Musicians call the union every day, asking how they can find work in this town. How did you find your gig?
I asked for it.
I joined the union and went to the hall, introduced myself, and got a gig.
–Dr. Art Davis
Networking, networking, and oh yes, networking.
I’m currently subbing on “Lion King” and it was a long and winding road to get there, but it was well worth the trip. I basically had a ton of springboard experiences beforehand where I met lots of people who were either playing the show or knew someone who played the show. I took a West African percussion class and, from there, took an internship with ETHOS percussion group, having met their legions through the class. In the end, my teacher from that class knew I was looking for such an opportunity when more sub slots opened up. Since then, though, I’ve cross-referenced a ton of my professional acquaintances with quite a few folks on the show. I also felt I had a lot of friends around as I worked my way into this new and high-pressure situation. It’s ultimately very gratifying just to know you are part of a professional community. Point is: hit the streets, meet people, take classes (educate yourself) and talk about what you do and what you want.
Just about every gig I have ever had has come from someone hearing me play. Basically, one gig leads to another.
I read chamber music (often setting up the reading) with people who were successful working musicians. I began to hear names and events and learned a lot about “the biz.” Luckily, one of them remembered my playing (and name) when a substitute violinist was needed for a run of ballet work at the State Theatre.
Play rehearsal bands and jam sessions. Be patient for the phone calls to come, and remember that each time you play you’re auditioning for the people around you. Be a good person and pleasant to be around. You’re auditioning your personality as well.
I found my gig by being remembered from an earlier job. The current music director of “Mamma Mia” and I were both touring the country in 1992, and met then. Contacts and word of mouth – that’s how I get all of my gigs.
–Wendy Bobbitt Cavett
Assuming that you play your best at every rehearsal and gig, are super reliable and always on time (or early), the only other thing to do is to get to know your fellow musicians. Let them know that you are interested in working, but also just be friendly and pass work on to them if you can. Be courageous and ask if you can be on a gig; it can’t hurt and sometimes it works.
As a theatre musician, I find exposure to be a crucial part of getting jobs. Just about everyone in the business has gotten a letter or a call from me; and I rarely say no to a gig, no matter how seemingly trivial.
Ninety percent of my work has come through others who play my instruments. My advice is to play in rehearsal bands, jam sessions – anything that can get you heard by your colleagues. Make sure you exchange phone numbers and e-mails and stay in touch. Many people find themselves double booked or too busy to do something and they are often willing to recommend someone that they think will be willing to do it.
I called my musician friends and said, “Hi. My show is closing soon. Keep me in mind.” They did. I just got three months worth of work out of one call from a friend I recently subbed for. I did my homework as a sub, stayed in touch and recommended friends for gigs. This formula pays off at different times but always pays off. Hard work and considerate persistence.
My first big gig was at the Ambassador Grill at U.N. Plaza. I called the food and banquet guy, told him my name was Richard Atkins and asked if he needed a pianist. He flat out said no. Then I called as Frank Conran and asked if he needed a pianist and he said no again. Then I called as Al Sortino and asked if he needed a pianist and he said, O.K. come on in and audition. The only problem was, when I arrived for the audition, I couldn’t remember which name I had gotten the audition under and it wasn’t until he said, “All right Mr. Sortino let’s hear what you can do,” that I knew my true identity!
I have never found a gig through the union in 25 years. My gigs have been gotten by pounding the streets and through word of mouth. However, the union has been there to collect work dues when I played on “Grease” or did record dates. I hate to sound jaded but it would be nice if the union got a bit more active in setting a scale in clubs – or found players some work.
The truth is you just have to make it happen! Every experience is different – create your own future.
For years when I was freelancing, I got my gigs strictly through word of mouth. Now that I’m a member of the New York Philharmonic, it’s strictly audition.
Most gigs come from the personal network I’ve developed over the years. Word of mouth is powerful but you need to maintain a high caliber of work to take advantage of it. Be prepared, on time, and willing to do what it takes.
–Richard Austin Tozzoli
The tone of this question seems naive at best. It implies that there is plenty of work to go around, if only everyone knew how to go about getting it. At worst, it reflects denial on the part of 802 that the future of live music is in serious jeopardy. It seems irresponsible to keep taking in new members without apprising them of the fact that not only are the Broadway shows reducing the number of musicians hired, but many orchestras are folding, cutting back, or in serious financial trouble.
My first gig covered by an 802 contract lasted TWELVE YEARS! I was working as a cocktail waitress in a hotel piano bar and met the entertainment booking agent for the hotel one evening. I mentioned I was a pianist too and played for him right there on the spot as the bar was closing. Next week, I was invited to audition for the food and beverage manager and general manager of a major New York hotel. I was there along with another dozen trying out for the gig – and I got it! I must say this initial “on-the-job training” has proven invaluable to my current recording and concert career!
Coming right out of grad school in the late 70’s, I started working as an accompanist and composer for modern dance companies (as I had done in college). Through the various dance studios, teachers and choreographers, I was lucky to meet quite a few other musician/composers who were doing the same thing. Most everybody played in a band and many of us ended up in the same bands (I was in ten at one time).
Network your butt off. Have a party: it’s a great excuse to call everyone you know – they bring friends and suddenly people are talking about you. Don’t cold-call contractors.