In November of 2008 I moved to New York City. I’d been working in local, regional theatre and tours for over ten years and I was determined to get a job playing keyboards on Broadway. This is part 5 of a 5-part series.

For the full story, visit the series home page:

How I Became a Broadway Musician

The final chapter in this story is different than the others.

In Parts 1-4 I was able to pinpoint specific actions, conversations and opportunities that helped me advance my career.

I spent years building my experience and my resume on tours and regional theaters. I moved to New York. I was able to meet other keyboard players through email and coffee meetings. I connected with other music directors online through social networking websites, email lists and blog posts. I took every gig seriously and did my best to establish a good reputation.

At every dead end or roadblock I’d try to uncover what “the next step” was for my career and then I’d find a way to execute it.

Yet, after I’d been in New York for a couple years I mostly stopped all of the things I came up with in Parts 1-4. Eventually I stopped keeping up with my spreadsheet of current Broadway keyboard players and I stopped writing my introductory emails. I stopped posting as many articles about Broadway and music directing (and for awhile – about anything) here on MusicianWages.com.

There were 3 reasons for this:

  1. I made a lot of great friends. Somewhere between emailing strangers for advice and tweeting my thoughts on Forever Plaid vocal arrangements I made some very genuine relationships with colleagues in my field. I mean, it’s not surprising that a lot of the MDs I met were a lot like me, right? Everyone came from different backgrounds, but we were all doing the same thing.

    We’d all go out for drinks, or a show, or whatever. We’d talk about anything…home, people, gossip. You know – friend stuff. I didn’t really need to email strangers anymore. I was friends with people that were playing on Broadway.

    It was fun – and easy, in the end – to meet so many people with the same interests as I had. It was cool to be a part of a community.

  2. I had enough work. Eventually – in spurts – I would suddenly have more work than I could handle. I went to LA to program the synths on a new musical, I arranged parts for a concert at Town Hall, I was the assistant music director for a major reading. I finally wasn’t totally broke all the time. (What a relief.)

    There were still dry patches when no work would come in (November thru January seems to always to be a slow time here in New York if you don’t land a holiday gig), but it wasn’t like that first winter spent on unemployment checks.

In hindsight – I guess I’d broken into the scene, right? That’s what it feels like. Suddenly I was just inside of it – playing piano for auditions and classes, music directing projects here and there, going out for drinks with my friends.

I’d say it was mid-2010 when I’d started to be part of the scene. Part of me is glad that it was so difficult, and it took me so long, to get to this point. It taught me to really appreciate every opportunity that came my way.

Jeff

The third reason things changed for me is a guy named Jeff.

Let’s go back for a minute. I met Jeff in 2008. At the time he was the Associate Conductor for a new show on Broadway and I’d written him in the first wave of emails I sent out in Part 3. Jeff wrote me back a really encouraging email with a lot of great advice in it. Later we met for a quick dinner before his show.

From day one Jeff was an incredible help to me. He recommended me for work with important people, he hired me for side projects and, essentially, opened the door for me to the Broadway world and mentored me as I walked in.

And very soon we were friends, too. We went out to dinner with our girlfriends. I played piano at his wedding when they got married. I found (nearly) every one of his jokes to be (nearly) funny. (I kid, I kid!)

We had a lot of similar interests in keyboards, technology and theater. So when Jeff had a project come in that he couldn’t take, he would send me as his sub.

And the gigs Jeff got calls for were incredible! Cirque du Soleil flew me to Japan for a week just to meet me on Jeff’s recommendation. Remember that synth programming gig in LA that I mentioned? Jeff. The major reading I was the assistant music director for? Jeff recommended me.

And the night I first played on Broadway? Jeff again.

Now if you ask him, he’ll tell you that he never gave me anything I didn’t deserve and he didn’t do me any favors. He’s a nice guy like that.

But you’ve read this whole story – right? I mean, you can see what a difference my buddy Jeff made on my career. It is immeasurable.

Playing on Broadway

Ok, so it’s early 2011 and Jeff is going to be the the Associate Conductor to a new Broadway show. (Because the only pants he wears are fancy pants, duh.) He asks me if I’ll be one of his 4 subs.

He gave me the K2 book in February to start learning.

I was excited – of course. I worked on the book until everything sat just right in my fingers. I went in before shows to practice on the rig. I listened to recordings of the show on the subway.

As you can imagine, I didn’t want to screw this up.

So one day in March, a few weeks after the show opened, Jeff called. The conductor needed to take a sick day. Jeff’s was going to conduct the show and they needed me to play K2.

