Panel Discussion: How Music Makes Money

Join me on December 10th, at Parsons The New School for Design in NYC, for a panel discussion on the modern music business. I will be joined by professionals in entertainment and intellectual property law, music publishing and rights management, crowd funding, and marketing. The event is free and open to the public.

Here are the details:

The Parsons Institute for Intellectual Property (PiiP) announces an evening panel presentation of industry professionals discussing how music makes money now. Since the advent of digitized music, the methods of making, using, and delivering music have grown exponentially. As a result, many royalty revenue streams and creative ways of monetizing music have emerged. The ways in which music is now marketed, bundled, downloaded, streamed, and otherwise used has resulted in many opportunities and challenges, and have kept legislation and business practices moving at an accelerated pace to keep up. Payments have changed considerably since the heyday of record royalties, making it more important than ever to understand how the new licensing, !nancing, and payment models affect the income of music creators.

If you want to understand what’s happening in the music business today, join us:

On: December 10th, 6:00 to 9:00
At: Parsons The New School for Design, Teresa Lang Center, Mezzanine Level, 55 W. 13th Street.

Panelists include:

Barry Heyman, Esq., Heyman Law
Founder and principal attorney of this boutique law firm, Heyman has been practicing entertainment, intellectual property (copyrights and trademarks), and new media law for over a decade. He also has 10+ years experience working in the music and entertainment business. Heyman protects the legal interests and intellectual property rights of creative talent and businesses. Learn more at

Bill Stafford, Co-Founder, Missing Link Music
Missing Link Music is an independent music publishing company that specializes in the publishing and rights management of modern music ranging from urban, jazz, and gospel, to bluegrass. Founded in 1996, Missing Link represents its writer, artist, and producer clients on a worldwide basis through its sub-publisher affiliates abroad.

Kendel Ratley, Director, Marketing and Outreach, Kickstarter
Ratley focuses on implementing Kickstarter’s mission in the real world via events, community relations, and helping artists conceptualize projects. She has spent a decade marketing NYC music and tech start-ups. She previously served as Marketing Director of (Le) Poisson Rouge, a multimedia arts space in Greenwich Village, overseeing promotion and publicity for hundreds of creative events annually. She has toured with bands and consulted live event and digital music launches. She graduated from New School University and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Cameron Mizell, Musician & Co-Founder,
Mizell is a Brooklyn based freelance musician and online musician’s advocate who knows how to straddle the divide between music and business. As an artist, Mizell leads his own jazz/funk trio and released Tributary, his third album, in 2010. He is also a busy sideman, playing guitar, mandolin, and bass in NYC clubs, restaurants and theatres. Before becoming a full-time musician, Mizell had a gig of a different sort as head of production at the Universal Music Group subsidiary Verve Music Group. In 2008, Mizell decided to combine his knowledge of the industry with his understanding of life as a musician and together with Dave Hahn, Mizell founded the website, which offers music industry advice speci!cally geared towards the working musician. Learn more at


Michelle Bogre, Esq. Associate Professor and Founder of the Parsons Institute for Intellectual Property (PiiP) at Parsons The New School for Design. Bogre is a documentary photographer, IP lawyer and author of Photography as Activism: Images for Social Change, published by Focal Press.

How To Help Protect Your Health as a Musician

Hard working musicians subject themselves to irregluar working hours, late working hours and often find themselves in areas of slightly different risk compared with many other professions. This article is definitely not meant to replace seeking medical and postural advice if you have a problem that needs addressing. However it does offer some basic and sensible advice which is easy to neglect during periods of heavy work load and stress, whether you are writing an album or on tour as a musician.

Protect your hearing

One of the most important facalties for a musician is their hearing, ears are sensitive and it is a good plan to protect the longevity of your hearing. Each country has a set of guidelines that provide safe sound pressure level values and exposure times. The louder sound is the less exposure time is recommended. Try and get a handle on your sound exposure levels and take steps to reduce and minimize it. Your career relies on the longevity of your ears and hearing, so use ear plugs to protect them from excessive SPL’s (Sound pressure levels) whenever possible. Like much of the advice within this article it might not be very rock and roll to wear ear plugs but it bears serious consideration as your career relies on it. Nowadays you can get ear plugs with a tailored frequency response which offers good protection but stops the music sounding too dull and makes it less problematic to hear some of the musical details on stage.

Take care when lifting

There is a right way and a wrong way to lift heavy items, the wrong way can have you with an accute back problem in no time. Lugging guitar combo’s, stacks, drum kits and full size keyboards and flight cases is not trivial, some of these items can easily weigh 20Kgs. When you lift your equipment consider your back. By and large it is safer to lift heavy items from the ground by keeping the back straight and bending your knees. Again your local medical authority will be able to advise on how heavy items are best lifted with minimum risk. Also make sure you do not hyper extend yourself when lifting (i.e. lifting items when stooped over… and arms fully extended) Being directly over the item is generally safer. If something is too heavy don’t feel like a wimp get a band member of stage hand to help you out, better safe than sorry.

Consider a flu jab

I personally take a flu jab annually, this is up to your own discretion. I feel the cost versus the potential loss of earnings from being on your back for 10-14 days is minimal. Letting people down and losing income from having the flu adds insult to injury. The flu is a very unpleasant and a common malady during the winter months and is best avoided. The flu jab is definitely worth considering before the winter period starts.


2 camps of opinion here, they don’t make any difference and they make a worthwhile difference. I am of the latter persuasion personally. Now rather than list scores of vitamins I will suggest a few that I believe will be of most benefit to musicians.

Fish oil (Omega 3) – known to protect joints, so if you want to tickle the ivory’s and keep on strumming for years and years to come this supplement will assist in keeping your joints in good shape, critical for being able to play an instrument.

Vitamin C – an important vitamin for keeping away the common cold and other minor viral infections, again playing out when under the weather is not fun or recommended so try and keep these mild illnesses at bay with a 500mg of vitamin C a day.

Lutein – Lutein is a suppliment that can help protect the retina of the eye. Musicians often work in dimly lit conditions, be it on stage or in the studio staring at a computer monitor for hours at a time. On stage this is often coupled with harsh lighting. Anything capable of protecting eyesight is going to be a bonus.

Vitamin D – we all know the joke about a “studio tan” well there may be more truth in it than one might think. In the northern hemisphere vitamin D deficiency is very common place especially towards the end of winter. (compounded by working indoors and lack of sunlight) It is a very important vitamin not to be depleted of.

A multivitamin tablet will be a good general daily suppliment especially if irregular and fast food type meals are consumed when in a hurry or on tour. A daily multivitamin will keep the basic nutirents topped up until you are eating better again.

Water vs. mental and physical performance

It is said that dehydration can reduce mental and physical performance so try and take a bottle of water wherever you are and keep well hydrated. A human being is recommended to drink approx 2 litres of water during the course of a day to keep peak mental and physical performance.

