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

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.

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.

How Do I Get a Job After Music School?

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Your music
  2. Other people’s music

Your Music

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

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

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

Other People’s Music

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

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

  • Sight-reading

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

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

  • Recommendations

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

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

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

  • Geography

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

  • Cruise Ship Musician

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

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

  • Theme Parks

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

  • Non-Union Broadway Tours

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

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

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

  • Jobs Board

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

I hope that helps – good luck T!

When To Take an Unpaid Gig

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

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

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

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

People Die of Exposure

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

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

Definition of general exposure:

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

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

Definition of specific exposure:

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

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

Will You Enjoy It?

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

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

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

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

Meeting New Colleagues

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is In It For You?

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

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

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

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

Personally, I wouldn’t take that gig.

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

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

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

What If Someone Else Calls?

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

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

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

Live Music Is a Valuable Thing

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

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

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

Facebook Networking for Musicians

Facebook ProfileI got my first off-Broadway subbing gig through Facebook. Ok, well that isn’t entirely true but I do credit my utilization of the social networking site as a major factor in procuring that gig. A friend gave me the number of his friend who was the full-time drummer on the show. We met, I went and watched the show, and that was that. I sent him a friend request and we stayed in loose touch for a while. Then, eight months later he sent me a Facebook message: “Let’s talk about you coming and subbing on the show.” Now that I think about it Facebook has been instrumental in my acquisition of lots of great playing opportunities in the mere 16 months that I have lived in New York…

Just Another Networking Tool…?

Here is an industry secret: all of us trying to freelance as musicians know that we will get the best gigs by sending resumes to high-powered music contractors and then waiting by the phone. Right? In reality, the only way a contractor will even look at your resume is if you are referred to them by someone they know and trust. So how do I get referred to someone who will hire me? Through networking. I recently heard Broadway contractor John Miller say that we “are all each other’s contractors.” By establishing a professional and pleasant rapport with other players, you can increase the probability that they will refer you to someone else, who will refer you to someone else, and so on. This is how freelancing works.

But you know this. I don’t have to preach to the choir about how to network. The traditional methods of networking are all well and good, and have served us well for many years. However, with the advent of Facebook and other social networks, it is easier than ever to find people, connect with them, and stay in touch. These three tools are what Facebook is all about. Used properly, the site can turn into a gold mine of resources and, hopefully, paying gigs.

Finding People

I started using Facebook to find people when I met a music director at a social gathering and then couldn’t find her email address. I wanted to follow up on being introduced and send her my resume as she had expressed a possible upcoming need for a drummer. The Facebook friend search led me right to her and I sent her a message to follow up our previous conversation. Connection made. I now make it common practice to seek people out using this method. Sometimes, however, this can be tricky because unfortunately, there are more than one Carl Allen in the world and you may not want to send the same message to 26 Carl Allens in hopes of getting the right one. They will probably be generally polite about it but nonetheless it is a massive waste of your time. Several months after moving to New York and starting to make connections, I began to notice that upon seeking someone out, we had mutual friends! This was encouraging on two fronts: first, it meant that I had common ground with the person that I was attempting to connect with; I was starting to become a member of a specific community. And second, it cut down on the “point-and-shoot” method of finding the right person when I typed in their name.

Connecting With People, or: “OMG I’ve hrd so much about you you are amaaaazing will you hire me????????”

Facebook was created primarily as a social networking site and most of us use it as just that. We casually interact with our friends and family members, writing witty messages in internet shorthand, posting photos of last night’s bender and videos of your cat standing on two legs, discovering which Twilight character you are, etc. But if you plan to use Facebook as a professional networking tool, you must use the same professional etiquette that you would in any other professional setting. So here are a couple of etiquette guidelines that may help Facebook work for you:

Rule 1 – Private Message First

When initiating contact with someone who doesn’t know you, avoid sending a friend request until you have properly introduced yourself and established at least a basis for a relationship. When you are “friends” with someone on Facebook, all of their information is available for you to view (and yours for them). It can easily come across as stalker-esque if someone gets the impression that you are just going to snoop around their profile once they accept your request. My rule of thumb is to let the other person decide when to initiate the friend request at least until you meet/work together in person. If John sees that I’ve contacted him and we have 45 mutual friends he may decide that I’m worth that level of familiarity right away. But he might not. So what might that initial message look like? Here’s a basic format that I often use:

Hi Sharon, I see that you will be MDing the NY production of Tony and Tina’s wedding. Congrats on the gig! I just wanted to introduce myself and find out if you have a drummer in mind. I’ve been subbing off-Broadway recently and working with several cabaret singers in town. Would you mind if I emailed you a resume for your files?

Jeremy Yaddaw

It is simple, to the point, friendly but not too familiar, and puts the ball in his/her court. From this type of outreach I probably hear back from 7 out of 10 that I send out. The response is usually something like:  “Thanks for getting in touch. Send me a resume and I’ll keep you in mind as we go forward.” Doesn’t seem overly promising. But that’s ok, and actually to be expected from someone I’ve never worked with. I might worry if someone offered to hire me sight unseen (unheard). The point of taking this step is not to secure a gig but simply to initiate a connection (out of which something may grow in the future).

