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.

Published by

David Jolley

David Jolley

David Jolley is a freelance drummer/percussionist in New York City. He has performed throughout the world, most recently on the international tour of Avenue Q. He is also an educator, sophomoric writer, and unaccredited vegetarian chef.

3 thoughts on “Marketing Yourself as a Musician”

  1. Hi Dave,

    Really nice stuff! Have been going through the same process, but in London, and there’s a comfort in knowing someone else (more like thousands of someones) can share my pain ;) My story has one key difference in that I knew NO ONE before moving! (apart from my girlfriend whom I came here with) As your article talks a lot about meeting people through friends, can you speculate on how you’d do things differently if you were in that situation? Do you think you’d have made the move in the first place?

    Looking forward to reading more from you.


    p.s. Avenue Q is da bomb

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