Beyond the Gig: Building Your Career As a Musician

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume 111, No. 5May, 2011

Cindy Green, LCSW

Wondering how to build your career – especially during a recession? Recently, Local 802 partnered with the Actors Fund Work Program to present “Beyond the Gig: Building Your Career as a Musician.” We attracted a very healthy crowd of 50 musicians – a mix of Local 802 members and non-members alike. The day was filled with valuable information and thoughtful ideas to help people make career decisions.

Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi and Recording Vice President John O’Connor welcomed the group with some thoughts about the music industry and the union’s place in it.

The core of the event was a panel discussion moderated by guitarist and longtime member Larry Seigel. Drummer Bernard Purdie, violinist Antoine Silverman and percussionist Valerie Naranjo shared with the group their work histories as well as their ideas of how to make it in the music business.

Some of their ideas included:

  • Be professional. Arrive on time to gigs and appointments.
  • Use Internet resources and social media but only as a supplement to your marketing strategy, not as your only tool.
  • Provide services for free to introduce yourself to a potential long-term customer, but do not continually play or teach without compensation beyond one or two episodes.
  • Take advantage of networking opportunities in order to meet people face to face and build relationships.
  • When someone calls your cell phone or voicemail, your outgoing message should be simple and professional.

Following the panel discussion, the audience broke up into smaller groups to discuss among themselves. They shared their work experiences as musicians as well as marketing strategies they’ve used, both successful and not.

Groups were encouraged to talk about resources they use and challenges they face in marketing themselves. Not only did group members get ideas for self promotion, they also were exposed to the idea and practice of networking, a valuable and necessary tool of the trade.

We then heard from Theresa Couture who runs the Local 802 referral service. The goal of the service is to help increase job opportunities for members and to promote Local 802 in the community. Most referrals are for weddings and other private parties, but occasionally we are able to place musicians in positions where there is ongoing work. Before participating in the service, you must have a Web site or MySpace page with sound clips of your work, a schedule of performance dates, videos of your work, links to YouTube, and easy-to-access contact information.

Bobby Shankin talked about Legit 802, Local 802’s payroll service. Whenever you’re in the position of being the bandleader or the person who has to pay the other musicians, Legit 802 is for you. You just write one check to the union, and we take care of paying your musicians all of their wages and benefits. We also handle unemployment payments, federal and state tax filings, disability, worker’s compensation, and Medicare and FICA payments. Finally, we’ll also make all quarterly and year-end reports and send out W-2’s, all at no extra cost to you.

Both the Actors Fund Work Program and Local 802 were pleased that so many musicians were able to take advantage of this important information. If you are interested in more networking opportunities, you should know that the Actors Fund Work Program has an orientation program every Monday at noon followed by Network Now, which provides a forum in which to meet artists, exchange ideas and make contacts. (Don’t let the word “actors” stop you. Actors Fund programs are for all entertainers, including musicians.)

For more information on the Actors Fund Work Program, contact the MAP office at (212) 397-4802 or

The office of the Musicians’ Assistance Program is your one-stop shop for musicians’ health. We offer counseling – both one-on-one and in groups – as well as information on all kinds of social services, including health insurance, food stamps and more. All services are free to Local 802 members. Contact us at or (212) 397-4802.