I put on black clothes and I left for the theater.

Conclusion

Getting a musician job on Broadway isn’t impossible. For that matter, getting any gig you want isn’t impossible – making a living as a musician isn’t impossible – and don’t believe anyone that tells you otherwise.

So if you there’s a gig out there that you really want – start working towards it. Identify the roadblocks in your way and find a way around them. If it takes 8 years or it takes 20 years – who cares? Do you want the gig or not?

If there’s anything to take away from this story, it’s this:

  • Community is everything – find your community and do your part to help it grow. Make friends with like-minded colleagues and help people when you can. If you can’t find a community – make one yourself.
  • Find a survival job that works for you – I once put together this list of best and worst day jobs for musicians. See what you think. Find something that doesn’t interfere with your music career – until that day when you don’t need a day job anymore.
  • Use the internet – I used social networks, blogging, email and countless other online tools to help me find my community and get the gig that I wanted.
  • You need help – It was the help of friends like Jeff, Michael, Ryan and others that allowed me to achieve my goal. Did I mention community is important?
  • Use your strengths – Blogging and writing doesn’t have anything to do with playing keyboards, but it’s something I could do – so I tried to find a way to use it to my advantage.

The End

Thanks so much for reading this story. I hope it helps someone out there. Please leave a comment below with your thoughts – every comment is emailed right to me and I read every one. I always look forward to hearing from readers.

Also, check out the resources page for this series that also posted today. There are a lot of resources on that page for both aspiring and veteran Broadway musicians.

Thanks again for reading – and please use the social network links below to share these articles with your friends and please consider subscribing to the site through email or RSS.

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74 Responses to Part 5: Playing the Part

  1. JAW says:

    Thanks Dave for an enjoyable distraction this week! I followed your story with interest, I found it well written. Well co-ordinated too, in the pacing, starting on a Mon and finishing on a Friday. I can see you planned this adventure story with the same level of attention to detail you espoused in its words :)

    Although I don’t have the same level of aspiration as you had, we all have our own gig that we are after, and I took away some renewed energy and ideas from having read this.

    Thanks again!
    JAW

    • Thanks JAW! I’ve been wanting to write this piece for a number of years now, but of course I didn’t feel like I could discuss it with any real authority until I successfully achieved the goal. I felt like that once I’d done it, though, this info would be valuable to other musicians.

      The idea for breaking it up came first – and, actually, having the 5-day frame helped me organized my thoughts.

      Glad you liked it – thank you for reading!

  2. Cheers, congrats, and thanks for sharing!

  3. Michael W says:

    Dave,

    I loved this series of articles, as I love your website. It is inspiring for myself as a young bassist from Vancouver who is unsure of where my career will lead me.

    One year out of school I’m currently doing a ship gig and as I approach the end of the contract I am trying to figure out the next step for me. The methodical approach you took in breaking into the scene is really relevant to what I will be looking into in the coming years.

    I really appreciate the time and energy you put into this site and look forward to future material.

    Michael

    • Yeah man, you sound a lot like me. If you have any questions along the way, try our forums, ok? Cam and I and other freelancers are often in there participating in the discussions. We’re happy to help if you need it.

  4. Toni Melton says:

    I have really enjoyed this entire series. You and Cam do such a great job with this Web site, I really enjoy and can relate to the posts. I’m a singer/songwriter working full time at a record company…so the part about best/worst day jobs hits really close to home for me as well.

    Thanks for sharing! You are inspirational.

    • Toni, thanks so much. I’m glad you like the site so much. Inspirational! How about that. That’s really nice of you to say.

      As I’m sure you know, Cam spent a lot of years working at a label until he was able to go full-time as a musician – which was a little before we started this site.

      For anybody that doesn’t know this story, check out this article:

      What I Learned at my Record Label Job

      Good stuff in there.

      Toni – have you see this article? Our friend Lauren was working at a label too and wrote this around the time she left to pursue her songwriting career:

      Eff It…Quiting Your Job to Pursue Your Passion

      That’s from way back in the archives. One of our first articles.

      • Toni Melton says:

        I will definitely check those out. Thanks for responding, I didn’t realize you did until just now (I guess I didn’t click the check box).

        I’m familar with, and a fan of, Lauren Zettler, that’s actually how I found out about this site.

        • Very cool! Lauren is great. And the sound Cam was able to get for the “On Your Back Porch” recordings is really impressive. (You should have seen the gear he was using! I still give him a hard time about it!)

