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When It Comes to Freelancing, Know Your Worth


by Michael Manley, Director Organizing and Education Division


Everyone loves to get the call, text, email, or Facebook message offering them work—especially when gigs are scarce and times are lean. Employers know you love to make music, and the best employers value and fairly reward this. The worst, however, will exploit your passion for their own gain. Before you decide to take the job, ask yourself two questions: “What should this job pay?” and “What am I worth?” Then, follow the money.

In building a freelance career, sometimes the job you say “no” to can be just as crucial as the one that you say “yes” to. Of course, a union contract is the best guarantee that the job is paying appropriate wages and contains appropriate benefits. While it would be ideal if every musician only worked union jobs, currently that is not the reality. But it is not hard to spot those jobs that should be union and that is where musicians need to ask the right questions and say “no” when appropriate. Here are a few key points to look for and some factors to consider before taking a job.

What’s the gig? Separating for-profit from public service

We all know how it works: you get an offer, which includes the type of ensemble, genre, and repertoire, venue, and most importantly, what the pay and benefits are. Before deciding to accept or reject an offer, determine the context of the employment. Performing at a local church during the holiday season? With no tickets sold or meaningful profit being realized, this gig is really one of public service. You may or may not decide to take the work based on the pay offered, the people you are performing with, the repertoire, and the mission or cause being served by the concert.

But what if tickets are sold and the performance is in a large capacity venue? This is where you have to proceed with caution.

What is the job paying, and what should it pay?

How do you find out what a job should pay? Consult your AFM local’s website for scales, or give the local a call, if the scales are not published online. Union local scales may vary according to the type of engagement, type of music, and size of the venue. Remember:  local scales are minimums, not maximums—they should easily fit into the budgets of truly professional for-profit events and concert producers.

What is the size of the venue, and what are the ticket prices?

If the venue is more than 1,000 seats and tickets are being sold at top prices, a union contract should be a given and the absence of one is a huge red flag. If there is no union protection and the wages being offered for the job are lower than union scale, why?

Who is the artist/act?

If you are being asked to play for a band, artist, or act that is a “household name,” you should never work without a union contract. The act/artist can afford union rates. If the job is being offered as nonunion and at substandard wages, it means the money the artist is paying for back-up musicians is not trickling down to you. Where is it going?

Who are you working for?
Follow the money

Who called you for the job? Is it a trusted high-profile union contractor who has booked similar jobs in the past? If not, why? A common trend now: peers who act as contractors for a job, with these musicians being offered a bump in pay to make job offers to their colleagues. They act as proxy employers—but they are not really employers. Will you receive a 1099 for the work, or will you receive a W-2? Or worse, is someone going to try and pay you with PayPal or Venmo? And who is your peer working for? This is the hallmark of a sketchy gig—one where you have no protections or recourse if there are problems. And why is a section violin player being asked to contract your work anyway? Consider what would happen if you were underpaid or never got paid. Who would you go after for the money?

Remember, if you do not have the protections of a union agreement, then you do not have any protections at all.

What about the extras?

Are you being asked to drive more than an hour to do the job? If so, mileage should be paid or professional chartered transportation should be provided. If there is a soundcheck in the late afternoon and an evening concert, you should be provided a hot meal or appropriate meal per diem between calls. The absence of both of these is a red flag. In a major venue, it is likely that union stagehands, carpenters, and electricians are working for fair union wages and benefits. If the crew member plugging in the amp is receiving a union wage, why not you?

No one is impressed by
underpaid work

It’s great to play in a large venue with “stars.” We all love to post backstage photos with artists when we get to share the stage with them. But the people who matter to your career—the top-tier players and contractors—will know when a job is undermining the basic standards and conditions that they have worked hard to achieve and maintain in their own careers. They are not impressed when you work for substandard wages. And working for substandard wages does not lead to working for appropriate wages, nor does it lead to working with the influential first-call musicians with whom you hope to share the stage as your career develops.

