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So you want to be in a rock band?: In studio and on stage

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | March 24th, 2008



Scoring work as guest players on major albums, television and movie soundtrack writing and touring support for popstars and even orchestras, session and freelance musicians are defined as artists for hire that are not committed solely to a steady project. While session musicians, as one may deduce from their title, primarily lend their talents to studio work, freelance players typically perform live with touring acts.

Typical of any aspect of the music biz, connections and networking play a vital role in terms of finding gigs. According to both Kelvin Gumbs and Dale Anne Brendon, becoming session/freelance players was something that they just “fell into.” While Gumbs initially had to pick up the instrumental slack on some tracks he was producing for clients, Brendon found herself bombarded with drumming opportunities after graduating from Western’s music program, but neither of them had envisioned this as their master plan. However, that doesn’t mean that having the sole ambition to become a freelancer is unfeasible. On the contrary, it would seem that opportunities for these players are plentiful; you just need to know where to look.

Though as mentioned, word of mouth and networking play crucial roles in finding employment, there are also several job boards with musician classified sections that regularly list gig possibilities such as www.craigslist.com, www.overhear.com, and www.indbamusic.com. Brendon recommends trying to make a personal connection with each potential employer when you come across a gig that interests you, as from her experience, she has found that simply cold-calling and sending out promotional packages rarely works.

In terms of payment, prices generally vary from player to player depending on their contributions and the type of project. When it comes to recording, on average there is a base fee of approximately $100 - $200 per hour with a minimum of three hours guaranteed employment. On the other hand, touring pay scales begin approximately at a $300 minimum per hour, again with no less than three hours of contracted work. Of course, depending on the length and travelling associated with a tour, this rate may be negotiated. However, regardless of whether a scheduled live performance is a success or failure, freelance musicians maintain their same set rate of pay.

Brendon feels it’s essential for anyone interested in pursuing this avenue to familiarize themselves with the American Federation of Musicians’ (AFM) fee policies. The AFM standardizes pay scales for different player positions within each musical project, and through membership to their organization, one is provided with contracts for each opportunity undertaken, that they will enforce, if necessary. As you’ll recall from previous editions, I’ve referenced the AFM several times in regards to national touring pay scales and policies. For more information on their organization, please visit www.afm.org

In exchange for these set rates of pay, session musicians are not eligible to collect royalties in the future, if a project on which they were featured, takes off. Additionally, it is understood that they do not own their musical contributions from a legal perspective. These principles are agreed upon amongst both parties (employers and musicians) and the trade-off is considered fair.

A major benefit to this arrangement for session and freelance musicians is that there is no waiting period for payment, nor is their income contingent on the success of the project. According to Gumbs, usually directly after a project is completed, session and freelance musicians are compensated with upfront cash. Though these terms are well understood within the industry, Brendon still urges musicians to establish written contracts for each engagement to ensure that their rights and best interests are always protected, as verbal agreement can be more difficult to prove.

If you’re interested in pursuing this route, Gumbs recommends being aggressive and persistent in terms of self-promotion, and building up one’s network and reputation. Brendon also suggests that the best way to learn about this avenue is to pry at the brains of experienced fellow musicians who have, as she puts it, “been around the block.”

The biggest tip for freelancers that Brendon emphasized was the importance of knowing one’s employer. Just as you wouldn’t achieve success by applying for an office job in full out gothic attire, you likely wouldn’t be chosen as a freelancer for an orchestra gig if you showed up to the audition covered in piercings. Gauging the needs of one’s employer is as easy as looking at their audience; if you see mohawks in the crowd, tattoos and torn jeans are encouraged, but if the arena is filled by men and women in suits, one may want to rethink the bright pink hair.

Next Week: Alternative Sources of Revenue Conclusion: Music Journalism, I’m begging you to please save this degrading art!

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