  5. Josh DiStefano says:

    Dave,

    This was an amazing series! Thank you for sharing and de-mistifing the journey to one of the most coveted gigs out there.

    Josh

  6. Adam says:

    David,

    Not much to say except good job and I feel like I learned a lot from just reading these!

    -Adam

  7. Nick says:

    Hey Dave,

    Truly a great article. I’d say one of your best. This last episode is probably the most important, as it tied all five together, and the most important lessons were summed up in this one.

    One suggestion I’d give to other musicians that you didn’t outright say here is this: Every musician looking for work needs to find a “Jeff” for themselves. While going out to meet musicians, I met one of the bandleaders who plays for the mouse, and now I rent a small place from him. I also am now on that sub list. He is always helping me out, making phone calls and even jamming with me before he goes in to his gig. He’s making sure I can afford the rent every month!

    Anyway man, keep up the killin blogging, and perhaps one day we’ll be playing on a gig together.

    Nick

    • Hey Nick – thanks for your comment. I completely agree – everyone needs to find a mentor. I know I’ve had several in my life.

      And that also means that as we get older we need to be open to mentoring younger musicians when we can.

  8. Jim Snedeker says:

    David–the question is begging: which show are you doing?

    • Right! 9,000 words and I never once say the actual gig I’m playing. Probably frustrating.

      There are several reasons I didn’t include the name of the gig.

      I’m reluctant to post the name, much like I never named the ship I worked on in the cruise ship blog. I don’t want to attract the attention of producers or fans and accidentally pose as a de facto spokesman for the gig.

      (It’s funny, really. When I was starting off as a musician I had to personally promote every gig myself. Now I need to be careful that I don’t say too much.)

      Another reason is that actually naming the gig feels like bragging to me. There’s a fine line between talking about how I achieved a goal and bragging about how successful I am. If I use too many specifics it ends up being all about me. This story should ultimately be about the reader.

      And lastly, I wanted to frame this story as something that anyone could do. I wanted to try and strip away the specifics and try to present just those elements that I think other people could use in their own lives.

      That said, if you check out my resume on my personal site, all of my credits are named. It’s not a secret or anything, it’s just that I don’t want to include it alongside this material.

      • Jim Snedeker says:

        David,

        I think you were wise to not include the name of the show. It make it sound like that was the show you were destined to do, but that is not the point of your story. It could have been any show. Your point was the journey, not the specific destination.

  9. brian says:

    Awesome series! Loved the daily posting. Every night I would remember with excitement “oh yeah, Dave’s got a new post up”!

    Have you written about this synth project? What was that all about? (synth nerd over here in LA wants to know).

    • Hi Brian! Always good to get a comment from you. I’m glad you liked the series. I hope you can use some of this stuff to build a great career out in LA!

      Check out my resume – it’s on my personal site. I name all the credits there. And send me an email, I’ll tell you a about it!

  10. Andrea Heiniger says:

    Dave!!

    I enjoyed reading about your journey! I feel like I’ve known you forever and I am SO happy for you and all your success! You deserve every bit of it!!

  11. Robby Webb says:

    Great Series David! I am currently a college student studying music in Philly, drums to be specific, and I just started reading this site last month. So many of the articles have helped me figure out the next step in finding specific gigs. I came across the site while looking for more information on Cruise Ship gigs, and the wealth of information here is truly tremendous. It has always been a dream of mine to play on Broadway, and this series has really given me some invaluable information.

    Thanks So Much

    • Robby – I’m so glad to hear it. If you have any questions along the way, please feel free to post them in our forums. A lot of us hang out there and we are happy to help.

  12. Laila says:

    Hey David,
    Thank you for your wonderful blogging. Your story is inspiring and your advice is timely for me. Thank you. L

  13. glenn humphreys says:

    Hi david, this is a grand site… glad i’ve come across it.. you and cameron write great articles.. im not really interested in theatre, i won’t pretend, but your story had me gripped… find myself reading more articles on here .. thanks

  14. caycew says:

    I am so glad there’s information like this out there. Thanks for writing this!

    I’m currently about to start my third year as a piano major – I’ve played piano/keyboard for shows in high school and college, and I love it. It’s scary to think about trying to get a job after graduating, but articles like this are helpful and reassuring.

    I’d love to work on a Broadway tour, or even on Broadway someday, so hopefully I’ll be able to use this info to my advantage. Again, thanks for this site!

