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.
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