Sleep makes a difference

Eveyone knows that being deprived of sleep can have a large impact on mood and general well being. Of course musicians gigging are often night workers and long nights in the studio have almost become a cliche. Thats fine as long as you are getting 6-8 hours of sleep a day. It’s important for mental and physical well being to get rest. You are likely to be more creative and have more energy which is exactly what performing and creating music requires.

Join MW and Google for a Musician Hang, October 18th’s co-founder Cameron Mizell will join musicians and representatives from Google Play and Limelight for an informal, free hang at the Openhouse Gallery (201 Mulberry Street – at Spring) starting at 2pm, October 18th, 2012.

CMJ and Google badges are automatically RSVP’d, all others please RSVP at this link.

More info:


Google’s rockin’ the Lower East Side this Thursday during CMJ Music Marathon. Find out how to sell original music with Google Play, monetize videos with YouTube, secure licenses for cover songs with Limelight, connect with fans on Google+ and optimize artist websites for Google Search.

CD Baby artists are invited to join us for a special happy hour meet-up at 4pm!

When: Thursday October 18th, 2pm – 2am

Where: Openhouse Gallery at 201 Mulberry Street (at Spring Street)

Who: Open to CMJ badgeholders and guests who RSVP (walk-ups will be taken as capacity allows)

  • CD Baby artist meet-up and drinks at 4pm
  • Free artist headshots by professional photographer (3pm – 7pm)
  • Happy hour kegs from 7pm onward
  • WhyHunger PSA tapings with musicians
  • Product demos, swag and more

Special performance opportunity for musicians:

Join Google Play for a first-of-its-kind on-air open mic, broadcast live to the world via the +Google Play page. Musicians are invited to perform one original song (read: no cover song), acoustic or with minimal backline (and no profanity, please, in case the kids are watching). We’ll record the audio and provide it to performers so that they can distribute it through the Google Play artist hub.

  • 6pm: Sign-ups start for walk-up participants (performers will chosen at random to perform alongside invited guests)
  • 7pm – 9pm: On-air open mic

Google Play concert showcase:

  • 10pm: Monsters Calling Home (unsigned; Google Play artist hub user)
  • 11pm: Little Green Cars (Glassnote Records)
  • 12am: Duologue (Killing Moon Records)


Cameron Mizell to Speak at CMJ Festival

Cameron Mizell, guitarist and co-founder of, is scheduled to speak at this week’s CMJ Music Marathon Festival being held October 16-20 in New York City.

Cameron’s panel, “I’ve Got You Covered” – moderated by Google’s Alex Holz, will discuss:

  • How cover songs have helped build careers and introduce artists to new audiences
  • Mechanical licensing issues related to recording and selling cover songs
  • New tools for artists and labels to obtain licensing
  • The future of copyright law in the digital age

Other panelists include singer/songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs, public relations agent Kim Gerlach, and copyright attorney Barry Heyman.

The panel will be held at the NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South. Use hashtag #CMJ and Twitter handle @cameronmizell to follow or join the discussion at CMJ this week.

Interview with Touring Sideman Jesse Bond

Jesse Bond is a fantastic guitarist out of Atlanta that makes a living as a touring sideman. I met Jesse through a mutual friend and after learning about his career and artists with whom he’s recorded and toured, I knew he’d have a lot of great information to share through our working musician interview series.

MW: When did you start playing music, and when did you realize it was something you wanted to do professionally?

JB: I started playing guitar around 14 years old. My mom is the one that actually got me into the guitar. She was the music director at our church and picked one up when I was about 13 so she could accompany herself and lead the band.

I had friends in high school that were starting metal and punk bands so music and guitar were all around me. I joined a band and also started taking lessons.

My sophomore year in high school is when I started looking at colleges and my counselor suggested Berklee college in Boston. It sounded like a good idea so I made the decision to pursue music seriously then. I also joined my high school jazz band.

Jesse Bond guitaristDid you study music in school? How has that impacted your career?

I did end up going to Berklee and it has definitely helped me in many ways. First off, the musical knowledge that you get at a school like that is amazing. There’s so much info that you actually have to forget half of it and just play when you get out.

On top of what you learn at a school like Berklee is the connections you make. The networking is worth its weight in gold. I got my first big touring gig (Anthony Hamilton) from a Berklee connection.

I did take high school lessons as I said earlier, and I took two high school music theory classes as well. My advice for all who are considering music school:

  • Know as much as you can before going. The more advanced you are is the more you can pull from your teachers.
  • Get the text books early.
  • Test out of classes.
  • Take a few semesters off before starting.
  • Take general education classes first.

That’s what I wish I would’ve done anyway.

Briefly describe your career today. What kinds of work do you do to make a living?

My career today is mainly dependent on touring with artists. I moved to Atlanta to play with PJ Morton in 2002. I started playing in churches soon after, and in Atlanta that’s a decent steady income stream for a musician.

I then got on Anthony Hamilton’s tour in 04. My biggest touring gig was Kanye West from 07-09. I’m currently music directing for Melanie Fiona (since 2010) and we’re opening for D’angelo and Mary J Blige as we speak.

I also do studio work but touring makes the bulk of my income. I’d like that to switch in the near future however.

How do you find work as a musician?

I find work as a musician by networking and networking and networking… and networking. It really is less about how you play and more about who you know and your professional reputation. I know that I would rather hire a friend than someone I don’t know. It’s important to be on time, personable, dependable to learn material, etc. Make friends and be professional. Work will come.

What skills are necessary to be successful at your job (or jobs)?

Other skills that help me are definitely on the engineering side. I have the capability to cut guitar tracks out of my house via email. I also program live shows for artists and run their tracks from stage. It’s the age of the home studio so know how to be self sufficient.

Also… The Nashville number system is the fastest way to chart. Learning that system streamlined the way I learn music.

Finally, do you have any advice for younger musicians aspiring to be professionals?

Stay humble; soak in as much information as you can from your peers and mentors; learn your music; develop your ear; learn your tunes; don’t overplay; be prepared to step out and shine when you need to; look the part as well…

And, make sure you get paid for what you do. If you’re spending 8 hours a day at a day job, you only get 4 hours or so to work on your craft. You’re already behind because others are spending 8-12 hours a day specifically on their craft. The raw number of hours spent just won’t allow you to keep up. Demand compensation.

And write write write! One song placement can get you the same compensation as a year or two worth of gigs.

Keep your head up in the hard times (and slow times) and don’t forget why you started playing in the first place… because it’s fun!


More about Jesse Bond:

Jesse Bond is an Atlanta based guitarist and producer that originally hails from Reno, Nevada. He is also a graduate of Berklee College of Music (02′).

He is a member of the PJ Morton Band and has toured and recorded with Kanye West, Rihanna, Celine Dion, Anthony Hamilton, Ledisi, Melanie Fiona, Toni Braxton, Faith Evans, Janet Jackson, Ne-Yo, John Legend, Jazmine Sullivan, Chrisette Michelle, Mary J Blige, Mary Mary, Kim Burrell, Adam Levine, India Arie, and many more.