  15. Hi,

    I thought your series was very interesting and inspirational. Your story reminds me of my myself. I just graduated from college with my masters in clarinet. It left me feeling very discouraged and unsure of what I wanted to do. I now have moved back in my parents house and I am beginning to get my confidence back in myself. I decided that I wanted to play in shows in either Broadway or Las Vegas. I am realizing that I must learn every woodwind instrument and gain experience in playing more than just classical music in order to do this. So I bought a flute and a sax and I joined a local Jazz band and sent my resume to many stores for teaching lessons. When I feel I have sufficient experience on these new instruments I really want to work on a cruise ship to start my professional career. I know I can’t live in Florida very long because there are very few jobs here and I can’t find any at the moment, especially in the summer. I am also debating on whether I should join the musicians union. From what you were saying I think it might be a good idea. Finding your post came at the right time for me. I now am confident that I am going in the right path for my career. Thank you for taking the time for sharing your career with other musicians like me.

    Best Regards,
    Christina

    • Nick Rosaci says:

      Hi Christina,

      What college did you go to? This is where I always thought that the music college deal failed. Getting a MM in clarinet performance means you’re probably very good on clarinet. Where college messed up, is while they prepared you to be an able clarinetist, they did not teach you how to survive as a musician. Though, I’m sure the majority of majors at the college level do the same thing. When I went to college, I started learning bass on the side, much to the disapproval of some of my teachers. They did not like people learning more than one instrument it seemed. Then, about a year and a half before graduation, we got a new bass professor, who required me to get very proficient on electric bass. Even though my primary instruments were brass, I was very lucky to make such a blind decision to play bass, and then have a teacher who was knowledgeable enough to know electric bass was a skill I would need to know. Bass has made so much more money than trombone (or euphonium) ever would have.

      Even though it seems like I’m being negative, I’m actually saying it’s a very good thing you’re learning to play the standard doubles for your instrument. It’s stuff like that you don’t learn about until you graduate, unfortunately. Keep it up, and good luck on making a living as a performer! And don’t stop auditioning for local orchestras on clarinet while you’re at it.

      I’m from Orlando, myself. Where are you from?

      • Hi Nick,

        I went to school at The University of Florida and Grad School at Carnegie Mellon University. Learning another instrument was frowned upon at both colleges. Yes, I learned to be a very good Clarinetist, but so are hundreds of others competing for the few orchestra positions. How do I set myself apart from others in blind auditions?

        After some soul searching, I realized that I went into music because I love to play and perform. There has to be more satisfying work out there for me other than going from one blind audition to another.

        While getting my degree, I wanted to take classes in orchestration, but was turned down because it was only for composition majors. This for me was very frustrating, as I have a knack for it and have even made a bit of money at it. I thought that it might be a good source of income on my road to becoming a professional musician.

        I wish I had thought about doubling earlier so I would be further ahead. But, now I think I am on the right track.

        I am from Tampa. Where did you go to school and what are you doing now?

        • Nick Rosaci says:

          There is no real “trick” to auditioning. It’s as much blind luck as it is skill. Since I only really took classical euphonium seriously, I’ve only done a handful of classical auditions (President’s Own, Pershing’s Own, Orlando Phil on bass and trombone [but my skill on those instruments was never for classical]). I have friends that are going through the audition processes like you, and it’s just like sales; that is, it’s all about numbers than anything else.

          Jay Friedman, principal trombonist of CSO, has some incredible articles on auditioning, and how they should be approached, practicing for them, etc. I would say probably about 5% of the time are they aimed purely at trombonists. Read some at http://www.jayfriedman.net/articles.

          This site is great for finding ideas on how to make money as a musician. Keep following it.

          Yeah, you will run into issues like that when wanting to do classes the school frowns on. When I was studying euphonium and bass at the same time, UNF wouldn’t allow me to play bass in the jazz bands because a) I’m a brass major, and b) they really needed trombone players in the bands instead. I worked around it by changing my major to bass principal. I didn’t need the experience on trombone as much as I did on bass. If someone demands you play their game, just do it better than them.

          I studied at FSU before I transferred to North Florida. Right now, the majority of money is music copywork, since the summers in Florida are painfully slow for schools and entertainment. It will have a shift come September, where I will be gigging every weekend and teaching five days a week. If you want to play in the summer, get out of Florida. This economy is fueled by snowbirds.

