business in 30 Days

    I’ll never get over the time Greg Arney, a guy we’d never heard of, sent us this article out of the blue.

    What a generous gift of knowledge he presented us with. If you have any interest in starting a studio, read his article. I’ve read entire books with less information than you’ll find in these mere 2,200 words.

  • Group Blogs

    We haven’t done one of these in awhile, but group blogging events are some of the things I like to do most.

    We’ve had two – the first about the file-sharing dilemma called To a Mother Concerned about File Sharing and another wrapping up the last decade called Dear 1999. The group blogs altogether brought 55 musician bloggers together to discuss the topics – the responses represent a fascinating view into the thoughts of our community.

  • The Life of an Army Musician

    Staff Sargeant Joshua DiStefano, an Army keyboardist stationed in Belgium with the NATO band, has been writing for since 2010.

    We were in negotiations with the U.S. Army for several months before Josh joined us. We were clear with the Army that we wouldn’t print any military marketing or press-release-like fluff. We wanted a real, working military musician who would tell us what it was really like to have an Army gig.

    Josh writes every month and his posts give a unique insite into a gig that, to many of us, has always been very mysterious. He sends his posts directly to us, without any oversight or editing from the Army, and he tells it how it is. A military gig isn’t for everyone, of course, but if someone is curious about the life – is the place to send them.

  • How I Became a Broadway Musician

    My friend Mikey was on tour with a Broadway show recently, and he heard some of the band members talking about a series of articles by some dude named “Dave Hahn” about how to get a gig on Broadway. I like that story. (Hi guys.)

    Broadway is a tough gig to get, and how to get the gig has always seemed to me like some kind of closely held secret. But that is old-school thinking. We’re all stronger if we keep together, and there’s no reason to keep secrets like that in a community. So if you want to know how I got my gig – read this series.

Community Building

I’ll be honest with you – when we started we wanted to make some money off of it. And we do make a little – you can see the ads on the site. But surely anyone reading this who has tried to include advertising on their music-themed website knows that those things don’t bring in much bread.

Soon after we started, though, it became clear that the community of readers and contributors we were building was much more valuable. The ability to attract and bring together like-minded professionals, discuss common challenges and help each other out was the most valuable thing about MW.

For me, the best example of this has been the music director community. It started with a few articles about music directing techniques, grew to a Facebook and Yahoo group.

Soon we started meet-ups in NYC. Then Geraldine Boyer-Cussac, who already wrote her own outstanding career blog, took over the community building. She started a Twitter presence, began interviewing successful music directors and curating a new section of our jobs board just for music director jobs.

This is no small change for the music director community. The music director career has traditionally been a very independent, closed, isolated kind of job – especially outside of big cities. Music directors rarely work together, rarely meet each other and have rarely been able to share gigs and other information amongst each other.

Having the ability to now network with each other, learn from each other and trade work is a big change in the way the music director industry works.

Economic Development

What I’m talking about here is the economic development of a section in the North American arts industry. Creating a central gathering point for freelance professionals to collaborate on the collective advancement of their careers. That is a big deal!

The musician industry is (still) in a major transition right now – transitioning from the recording-based industry of the 20th century to a more complex live + recorded + service-based industry of the 21st century. We all need to re-tool our skills to cope with the rapid changes that technology and culture have thrown our way in the last 15 years. The collective discussion that happens on articles, comments and forums is the kind of brainstorming that will help us all emerge from this transitional time as successful innovators.

Our readers, our contributors, our forum members, the jobs we list on the jobs board – we are building what economists call a cluster – that is, a concentration of interconnected businesses in a particular field that help each other increase productivity and compete in their industry.  This is the kind of business development that the musician industry needs, and I know that the more involved our community becomes the better off everyone will be.

The Future

In the past few months we’ve started to organize more meet-ups with different groups of the MW community. We organized a drummer meet-up this past weekend. We had an uptown Manhattan meet-up in April. We’re discussing a composer/orchestrator/copyist meet-up later in the summer. We’re trying to encourage our LA and Nashville-based readership to organize meet-ups of their own.

