How to get work as a professional musician in a new city (Part 3)

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series I gave you some in-depth ways you can use to establish yourself as a musician in a new city and get professional work. Here’s a slightly “tongue-in-cheek” but nevertheless true angle on the same subject:

I remember once when I was the associate music director for the Broadway show Swinging On A Star. I was hanging out with the rest of the band backstage before a performance and one of my colleagues and I started thinking about what it takes to “make it” as a performing musician in New York City.

We had some fun with this topic and ultimately decided that since so many good musicians come to New York, it really just comes down to 3 things. If you do these 3 things, you have a good chance of getting work and “making it,” even in the big city:

1. Show up at the time you were asked to show up.

Most musicians do this, but some don’t.

2. Wear what you were asked to wear.

You’d be surprised at how many people can’t seem to get this one straight. I once assembled a band to play an anniversary party out in the country. It was going to be held in someone’s backyard under a big tent. I had just met a certain sax player who I liked so I hired him to play at the party, asking him to “wear ‘hip’ black.” We all drove out to the event wearing our street clothes, with our black attire in garment bags. About 15 minutes before we were scheduled to begin playing, I told the sax player that he could go get changed and I would cover the music if there was a line at the changing area and it took a while.

I was shocked when he told me that he was already in his performing clothes! (He was wearing light brown denim.) The client never mentioned anything but needless to say, I never hired the sax player again.

It’s easy: wear what you were asked to wear.

3. Be nice and get along with the person who hired you.

Again, this one is self-evident but not always accomplished. (Yes, there will be times when the leader isn’t a nice person or is so uptight that they aren’t easy to get along with. But even then, try to at least be quiet and not make waves. You never know where a gig will lead to.)

So in summary: My friend and I were being slightly “tongue-in-cheek” when compiling this list, you I’m sure you can see the truth in it. It’s taken for granted that everyone on the scene can play well. The musicians who get the work are generally the ones who do all 3 items listed above (although, yes, there are exceptions.)

As an example, I know one pianist who’s always working in the New York City musical theater scene, even though he’s probably not the best musician around. He’s good, but more importantly, he does everything I’ve listed above. He’s also a wonderful, genuine person who’s enthusiastic and always looking to help others. He has played for Broadway and off-Broadway shows, has worked with countless singers, and arranges and orchestrates music for many theatrical productions. He always gets the job well and on time, and is nice to everyone he meets. His enthusiasm is contagious and people want to work with him again. This is how you build a career as a working musician.

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