We are definitely witnessing a major transformation in the music business. I never really expected or even wanted to do Broadway but it’s really the only vestige of steady work left. Over the past few years I’ve been getting more into writing, programming and production. I always figured I’d have enough work and income just by playing, but I’ve had to plant seeds in other areas and have found that I enjoy it as much as playing. We are definitely in the “think outside the box” age in the music business. Many of the historical sectors of the business don’t exist — so one has to seek out other alternatives.
The question: “Would you like that in F or B-flat?” has evolved into: “Would you like that with soy or skim?”
I would have to say that my career definitely has taken on an aspect of multitasking I never would have expected.
I still do as much playing as possible, and especially enjoy working on various Broadway shows.
In addition to teaching privately, there are also two other major aspects to my career that I did not expect at the beginning: clinics and editing/consulting.
I usually do several clinics each year and have been lucky enough to also play drum festivals. This past year I was even asked by my drum company to do a clinic tour nationwide. It’s great to meet and network with other drummers and musicians worldwide at these educational events.
I am also the senior drum editor for Hudson Music, a leading producer of educational drum media worldwide. I work as a consultant from my home office. This in turn allows me to continue to perform and teach, which in turn enhances my value as an editorial consultant producing educational/music material. I guess I would have to say I didn’t really plan for it to work out this way, but it seems to work well!
In the beginning, I thought playing my instrument was for fun. I never thought about it as a career or business type of thing. That stuff found me: I did not go looking for it. It has made me a better musician for my career or business side and has made me a better musician overall.
But over time, I am even more aware of the idea of playing for fun. And it’s all about the music.
As times change, I have gone back to my roots, and am playing for myself, the music, for fun, and I am thankful for that. In addition to trombone, I am now pursuing jazz drums, percussion, and scatting.
It’s in my soul. I will still play for business reasons, but there are less and less opportunities to do so. And that’s no fun at all.
I believe my musical evolution began in 1990 when I heard a speech by the Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda. In it he stated, “Freedom is something that you must fight for and gain by and for yourself. It is not something that is handed over on a silver platter.”
At the time I considered myself free, sitting in the Brooklyn Philharmonic viola section, until I realized from these words that I wasn’t free at all and if I was going to live my dream as a unique voice in the music world, I was going to have to build it by and for myself. No one was going to hand it to me.
Over the years I have forged my career by honing my abilities and listening to my heart.
But I have also learned that in the 21st century, it’s indispensible to actually care about the audience.
And on a practical level I’ve learned it’s important to face the realities of the music industry, in terms of avenues of employment that have dried up for most people over the years, but also to see the uncultivated possibilities because of our changing world.
Advances in technology, for instance, can potentially fuel new work opportunities for musicians. This has been especially the case in the recording world, where these advances, the Internet, and one’s abilities to make use of them can mean recording opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago.
And as a string player, if my competition is the synthesizer, then I’d better have something about my musical voice that a machine can’t match.
I am also particularly inspired by my buddy Andy Bruck, a violinist in the Jacksonville Symphony, who saw the recent lockout and its subsequent conclusion as an opportunity to build a template of an ensemble that performs with a goal of inspiring all the audience, an ensemble that can reach a larger group of people from all walks of life.
I believe this aspiration is precisely the cure for the classical music world if it is to finds its healthy footing as the century unfolds.
My career has gone in an unpredictable direction since I left school over 25 years ago.
I started out as an early music player. I still am — but along the way, I became a composer because I needed music for the instruments I played.
I expanded my repertory beyond the 18th century and in the process added “music director” to my credits when working in the German Theatre.
This led to conducting of which I made my debut a few years later at the Houston Grand Opera.
When 9/11 hit and my career was heading downward, I took an unlikely chance to become a circus performer at Cirque du Soleil.
Now I am on my own and am making my first movie based on a concert I have been playing around the country. You could say that I have to be an actor as well.
All during this time, I’ve kept the principles of my early music in hand.
I never thought it would turn out this way, but like the repertory you learn, you expand by necessity and hence become your vision.
I first started playing professionally at the age of 15. Back then I was really into music for only two reasons: money and adventure. I was along for the ride, and I must admit, I had a good one!