The bottom line

We all love to make music, and saying “no” can be hard. Emerging professionals sometimes take nonunion work because it is all they feel they can get. But a truly nonprofit, nonunion church or community theater gig is a far cry from playing with a well-known artist in a huge arena. There is some work that absolutely should be “union”—make sure you know what it is. If you are being offered substandard wages and conditions, with no union protections, don’t be afraid to say “no,” warn your colleagues, and alert your union local. You and your career will be better for it in the long run.

What can you do about sketchy gigs? Organize them! Call the AFM Organizing and Education Division at (917)229-0267 or email Director Michael Manley at mmanley@afm.org. 

Secret Language

The Secret Language of the Heart: How to Use Music, Sound, and Vibration as Tools

Backed by the latest research, composer Barry Goldstein shares how every one of us can harness the power of music to dissolve creative blocks, reverse negative mindsets and attitudes, alleviate ailments, and improve overall health. The book offers practical tips and instructions that can be tailored to individual needs. Secret LanguageThe Secret Language of the Heart: How to Use Music, Sound, and Vibration as Tools for Healing and Personal Transformation, by Barry Goldstein, Hicrophant Publishing, www.hierophantpublishing.com.

Getting Your Promo Kit Together

by Mike King, author and instructor for Berkleemusic.com

The music industry tends to be a jaded group to start with, and nothing raises the ire of these folks more than a poorly planned and executed promo kit. A poor promo kit is sure to keep your demo or finished CD unopened and not listened to, and the rest of your kit is sure to be sent to the circular bin “with a bullet,” as they say. The good news is, the elements that make up an effective press kit are straightforward, and the essentials will not change much from band to band.

You should create a press kit with several folks in mind—club bookers, radio DJs, and the media—and while the details may change very slightly, there is one thing that you have to keep in mind:

When putting together your promo kit, the first rule of thumb is to put yourself in the shoes of the people that receive these things on a daily basis. The music writers at major US and Canadian local papers, like The Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune, receive dozens of promo kits per day, and the same thing goes for the popular clubs in your area.

These people have seen it all, and while you may have the urge to create a leather-bound CD wallet, monogrammed with your band’s name, that really stands out from the crowd, I urge you to reconsider and instead let your music, bio, and press clippings do the talking for you.

Common Promo Kit Problems

I worked at an independent record label for a while, and saw more than my share of press kits. And I’m telling you straight up that spending a day in the water of the river Styx in Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell may be only slightly less preferable than going through amateurish, unsolicited promo kits. Bad promo kits may make you mad, but really bad promo kits make you sad, too. Before we get to the ingredients of a killer promo kit, I want there to be no confusion on what makes up a bad one. For everyone’s sake, please avoid the following:

Too much information—Unless you are in the superstar category, there is no reason to have a dozen pages describing the conditions under which you recorded the record, your political leanings, what the songs are about, etc. The biographical information in your press kit should be informational and concise.

Poor grammar—Misspelling the recipient’s name on your package or cover letter is a big problem. And while it may be cool to avoid punctuation and capitalization in your e-mails and My Space page, it is definitely not cool when you are writing to someone asking them to play your record or book you a gig. You may be an artist, but this is one place where you are going to have to exhibit some professionalism.

An overreaching package—Again, unless you are on a major label or have the dough to send program directors promo items (even then, it doesn’t really matter unless the promo items you’re sending are American Express checks), there is no need to create some grand package to really “wow” the recipient. The truth is, if the music isn’t any good, it really doesn’t matter that you enclosed cookies with your package (true story).

Not enough information—You covered all your bases, your demo is hot, you addressed it to the right person, you’ve got some momentum, and the writer/booker is interested in finding out more. But wait, who are you? Always be sure to put your contact info all over the package. Writers and bookers may not be the most organized bunch and things can easily get separated. Clearly mark your name on the CD, on the cover letter, on your bio—and if you can, make up some cards and drop a few in the package.

Poor research/no prior contact—It’s fundamental that you send your kit to the right person. Never address your promo kit: “To whom it may concern,” or “ A&R.” This is a sure-fire way to get your kit into the trash since many folks don’t take unsolicited kits. Find out who the right person is through a phone call. Also, be aware of what kind of music the organization you’re sending your kit to is into. If you are sending your package to a hard rock label, it’s pretty unlikely they would put out a collection of classical accordion covers. (Unless they rocked, of course!)