          If you’re ever in Orlando for work or whatever, look me up, we’ll do coffee. :)

          • Hi,

            Thanks for the advice. I also auditioned to the Orlando Phil sub list, and there was a lot of talented people there. I just don’t think the orchestra life is for me. I like playing in shows and musicals and wherever the music style is made for everyone to enjoy, not just the rich and the small population of people that like to listen to classical music and attend orchestra concerts. I love classical music, but I hate the atmosphere around the concerts. I do feel that atmosphere has to change if orchestras want to survive in the future.

            Maybe I might end up in orlando playing at Disney world or something at some point and then we could meet up.

            Thanks,
            Christina

            • Nick – How does someone get a gig at Disney World? Are there auditions or something?

              • Nick Rosaci says:

                First, before I explain, I would like to make a disclaimer: The majority of everything I’m about to type is based solely on my experience and what I can recall. I may be inaccurate on some things. Anyway, here you go:

                There are two major ways to be hired at Disney. The first, and easiest way, is to be contracted with your act. It’s not governed by the union, I believe, but I hear your daily pay matches what you get if you were a Disney employee, plus about whatever Disney would have paid you in benefits and pension, had you been working a standard castmember gig. These jobs can come and go, and are most likely hired on an as-needed basis. Disney usually finds these groups through their open call casting auditions (see below). However, you are not considered a Disney employee, and therefore don’t get all the perks of an employee. You are a private contractor.

                The second one, and probably more of what you’re asking about, is a little more complicated:

                There’s two ways. One, that’s the most common, but the least promising from what I’ve seen, is there’s a bi-monthly open call audition. Anybody can audition, on any instrument. The union president is usually there, along with the musician casting manager, and possibly one of the stage managers or other musician managers. More than anything else, it’s just to see what kind of local musicians Disney has to fuel any musical ideas, I would think. If they like you, they probably put you down on a potential list when something comes up for something they could use you in. But it’s just a guess. This is indirectly how I got in as a sub with them, coupled with talking to a bandleader.

                The other way, is they make announcements through the union when they have an opening. Anybody can audition for the spot, whether or not they’re in the union, and again, the union oversees the auditions. Typically, if it’s for an existing ensemble, the full-time players will be there, and you play with them. Some of the groups are reading auditions, some explain the tune and have you perform it with them after learning by ear, and some just need a lot of preparation and require you to learn the whole set list on your own time before you audition. Besides your playing ability, they also look at your personality, stage presence, and how well you meld with the band. Reading is important on a few, and a good ear and good memorization skills are a must for all, from what I’ve seen. Usually, while doing this audition, they have an open call for the other instruments in this particular ensemble, to see if there’s anyone they would like to add to the sub list.

                Once they’ve decided to hire you, you go through a process they call around here “getting statused.” You go through a day of training, which is what you would expect from any major job, pretty much touching on subjects such as hospitality, customer service, being a model employee, etc. It’s a long, day, but it’s enjoyable. Once you’re finished, you are then allowed to work in the parks.

                I imagine this process is very similar, if not identical, to all of the Disney parks around the world.

                Now, being in the local 389 musicians union, you hear about when the auditions take place via email. However, if you’re not a part of the union, you can follow the calendar here: http://corporate.disney.go.com/auditions/calendar/index.html

                And Christina, this is not meant to be discouraging, but I feel I need to tell you: when it comes to Disney gigs, there just is no full-time clarinet spot at the moment. The only full-time woodwind gigs on property right now are about five saxophone spots; a saxophone quartet, and one sax position in the Grand Floridian Hotel Society Orchestra (where I’m a sub on bass). However, annually, there’s a concert series called Candlelight Ceremony, which is pretty much a reading of Christmas stories to the accompaniment of an orchestra. So, attending an open call for you would be good if you would like to be considered for placement in this orchestra. And when I say there’s no full-time spot for you “at the moment,” I mean that the musical entertainment at Disney is constantly changing. They may or may not have an ensemble needing a clarinetist in the future.

                Dave, if you would like me to go more in-depth, and possibly write an article on this, let me know. I would first like to research for better accuracy and get Disney’s permission, for obvious reasons.

      • Emily says:

        My husband is classically trained and has a masters in trombone. A few years ago I worked in a college bar scene. I have always suggested he learn bass; everyone always needed a decent bass player and/or a drummer. Now his friend picked up a bass, and he’s talking about picking up my guitar. Thanks for writing this, I look forward to asking him to read it when he gets home from his awful labour-intensive day job that I am afraid might injure him. Also, my thanks for the author of the series, it is really inspiring and I liked how honest you were with about your journey.

