Making a living…be flexible, responsible, and positive

This week, our studio class featured a nice guest performance by the brass quintet from the Travis Air Force Band in San Francisco.

Again and again, they stressed the importance of flexibility.  In other words, be able to do what is asked of you (even if it is out of your comfort zone) and do it well.  I am reminded of a former colleague from my own Air Force Band days who once said..

“Professionalism is playing music you may not like so well that you convince people you love it.”

I know most young performance majors  drill away on the excerpts with dreams of winning the big symphony job.  In the real world, a tiny percentage ever get that chance.

However, if you are a flexible professional who is highly responsible with some good people skills, you can still make a living.

When I chat with prospective high school students wishing to major in performance, I often ask them what they hope to be doing in 10 years.  Most of them have a vague notion of getting a performance degree and winning a full time job with an orchestra.  I usually point out this crucial fact:

The great majority of working musicians never win the big audition…

…and still they find a way to have a satisfying life in music!

A more likely outcome for most performance majors is a patchwork career:

  • Lots of private students
  • Freelancing (perhaps subbing with a strong professional orchestra)
  • Holding a position in one or two per-service orchestras
  • Playing in the pit for musicals
  • Being an instrumental music director at a church
  • Teaching adjunct at a local college
  • Hustling gigs with a brass quintet

You may end up making extra income working in a music store, learning to repair instruments, offering your services recording (and editing) other people’s performances, building websites for musical ensembles, or contracting musicians for gigs.

And remember: if you have 12 different employers, the chances of being laid off are greatly diminished.

If you get called to play with a dance band, are you really going to say, “Sorry I only play classical music.”?  I’ve played in dance bands and pit ensembles, recorded jingles for public radio, designed brass trio educational concerts, worn Lederhosen for German band gigs, heck I even played in a brass quintet for a road race (we chose the Cheetham Scherzo)!

  • Never look down on income.
  • Be flexible with musical styles.
  • Be a responsible and pleasant person.
  • And never, never be late for a gig!