He is a husband and a father and is currently music director for Melanie Fiona. Follow Jesse on Twitter to keep up with his life as a touring guitarist.

An Update from Dave and Cameron

Over the last year, has experienced rapid growth in our readership–something for which both Dave and I are very grateful to all of you. With the increased traffic, however, comes an increased risk of hackers and security concerns.

Some of you may have seen a warning when visiting the site, or found the site to be loading too slow, or noticed the site was down all together. We received feedback from many of you and as always, have been addressing the issue.

This past week our site was down for several hours during which a complete security overhaul was performed. We can’t guarantee there will be no problems in the future, but we have a team constantly monitoring to help it run as securely as possible as we continue to grow.

Meanwhile, we’ve been continually adding valuable content to the site. You might have missed some of it during the outages, so here’s a recap:

The Working Musician Interview Series

We started interviewing musicians that we thought could offer some great advice and insight into the world of the working musician. So far we’ve interviewed these amazing musicians:

We’ll continue next Tuesday with an interview from touring guitarist Jesse Bond, and there will be more in the coming weeks.

Recent Articles

Dave recently changed his focus from music directing to songwriting, and wrote an article all about it, as only he could. Check out How I’m Building a Career As A Songwriter. He also wrote a great piece reflecting on one of his first songwriting projects: ringtones. Have a read at Half A Million Downloads and 500,000 Dilemmas.

We also received another great piece from SFC Joshua DiStefano, our expert Army musician. This time he focused on musicians that have recently joined the Army band. If that’s you, I highly suggest reading his Advice for New Army Musicians.

Finally, I’ve written a couple pieces as well. First I reflected on My Ever-Changing Career as a Musician and explored my changing streams of income over the last decade, and the effect it’s had on my approach to being a musician. I also wrote an editorial piece in response to some industry news, trying to answer the question: Why are there fewer working musicians in 2012 than 1999? Or 1989 for that matter.

Thanks again for reading, discussing, and sharing your experiences as musicians. Happy gigging!

Interview with Pianist Sonny Paladino

This week’s Working Musician Interview is with pianist and music director Sonny Paladino. Sonny and I worked together on several Broadway shows and readings and he’s a fixture in the New York theatre scene. Lately, though, Sonny’s been finding more opportunities in both LA and NYC to music direct for big-name pop concerts. I wasn’t surprised, then, when I went on Facebook a few weeks ago and saw a photo of him playing a gig with Ke$ha.

Here Sonny tells us a little bit about himself and how he got started.

MW: When did you start playing music, and when did you realize it was something you wanted to do professionally?

SP: I was given a piano and lessons as a Christmas gift from my grandparents when I was 8 years old.  I took lessons, but eventually, being a kid who would rather be running around outside whenever he could, quit.

My mother encouraged me to try taking lessons with another guy that we new from the neighborhood who was a musician that I had seen play around town. I agreed and at my first lesson he taught me a short chord progression I-vi-IV-V and I learned it that week and brought it back to the lesson. He heard me play it and said great! He then got up from beside the piano and went behind the drum set that was also in his little studio. He counted off 1-2-3-4 and we started playing together.

I was instantly hooked. Up until that point I was “taking piano lessons,” and at that moment I was “making Music.” I remember getting in the car with my mother and saying, “Mom, I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I’ve been pursuing a career in music ever since!

MW: Did you study music in school? How has that impacted your career?

SP: I did study music in school. First high school (we had a great music program at my public high school and I literally had 5 music classes.) Then I went on to attend Berklee College of a Music in Boston. I left after one year because I felt that my contacts would be in Boston, and I knew that I ultimitaly needed to be in NYC. So I transferred to CUNY City College where I studied jazz music under the guidance of many great musicians including the legendary bass player Ron Carter.

I learned a lot about music in college and I continue to use these skills everyday as a professional, working musician. What college doesn’t really teach you though, is how to be an actual working musician. I find that most college programs focus solely on the artistic side of music, which is great, and important. But to be a working musician you’re going to have to play many styles of music: pop, rock, jazz, classical, hip-hop… you name it. It is important to keep those musical styles fresh and “under your belt.” you never know when you’re going to need to be able to play, write or arrange for those various styles.

MW: Briefly describe your career today. What kinds of work do you do to make a living?

I used to work solely as a Broadway Musican. And in many ways I still do. It took razor sharp focus for me to get established in that world. I did several national tours then decided I would stay put and do nothing but work on Brodway Shows. I started subbing around and then got a few opportunities to conduct the orchestra for several musicals. To date I have worked on 10 musicals and have been the assistant conductor on four of them.

I am currently expanding to different genres of music. I am trying to play more pop music and work as a music director for pop acts.

But day to day, I do everything from playing piano for rehearsals for a show, to writing songs for various shows, to arranging music for vocals, for full bands, to having an artist come to my apt for a vocal coaching session. You name it, I probably do it. You must be versatile in this business. If I am asked to do something that I’m not 100% comfortable doing, I will usually say yes and learn on the fly as I go. It’s a varying life with no set schedule (or payment structure,) but it’s really fun and rewarding!

MW: How do you find work as a musician?

Every way under the sun. Here you have to be creative. It’s really 100% word of mouth. So it’s about meeting the right people and staying in contact with them. There is definitely no set way to do this and getting started, getting people to know you is really the secret. How to do that is different for everyone.

For me, I would volunteer for anything. Play any gig I could. For free. It didn’t matter, I wanted people to know me. The other thing that I always tell people, is to be nice. When you do meet these people, be genuine. Don’t ask them for a gig, but rather befriend them. Truly. Once you become their friend, then they will trust you and might recommend you for a gig that they can’t do, or that they think you might be better suited for than them. A smile and a genuine interest in people goes a lot further than you can imagine. Try it!

Oh, and when you get that first opportunity to play some gig or cover a rehearsal, be prepared. Over prepared. No one knows how many hours you put into learning the material… They only hear you play, and hopefully they say, “Wow, he/she can really play!”

MW: What skills are necessary to be successful at your job (or jobs)?

SP: Every skill imaginable. This business is not only about going into a situation and making great art. I wish! No, you’ll have to be a band leader at times doing arrangements, you’ll have to be a side musician and learn that now you’re role is to keep quite and go with the flow, you’ll have to be a composer, a manager, a friend. And at the end of the day, you’re actually running a business. You are your business. Better brush up on your accounting skills!

MW: Finally, do you have any advice for younger musicians aspiring to be professionals?

SP: I will share some advice that Herbie Hancock gave me when I was 17 years old and asked him for advice after seeing him perform a concert. He said, “Man, you’ve got to get your life together first, ’cause unless you have a story to tell in your music… no one will care.” I think musicians will always listen to great masters and think, ok, I have to practice every day for 25 hours to get that good. But remember that with music, people are looking for an individual. If you can say something with your music, if you can make someone feel something (and this can be achieved playing something as simple as comping on a four chord progression tune- see story about my first time “making music” in question/answer 1) then you will be the type of person people want to work with.