  16. David,
    The series on becoming a Broadway musician is entertaining and sobering – in a good way! Thanks for letting me (us) know what it takes, and how to make steps toward that goal. Reading about the true life experiences of someone “in the trenches” is very eye opening and helps take the mystery away enough so that we can all see that it is possible (difficult but possible) to reach the goal of playing on Broadway!
    Rob

  17. Marc says:

    Hi David! What an inspirational story! Thank God I finally found your site! I really appreciate you sharing your journey to Broadway with all of us and I couldn’t have read it at a better time. I’ve been a musical director for theatre for the past 4 years at the community/regional level and I want to be able to earn more of a living doing it at bigger Equity houses. One thing you mentioned when building a reputation was that you had to be very, very, very good at what you do. Now, this is where I constantly find doubt in myself and in my abilities. How do I know what is very very very good at the Broadway level? Do I have to be able to sight read and transpose Sondheim and JRB right on the spot? Do you have to be able to have an incredible ear to know that the oboe player is playing an F instead of an F# during a tutti fortissimo section? I know it takes an incredible amount of work, time, perserverance and people skills to get where you were able to go, but it also take a good amount of talent – and talent is something that some people can only get a certain amount of. I’m wondering if I am cut out to take the time to pursue musical directing or if my talent level just isn’t good enough. Thanks for taking the time -

  18. Roxi Copland says:

    Hey David –

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write an inspiring article about the importance of practice, perseverance, and taking an active role in supporting your local musical community. I think that last part is too often forgotten- I’m so very thankful for all the mentors I’ve had that have helped get me to the point of being a ‘full-time’ musician, and I feel like the best way I (and anyone else fortunate enough to have had help along the way) can repay them is by passing the favor along. Thanks again for your musings!

  19. Michel says:

    Hi David,
    Thank you very much for this interesting and very helpful article.
    I’m happy for you that you achieved your goal and this proves that if you want something hard enough, you can get it if you are ready to work for it and to do some sacrifices.
    Best luck for the future.
    Michel

  20. Hi David!

    I just wanted to thank you for writing this story! I moved to NYC in September, 2011 and started beating the street for work immediately. Luckily, I got a cafe job in the early mornings right away. Just three weeks ago I quit because I officially now have enough work as a pianist/MD to just make music full time. :) I actually got a job at NYU Tisch accompanying there too, so that’ll do till I find more of the performing work I’m looking for. I’ll definitely use some of the ideas you shared in your story!

    -travis

    PS. If YOU ever need a sub, or want to grab coffee, I’d love to meet and chat!

  21. Hi David,
    You this guide is applicable for a West End job????
    I found your series truly enlightening as Im pretty stuck in my career…. Sometimes feels like you are completely alone in this quest so it is relieving to see what other people have done….Cheers!
    Robbie

  22. Zach Buchanan says:

    Thanks so much for posting your story David! It means a ton to be able to see the story of a blooming Broadway musician.
    My question: what would you have done even earlier in life to make the journey easier? I’m an aspiring Broadway percussionist in high school. I’m top of my class, hoping to end up in “the big city”. So, any tips on, say, colleges to attend or degrees to pursue, or just effects precedents to landing a Broadway sub?

    • Sure, going to any college in New York City (not near the city, but IN the city) raises your chances I think.

      Young guys are at a disadvantage, though, generally. As I mentioned in another article, Broadway wants it’s musicians to learn musical styles outside of theatre. Broadway wants authentic musicians – for instance they’d prefer a player who learned R’n’B in an R’n’B band, not someone who played Dream Girls in summerstock.

      So my advice is to start a band, join other bands, play jazz gigs for no bread – and cut your teeth learning musical styles outside of theatre. When you get to New York you’ll have more street cred.

  23. Tristian Luysterburg says:

    David,

    I simply cannot tell you how relieved, inspired, and motivated your journey has made me feel. I’m already subscribed to musicianwages.com and have read some of your articles before, but this article literally hit the nail on the head. You are a brilliant writer and have really lifted my spirits. There were probably many other things I should’ve been doing for the past 45 mins, but something told me to stop and read this article. I can’t tell you enough just how helpful it’s been. I, too am a pianist/MD and incredibly eager to make a name for myself, but this city can definitely knock you down. Your article has given me hope and the courage I needed to truly find that “community” I’ve been so desperately seeking. I’m starting my excel spreadsheet today! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

    Best,
    Tristian

  24. nitekat says:

    Ive said it before and I will say it again…this site is brilliant! absolutely brilliant! i wish this site had been around years ago!

