Networking started for me, as it does for a lot of people, in school. Going to school in New York gave me a lot of exposure to players who freelanced in town, and gave me the opportunity to get to know them on a personal level, both of which are crucial to getting work.
I started asking these players about freelancing before I graduated and was fortunate enough to get a lot of help in that regard. It’s practically unheard of for a contractor to call a new player out of the blue, without a recommendation from someone of the same instrument who already works for him or her, so word-of-mouth referrals are absolutely necessary.
I also got a list of the major contractors in town from Local 802 and either called or sent my resume to every person on that list. After I’d sent my resume I followed it with a phone call.
IT’S NOTHING PERSONAL
Cold calling can be very hard to do — contractors get a lot of calls, and, in my experience, react to them very differently, from giving me an opportunity to play for them, to asking if I knew anyone who already worked for them, to hanging up on me.
It’s important not to take any reaction you get personally. Some people are open to possibilities and to the idea of giving new players on the scene a chance while others don’t want to be bothered or are just plain having a bad day.
What’s important is getting your name out there and letting people know that you’re available and interested in working for them — and with them.
Also, some players and contractors seem to need reminding that you exist, even if you’ve already worked for them quite a bit. Don’t take that personally either — in a lot of cases people just get used to calling colleagues in a certain order on their list or have loyalty to allegiances that are often decades old, and you’ll have few opportunities to work for them anyway. In those cases I often call those players and contractors that I haven’t heard from in a while, usually before the fall season starts, to let them know that I’m back from whatever I’d been doing that summer and would appreciate any work they could send my way.
I’m generally not more aggressive or persistent than that — nobody wants to get hounded by phone calls from someone they barely know or have never heard of.
On the other hand, if you don’t make that phone call or make the effort to speak to someone in person, contractors may never hear of you or may assume that you don’t need or want the work they have to offer.
A lot of us went to major music schools and conservatories where there was a tremendous amount of competition, pressure and criticism. It’s important not to level that same degree of criticism on your colleagues once you start working.
Music is such a subjective field that you can’t really say who the “best” players are — it’s not fair to judge people or their playing based on your standards, and in the long run it’s just plain inappropriate.
Nobody really likes being criticized, no matter how constructive it’s intended to be, and perfectionists drive people crazy.
Make a few critical remarks behind someone’s back (or to their face), no matter how innocuous or constructive you thought they were, and you can quickly acquire a reputation as a snob, a prima donna and a judgmental jerk that nobody wants to be around.
I’ve found that what works best for me is to have a “we’re all in this together” kind of attitude — just to show up and play the gig as well and as musically as I can, and to let the conductors, personnel managers and contractors, whose job it is to make critical judgments and decisions, sort out the rest.
Happy music making, and good luck!
Tom Hutchinson is principal trombone with the New York City Opera and has been a freelance musician in New York for 15 years.