18 Real Life Expectations AS a Working Musician

So you want to be a working musician?

Unless you are a statused musician to a stable employer such as a local Theme Park, Broadway show, symphony, school, studio or anything like these that have actual W-2s, benefits, etc., you can expect the following as a freelance musician (in no particular order):

1.  Unstable income.  We have feast or famine seasons in the entertainment world.  Saving and budgeting are essential to survival.

2.  Inconsistent schedule.  We work most weekends and holidays.  Gigs happen any time during a 24-hour period, and you have to be as well rested as possible between gigs.  A regular sleep schedule does not exist for the working musician.

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Instrument Snobs

As a professional violinist with many different symphony orchestras throughout the years, I have learned that your value as a musician is not solely based on your performance, but rather how expensive is your instrument.  One would think that the pettiness of the cost of any item fades after high school where they are more concerned about what name brands you wear on your clothing.  The truth is, it only accelerates and magnifies as you get into the professional world.  Usually, other musicians don’t care what brand of clothing you wear, but they certainly want to know what kind of strings you use, the maker of your instrument, who does your luthier work, what brand is your bow, how old is your instrument, etc.  I have been judged based on the TOOLS I use for my job.  That’s what an instrument is:  a tool.  I have seen symphony personnel managers and music directors dismiss musicians based only on the instrument that they can afford/use.  Teachers tell their students and parents to spend more and more money on instruments, going vastly into debt that will likely carry for 30+ years.  And yet, these same musicians are vying for those “coveted” symphony jobs that don’t even pay enough to make the instrument payment each month, let alone give them money to pay for the essentials of life (housing, transportation, food.)

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Violectric “One” Review by Noted Music Analyst

It has been two years in and out of the studio, revising arrangements, editing, herding cats, plus mixing and mastering, but my band, Violectric, finally has finished its first CD:  ”One.”  The title pays homage to both classical and classic rock composers by using the numerical system for musical works.  Led Zeppelin used Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV), while Beethoven used titles such as “Symphony No. 1/2/3/4/5….”  As this is our first album, I thought it fitting to follow the examples set by the great artists before me.

Recently, I was contacted by noted music analyst, Christopher Long.  Mr. Long wanted to do an exclusive preview and review of our CD before it was available to the public.  Here is the link to his review, and the very first public review of this album.  The album “One” will be available on iTunes, Amazon and other worldwide online stores February 14, with hard copies available February 23, 2014.

http://christopherlongshowbizguru.blogspot.com/2014/02/record-review-violectric-one.html

Disposable vs. Indispensable

We have become a disposable society.  Disposable razors, diapers, water bottles, coffee cups, etc.  Visit any landfill in the world and you can witness it firsthand.  Companies and their designers are actually designing things to last just long enough that you will replace it with the same or newer item when it does break.  Cars used to be designed to last over 10 years; now it is rare to find one with a warranty longer than 3-5 years.  Shoes are made so poorly now that they have to be replaced every few months if worn daily, especially when working.  Appliances last maybe a year or two, then end up in the landfill.  People don’t repair anything anymore, especially when it’s cheaper to buy a new one.

I can somewhat understand about electronics needing to be replaced as new technology is created and used, but how often do they really need to be replaced?  Some companies make the next “thing” completely incompatible with its predecessor so that you have to buy everything new, including chargers, cables and accessories.  Or you have to buy and download new software that even has an expiration date for use!

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Moonlighting

Moonlighting:  having a second job in addition to one’s regular employment, oftentimes of a sketchy nature

Did you know that many employers ban moonlighting?  It is legal.  This can be a concern when you are a musician and having to “pay the bills” by doing other work.  If you are employed by someone (not as an independent contractor, but as an actual W-2 employee), the employer can ban you from doing other work on the side.  Their reason?  They are paying you to do a job to the best of your ability, and if they think you are not giving your best to them, then they may want to replace you.  They can even sue you!

This can be especially tricky when you are employed as a musician under a W-2, and then you also do work on the side as a freelance musician.  The employer is expecting you to come to work fresh and ready to do a show/performance, and does not want you tired and exhausted from where you just came in after driving all night from playing another gig in another state.  Nor do they want you to come in late because your other gig ran late that day before your scheduled shift.

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Do You Work for Minimum Wage?

As we prepare for another union membership meeting about changes to the price list for this specific geographical region, I feel it necessary to ask this question.  Minimum wage is just that – the MINIMUM.  It is established for the least experienced with the lowest skill set (i.e. usually students and people who never tried to learn a trade or expand their education.)  As you earn skills and improve your education, you can demand more money for your time.  I know very few people making minimum wage as lawyers, doctors and other professions who must attend school more than the regular 13 years and 4+ years of college.  The more experience you have, the more money you should make.  Now translate this to musicians.

Minimum SCALE is the minimum wage based for the lowest skill set of musicians at the professional level.  It is the starting salary for those right out of college, not the salary for musicians who have been doing it for 10+ years.  Minimum wage scales should be marketed as the STARTING scale, not the only scale.  The problem is that minimum scale has become the acceptable standard to pay all professional musicians, regardless of experience and investment in degrees, instruments and equipment.

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Where Do You Actually Do Business?

In today’s world of digital offices, we can virtually do business anywhere that has power, cell service and a wi-fi connection.  Most of my initial correspondence is through e-mail, from inquiries to questions to sending files and sharing website links.  That correspondence then leads to phone conversations, which then usually lead to a face-to-face meeting.  But where do we meet?

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Dress Code for Musicians and Their Audiences

What happened to style for ladies?  I realize this may be way off the topic of most of my posts about working musicians, but it does directly involve how female musicians dress for work.  As we start a new season of symphonic performances, I often wonder what fashion choices we will see onstage and off.  In recent years, orchestras have had to put dress codes in their contracts to make sure that the musicians show up for a concert dressed properly. Perhaps we need a dress code for the audience, too.  I can see it now in the fine print on the back of everyone’s ticket is a phrase that says:  “Dress accordingly for this event.  Those who are found in violation of proper attire may be denied entry.”

Okay, that may be going too far, but many fine restaurants and golf courses have dress codes about “no tank tops, no shorts, jacket required, etc.”  Maybe Performing Arts Centers should have a dress code for their patrons.  Until they do, I have a few suggestions for the ladies.

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