    Its probbly not surprising that alot of the techniques you talk about, especially around networking are mentioned in business/relationship management books, showing that a) music is just as much a business as anything else, but more importantly b) people who enjoy other people company end up being successful!

  25. edwinfrancis says:

    Hey David,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences here! It’s such wonderful site! I came across it a few times without knowing I was reading your articles! Till I typed your url out on my computer, as I was reading this current article on my phone =p (A very bad habit of mine, reading articles without taking note of the site I’m on).

    And for someone who was thinking about broadway, or anything close to it, it’s motivating! It also makes me realize how much hard-work and effort is needed!

    I have a big question though, or serval! Hope I don’t sound to desperate and longwinded or something =s

    Well here goes! I’m from Singapore, turning 20 this year, and I’ve only just started to get serious about my drumming (after playing by ear for quite awhile), and I’ve only just started to learn how to read drum set notations about 2 months ago. To add to the list of “problems,” I have no Orchestra experience at all, nor do I know how to follow a conductor =/ But I do gig with my friends once in awhile, but we’re just an amateur group trying to make it out in the local music scene here. Playing our originals and all that stuff. Plus, there isn’t much community theatre around here that hires a full size orchestra, or at least I don’t know off yet. Even if they do, they tend to hire a professional, well established Orchestra group here.

    So with that in mind, I’m not sure if thinking about a career in Musical Theatre (in broadway or something similar, as a drummer) would still be feasible. After all I’m already turning 20 with a skill set of probably a beginner’s, and I know there are tones of better drummers out there, some even the same age as me, some of which already playing jazz gigs here and there. So I’m not sure given the time, if I can reach that skill level that is needed as a musician and work my way into the pits one day and make a career out of it.

    I would so love to head to NYC, and settle there if I’d ever get that good, but my I’m not sure if my nationality would hinder me, seeing as how most broadway gigs are mostly Union gigs and that I’m not American.

    The most I could do is move over to Melbourne or just any part of Australia, as half of my immediate family is already there. While I’m stuck in my homeland (Singapore), because I have to serve in the Army/Military for two years. A requirement for all male citizens here. Which sort of puts everything on hold for those two years… Which also means I won’t be able to drum or practice as much as I would love to. But there’s still pockets of time in the weekend, and maybe even the weekday nights, where I can have a good date with my practice pad.

    Any advice would be great! Hope I didn’t sound to pessimistic about it though =/

    Thank you and great article once again!
    Edwin

    • edwinfrancis says:

      Oh a little typo at the last paragraph! I meant to say that I could move over to Melbourne or Australia, but that’s after I serve two years in the army! Which would mean I’ll be about 22 When I’m out of the Army.

  26. trabian40 says:

    David,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

  27. Alison says:

    FANTASTIC advice! I’m not quite sure I have the chops to play on Broadway (as amazing as it would be) but these tips are awesome for breaking into regional theatre, too. I now feel like I at least have some sort of idea of how to go about getting theatre gigs on a bigger scale than what I’ve been playing. Thanks!!!

  28. Steven Dunn says:

    I graduated from college with my piano degree six months ago and I’m headed to the last performance of my first local musical in about fifteen minutes. My life has just barely made it to step one of your story but reading it has been so encouraging. Thank you

  29. Jimmy McGirr says:

    This has been major fun to read and relate to. As a bassist I am always seeking to grow and develop. In my small New England city I play every show I can possible get and have developed a great reputation. Everything you say in your story makes sense on whatever scale we are looking at. As a lifelong Fender player, I took up the upright about 7 years ago to increase my hire-ability for the pit jobs in my city and then got into working on the bowing. What I feel is necessary is I love the work, I love playing bass and accompanying singers and actors. I do my best to be artistic and musical every show, we are creating a story-world every time out. At some point I will get more and bigger shows in bigger places, however the quality of life in my small city is outstanding.

  30. Devin Porter says:

    David,

    Thanks so much for the inspiring and enlightening articles! I’m a pianist, just starting off in college, and I am beginning to focus in on my Broadway dreams. Your blog has really provided clarity for a lot of the murky details of getting to Broadway. I was wondering if you had any advice on things I can be doing now, in the practice room, to hone skills that will help me along the Broadway path.

    Thanks again!

  31. Courtney L. Wright says:

    Thank you so much for this amazing story! It was very inspiring, especially since I want to play saxophone & flute on Broadway.