Interview with Guitarist Alec Berlin

For this week’s working musician interview, I talked to guitarist Alec Berlin. I’ve gotten to know Alec while subbing for him on a show. He’s a fantastic guitarist and also a very humble and hardworking guy. I learned a lot from him through the show, so he was a natural choice for this interview series.

MW: When did you start playing music, and when did you realize it was something you wanted to do professionally?

AB: I started playing the guitar when I was 7. I didn’t really have a realization that I wanted to do it professionally – it just sort of happened, after I had invested a lot of time, energy, resources, interest, and passion in music for any number of years. The goal was just to keep doing it and keep doing it and keep doing it, etc.

Did you study music in school? How has that impacted your career?

I received a Master’s of Music in Jazz Studies from the New England Conservatory. Music school allowed me the opportunity to log in many, many hours on my instrument, under the guidance of some incredibly insightful and talented teachers.

Also – perhaps more importantly – it was the first time in my life that I was in such a big musical environment. In high school and college, musicians were few and far between, just a few random stragglers amidst a much larger population. Being surrounded by musicians all the time was invaluable – from a creative perspective, of course, but also in terms of thinking about and understanding what it meant to commit to a life as a professional musician.

Briefly describe your career today. What kinds of work do you do to make a living?

For the last several years I’ve done most of my playing in theater – ranging from grungy independent productions like The ATrain plays (a 24-hour theater project) to super high profile Broadway productions like Green Day’s American Idiot. And lots in between.

I’ve spent a lot of time subbing for any number of different shows, which has it’s joys and it’s annoyances. What most appealled to me about subbing in the first place was the instrumental challenge – it’s not a gig that values personal interpretation, and if you are okay with that, then the challenge becomes trying to own the music as thoroughly as possible – including being comfortable playing on the show guitar, with that particular conductor, on that particular rig (ie with that amp and those pedals), with that particular rhythm section, etc. At times I’ve subbed on as many as 6 shows at a time – so maintaining that much music, and that many different scenarios – it’s no mean feat!

I’ve always valued musical variety, so I appreciated situations where I’d be playing a matinee that consisted largely of acoustic blues and an evening show of disco music. Followed, the next day, by big band swing. And so on. It requires a lot of time, patience, and adherence to some very particular ground rules – but as I said, if you are okay with all of that, then subbing on shows can be very rewarding.

Having your own show, on the other hand, is a whole different matter. The challenge to that gig is to try to be as consistent as possible in your playing while still feeling enthused about your gig, your instrument, your time, your output. In my experience, this requires balance – musical and otherwise. I’ve found balance partly in outside, original music projects, and partly in trying to have a well-rounded life, trying to read and see movies and hear music and excercise and spend time with family and friends and generally engage with the world.

How do you find work as a musician?

Be visible. Be respectfully persistent – no one likes a nag, but you also can’t risk just being wall paper. Be excited and humble. As Joni Mitchell said, “Heart and humour and humility… will lighten up your heavy load.” Basic psychology – what you put out comes back – so put out good energy, enthusiasm, and sincerity.

What skills are necessary to be successful at your job (or jobs)?

For theater work – organization. Reading skills. Attention to detail. Thoroughness. Good nature. A good ear. Good hands. A sense of humor.

Finally, do you have any advice for younger musicians aspiring to be professionals?

Just to reiterate – follow your passion. There are ways to make money and there are ways to be creative. Ask yourself what role those two objectives will play in your life. Do you want to work in a wedding band? Play in Broadway pits? Write music for commercials? Play original music in a band?

Try to be as clear about your goals as possible – and then commit to it hugely. Don’t apologize for anything and don’t look back – just keep moving forward.


More about Alec:

Alec Berlin has released 2 albums of original rock music – 2007’s Beauty, Grazing at the Trough, and 2012’s Innocent Explanations, both available on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and His theater credits include Rent at New World Stages, Green Day’s American Idiot (at the Berkeley Repertory Theater and on Broadway), and Next To Normal at Second Stage. Subbing credits include: Lion King, Rent, Next To Normal, Billy Elliot, The Color Purple, Mamma Mia. He has performed with Green Day, Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, and James Taylor. He has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America, and the Tony Awards live from Radio City Music Hall. He appears on the Grammy-winning Soundtrack to Green Day’s American Idiot and A Colbert Christmas. Check out,, for performance information and music samples.

Why Are There Fewer Working Musicians in 2012 than 1999?

Every day I receive a few email newsletters, including the Digital Music News. As I sipped on a fresh cup of coffee this morning, one of their articles titled “Recording Sales Declines & Musician Employment, 1999 – 2011…” caught my attention. It was published on Saturday by DMN editor Paul Resnikoff. I enjoy Paul’s insight on the music industry. Digital Music News does a great job covering the changes in the music industry and I recommend all of you subscribe to their newsletter.

I was mostly interested in the article because of the “musician employment” part of the title–which is of course the primary topic of It’s also something DMN rarely discusses.

In this particular article, Paul writes:

There’s more music being created than ever before, but paradoxically, musicians are making less. Which means there are also fewer musicians and music professionals enjoying gainful employment, thanks to a deflated ecosystem once primed by major labels and marked-up CDs.

He also shares this graph overlaying statistics from the US Department of Labor and the RIAA.

The reddish orange bars represent the number of “musical groups and artists,” which is a classification used by the US Census Bureau. The white squares represent the amount of recorded music shipped, which basically means sold to retail stores (and includes digital sales even though nothing is actually shipping).

This graph is trying to draw a correlation between album sales and musician jobs, so it begs the question: Is the decline in album sales responsible for the decline in musician jobs?

I have a buddy that works for the US Department of Labor so I asked him for some help checking these employment statistics. I found that while there is a decline in the number of self-reported “musical groups and artists,” it is not as dramatic as this graph makes it appear. Paul wrote that there has been a 41% in paid musicians since 1999, but based on statistics I find from the Census Bureau, there has been a 15% decline. Perhaps there are other numbers in play? I’ve asked him about his source, so we shall see. For all intents and purposes, most people would agree that there has been a decline in jobs for musicians.

The decline in album sales has been well documented by the RIAA and through Nielsen Soundscan sales reports. I don’t think anyone will argue that there are far fewer albums being sold today than 10 years ago.

My wife is a professional researcher, so I asked her what a statistical analyst would think of this graph. She said it was a weak correlation, and suggested I look up this blog post about correlation and causation. Turns out statistical analysts have a sense of humor that is 63% better than expected. It also means that this data alone is not sufficient to explain a cause/effect scenario.

Now, I have no doubt that the decline in album sales has had a negative effect on musician employment as we’ve known it over the last 70 years. Dave Hahn once pointed out that the recorded music industry isn’t responsible for creating the career of “professional musician.” For hundreds of years before recordings, people worked as musicians, and it’s reasonable to believe that will be the case even if recordings are no longer worth money.

However, I don’t believe that we can simply blame the decline in album sales, and to do so would be short-sighted for the musician industry. Let’s look at the bigger picture. What other factors could cause a decline in musician jobs?