Bad tone—Another big turn off is a demanding promo kit. Remember, the goal of the kit is to present your band and your music in the best possible light, and the language you use is important. Be nice. I recall, in particular, one promo kit that came in from what looked like twin sisters who sang folk music. Not only was the cover letter off-putting in tone, but they demanded we send the kit back after we reviewed it! Bad form.

What Makes a Good Promo Kit?

Like many things in life, simple really is better. An effective press kit contains five or six key things: cover letter, bio, your demo or finished product, photo, press clippings, and sometimes a tour schedule.

1) Cover letter—Your cover letter should be addressed to the proper recipient, and attached to the outside of your kit with a paper clip. Tone, content, spelling, and grammar should all be checked. You want this letter to be warm and relatively formal, quick, and to the point. Explain what you are looking for from the recipient as concisely as possible.

2) Biography—In my opinion, the bio is not a place to get cute or overly creative. Present the facts: the history of the band, interesting individual background and/ or accomplishments of the members, the band’s highlights so far, and perhaps some key press quotes.

3) Your demo or finished product—This is the most important part of your kit. No matter how good the rest of your kit reads and looks, if the music is not good or presented incorrectly, you’re sunk. If you’ve got a finished CD together, include a copy in your package. If not, you should prepare a three- or foursong demo.

Song order is very important. You should absolutely lead off with the song that you feel kicks the most ass. And that song needs to kick ass immediately. No one has time to listen to a two-minute intro before the song gets moving. For example, if you are a rock band, you want “Black Dog” as an opener, not “Stairway to Heaven.” And as I mentioned above, it is incredibly important to have your contact info all over your kit, especially the CD.

4) Photo(s)—This is the visual representation of your band. Again, be a bit careful about how artsy it is. The photo should try to capture what one might expect from listening to the music.

5) Press clippings—If you’ve had some past success with the press, your promo kit should include a “Paste-Up” of this media coverage. Format is important here. Any editorial your band gets should be cut out from whatever else surrounds it in the paper. Cut out the masthead of the publication, affix it on a piece of paper with the article below, and be sure to format it all so it looks nice on an 8.5 x 11-inch piece of paper.

6) Tour schedule is optional—If you have an amazing tour schedule, it may make sense to include an itinerary of upcoming shows as well. If the recipient of your kit is not all that familiar with your band and they see you’re playing places like the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., or Yoshi’s in San Francisco, they’ll know you are the real deal.

Package all these items up in a straightforward folder and you’re all set. Again, no need for oversized glossy kits. Keep it simple, baby. It’s easier for you, and I guarantee that, even if they don’t say it, the folks that receive your kit will thank you as well.

Mike King is the associate director of marketing at Berkleemusic. Prior to working at Berklee, he was the marketing/product manager at Rykodisc, where he oversaw all marketing efforts for label artists including Mickey Hart, Jeb Loy Nichols, Morphine, Jess Klein, Voices On The Verge, Bill Hicks, The Slip, Pork Tornado (Phish), Kelly Joe Phelps, and Frank Zappa’s estate. King is also the course author/ instructor of several online marketing courses at www.berkleemusic.com, as well as the author of the book Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail (Berklee Press, 2009).

teaching private lessons on bass

How to Get Started with Teaching Private Lessons

Musicians with years of experience, and even those new to professional music, often find it rewarding to spread their experience and knowledge. Offering private lessons can help make connections in the community and foster personal musical development, and by introducing new people to the joys of performance, you can make a difference in your students’ lives. So as summer comes to an end and school starts up again, think about ramping up efforts in education and really making an impact through private instruction.

Back to Basics

You must first decide what age group to teach. The age of your students will not only determine what and how you will be teaching, but it will also determine your weekly teaching hours. High school and grade school aged students, along with working professionals, require afternoon, evening, or weekend hours and college students or retirees may have more flexible schedules. Try to think about your daily routines and how you will balance teaching with your rehearsal and performance schedule. You must also set aside time for setting up a curriculum and a system for evaluating student progress.