Rule 2 – “Tempered Aggression”

Someone used this phrase after I had contacted him and I think it is an apt expression for the way we should approach professional Facebook networking. When I moved to New York I was suddenly much closer (proximally and professionally) to many musicians whom I had respected for years and whose careers I had followed on Broadway. My dream since 10th grade has been to play in Broadway pits so naturally my instinct was to FREAK OUT whenever I had the chance to meet or talk with one of these people. I initially think I may have come on to strongly and turned a few people off before realizing that I needed to act a bit more reserved. No one is going to be interested in you if you send them three messages a week to confirm that they got your updated resume, and voicemails asking if maybe they want to get coffee after the show or something, and drive by their apartment three times a day hoping to “chance” upon them coming home. It doesn’t matter how well you could play for them. You will never get the chance if you act really creepy. Once you have made initial contact, ALWAYS let them make the next move. You should let someone that you would like to work for know that you are serious without coming on too strongly.

Rule 3 – Use Professional Tone and Language

This may seem somewhat obvious but is worth reiterating. You don’t want to seem too casual with someone just because Facebook is a casual place. Remember, everything you say to someone you could potentially work for gives them insight into how you will conduct yourself as a professional once they do decide to hire you.

Keeping in Touch

To me, this is the most important part of using Facebook. Keeping yourself as an unassuming but noticeable presence (think watermark) on someone’s radar is a way to increase the odds that they will think of you when they need to hire someone. Once you have established “friend” status with someone, there are lots of good ways to keep yourself visible to them.

Wall Posts – casual responses to people’s wall posts can be a good way to show them that you notice what they are doing and get your name in their head (face it, this is all about psychology). A quick “Congrats on the new gig!”, or “How did your NYMF show go?” is appropriate as long as you don’t get too “stalkery” with someone you don’t know well. As the interactions and familiarity increase, then more personal comments may become acceptable.

Event Invites – If you use Facebook Events to promote your gigs (and I recommend that you do), these can be a good way to show people that you are working, who you are working with, and how often. It is an opportunity for you to say to the Facebook community “Look at me! I’m a legitimate musician and you can come check me out!” without saying that directly to anyone. Make sure that the invite looks professional, contains correct and complete information and then blast it out to everyone who might be interested. This point is important because you probably don’t want to invite a music director you just met to Aunt Sally’s 90th birthday bash, or to the debut of your death metal/screamo/punk band “Blood Cult” in Brooklyn. Use discretion when deciding who to alert of specific events. Most people get lots of these event invites and so are not annoyed by them because they have the option of just ignoring them if they aren’t interested. But again, even if someone ignores your event, they have still seen it and your name registers in their brain once more. And if someone invites you to their show, consider attending to show them that you are interested in their work!

Use The “About Me” Box to Promote Yourself – I recently saw that a friend of mine had listed his upcoming gigs in the “Write something about yourself” box. This is a great idea and I immediately stole his idea and changed mine from “I enjoy red wine and long walks on the beach” to include the dates, times, and locations of my five next performances. Much more useful. This way, no one has to go to my website or MySpace (what’s that?) to see when and where I’m playing (Extra bonus: This box is the first thing that pops up under my profile’s “info” tab on Facebook mobile).

But I Can’t Put Up Sound Clips!

The two short answers to this are “Who cares?” and “Yes, you can.” I have had sound clips of my playing on my personal website for years and I can count on one finger the number of times I have gotten unsolicited feedback about them. Sound clips can be useful if you are a band looking for gigs or a composer/producer looking to showcase your work but in general, as a freelance musician, the traditional networking route is much more fruitful. However, if you so desire, Facebook does have a “Pages” application that allows you to create a MySpace-style page, including an audio player and gig calendar. At this point, the pages application is a bit more difficult to navigate and customize than MySpace but hopefully this is something that Facebook will improve upon as its use increases.

Conclusion, or: Summary and Reiteration of Previous Material

Using Facebook is a great way to network. It is not a miracle tool for getting gigs, but if you use it to your advantage it can certainly help you to that end. Like any networking strategy, you are going to have to be patient. And persistent. And optimistic. And even though deep down you are always hustling for a gig, your goal is to come across as though you are not hustling because, like any business, working as a musician is a people-based enterprise and that is what Facebook is all about.

Musician Business Cards

In an industry that is all about networking and who you know, business cards are a great tool. They are a convenient way to give a new friend or business contact a little pocket-sized reminder of who you are, what you do, and how to get in contact with you. Moreover, in a industry where individuality, creativity and quality are valued, musicians need to use business cards that reflect their personality, artistry and character.

There are a lot of different ways to approach the musician business card. Let’s start with some examples.

We’ll start with my absolute favorite business card from my friend Bart, a musician in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia who was kind enough to let me reprint his card here. He’s a funny guy, and people always like working with him. Read his selling points at the bottom of the card.