1) Recording Technology

Without a doubt, technology has always been one of the most consistent disrupters of industry. Printed sheet music, player pianos, the phonograph, synthesizer, and mp3 are all examples of technology that impacted the musician industry.

Dave and I recently had a conversation with a veteran NYC drummer. He compared the scene of 30 years ago to the scene today. NYC used to have thousands of recording studios and employ tens of thousands of musicians, many of whom made very good money. Back then, he explained, every note of music you heard anywhere had to be played by a musician. Commercials, albums, demos, jingles, soundtracks, and anything else that required music required musicians.

By comparison, these days I can cut a demo and pitch a commercial in my living room, on my computer, by myself. Anybody can do that today. The technology is relatively affordable, and sample packs and plugins can take the place of other musicians and expensive studio gear. It’s not necessarily better, it’s just possible.

Furthermore, how many musicians does it take to record a hit album these days? I looked up the top album on iTunes today, and then looked up the album credits. There are a bunch of producers and writers, but I could only find one guitarist credited. Another guy was credited with “strings.” The rest of the music? Probably assembled by the various producers.

I also looked up the credits for Rihanna’s latest album. She is one of the biggest stars today, so how many musicians does she use on her albums? Two, covering the guitar and bass. No drummer. Somebody has a credit for “instrumentation,” and there are also credits for fluids and good vibrations, hair stylist (two of those), vocal engineer, and many, many more production credits.

Compare either of these to Michael Jackson’s Thriller which employed dozens musicians in the studio during the early ’80s and had only one producer.

Recording technology has replaced the need for musicians the same way robotics have replaced people on assembly lines, but there will always be a demand for high end, hand crafted product.

2) DJs (and DJ technology)

I realize that this might make me sound like a crotchety old man, but hear me out. I have nothing against DJs, but it is a fact that where there were once bands full of musicians, there is now a guy behind a computer. If we’re lucky, he or she is actually using turntables.

DJs exist because there is a demand for them. They cost less and take up less space. People like to dance to the music. In fact, sometimes the music they play isn’t even recorded by real musicians, so why would you hire real musicians to perform what a DJ spins?

Regardless, I think we need to agree that DJs are a cheap competitor to working musicians from here on out, and technology will continue to make DJing possible for anybody with a laptop and decent taste in music.

3) Greed/The Economy

Just as technology allows you to do more in a recording studio with fewer musicians, you can do more in live performance. Backing tracks, or “sweetener tracks” are more common on pop tours. Broadway pits have gotten smaller and smaller over the years, partially due to pop/rock musicals written for smaller orchestras, but also due to the never ending battle between the producers and the musician’s union. Producers will make more money if a show uses pre-recorded music. Sometimes it just boils down to somebody wanting to make more money by downsizing the band.

Additionally, maybe people just don’t have the disposable income to spend on entertainment like they used to. This is especially true with younger people, who might go out more frequently. There are numerous economic factors that could come into play, but the point is, people choose to spend their hard earned money elsewhere.

4) People’s Choice

Has the evolving aesthetic of popular music cost musician jobs?

Bob Lefsetz keeps saying electronic music is the new rock’n’roll. There’s something to that. Not everybody wants to go to the local symphony, jazz club, or blues bar. Some people, just prefer music that doesn’t require any musicians.

Also, can the audience really tell the difference between pre-recorded music and a live band? Even if they could, do they care? Pop stars have been lip synching or using autotune live for decades, and for the most part their fans don’t seem to care. Will those same people ever appreciate a great live band in the same way? It’s difficult to speculate, but it’s very possible that the market for live music is smaller than it used to be.

What can musicians do?

I don’t believe the failing recording industry is entirely to blame for a decline in musician jobs. Did it have an impact? Absolutely. But so have these other factors.

To succeed as a musician, it’s very important that you pay attention to the state of our industry. It’s foolish to think that because you studied at an elite music school you’re entitled to make a ton of money as a studio musician, or that you can form a band, get signed to a label, and be set for life. Sure, it’s possible those things can happen, but the probability is much smaller today than it was before 1999.

Learn how to adapt. I can not stress that enough. The way you make a living today might be very different in two years. The studio musicians of 20 years ago that are still working today figured out how to adapt. Along with being a great musician, learn how to use the internet to your advantage to help you network and be easily available to people that can hire you.

Understand what is in your control, and what is not in your control (hint: You cannot stop technology, avoid greedy people, or change people’s taste in music). The biggest lesson we can learn from the recording industry and the digital music revolution is that you cannot fight change.

Learn from other musicians. Dave and I try to share as much of our knowledge as we can on this site, but we also interview others and look for guest bloggers to cover topics we cannot write about ourselves. Many times it’s just an excuse to pick the brain of musicians smarter than us!

Finally, be a champion for the working musician. Support the arts and arts education and help kids appreciate music. Take pride in your work. You don’t have to be in the union to advocate for musician jobs, all you have to do is support industries that support musicians.

Interview with Drummer Travis Whitmore

For this week’s installment of our working musician interview series, I spoke with drummer Travis Whitmore. Currently settled in Virginia, Travis thrives as a studio drummer through online collaboration, built upon his experience as a working drummer in Nashville.

MW: When did you start playing music, and when did you realize it was something you wanted to do professionally?

TW: I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by music at a very young age. Whether it was listening to mom play piano or just playing along to records, music has always been a big part of who I am.

According to my parents, my first drum kit was given to me at around 4 or 5 years old. I remember it was soon after high school in 1995 that I realized I wanted to give this music thing a go professionally.

A couple of years later, I packed up and moved to Nashville and spent 5 years there working in the music business. I worked at Pearl Drums Corporation, toured North America and tried picking up as many studio sessions and live gigs that I could.

Being completely submerged in the music business was certainly challenging at times. However, I was able to improve not only as a drummer, but through all of the experiences I learned what it meant to be a professional musician.

Drummer Travis WhitmoreDid you study music in school? How has that impacted your career?

In High School, I was part of basically anything music related that was offered. Then in Nashville, I studied music theory and music business. I also studied with other professional drummers in the area and took courses on studio techniques.

Of course, any type of study related to something you love is always beneficial. That said, whether on the road or in a session, the experiences and interactions with other musicians, producers and engineers was (and still is) the most beneficial form of education. To this day, I still work hard to incorporate all of the things that impacted me early on.

Briefly describe your career today. What kinds of work do you do to make a living?

I’m currently settled back in my hometown in Virginia and I have a home studio where I offer onsite recording projects and custom drum tracks via online collaboration. I have always been a huge fan of studio work and love the creative process that comes from the studio environment and recording process. Essentially, I built a home drum studio in my basement where I can still offer studio sessions.

The great thing about online collaboration is that I can offer my services to anyone in the world who may need real drum tracks on their songs or projects and don’t have the resources or time to set up and track a drum kit. In addition to studio work, I also play in a local horn driven funk band and offer drum lessons and a blog on the studio site with recording tips and musician resources.

How do you find work as a musician?