It’s important to research which books and teaching materials will be effective for your students. Resources are available through national organizations including the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) at www.mtna.org and National Association for Music Education (MENC) at www.nafme http://www.nafme.org/.org, as well as their local chapters. For a mix of new-and-innovative and tried-and-true, the best teachers combine methods from their own musical beginnings with more recent innovative techniques.

Prospective students or their parents will ask you about education, previous teaching experience, references, and the types of music that you teach. Tailor the information you have in your working bio to answer questions students may have about your background. It’s important to highlight diversity and variety in your skills, and experience in many different musical settings–band, orchestra, solo recitals, and work in various genres.

Keep enough free time in your schedule to allow flexibility when it comes to setting up lessons, especially when balancing private teaching with commitments to another job. Students and their parents keep busy school-year schedules as well.
Another important consideration is how much to charge for lessons. Factors in determining fees include income levels in your area, length and level of the lessons, and whether you’re teaching children, adults, or both.

Online and on Paper

There are a lot of online resources you can use to set up a successful teaching studio. The AFM’s GoProLessons.com is a directory of professional musicians offering lessons. Students looking for a teacher can search for a professional teaching musician in their area. As an AFM member you can post a profile with your bio and photo. A personal website or a profile on a social networking site like MySpace can include recording samples, along with a bio, photos, and other information.

The websites for MTNA and MENC offer listings to members according to instrument and location. MTNA also offers opportunities for professional development, including a national certification process. Once established, you should consider taking this step; it carries with it the possibility of awards and national recognition for your teaching work.

Designing a flyer to be placed at local music stores–even if it’s just a sheet with little tear-off strips at the bottom with your name, phone number, and e-mail address–is also a good starting point. Some music stores also house teaching studios; inquire if there’s an opening or a need for an additional teacher for your instrument.

Onward and Upward

To expand your teaching from a handful of students to your own studio, involvement and interaction in your community are crucial, and networking will be a valuable asset. Connections with classroom music teachers will help in seeking out budding talent. Friends and colleagues who teach in local schools can point out concerts and recitals to attend, and may recommend you to students and their parents, including those who wish to continue their study when school is not in session.

Always keep promotional materials updated and on hand; every trip to a school, rehearsal or performance site is another chance for further exposure. As music in public schools is gradually and tragically being phased out, private music instructors can fill the void in arts education.

sideline work

How to Handle Professional Sideline Work

by Matt Allen, Contract Administrator AFM Electronic Media Services Division

sideline workIn recent years, there has been steady sideline work across the US and Canada, in towns and cities, large and small, for television and motion picture production. Because of the diversity of shooting locations, I receive a number of calls from musicians and local officers in various jurisdictions concerning how sideline employment is to be paid and covered. So, I felt this article would be an opportunity to review a few of the basic elements of sideline employment.

Sidelining is when a musician is engaged to mime the playing of a musical instrument on camera. Typically, a musician will perform to a prerecorded track that is played back on the set. The minimum call for a sideline engagement is eight hours. Work hours after the initial eight hours, and during certain nighttime hours (after midnight, for example), entitles a musician an additional amount, based on the musician’s rate.

In some instances, a musician is required to record while being filmed. In these cases, the musician is entitled to a recording scale, in addition to their sideline scale. Also, a special Silent Bit rate is provided in the Theatrical Motion Picture and TV Film Agreements when a sideline musician is directed to perform special business.

There are many motion picture and TV film productions taking place across North America, so if you are ever contacted by a producer (or, if you are a local officer, and a musician or group of musicians in your jurisdiction is contacted by a producer) for a sideline engagement, you first need to confirm that the film is covered by the AFM. It is important that a producer’s signatory status be confirmed before you accept the call, otherwise you risk working on a non-AFM production and will lose the protection and benefits of AFM-covered employment. You may either contact your local to verify whether or not a producer is signatory to the appropriate agreement, or you may contact the AFM directly.

After you have completed the sideline engagement, it is important that you make certain a copy of the session report is filed with the local in the jurisdiction where the work was done. The local will, in turn, send a copy of the session report to the AFM, who will file a copy with the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund (FMSMF). Providing this session report will help ensure the FMSMF will have the appropriate documentation to credit you for your performance in any secondary markets distribution.