A business card that makes other musicians laugh out loud is priceless.

Understandably, though, I think Bart is careful about who he hands this particular card out to. You have to make sure they’ve got a sense of humor first. I believe he keeps another set of regular business cards with him as well.

Next is a card from Jeff Fajans, a member of our Facebook group, who uses a really dynamic design on his card. He told me, and I think he’s right, that the colors on this card make it stand out from the others. In his words, “I really believe that it is important to set yourself apart in any way you can, especially when there are so many talented musicians.” Jeff had his card designed by M13 Graphics and is very happy with their service.


Also from the Facebook group, Kahuna Kawentzmann sends us his business card all the way from Germany. Great use of typography. For you language geeks out there, “Gitarren Aufnahmedienst” means “Guitar Recordings Services.”


Below is fellow MW blogger Cameron Mizell’s business card. Years ago this same image used to be the front page of his website.


Pairing the business card, album and website altogether with one look is a great idea for branding yourself or your band. Check out what MW contributing writer Gary Melvin sent us. Note that the top is the front of the card, and the bottom is the back.


Derek Sivers recently wrote a post on his blog about throwing out the traditional business card paradigm and handing out something more practical to people. Check out his custom made guitar picks.

I think this works out especially well for Derek because his past and future businesses all cater to musicians that are online. A cheap, often used piece of musician flare with his website stamped right on it? You can’t go wrong.

Thanks to David Rose of for pointing out Derek’s post to me.

For my own business cards, I went for a very professional, almost attorney-like look.  Whether I’m trying to book a cocktail gig at a swanky party, or looking for a spot in a theatre pit, the people that hire me are typically looking for a musician with attorney-like professionalism, and I try to portray some class in my card.  Also, at least in typography, it matches my website and both of my albums.


One website that you should definitely visit for creative ideas in business card design (although not specifically musician business cards) is I’d like to reprint everything on their page here to show you, but I’ll just pick my favorite one and hope that you visit their site and see for yourself.

Here’s a card on from a lawn care company. Pretty clever.

Another creative approach to business cards (and album artwork, for that matter) is to hand make each one. It’s a time consuming idea, but would really differentiate your business card from others. Look at this card from Adam Behringer, care of

If you are interested in making a stamped card like this, check out I’ve looked into this option myself and they were the service I had finally centered on.

There are several different online business card services that musicians recommended to us. Naturally there is the inescapable, which still provides free business cards for people that don’t care if the Vista Print logo lives on the backside. Cameron tells me that the next time he gets cards it’ll be through, and as I said before, guitarist Jeff Fajans suggests M13 Graphics.

Whatever service you go with, my final advice it to pay special attention to, and more $$ for, the details of your business card.  A major rookie mistake in business cards is to pick the cheapest stock and the cheapest printing.  Choose a thick cardstock, embossed printing or a high gloss finish – or maybe a nice matte finish.  It can seem like an unnecessary expense, but it’s worth dropping a little more dough on the project.  These little cards will represent you after you are gone, and you’ll need them to be impressive advocates.

Here’s a short anecdote I’ll leave you with. The story goes that when Lyndon B. Johnson was President of the United States, he would give out little presents to his staff.  One of the presents was an electric toothbrush with his picture on one side and the presidential seal on the other.  As he said, “I give these toothbrushes for then I know that from now until the end of their days they will think of me the first thing in the morning and the last at night.”

Now that’s what I call an effective business card.

How to Get a Job as a Pianist

Matt from Florida emailed us a question this week:

I was curious how you sort of get off the ground with piano gigs?  I realize that possibly playing in a hotel lobby is a good route, but what is the best way to go about doing this?  Is it a matter of just knowing the people personally or do you recommend just walking up to the front desk and asking if you could play?

Thanks for your question, Matt. How to get a gig is a great topic. We could write article after article about getting gigs and we’d never exhaust the subject.

That said, we have two great articles on the site written by Craig Pilo, who is currently Frankie Valli’s drummer and has worked previously with Maynard Ferguson, Edgar Winter and others. Craig knows how to get a gig, and I suggest you start with reading everything he’s written for us on the subject. Then come back here and I’ll get more specific about piano jobs.

From Craig Pilo:
Getting Started as a Musician
The Next Level – Getting Started As a Musician, Part 2

Great advice, right? I learned a few tricks from him myself.

Now – specifically regarding piano gigs – there are a few angles to consider.

Why are pianists hired?

Let’s consider for a moment why pianists are hired. There are several different scenarios I can think of.

Background pianists are hired for ambiance. Pianists play cocktail parties, country clubs, receptions, hotel lobbies (as you mentioned), restaurants, department stores and many other places. It creates a wash of pleasing background noise to fill up the gaps in the patrons conversations. Silence, after all, is more manageable when it isn’t silent. Like all music, background piano music stimulates customers emotions – usually in a pleasing way – and makes them feel good about the room they are in. That’s good for business.

Continue reading How to Get a Job as a Pianist