In regards to studio collaboration, the social resources available today has had a huge impact on finding work. On my studio site, I offer a blog with tips and resources for fellow musicians and drummers. As a result, I have clients finding my services through not only the blog but other social resources such as Facebook and Twitter.

Aside from the online activity, I find work by simply working with other musicians, going to live shows, meeting like-minded musicians and just being available for anything that comes my way. Word of mouth has also been an important aspect of finding work.

What skills are necessary to be successful at your job (or jobs)?

First and foremost, I believe that consistent practice in your instrument is key, no matter your expertise. As a drummer, I am always striving to be better and am always mindful of finding quality time to practice.

Whether live or in the studio, a few key skills that are vital to be successful are:

  • Pro Tools (or your DAW of choice)
  • Microphone placement
  • Recording techniques
  • Playing along to a click track

Other skills that are often overlooked is:

  • Listening to the other musicians in the band
  • Playing what’s right for the song
  • Showing up on time to the gig
  • Doing your homework on the songs to be played or recorded

Finally, do you have any advice for younger musicians aspiring to be professionals?

There are a couple of major lessons that I learned early on that I continue to be mindful of to this day. As I stated above, make sure you find ample time to practice your instrument. Whether you are a beginner or expert, practicing will keep you sharp and on your toes.

Second, be careful to not spend all of your time with your own kind. In other words, if you are always spending your time meeting and hanging out with fellow drummers, you most likely won’t get a gig. Instead, thing of ways to meet and get to know other musicians (Keyboard players, singers, bass players). These are individuals that will call you the next time they need a drummer.

And last but not least – have a great attitude! Probably the most important lesson of all. It doesn’t matter how many chops you have, if you’re showing up to a show with a bad attitude or a negative demeanor, it will eventually cost you. On the other hand, showing up on time, doing your homework and having a positive attitude will keep those gigs coming and your reputation as a professional will spread like wildfire.


More about Travis:

Travis Whitmore is an experienced session and touring drummer/percussionist. Having worked as a Nashville session drummer, Travis has either played on the same stage or recorded with a variety of world-renown musicians and recording artists. Whether he’s playing a shaker, hand drums or a full drum kit, his main goal is to always serve the song. Based in Virginia and working out of his own SilverLake Studio, Travis offers recording services and custom drum tracks via online collaboration. Travis is also passport ready and available for live shows, studio sessions and lessons.

My Ever-Changing Career as a Musician

When I was in college, I held several part time jobs to make ends meet. One of those part time jobs was playing guitar at a few restaurants every month. Nothing glamorous, but I was happy to be playing guitar. I started keeping track of how much money I made on those gigs to see if I could justify quitting one of the other part time jobs.

It turns out keeping a detailed list of my music income has served me well over the last 10 years. I was eventually able to justify quitting all of my day jobs and become a full time musician, and since being a full time musician, I’m able to keep a finger on the pulse of my various streams of musician income. Just as a shop owner keeps track of her inventory and carries whatever products are in demand, I’ve been able to assess and adjust my inventory of music jobs that keep me in business.

Over the last 10 years the way I make a living has changed dramatically. I’ve never made a lot of money, but I’ve been able to make more each year despite the changes in the music industry and economy in general. Here’s my method and what I’ve learned along the way.

Multiple Streams of Income

One thing I learned early on was to diversify my income. If one stream hits a drought, you can lean on the others to get by. Here’s how I categorize my income:

  1. Non-Union Gigs
  2. Union Gigs
  3. Recorded Music Sales/Streams
  4. Royalties
  5. Miscellaneous

Anything that pays me to be playing guitar falls under one of the gig categories. Performances, rehearsals, recording sessions, etc. Additionally, I separate my gigs between non-union and union, mainly because my accountant tells me to (taxes are withheld from my union paychecks), but it also gives me a good understanding of where I make more money. Currently, that’d be non-union gigs.

My recorded music income is essentially anything I make from my distributor: CD and download sales, streams, ringtones and whatever other formats exist today.

Royalty income is earned through BMI. There are other avenues to earn royalties, but for now, I’m only earning money through BMI. This income is also reported in a separate space on my tax return, so I keep strict records for my accountant.

The miscellaneous category covers a lot of ground, but none of it is significant or regular enough to warrant tracking under it’s own category. Some of this income includes:

  • Licensing
  • Commissions
  • Teaching lessons/masterclasses/clinics
  • Revenue from websites (MusicianWages and my own)
  • Transcriptions/charts
  • Arranging/orchestrating
  • Backend earnings that don’t qualify as royalties

Broad Categories for Musician Income

Dave Hahn and I have often discussed musician income in two broad categories: Active/Passive and Yours/Others. Naturally, I think of my earnings in this way as well.

Active Income / Passive Income

Active Income, also known as Earned Income, is a finite amount of money paid for specific time or services. Everything under the Gig categories and about half of the jobs under Miscellaneous count as Active Income. Every month I try to make sure there are enough jobs that create Active Income to at least cover my expenses.

Passive Income is the money I make from my recorded music, royalties, website revenue, and various other backend percentage agreements. I usually have an idea of about how much Passive Income I’ll earn each month, but experience tells me that you can’t count on the check arriving before rent is due. Nonetheless, this money is vital in rounding out my income, especially when there are holes in my calendar for Active Income jobs.

Your Music / Other People’s Music

This broad category is pretty easy to understand:

Your Music is basically anything you create as an artist or songwriter. If you have your own original band and play shows and sell CDs, then you’re making money from your own music.

Everything else is Other People’s Music. If you work as a sideman, play in a cover band, in a church, in musical theatre, teach, or any other type of musician job we’ve ever discussed on this site that you can’t call your own music, then you’re making money from other people’s music.

How My Streams of Income Have Changed

Creating Passive Income with my Original Music

In 2007 I was working a full time job at a major record label, a job I’d somewhat fallen into through temp work a couple years earlier. Meanwhile I was playing a few times a month with my own jazz trio, performing mostly original music from an album I’d independently released earlier in the year.

The day job helped me cover rent and bills, which freed up most of my music income to be reinvested. In other words, I could use my music income for things like paying my band, saving up to make a new album, or buying new gear–all things I felt would have long term benefits to my career as a musician. I was my own patron, supporting myself as my art developed.

At this time, most of my music income came from music sales, and most of that was through iTunes. You see, for a brief period of time I figured out a way to use iMixes in the iTunes Store to help people discover my music. I started making enough money that in early 2008 I quit my day job and took a pay cut to become a full time musician.

Because I was making most of my money as passive income with my own music, the logical thing to do was create more content–or write and record more music. In 2008 and 2009 I wrote and recorded a new album for my trio while also creating several DIY albums with friends under various monikers. I figured each recording was a new asset that could potentially earn more passive income down the road. And for a time it did.

By the end of 2009, however, it was clear that the decline in music sales that had been decimating record stores since 2001 was finally catching up to the small, independent artist and DIY scene that had gained some footing a few years earlier. Despite having three times as many albums (for a total of nine) available on iTunes and other online stores, my distributor was paying me a quarter of what I had been making on average the year before. It’s even less today, and unless I wanted to get a day job again, I needed to beef up my other streams of income.

