Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.
As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.
The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.
Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit www.afm.org/join.
January 1, 2022IM -
As musicians return to work and venues large and small begin to reopen across the US and Canada, many of us are returning to live performances and gigs in coffee houses, clubs, stages, and concert halls. Nothing beats the feeling of returning to making music with our familiar bandmates. In many cases, personnel have changed. Quite a few freelance musicians are benefiting from first-time opportunities with new bands, acts, and large ensembles.
You may be a fine player and come highly recommended for the gig, but what happens on the day of the show? There are no guarantees beyond your playing that chair, on that day. We talked to several of our member musicians for some advice on how to make sure you’re asked again.
Let’s take a step back—how did we get to the point of being asked to join or fill in with the band in the first place? Kristy Norter of Local 802 (New York City) is a veteran of over 40 shows on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Radio City Music Hall, and many more. She says she rarely asks people directly for work. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t network or drop hints. Norter has contracted several shows herself. She says she tends to only hire people she knows or who have been recommended by a colleague she trusts.
Meg Zervoulis of Local 802 was recently musical director of The Prom on Broadway, and associate on West Side Story and Mean Girls. She says that it’s extremely important to be a musical chameleon with the versatility to play a variety of styles. Especially in musical theater, you need to be able to head uptown and nail the The Music Man as well as groove downtown to Hamilton. If you don’t feel comfortable playing in a particular style or genre, be honest, says Zervoulis. Tell the contractor or bandleader about your comfort or strength with various styles. They’ll appreciate your honesty upfront more than your “best effort” on the gig.
Edmund Velasco, president of Local 7 (Orange County, CA), is a veteran of Disneyland and leader of his own bands as woodwind specialist. He says truth with the leader also extends to availability—don’t accept if you’re going to have to juggle or reschedule other gigs. This, he says, just leads to a reputation of being unprofessional.
It’s likely for most gigs that you’ll just show up and play the show, program, or setlist, after a brief set-up or sound check. If you’re fortunate enough to have a rehearsal, says Shawn Edmonds of Local 802, it’s important to make use of it. Pay attention to what’s going on around you and what other players are doing, and take plenty of notes, if possible. Edmonds adds, however, that preparation away from the venue is far more important than rehearsal—get the work done at home.
As a member of the Count Basie Band, Queens Symphony Orchestra, and a veteran of numerous Broadway shows, Edmonds says that a rehearsal is especially important for musicians who usually operate as soloists but find themselves playing inside a section. What you do with your section mates with blend, style, and intonation is far more important than a brilliant two-minute solo.
Everyone agreed that a positive attitude is extremely important. Zervoulis says to always be personable and, above all, always be yourself. If you’re coming into a new group, you need to be prepared to receive new information and guidance. Try to read the climate and culture of the ensemble and see how you fit in their space. Your warm-up is important too, say Velasco and Norter. Balance your warm-up, they say. Norter advises, not to play that one hard passage at triple-f 83 times before the show starts, while Velasco recommends you not pull out any of your concertos, sonatas, or other flashy pieces to draw attention to yourself. No one cares to listen to you show off, he warns.
Despite your best efforts at home, in rehearsal, or during the show, you’re going to make a few mistakes. Norter advises to always keep moving forward and not to dwell on things. She also warns not to give an extended story to the leader or conductor about a particular mistake after the gig. Also, fight the urge to make excuses. Don’t push back when given a note from the leader, whether on style, volume, or even where to sit, says Velasco. These decisions aren’t up to you, he adds, and no one appreciates a complainer.
Communication is key both before and after your gig. Make sure you have the day of the week, date of the show, and time of the show in writing, so there’s no room for error. This protects both the leader and the musician. Make sure to always respond and confirm. Norter prefers responses with actual words over emojis— a “rocketship” is never a good response to offerings of work.
Make sure to thank the leader and player you filled in for, if applicable. Even if you didn’t feel like it was a good fit or aren’t interested in returning, it’s important to still be personable and preserve your reputation.
There are a handful of behaviors that ring true for every gig. Early is on time, on time is late, and late is often the last time you’ll play with that group. Make sure to always have the right musical equipment, make best use of any materials given to you before the gig, and adhere to any guidelines for appearance.
The advice from the musicians above comes from years of experience with hundreds of ensembles, over thousands of performances. The common thread is that professional and personal conduct often transcend your ability on your instrument. One of the joys of being a freelance musician is the thrill of playing a variety of genres with a host of different ensembles, but that structure presents many unique challenges as well. Best of luck and happy gigging!