It was not until I was in my mid-20’s that I began to realize the effect that music had on people and the importance it played on society. This came to light for me the first time I spoke with a group of children at a community center in Milwaukee while I was on tour with “The Wiz” in 1978.
Music had brought me a thousand miles from home, to a group of people that I had never seen before, and whose eyes told me that they were hungry for anything I had to say about what I did. That was the first time that I felt I had the power to change lives.
Here I was looking into a child’s eyes and what I had to say could possible alter the course of this child’s life and the lives of those he would touch: the ripple effect. Music now had a real purpose in my life, and my life now had a real purpose in music.
That first encounter has lead to my formation of a nonprofit called Educational Enrichment Through Musical and Cultural Diversity. Our motto and belief is: “Although our future is in the hands of our youth, our youth are still in our hands.” I’m the C. E. O. and chair of the board.
I never thought in a million years that I would ever be teaching or mentoring to anyone. I was just a drummer who loved to see the world and lay down the funk.
But I am proud to now be an adjunct at York College where I assist Tom Zlabinger with a great program for high school musicians. I also represent the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival’s Jazz in the Schools program that is presented annually by the University of Idaho.
All through which I am afforded the opportunity to mentor our youth and give back a little of that great ride that I still enjoy today.
Wally Gator Watson
My musical career has evolved over time just like the minute hand of a clock does: up and down, around and around. Where she stops… Well, you get the idea.
I started out at 12 o’clock high. My band won a contest on “Zacherley’s Disco Teen” T.V. show. The prize was: we opened for the Rolling Stones! I was 15 years old! Can you imagine the thrill at that age?
Over the years, playing everywhere from the “Garden Lounge” to “The Garden City Hotel” to Madison Square Garden, you eventually realize that it’s ALL GOOD.
I guess I never planned on including teaching drums as part of my musical career; but lately, it seems to have spontaneously fallen into place.
Well, I’m still composing and doing gigs, recordings and tours, as I have for many years. But now I have a sonic laboratory that was completed a little over a year ago in my backyard, with a Steinway, Hammond organ (and Leslie), timpani, sarrusophone, theremins, clavioline, a bass marimba that Sun Ra played and recorded on, a gigantic Chinese drum suspended in the rafters, a 6’8″ contrabass saxophone, and the world’s largest banjo at 7’ 3″. There’s a multitrack recording setup, cool vintage mics, a rocket clock, even a robot pencil sharpener. Guess I wouldn’t have expected all this, years ago. Now I can be a mad scientist whenever I want, at any hour. I can spend the time I need, scheduled however I like, to construct strange musical realms where few will dare to tread. Look out world! I’m a lucky guy.
About 10 years ago, I started parallel careers as a singer/songwriter/guitar player — and as a CPA.
I graduated magna cum laude with an accounting degree from Alfred University and I also took tons of music classes for college credit. I began my accounting career at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, a large professional services firm in the New York office.
At the time, I performed in bars and clubs in Manhattan and wrote mainly love songs and funny, quirky songs about New York City.
Since many people thought my strength was the intelligence of the lyrics in the songs I wrote, which had a folky sound to it, I thought of myself as the “Smart Folk Guy.”
In the past three years, I have started to narrow my focus and I started writing funny songs about accounting and taxes and have built a name for myself as “The Singing CPA” where I write and perform funny songs about accounting and taxes and also do people’s taxes!
Happy Tax Day!
My career has come full circle. When I first started out, I wanted to master my instrument, be a rock star, work on my jazz improvisation and make albums of music that I love.
Somewhere along the way I got sidetracked with playing on and writing jingles, touring and recording with Joe Jackson, and tons of session work.
All interesting stuff but different than my original goals.
Now I practice four or five hours a day of bop, play out with my jazz trio, produce sample CD’s and make my own eclectic CD’s. Pretty much my original goals — minus the rock star stuff.
The main difference now is most of my income comes from producing artists, playing on albums, writing, and making sample CD’s.
I still do session work, write, and play T.V. and movie music and jingles, but I can be more selective about what work I take now. All making for a satisfying career.