Current Motion Picture and TV Film sideline scale information can be found on afm.org, or for more information on sideline work in general, you may contact either track AFM headquarters or your local office.

How to Lead the Audience

Excerpted from How to Play Madison Square Garden: A Guide to Stage Performance, (Not More Saxophone Music Inc., 2011) by Mindi Abair, member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Lance Abair, and Ross Cooper.

The first 10 seconds are the most crucial to winning over an audience. How you walk onto the stage is important. It gives the audience an idea of who and what is important. If you walk onto the stage initially looking at the other band members and their equipment, it appears that 1) you think you are more important than the audience or 2) you are ignoring the audience. If you walk onto the stage immediately looking out into the audience to see everyone, you convey the impression that you can’t wait to become friends with everyone. This immediately gives the audience a feeling of importance, and ultimately causes them to like you from the very beginning.

The best way to prepare for walking onto the stage is to have all of your equipment, microphones, guitars, drumsticks, etc. ready so that you can pick them up and/or put them on without even thinking about it. This enables you to be free to check out the audience from the first step you take on stage, and this starts the show off in the most personal and effective way possible. You’re confident, ready to give as a performer, and this is your time. Look them straight in the eyes, and then rock them!

Nothing Succeeds Like Success

Walk on stage as if you own it and you belong there. Exude confidence and success. Don’t confuse the terms confidence and success with cockiness. Cocky people are generally not well liked. On the other hand, people don’t want to follow someone who appears to be unsure of themselves or worse, a loser. They will follow a winner anywhere. A great smile will do wonders. It imparts the feeling that, “I know what I’m doing. I’ve done it a million times before. Come along with me. This is going to be great!”

Be You

One of the difficulties in explaining the best way to meet the audience is that performance styles can be so wildly different. For example, the high energy rock group KISS comes out blasting and uses a lot of intricate lighting and pyrotechnics. On the other end of the spectrum, jazz singer Norah Jones comes out performing a more low-key, sensitive marriage of music and lyrics. These two approaches are completely different, but they are completely correct for each act. The higher-power rock group needs to establish themselves as such. The warm and smooth singer-songwriter needs to likewise establish the environment and level of intimacy that facilitates the best possible presentation of his or her material.

The important thing to consider is how you and your group intend to meet the audience. Do your best to make a statement regarding who you are. Establish your character very early, and you will be able to take the audience on a journey from there.

Many years ago a famous R&B singer-songwriter, who had a number one hit song on the Billboard charts, was performing a live concert. After the house lights were dimmed and the singer took the stage, the audience went wild. They were anxious to hear some of the most brilliantly executed R&B music of the day. Instead of playing R&B, this artist started playing old standard songs, as if he were the piano player in a nightclub lounge. The crowd was forgiving, however, they were a bit disappointed. The expectation that a certain character would emerge from the stage at the outset didn’t happen. Once again, establish your true character early so you can move to take the crowd on a journey. Don’t start off on a tangent. You can journey toward this, but a tangent should never start or end a show.

After you have played your opening musical segment, the audience will applaud. Respond to the audience’s applause by thanking them and by making a statement that will help to establish the tone of the show for the night.

You Control the Show

Control of the show is a simple concept that can either make you or break you. Part of any successful relationship is knowing who’s in charge. You are in charge. There are no exceptions to this hard and fast rule. You should be in control of a number of things, including the overall feel of the show, the content, the amount and quality of interaction with the audience, and even the pacing of the show. You should always go in with these things in mind. Even though it is the audience who is buying the tickets, you should realize that they are paying you to be in charge.

Actors are always taught to never break character and to never allow hecklers or interruptive elements of any type to break their concentration and performance. As musical performers, somehow that’s never taught to us! But the concept works for any type of performer. Is there someone in the audience who is yelling out a request for a song continually? Is it distracting people from what you’re doing on stage? Is it distracting you from what you are doing? Move the show along. Don’t lose sight of what you’re on stage to do.

Apply and maintain pressure on the audience. Audience pressure is created when the performer’s actions on stage compel the audience to become interested and involved. The opposite of pressure, “dead air,” where the audience loses interest with what’s happening on stage, should be avoided at all cost.