Local 802 member Ken Robinson was born and bred in the Greater Philadelphia area. Both his parents are musicians and have had professional careers as music teachers. Ken started playing the clarinet when he was seven, the saxophone at 12 and the flute at 14. During his school years he played in every musical group that came his way. In high school, he held the position of first chair clarinetist in the All-Eastern Orchestra, which was made up of students from 14 East Coast states. Ken is also an alumnus of the 1998 Disney Grammy All-Star Orchestra, with whom he played as a woodwind doubler in Orlando. He earned his B.Mus. in music education from the College of New Jersey and his master’s degree in jazz studies from the University of the Arts.
Ken recently had a great experience with the Actors Fund Work Program, which – despite its name – is not just for actors. The program helps actors, musicians and other artists find meaningful work to complement their industry careers, or find new careers altogether. Any Local 802 member is eligible to use the program.
Kathy Schrier, the national director of the Actors Fund Work Program, sat down with Ken to get his thoughts about staying on top of his music while teaching others how to use social media to get gigs.
Kathy Schrier: Tell me a bit about your performance career.
Ken Robinson: I’ve always been equally passionate about playing clarinet, saxophone and flute. I have always been a freelance musician and there’s rarely a time I don’t have a gig scheduled. I currently play on a regular basis with three groups, and I do a number of solo gigs. I also have my own saxophone quartet. As a member of AFM Local 77 (Philadelphia) and Local 21 (Wilmington, Del.), I was in the pit of “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” “A Chorus Line,” and the Philadelphia premiere of “Grey Gardens.”
Kathy Schrier: When and why did you join Local 802?
Ken Robinson: I arrived in New York from Philadelphia four years ago, and one of the first things I did was join Local 802. I learned early in my career – working under a different AFM jurisdiction – the difference a union can make. We had a conductor who refused to honor the collective bargaining agreement – specifically giving us the contractual breaks and paying overtime. Once we involved the union, the situation was resolved instantly!
Kathy Schrier: How else has the union made a difference in your career?
Ken Robinson: The union really gives me community. I am a social media guru and I spend a lot of time alone on the computer and practicing. I know, however, it is critical to maintain relationships with other musicians and there is no better way to do so than through Local 802 and its events and meetings. I am so glad that Local 802 started the Justice for Jazz Artists campaign. I know this is a difficult campaign, but I am so glad it is a union priority. My Local 802 connections have really paid off – because of these connections I now have potential for sub work.
Kathy Schrier: When and why did you come to the Actors Fund Work Program?
Ken Robinson: I actually heard about the program through my fiancée, who was working with one of the program’s former career counselors. I had just arrived in New York, and just like I knew I needed union support, I knew I need career counseling support.
Kathy Schrier: How has the program assisted you?
Ken Robinson: The career counseling support I received from the Actors Fund Work Program has been invaluable in helping to motivate me to look for work and also in my creating a job search plan. Also my counselor told me about the Al Hirschfield Free Health Clinic and the health insurance counseling program. I have taken advantage of both services.
Kathy Schrier: I know you are teaching our class in using social media to market and promote your performance career. Tell me a little bit about that experience.
Ken Robinson: I first volunteered to do a session on using Facebook for musicians to network and get gigs. I really enjoyed doing it, and realized how many musicians had not taken the leap into social media. When I was asked to teach a four-session expanded class for all performers – not just musicians – I knew it would be a challenge, but I was excited about learning how social media could benefit other creative artists. I finished the first class in January, and it was terrific having actors, musicians, playwrights, directors and dancers in the same room. The feedback has been wonderful – students have already been telling me that they have gotten more work because of their enhanced social media presence!
Kathy Schrier: Do you think that Local 802 members need a social media presence? What can and should they be doing?
Ken Robinson: Of course! I know it is not easy, but it critical for all musicians to understand the social media world and to have not only a presence, but a presence that will attract fans and audiences. It is also a terrific way to connect to other musicians and to use it as a platform to find gigs. Although the Internet has greatly increased piracy issues, it has also made it easier for the public to hear and appreciate music. We need to learn to translate this phenomenon into work!
Kathy Schrier: Do you think Local 802 members should take advantage of the Actors Fund Work Program?
Ken Robinson: Without question. The resources and knowledge of the staff are incredible. It is difficult and hard to be a musician. We live in an extremely competitive world. The program helped me and thousands of others manage our lives. And of course if they come to the program, they will be eligible to take my social media class!
The Actors Fund is a national human service organization that helps all professionals in performing arts and entertainment. It is a safety net, providing programs and services for those who are in need, crisis or transition. The Actors Fund also supports Local 802’s Musicians Assistance Program. For more information call (212) 221-7300 or visit www.ActorsFund.org.
Each month, the Actors Fund teaches a free workshop here at Local 802. We post the schedule of these workshops in the online calendar of events.