Getting Noticed: New Ideas for the Musican’s Résumé

Volume CIV, No. 12December, 2009

David J. Hahn

My inbox receives a continual stream of junk mail that assures me that the one thing that is most lacking in my life is the condition of my resume, and that, if I will only pay them $29.99 a month, they will help me redo my resume, get a better job and save my loathsome existence. To which I say: delete, delete, delete.

As musicians we know that traditional resume techniques used by workers seeking office jobs, and the junk mail that touts them, are not relevant to our needs.

Moreover, we’ve probably at least reflected on the idea that, in general, resumes might not be useful at all in getting work.

So what’s the truth?

Why have a resume?

First, let’s discuss who hires musicians.

Some gigs, of course, come from places you never expect, but for the most part our employers tend to be individuals, nonprofits (like theatre companies, symphonies), education providers (like schools, colleges, music lesson shops), venues and for-profit entertainment corporations (like touring companies, Broadway shows, cruise ships, casinos, etc.).

Some of these employers, like individuals and venues, probably won’t care what your resume says.

The venues want to know how many people you can get to your gig, and if you are thinking about starting a band with an individual they probably could care less what your resume says.

Other employers, like colleges, are used to seeing resumes from their applicants and will expect a good one from you.

That will likely be the first thing they ask for, and the content and quality of your resume may significantly swing your chances of landing the job you’re looking for.

So while resumes might not be a universal work-acquiring device in our industry as they seem to be in other industries, they are still a very effective way to introduce yourself to potential employers.

That is the long way of saying: resumes are still important, even if you are a musician, and you should make a good one.

A new kind of resume

Check out the picture of my new resume in the lower right-hand corner of this article.

There are five sections to this one-page resume: experience, bio, education, skill set and contact.

A list of credits (experience), education and contact info is all standard on a resume and we’ll all need to include at least that.

The other two sections – bio and skill set – I added because I felt they were relevant to the jobs I’m seeking.

For instance, I work primarily in theatre. Theatre workers are used to being introduced to new people through their bios in the playbill – which is why I included one on my resume.

After working in the industry for so many years, they might even prefer to read a brief narrative about the person’s credits and experience, rather than skimming a page-long list of bullet-point accomplishments.

Moreover, there is a practical use for including the bio directly on the resume.

Whenever you land a theatre job, one of the first things the new employers ask you for is a bio that they can put in the Playbill. (See what I mean? It’s important.).

Compiling (“wrangling” is probably a better word) bios for the dozens of people that work on every show can be a major headache for whoever is in charge.

In my case, however, they already have my bio right here on my resume.

‘Skill set chart’

The skill set graph is an idea that I first saw on designers’ resumes online.

Often it denoted the number of years of experience with a certain software (like Photoshop, Quark, etc.).

I think it’s a clever way of graphically communicating a huge amount of info all at once.

For me, the graph is a subjective estimate of my confidence with the different variables I listed.

I decided to include it because of an interaction with a Broadway contractor I recently had.

He had called me about a jazz/rock gig and asked me if that was something I would be any good at.

“Yes!” I thought.

Jazz/rock is probably where I’d be best suited, that’s what my training and background centers on – and man, that seems like something that people should know about me right off the bat! I sat down right away and added the skill set chart to my resume.

The thing with the skill set chart is that you can’t just say you’re equally good at everything.

In order for people to trust the graph, you have to let them in on a secret – so tell them something that you aren’t the best at.

Including at least one not-so-hot skill calibrates the chart and shows how much better you are at other skills.

The way I got around this was to add trombone to the variables. I played trombone for eight years when I was a kid. I’ve long ago sold my bone and by any standard in the world I am a lousy trombone player.

But – as a conductor, it’s really useful for me to know at least a little about trombone because it probably gives me a good understanding of the brass family.

If someone is hiring a music director for a show with a big brass section, that might be valuable information.

Also, being a lousy trombone player is a forgivable trait.

I’m a pianist, after all.

Who would really expect me to be a good trombone player? For me, this is a safe, valuable and important variable to add to the chart.

How to make it

I made this resume in Photoshop. I knew that I’d have to use Photoshop if I really wanted to have control over fonts, placement and graphics.

To start, I made a new, 8 x 10 document (File > New > under Setting pick 8 x 10 > Ok).

Next, I turned on the grid (View > Show > Grid).

You can control the measurements of the grid in the Photoshop preferences (Photoshop > Preferences > Guides, Grid & Slices).

The grid I found useful was a gridline every 4 inches with 20 subdivisions.

As I mentioned before, I used Helvetica for the font.

It’s a clean font, heavily used in the design world, and has a lot of options for font hierarchy.

The section titles use Helvetica Neue Ultra Light, and the rest is some combination of the regular Helvetica Neue.

I “handmade” the skill set chart with lines and blue rectangles.

It took me awhile to get the spacing right for this part.

Is this for you?

It may not be.

This design is a departure from the traditional resume format, and it may not be useful for everyone.

I wanted to present this layout to everyone as merely another option in the wide world of resume-building.

On the other hand, perhaps a new layout might help separate your resume from the others you’re competing with, and maybe you’ll get a call you didn’t expect from a new client.

You never know!

Local 802 member David J. Hahn is a freelance music director, accompanist and writer. Originally from the Chicago area, he now lives in New York City and works primarily in musical theatre. This article first appeared on his Web site,, and is reprinted with permission.