    I know it is going to take a lot of hard work, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get there. For now, I’m going to make the most out of my college music experiences, play as many gigs as I can, and start making those connections! Thanks so much for all the advice! I’ll definitely be passing this along to my fellow musicians.

    Courtney W.

  32. Allan Noriega says:

    I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story, David.
    I’m a musician from Mexico who wants to play on Broadway someday. It’s a little bit discouraging knowing that the process of moving to another country will be one of the hardest things to do, specially since people from my country are not always welcome as want-to-be-residents. Have you got any advice from me? I would very much appreciate it.

    I’m a drummer/percussionist and I’m working my ass off to be as good as I can be, but things over here often bring me down. Your story helped me a lot :) it was a little bright point on a dark tunnel.

    I really can’t thank you enough! :)

  33. Zach Senick says:

    Hey,
    I’m an aspiring high school student from Canada (next year is my senior year) who dreams on playing on broadway one day. What can/should I begin doing now to achieve this goal?

    Note:
    I’m a woodwind player studying saxophone, bassoon and piano

  34. Ellen M says:

    I know I’m a couple of years too late, but I’m so glad I found this, and I’m so grateful you’ve posted this. As a fifteen year old aspiring Broadway musician who lives in the small country of Northern Ireland, it seems like an impossible dream.. but reading this I know it’s not. It’s going to be incredibly difficult, but the obstacles and difficulty have given me major determination to work as hard as I can to become the best I can at my instruments and hopefully fulfill the dream. I’m currently working on the high grade exams for both cornet and piano, and before beginning/during university I hope to add more to my ‘list’.

    Again, thank you so so much for this, I really really appreciate it :-))

  35. Lisa says:

    Wow, it’s amazing what a person can find when randomly googling various musician job opportunities! This was a very interesting – albeit slightly discouraging! – read. I’m just beginning my master’s in flute performance, and I’m keeping my eyes open for performance opportunities in the future. While I suspect I will probably aim to get my DMA and go into academia, I *definitely* prefer performance to teaching, so it was interesting to see where your career path took you! I’m also regretting not learning the other woodwinds … I’m a fairly decent flute player, but I’ve never touched a sax in my life, and I’ve got NO desire to be an MD after a disastrous community theatre production last year! What would the comparison be between competition for keys positions and woodwind positions? (I only got to grade 9 RCM, but I did some chamber music as a teenager, and could probably pull myself together within a few years!) And as a Canadian, would I be able to join one of those musician unions?

    I must ask, though: did your education help pave the way at all for your job? (i.e. did it matter which educational institution you attended, or was it really just connection-focused?)

    Altogether quite interesting! And armed with this information, I shall go forth and practice!

  36. Chris says:

    Hi David,
    Thanks so much for writing this 5 part series. I am a professional drummer who would love to one day work on Broadway. A few of my drummer friends are currently subbing on some shows. For over twenty years I have made my living playing all kinds of gigs with bands, teaching lessons, doing clinics and whatever studio work comes up. I have been teaching at a college on Long Island for 6 yrs as well.

    I just wanted to say thanks for giving me something to read up on to get started on this goal!

    Best of luck to you in 2014 and beyond. Have a happy and VERY HEALTHY New Year.

    Take Care,
    Chris Tibaldi

    PS. My daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia 2 weeks after her second birthday. I am happy to say she is almost a year out of treatment. She is a happy and healthy 5 yr old enjoying Kindergarten, thank god.

  37. Sarah Pool says:

    Hi David,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I stumbled across this when someone sent me the link to your blog about the wages of different jobs a musician could have. I enjoyed reading it and it is so encouraging (and a little daunting) to see what it’s really like to get a Broadway gig. I just completed my Senior Recital, am about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance, and in the I-don’t-really-know-what-I’m-going-to-do-with-my-life stage. I’ve always loved playing in musicals, but I’ve only ever played the oboe in school shows – not piano, yet. It’s something I want to try to pursue and reading your story has given me a few steps for me to start out with as well as some insight on what it might look like. First, build up my sight-reading skills!

    Thanks again,
    Sarah

  38. Catherine says:

    I just came across this article today, and it was a huge help to me. I’m a junior in high school and recently decided to pursue pits after playing synth strings for a local production of Guys and Dolls and although I know that this is what I need to to, it’s been quite overwhelming (as I’ve had to change every single one of my future college plans so far). I will be the pianist for a couple more shows in the future so I will gain more experience from that, as well.

    So, I guess I just want to profusely thank you for this very detailed series; as soon as I found it I bookmarked the home page and this will certainly not be the last time I read it!

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