Generating Active Income with Other People’s Music

Having worked for a record label, I knew that a decline in my record sales was inevitable. Once I quit my day job, I had a lot more time to start playing with other people. I began networking with other musicians and gradually started playing as a sideman.

Playing other people’s music is a much different gig than playing your own music.

When you write and perform your own music, it’s easy to cater to your strengths. When your job is to play other people’s music, you really can’t have any weaknesses.

To become a well rounded guitarist, I started transcribing players from all genres, especially genres in which I had less experience, like country. Gradually I felt confident copping the styles of many major guitarists. You never know when the person hiring you will ask for a David Gilmour lick in one song and a Vince Gill lick in another. You don’t have to play like every guitarist all the time, but you have to convincingly play like any guitarist some of the time.

I also had to think about earning active income, which meant playing a lot more gigs. One of my goals was to play 100 shows in a year, and doing whatever was necessary to make that happen.

In New York City, original bands play about once a month locally, more if they tour. Cover bands might play once or twice a week. Broadway and Off-Broadway shows run 8 times a week, and as a sub you can usually count on at least a few gigs a month. In order to reach 100 shows, it was clear I needed to play a lot of different gigs as a sideman.

This was a lot easier to do without a day job. Learning music can be a full time job in itself, and for every band you play with you can expect at least one rehearsal each month. Networking also takes time. I spent many late nights going to friends shows trying to meet other musicians.

Eventually I began playing with singer/songwriters, rock bands, pop singers, a bluegrass band, jazz vocalists, and occasionally playing private events and club dates. At first I didn’t ask for much money, but as I got busier it was easier to value my time. I found that if a gig wasn’t paying much, and especially if I wasn’t that into the music, it was best to walk away amicably because a better gig was always around the corner.

In 2012 I’m on pace to play about 125 shows. The active income I’ll earn from playing other people’s music this year will more than make up for passive income I’ve stopped earning with my own music.

Nurturing the Odd Jobs

Along with playing and recording, there are many types of musician jobs to supplement your income. These jobs help round out your days and can often get you through sales droughts and slow months for gigs.

The first job that comes to mind is teaching private lessons. Now, for many musicians, this is actually their main gig. I enjoy teaching motivated students, but for the most part I never have more than a couple weekly students at a time. Most of the time I’ll teach a few lessons to intermediate to advanced level students that want to work on something very specific. I’ve attracted many of my students by posting semi-regular free guitar lessons on my website. Currently I have one Skype student and one local student.

Other services I offer include recording demo tracks for songwriters, writing easy to read charts for bands, and arranging horn or string parts. These are all active income jobs.

Although recorded music sales are dwindling, there is still money to be made from recordings. Licensing your music is an incredibly viable way to keep some passive income flowing. I’ve delivered most of my music to various music libraries and fostered relationships with people in music supervision. The music I’ve recorded so far has been licensed more and more frequently, and I’m also earning quarterly royalty checks through BMI. The big money, however, is in exclusive custom jobs, and I’ve submitted several demos for commercials. I haven’t landed anything yet, but eventually I will.

I also earn some money through my websites. was created as a passion, but Dave and I have built it up to a point where we can make a little bit of money each month.

Looking Ahead

There are limitations to the work I’m doing now, and I’m constantly thinking of solutions.

There’s only one Friday and Saturday night a week, and as I get busier I get more calls to play those nights. Eventually some of those bands are going to have to replace me with somebody that’s more available. The only way to make more money is to land gigs that pay more. These gigs are higher pressure and have more competition, so I try to play all of my current gigs as perfectly as possible. You never know who’s listening. I sometimes tell people who ask me about my career that I’m no rockstar, but if a rockstar called and needed me for a tour, I could get the job done.

Another option is to find gigs earlier in the week. Most of these gigs pay less, with the notable exceptions of tours and Broadway gigs. This year I started subbing on a couple shows off Broadway, including the revival of Rent, and I believe I’m well equipped to play more of these highly competitive gigs.

I also see the importance of writing music. All kinds of music. Publishing is still a viable source of income for musicians, and if you have a writer credit on a few successful songs, you can make decent money. I try to write something every day–even if it’s just four bars of melody–and am always open to collaborate with other musicians.

And finally, I’d like to keep developing my own music and create art for the sake of art. After all, that’s the reason I started playing music in the first place!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the music industry, it’s that these days nothing stays the same for long. Multiple streams of income makes it easier to adapt. Owning the rights to my albums means I can exploit them however I see fit in the future. Playing a lot of gigs with a lot of different bands prepares me for bigger, higher paying gigs. If any of these miscellaneous jobs turn into a bigger gig, I’ll be prepared for that, too. I can’t control when opportunity will knock, but I know I’ll be ready.

Interview with Freelance Musician Tony Maceli

At Musician Wages, we’ve always believed there are as many ways to be a freelance musician as there are freelance musicians. Every musician we’ve talked to has their own combination of jobs that, combined, make up their career. We’d like to share the experiences and advice of more working musicians on our site through a series of interviews. Each musician will be asked the same questions, but their answers will reflect their unique career.

Our first interview is with New York bassist (and multi-instrumentalist) Tony Maceli. You can often find Tony playing or hanging out in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, an area known for it’s music scene.

MW: When did you start playing music, and when did you realize it was something you wanted to do professionally?

TM: I started playing trumpet when I was 10 years old. I loved it right away. My band director featured me in a piece in the spring concert and I told my parents, “I want to be a musician!” To which they answered, “That’s nice.” I knew right away I wanted music and it’s been with me ever since.

From there, I picked up the electric bass at 15 years old, but never really got serious with it till later. I played in different rock bands and used the bass as a tool to meet girls–even the least coolest kid has a chance playing in a band. Trumpet was my bag for my early years, though.

Tony MaceliDid you study music in school? How has that impacted your career?

I went to the Crane School of Music for my undergraduate degree in music education with a concentration in trumpet performance. After I graduated, I taught for a few years to save some money.

It was at 25 years old that I bought an upright bass and really began my bass playing career. I took a few lessons with Cecil McBee and went off to pursue my Masters of Music at Indiana University in jazz studies. Once I finished at IU, I came to NYC and have been here ever since, finishing a doctorate in music education at Teachers College Columbia University.

Studying music is a lifelong endeavor, one you can hone in college, or by practicing and learning on the scene via the school of Hard Knocks. Sometimes I look back and wonder whether or not I should have saved the money I spent on my education and come straight to New York to learn from the school of hard knocks, instead of taking the over-educated route.

For me, balance has been the key. At times, when I feel like getting out of the music rat race, I know I have other options, so I can investigate my options and not feel trapped. Ultimately, my music career prevails, but it helps knowing that I can try other things and am making the choice to live the life I am living.

Briefly describe your career today. What kinds of work do you do to make a living?