Our jobs board, launched several months ago, has begun to slowly attract more employers and job seekers. We have the two largest cruise ship agencies in North America using the jobs board, as well as several music education organizations – and, of course, Geraldine’s music director listings.

Just last week Worklight Production posted a listing seeking musicians for next year’s national tour of In the Heights.  That tour is a major, legit gig, and it’s an honor to host it on our jobs board – it shows a lot of trust in our community.

We’ve found a good direction for – community building and career development – and we’re going to keep moving in that direction.  It’s important to us that our readers stay with us – what would a community be without people?  So I hope that you’ll follow us in any of the dozens of ways that you can follow us – our RSS feed, email list, Twitter handle, Facebook page – whatever works best for you.  Please tell your friends!

The Talent Myth

Robert recently asked a very insightful question in the forum. Essentially, he wonders what effect talent has on getting work as a musician in the real world.

For our purposes here, let’s define talent as a mix of natural aptitude, exhaustive training and years of practice that, when looked at objectively, distinguishes a musician as an expert. Let’s pretend that talent is a commodity that is easily quantifiable and that some musicians have more and some musicians have less.

(Even though we know that last part is not how this talent thing works. Pretend anyway.)

Do the Best Musicians Get the Best Work?

It’s a very good question. Logic would suggest that the most talented musicians would get the best work. The better you play the more people will want to hire you, right?

The validity of university music programs – especially the ones that focus their curriculum exclusively on performance and completely ignore business, entrepreneurship, or career-building – seems to be predicated on this talent myth. Become the best and you’ll succeed. Why else would you pay $100,000 for a fancy conservatory education?

But we all know the truth. We’ve all seen overwhelming evidence that the most talented musicians do not, necessarily, have the most success as working musicians.

How’s that fair? What’s the deal?

Yes, Talent Does Matter (To a Point)

To a certain point, talent is very important. If a musician doesn’t learn or perform music at a very high level, they will never make it as a professional musician. They will perform poorly at gigs and employers won’t call twice. Eventually it will become clear that this career is not for them and they’ll find another path to follow. It happens all the time.

So who are we left with? The best of the best. A pool of really talented musicians who can play anything you put in front of them.

So yes, to get to this level as a professional musician talent does matter.

An Abundance of Talent

However, it’s at this point that talent becomes such an abundant resource that having a tiny bit more or a tiny bit less of it doesn’t have a pronounced effect on a musician’s career. Put another way – when everyone is talented it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish yourself among the crowd based solely on this marker alone.

Employers may say that they are hiring you because you are the best, but you shouldn’t believe them. At the highest levels of the business, talent is simply not the reason that one musicians gets hired over another.

Distinguishable Traits

Here are some characteristics that employers look for when hiring musicians:

  1. Punctuality – Musicians who miss gigs or consistently show up late don’t get called again. Why would you hire someone you can’t trust when there are plenty of musicians that you can?
  2. Sight-reading – Musicians that sight-read well require less rehearsal time, and less rehearsal time means the employers save money. What is more attractive to an employer than the ability to save time and money while still maintaining the level of quality they require? That sounds awesome. Wouldn’t you want a great sight-reader if you were an employer?
  3. Sociability – Meaning, the ability and willingness to engage in activities and conversation with other people. Would you rather work with someone who’s nice or someone who’s a jerk? Easy question.
  4. Consistency – Professional musicians bring the same energy and accuracy to every performance. Employers value that quality.
  5. Flexibility – Which would you prefer – a musician that complains or resists every time something changes, or someone that rolls with the punches? Another easy question.

There are probably a hundred others. Also check out Cam’s article, 5 Traits of a Professional Musician.

These are the qualities that define a successful musician. These are the qualities that give one professional musician an advantage over another professional musician in the uber-talented, saturated freelance market.

When I meet new musicians looking for work, these are the qualities that I look for, well before I even care to hear them play.

There are two reasons for this: first, I assume that if they are working consistently at a professional level they must be talented, right?

And second, I know that even if they can play circles around other musicians, I won’t want to work with them unless they exhibit these crucial characteristics.

A Real-World Example

Here’s a real world story – I recently started subbing on a Broadway show. For me, this is my 2nd Broadway show.

The people that hired me to play keyboards on this show had never, not once, heard me play a single note before I played an actual, live performance of this Broadway show.