Back in the day I could never have imagined that I would be sitting in my own studio chopping up lo-fi hip-hop drum loops and adding esoteric guitar effects to artists’ songs.
It’s been an interesting trip. One has to constantly adapt, keep up on new equipment and grow — though I’m still working on my eighth notes all day long. That has not changed.
In my 36 years in 802 I have worked as a percussionist, keyboardist, conductor, composer, orchestrator, copyist, librarian and teacher. (Thank you, Brooklyn College and Juilliard).
But recently I’ve added another credit: inventor. A seven-year-old drum student had a great idea: “Let’s build a giant cymbal-crashing machine!” We did, and now we are getting a patent for “The Cymbal Guy.” So is Glen Ayers, who designed a steel model from our wooden prototype. My student will be 12 in February, and I have found the patent process very educational. For example, the official classification for this instrument is “rigid vibrator.” You can’t make this stuff up! Did I ever think this would happen in my career? Never.
I’m surprised how much work I’m doing that is top-to-bottom production, where I’m involved as a producer, arranger, engineer, player, and mixer. My training was in performance and arranging and I thought that most of my work would be strictly in those categories. But technology and the business have changed that.
As a kid, I thought I would grow up to become a public school music teacher, but while in college I was bitten by the performance bug and changed my emphasis, for better or worse. Since 1990 I’ve pretty much made my living exclusively in music, without having a day job or doing anything not related to music.
Naturally, this hasn’t always been easy. When I started out, I was pretty much a show pianist, playing for Broadway tours and cruise ship shows, with some accompanying and vocal coaching on the side when time and space permitted. One might think the natural progression from there would be to conducting and music directing, and — while I have done a little bit of that — I’ve also been surprised at the side trips I’ve made into other styles and types of music-making. Since 2001 (when the U.S. economy began to slide and I started to find a need to diversify), I’ve branched out into folk music (playing for Scottish and English country dancing); other instruments, including accordion, melodica, piccolo, euphonium, mallet percussion and spoons(!); and even occasional choral singing as a paid “ringer” in church or community choirs.
Of course, I still seek piano/synth work wherever I can, and it ranges from actual Broadway work to things like choral accompanying, opera rehearsals, cabaret shows, private parties, audition accompaniment, and the Big Apple Circus. And, of course, the folk dance scene. I wish I could say that all of this was union work, but of course some of it is not and will never be. In rare cases I may be able to get 802 organizers involved to turn some of those jobs into union gigs, and I will if I can; but I still have to keep all job options open. Branching out into different areas of music has certainly helped keep my mind active by forcing me to learn new skills and styles; if it doesn’t exactly make me rich, it’ll at least keep me from getting old too quickly!
From an early age, my passion as a guitarist/composer was in jazz and improvisational music. Accordingly, my heroes were Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and Keith Jarrett. Once out of college, however, my musical sensibilities widened as I started to become inspired by the awesome sonic creations of the underground electronic scene: drum and bass, trip-hop, house, etc. I began studying sequencing, MIDI, synthesizers and mixing techniques. These studies gave me the skills for the television and film scoring I spend most of my time on currently. Through the years, I have found that versatility and a willingness to explore different styles of music lead to unexpected work opportunities. My background in improvisation often informs my approach to scoring for television. Similarly, the daily demand placed on me to compose in different genres has opened me up to experimenting with new sounds and techniques in my work as a guitarist.
Club dates THEN: learn hundreds of old tunes, standards, show tunes, harmonies, keys for vocalists, play all styles (ethnic, swing, dixie, Latin, etc.)
Club dates NOW: play occasional lines behind rap, hip-hop, rock, sampled, and sequenced music.
Musical evolution? Musical deterioration.
When I started classes as a freshman at Juilliard on Sept. 5, 2001, little did I know that six years later, I would choose not to make a living.
I wanted to be the next Joshua Bell. The events of the following week changed all that.
Like many in New York on Sept. 11, I felt numb and powerless. How could a musician possibly help?
The answer came just five days later, when I performed for soldiers from the Fighting Sixty-Ninth regiment as they returned from working at Ground Zero. Their gratitude for the performance showed me that music deserves a far larger role than entertainment. Yet my desire to explore music’s power outside the concert hall remained inchoate.
