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!

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

The Musician Resume

Please visit the Musician Resume Templates section of our store to browse ready-made musician resumes.

Most musician jobs – club dates, songwriting – will never require a resume, and employers are increasingly turning to musicians personal websites for resume-like information.  Nevertheless, a musician’s resume is still a great marketing tool for getting gigs, and I still use mine frequently.

Here are some basics that every musician should include when building their resume.

1. Contact info

At the top of the page you should include your name, cell phone number, email address and website URL.  You should also include at least the city you live in, if not your full address.  Where you live will be very important to contractors that might consider you for gigs near you.

Duh, right?  But you should keep a few things in mind with your contact info.

Make sure your email address isn’t something like “” or anything else like that.  If you were a contractor and you had to choose between “” and “” – who would you pick?  Make sure the email address you use for professional correspondence is professional sounding.

Give your cell phone number.  The people that hire for gigs are impatient.  If they call your phone and you don’t answer, or it’s a land line and you’re not home – they may very well just call the next musician on the list.  Give them a phone number that they can reach you at night or day.  And answer your phone!

2. An Intuitive Layout

It’s very likely that no one will ever read your resume in its entirety.  Most people scan through resumes for points of interest.  Where did this musician go to school?  Who have they played with?  Where do they live?  You should use font techniques – like bold, italics, font-size, etc. – to make certain parts of your resume stick out from the rest.

I have a friend who studied violin at Manhattan School of Music.  While she was there she took a class that included a section musician resumes.  As an exercise, her prof passed out a musician’s resume to the class.  They were to look at the resume for only 5 seconds, then turn it over and tell her if they could remember anything it said.

This classroom exercise is similar to what’ll happen to your resume when you send it out.  It’ll likely get put in a stack of other resumes, and your potential employer will scan through all of them, looking for the right musician.

Use large, bold fonts for those parts of your resume that you want people to notice.  For musicians that means where you were trained, the big gigs you’ve played, and anything else impressive.  All the other details of your resume should be in a regular-sized or small font.  It’s as if you were saying, “HEY LOOK AT THESE IMPRESSIVE THINGS I’VE DONE…and if you’d like, you can read the details as well.”

I like to use thin lines to seperate the different sections of my resume.  I think it helps make the layout more obvious.  Here is a copy of my resume.  I’ve used lots of different layouts in the past, but this is the one I’m currently using and I think it works well for my needs.

Save time and buy the source file!

Musician ResumeYou can now purchase the original Word (.doc) file of Dave’s resume for just $5.99. Replace all of his info with your own and have your own, professional musician resume.

Immediate download, .zip file: $4.99

Note: No instructions, software or support are included with this file. Knowledge of MS Word (or equivalent software) required.

3. Something Unique

As a musician, you are your own business.  Business people often talk of “branding” the company – and that’s something that musicians can do too.  A resume is a great place to start.

Personally, I have a simple logo that I put on everything as well.  It’s on my resume, my website, my business cards, even my emails – anything that represents me, my playing or, in other words, my product.

4. Make It a PDF

I send my resume out weekly, but I haven’t printed it out on a real printer for months and months.  I email my resume to potential employers, and you probably will too.  You’ll want to make sure that your resume shows up on the contractors computer the way you intend it to look.

The best way I’ve found of doing this is making your resume a PDF.  If you send your resume to people as a Word file or a text file, you’re depending on their computers to have the fonts that you used, to have the same display size, etc.

Also, people hate it when you send them Word files.  At the very least, I hate it.  A word file means I have to open MS Word, which takes forever.  A PDF is nice, slick, fast, and displays exactly how you want it.

Mac computers are able to print any document as a PDF file, so if you don’t have a way of making your resume into a PDF yourself, find a friend with a Mac.

5. Remember It’s About Perception

How do you get your foot in the door on a new job?  Getting gigs from other gigs is easy – but how do you get that first gig?  How can you get someone to hire you based solely on a resume?

The truth is, it’s all about perception.  The people that are hiring you need 3 things before they call you.  The need to trust that you will show up, that you will act professionally when you get there, and that you can play the gig.  The best way to get these 3 things is to get a recommendation from someone else that also has these 3 things, but if you can’t do that, it all has to come from your resume and cover letter.

Be confident, but not cocky.  Don’t exaggerate your credits, but don’t leave out anything impressive.  Don’t be arrogant or entitled.  Here’s the trick: don’t ever act like they’d be an idiot not to hire you, but make sure, by the end of it, that they feel like they’d be an idiot not to hire you.

This article is part of a series. Please also visit: New Ideas for the Musician Resume