I had worked with them in a non-performance capacity several months ago. We got along great. I liked them, they liked me – and we established trust on the characteristics described above. And now, because I’m already playing on another Broadway show, they assumed I must be talented enough for the job, so they asked me to play.

There is virtually no way to argue that I landed this job based solely on my level of talent – and this is a great example of how the real world works.

To be successful as a working musician it’s first important to establish yourself as part of the pool of talented professionals, then distinguish yourself among the competition with secondary characteristics that are important to your potential employers.

What other characteristics are important for working musicians? Leave a comment below.

And Robert – thanks for reading the site and putting your question the forum! If anyone else would like to give Robert an answer, visit the original post.

How To Be a Studio Musician Without Leaving Home

Musicians are always looking for ways to supplement their income and find new performance opportunities. If you have always wanted (and more so if you already are) to be a session musician, but didn’t have the right contacts or weren’t located in an active scene, you might want to look into offering your services as a virtual session musician.

A virtual session musician provides their interpretation and instrumental or vocal performance to anyone, anywhere in the world in need of their particular expertise. It is not rare to find songwriters, producers, or solo artists in need of extra instrumentation to complete their production.

How hiring a virtual session player is advantageous to the employer:

  • The quality of the musician is not limited by proximity to studio.
  • No hourly studio rates to pay or union rules to workaround.
  • Receive high quality tracks from specialists.

How offering your services as session musician is a great gig:

  • Ability to work from your home studio for clients all over the world. Leave your equipment setup and tweak for specific purposes.
  • Work on your own schedule. Take the time to experiment with parts and send only the best performances.
  • Set your own rates and accept payment online.

Of course it would not be fair to only mention the positive aspects of online session work. The most obvious disadvantage of creating a full production in this manner is that the magic could disappear. When you gather great musicians in a room together, they interact, play off each other, and create a vibe that translates into emotion in a recording. That being said, great performances are still being created online.

The process in a nutshell:

  • Songwriter records guitar and vocals to a song she wants to be considered for film.
  • She finds a drummer in NYC, a bassist in Berlin, and an electric guitarist in LA, who she thinks would be a good fit for her song and contacts them in this order. Each player has great experience and can produce great recordings of their instrument.
  • She provides each one with a simple MP3 of what she has so far, a tempo map, and basic references of what she wants where (charts or midi generated tracks are nice).
  • Each player takes the time to review the song, record their performances, and send the tracks back for review.
  • The songwriter requests any changes and the changes are revised tracks are promptly sent back.
  • With her completed tracks, she now forwards the song onto a virtual mix engineer and finally to an online mastering engineer.

How to begin offering your services?

Ensure that you can record your instrument WELL.
You don’t to have a studio with 96 inputs, or a cabinet of vintage mics, but you do need to have enough quality mic preamps, microphones, and knowledge to record your instrument well. You may need to do some research and experimentation to find the best approaches to recording your instrument, but once you’ve got it – you’ve got it. You don’t necessarily have to worry about processing it as this will be done by the mix engineer, your goal is to get a solid, clean recording of a great performance which compliments the production.

Offer the service on your website.
The basic steps you need to complete are to create a rate sheet, gear list, provide audio examples of your playing, and setup a Paypal account to receive payment from clients. Add anything else to show off your skills and convince potential clients to hire you. Try to answer their questions before they have to contact you such as your revision policy, if you provide processing, what your turnaround time is etc. The more you can differentiate yourself, the better.

Offer your services on other sites. is setup specifically to allow individual musicians and engineers to offer their services online. They provide easy search capabilities and a very cool plug-in called “Virtual Glass” which allows realtime video and audio streaming from within your digital audio workstation. Also check out IndabaMusic, a newer collaboration site with a built-in, online audio workstation.

In addition to specialty sites, make sure that your social networks know that you offer this service. Participating in online forums and simple including a link to your site in your signature can be a great way to drum up business. Connecting with producers and songwriters directly should be your main goal.

Whether you plan on making this your full time gig, or just offer the service to get occasional gigs, offer you services as a virtual session musician can be a great way to build up your contact list and play on numerous, international projects.