Cellist Dave Eggar (someone everyone should know about and can learn a lot from) once told me that your music career is a portfolio. I think that’s the best description for what my career looks like.

I’ve performed on broadway (as a sub), in the studio, orchestras, club dates, cover gigs, indie band gigs, tours or anything I’ve been called for. I’ve played on electric bass, upright bass, electric guitar, trumpet, keyboards, and even banjo for a gig. Also, I’ve done several arrangements, be it big band, string or wind parts for a studio record, or something simple for a rock band. I’ve been a musical director for benefits, rock bands/ensembles, and large productions. I’ve even been on the road playing bass, tour managing, and driving (sometimes all at once).

Lately, I’ve been really learning Pro Tools and Logic and getting into the production end of things. I’ve submitted music for commercials (nothing’s stuck yet, but I’m trying to get my foot in the door, just like everyone else), and been working with artists to produce records. I’m always looking for new ways to broaden my portfolio.

Any one of these skills, by themselves would not be enough to sustain my living, but put together, it fits who I am and how I like to go about my business.

How do you find work as a musician?

Generally speaking, finding work is all about the hang.

I was a school teacher for 15 years before I really became a musician (I was 36 when I quit my job). I didn’t realize that finding work as a musician was a full time job and I was trying to do it part time.

Once I quit my job, I realized that I didn’t know anyone, so I ended up going out every night to meet people. Money was an issue, so I had to get to know the bouncers at clubs that charged a cove or go to places that didn’t charge a cover. From there, I’d start noticing a lot of the same musicians playing most of these gigs. I got to know these folks and eventually, someone recommended me to play a gig. I did my best (which probably wasn’t great) and they called me back because I was a nice guy and had the right attitude. The gig didn’t pay much (maybe $75 for a gig and a rehearsal) and I went from there.

Without a doubt, the amount I hang is directly correlated to how much work I get. Go support good music and you’ll eventually get asked to play. Don’t be pushy or a professional hand shaker. Hang loose, keep supporting and you’ll eventually get a shot.

Also, people talk a lot about your network and I think that’s a key. It’s simple math. If you know 3 bands/songwriters that you play with and they all play once a month, you have 3 gigs a month. That’s not going to cut it. If you know 30 folks and they play once a month, that’s roughly one gig a night. That’s if you’re everyone’s first call.

That’s why it’s best to know thousands of folks. That math always works in your favor. Finished playing a gig, you’re part of the hang, stick around. Not working that night, go out and support your colleagues. It can feel overwhelming, but start small and eventually you’ll meet more and more folks. Be patient and know it takes time.

What skills are necessary to be successful at your job (or jobs)?

This is different for everyone. Figure out what you love to do and make that your focus.

For me, I like being completely ADHD and doing as many things as possible. I make sure I’m completely focused on the project at hand and do my best to nail it. If I have a pop gig that requires bowing on the upright, I’m all about practicing my classical chops. If I have a gig that’s a jazz gig, I do my best to play standards that week, and so forth. There are friends of mine that just love playing jazz and that’s all they do with a focus and purpose and that’s cool too. That’s for the music.

I know this might sound like common sense, but don’t be late, and know the material (memorized-avoid charts). If you don’t do this 100 other people will. Think of that bumper sticker, “Don’t be a Dick” – stick to that.

I imagine this post is for folks that are not established, so I recommend memorizing music and being on time, always. If someone like Will Lee or Mike Visceglia are reading this, then it doesn’t matter for them. They’ve been around and are completely established and can do what they want because they are in demand. I would venture to say, however, those guys still come on time and super prepared (just a hunch- that’s why they work a lot).

For me, I make a living, but don’t feel that I am established enough to be slacking off – we’re only on this planet for a short time, make it count, no matter what you’re doing.

Finally, do you have any advice for younger musicians aspiring to be professionals?

First, try not to get involved in a situation asking what you are going to get out of it. Ask instead what you are going to give to it. Sometimes, you are needed to be an audience member. Sometimes it’s to be a guitarist. Other times a background vocalist, and the list goes on. Figure out what you are contributing and people will feed off that positive energy.

Second, think of being a musician as opening a business. That’s what you are – a one person business.

I think of it like a coffee shop (who doesn’t love coffee?). Let’s say I can make the best coffee and only do coffee, but is that enough? Is my coffee that good? Do I need the cup holders that make sure my customers don’t burn their hands when holding a hot cup of joe? How about pastries? Do I want to sell music in my coffee shop like starbucks? etc, etc, etc.

You play an instrument – that’s obviously the coffee. How much do you charge for coffee? The price changes by the pound (gig), you offer other frills such as pastries (background vocals), cup holders (instrument doubling), and the list goes on. Make conscious decisions about what you want to be so you have a focus.

This is how you create your brand. I know this part is so unmusical and it kinda is something I’m terrible at, but I acknowledge it’s existence and my shortcomings in it. At present, I choose my brand to be unfocused because I’m kinda all over the place. I realize that limits the type of work I can get, but for now it makes me happy. When it’s time for a change, I’ll change.

Third, try to divide your day up so that you can hit what you need to hit. I don’t write this down everyday, but I have an idea of what I’m going to do. Maybe something like this:

  • 11am-12pm – Internet time/coffee/breakfast
  • 12pm-1pm – Upright warmup/bowing exercises
  • 1pm-3pm – Learn tunes for Friday gig
  • 3pm-3:30pm – walk around park
  • 3:30pm-6:30pm – rehearsal for friday gig
  • 6:30-7pm – Dinner
  • 7pm-9pm – Rockwood Music Hall to watch two shows
  • 10pm – 12am – Living Room for a show
  • 12am – 2:00am – Back to Rockwood for late hang

Fourth, be in it for the long haul. If you have the proverbial, “If I don’t make it by the time I’m (a certain age),” attitude, don’t bother trying to be a musician. A musical career takes years to establish. Being short sighted will come across and no one will want to play with you. They’ll see the stars in your eyes and run the other way. Besides, if you wake up in the morning and your job is to make music, and that’s all you do, you’ve made it. Regardless of how much money you make.

Finally, for anyone new to New York, I have a musician hang/community night once a month at Rockwood Music Hall. It’s called Full Vinyl ( The night is populated by performing songwriters and working musicians in New York City. It’s like our office holiday party once a month. We pick a theme (i.e. – Stevie Wonder night, 80’s Movie Music themes) and everyone performs a song relating to the theme. No rehearsal, just throw down and know your part. I try to involve everyone in the night in some way, shape or form, but can’t get everyone in due to limited slots. It’s a great place to meet folks and support the music community. I try my best to help connect folks, so stop by.

Thanks for reading and I wish anyone pursuing a career in music the best.


Tony Maceli has performed with many artists including Dave Egger, Jenny Own Youngs, Elizabeth and the Catapult, Elizaveta, Ian Axel, Bob Kinkel, Vienna Teng, and many more. He has also subbed on Broadway shows, including the original production of Rent. Connect with Tony at the next Full Vinyl show at Rockwood.