Then, in December 2004, I had a second life-changing experience. Upon meeting Dr. Everold Hosein, a communications consultant with the World Health Organization, I baldly asked him if he would help me perform at children’s hospitals and refugee camps across the world. Dr. Hosein merrily agreed to help me focus this project.
I soon realized that I aimed to do far more than play outreach concerts in exotic locations. The lesson I took from the events of 9/11 was that the U.S. cannot afford to ignore what the world thinks of us. We must never cease in reaching out to befriend the world, and music is the best way to speak with as many people as possible.
Since I first set off by myself to Moldova and Tunisia in the summer of 2005, my organization, Cultures in Harmony, has sent 20 musicians on eight projects to six countries. We negotiated the inclusion of women in the Whirling Dervish ceremony for the first time in history in Konya, Turkey, where the ceremony originated. We taught composition to AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe and the Tala-Andig tribe in the Philippines. Hundreds of young classical musicians have participated in our master classes.
The best sign that our mission is meeting with success came just before Christmas, when an eye doctor in Zimbabwe wrote me that “you form the ‘beautiful face of America’ which the world is yearning for.”
Unfortunately, building a nonprofit is difficult. After a wonderful year as interim concertmaster of the Spokane Symphony, I chose not to spend time developing my career, in order to develop Cultures in Harmony instead. I have now realized that idealism does not pay the rent. A successful Carnegie Hall debut last month, praised in the New York Times, showed me that the old dream of a concert career is not impossible, so consider this fair notice that I am looking for work!
Yet even as I apply myself to career building, there are a million reasons to continue strengthening Cultures in Harmony’s ability to reach out. I’ll offer just one: after our composition workshops with the Tala-Andig tribe, an indigenous group that lives near subsistence level in mountainous Mindanao, a young girl gave me a picture, along with the note, “I cannot give expensive things. This picture is just simple remember.” That is all I need to remind me why America must show the world that we are still ready to offer friendship, understanding, and hope.
I joined 802 at age 16, already having some club date experience under my belt, having played guitar since age 6. Needless to say, in the late 60’s, club dates were plentiful. Everybody worked, especially the rock-singing guitarists.
I became quite busy, absorbing a ton of standard repertoire as well. As my name got around, I started to get important calls.
In the 70’s, I toured with Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, and Billy Joel. The road was a kick, but not a lifestyle for me. On returning to the New York freelance scene, I became immersed in the high society end of the music business: Peter Duchin, Jerry Kravat, Lester Lanin, etc. Throughout the 80’s this was very lucrative.
The 90’s saw this brand of “society club date” begin to wane. But I was still able to get by.
Around the same time I began recording my own CD for promotion; I became so fascinated with the digital audio editing and mastering processes that I learned these skills and offered these services to fellow musicians, artists and educators. It soon became evident to me that graphics were also an important part of CD production. I studied Photoshop and could now do my own graphics. These skills were now a modest but necessary supplement to my income.
After 2001, the club date scene was taking a nose dive, so I built up the CD production as much as possible. By 2005, we were seeing changes in the union health coverage and pension plan, and this was just the beginning.
On my wife Gail’s prompting — and through Internet research — we started a small “nursing home performance circuit,” here on Staten Island, which has grown nicely, and I enjoy it immensely.
So I went from 325 club dates a year in the mid-80’s to about 100 club dates annually at the present. But now I also have about 100 care facility performances and about 50 CD projects a year. I am now incorporated and became a signatory with 802. This allows me to file, on my own behalf, all the work that does not get filed by non-participating employers or clients (and there is a lot of this going around).
As for the future, I’m extending the nursing home business into New Jersey, and if I run out of venues, perhaps I can always do a few appendectomies on the side (LoL).
If you stick around long enough you get to play with everyone twice…and the second time you are disappointed. Not much has changed since I started, with the exception that now everyone (producers, bookers, etc.) wants everything for free. Free downloads, free ringtones, free food, free xylophone soloists (me). It is amazing that I make a living on an instrument that went out of style in 1930.