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Hiring a Musician

Steve and I disagree this week. It's Holy Week, and Spring is the season of church gigs and musicians coming in as ringers with student ensembles, and as a result we are getting calls from a lot of people who do not regularly hire musicians. Steve gets irritable with these "newbies" who beat around the bush on the phone, don't have all of the details that we need, and have to be helped with the process. If we are not speaking directly with them but rather emailing or playing phone tag, the process can take days.

And his point is well taken. We are professionals, and have a right to be treated professionally. For the record, the proper way to hire a musician is this. Call or email, and tell the person when they are needed, what instruments and repertoire are involved, where the gig will take place, and how much it pays. Then the musician has all the information he needs to decide whether to accept the gig or not, and he will respond within a very few hours with a clear yes or no.

But I don't have a problem with these people or their goofy gigs. Anyone who wants to pay me to do what I love to do is worthy of my time and respect. I wish that I had a prestigious job with a big orchestra and had my health insurance paid for and drew a salary that I could rely on every week, but in fact my living comes from a LOT of small sources. Every little gig counts toward the whole, and every reed order, and every student who comes in for a single brush-up lesson without committing to regular study.

Music is a service profession. I am working for the audience, always, and trying to make their experience good, but I am also working for the client, no matter how inexperienced or un-famous that person is. The issue of what my expertise is worth is a topic for another post, but once you quote your price and I accept it I will do my best for you whether you are paying me $75 or $600. I have been the main soloist at a wedding, the only professional player in a youth orchestra, and the guest artist in an REM cover band. I have recorded solos for a cabaret album and an alt-rock one. I have walked in and sight-read concerts, and I have sat next to a high-school student and patiently mentored her into an outstanding performance in the pit of a fully staged opera. I have struggled to tune with an organ that hasn't been serviced in years, and I have been delightful and collegial to that member of your congregation who picks up her flute once a year to play on Good Friday. I have read the tenor line up the octave or the clarinet part down a step.

I provide a service. I play the oboe, and I do it very well. If you hire me to play, I will arrive early with my music learned, and get the job done however small or big it is.

So yes, ideally have your ducks in a row before you call to hire a musician - but call. Do call. Live music is something special, and we are worthwhile expenditures. Call.


  1. I definitely appreciate and agree with this post. As someone who played a goofy gig this Easter, and as someone who found himself trying to hire musicians to play at his friend's wedding this weekend, I was on both sides of the coin. Thanks for the write up.

  2. Tricky on both sides, isn't it? Thanks for your comment!


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