Getting Paid To Play (or write)

In the past I’ve been very open to allowing folks to repost or translate my blog articles on their own sites or newsletters, as long as they include a link back to the original site. I figured that my main purpose is to get quality information out to people and allowing this is a good way to increase my internet footprint. After reading through a post by Will Wheaton concerning a very similar topic, I’m beginning to rethink my policy a bit. Wheaton was asked by a prominent blog if they could reprint one of his articles.

Huffington Post has a lot of views, and reaches a pretty big audience, and that post is something I’d love to share with more people, so I told the editor that I was intrigued, and asked what they pay contributors.

Well, it turns out that, “Unfortunately, we’re unable to financially compensate our bloggers at this time. Most bloggers find value in the unique platform and reach our site provides, but we completely understand if that makes blogging with us impossible.”

This is not too far off from the restaurant that wants a band to come in and play for their customers for “exposure.” I tend to avoid these gigs myself and typically encourage student musicians to avoid those as well. When too many musicians start accepting these deals then too many venues begin to expect that paying professional musicians is optional. I’m sure restaurants pay their chefs, shouldn’t musicians get the same deal?

The difficulty here is that I am already giving away my writing for free, so why not go a little further just to reach a bigger audience. It’s a tough call and it seems that, at least at this time, it’s one I will have to make on a case by case basis. Those folks who have asked me for permission and linked back to me have so far been mutually beneficial, since it has increased traffic to my site and allowed me to reach a bigger audience. At some point, however, I may have to start saying no and insist on some sort of renumeration.

Rehearsal Etiquette

Here’s another list of rehearsal etiquette, mainly geared towards the orchestral string player, but as always, much of what is in there applies to all musicians and in any rehearsal situation. Some of my favorites:

Arrive early—at least 15 minutes early, or with enough time to both get your instrument out and warm up. There is nothing more awkward than shuffling through a crowd of seated musicians in the middle of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn. If you are late (it happens), try to avoid taking your seat while the musicians are playing; if you can, wait for an appropriate break in the action to slip in.

And I would like to add that you absolutely must be there early for the gig. As a band leader, I am frequently frustrated when I ask musicians to be ready for a sound check at a particular time and folks are still arriving and getting their stuff in order when it’s time to start. Often the sound check is the only chance one of my groups will get to “rehearse” a chart before the gig (we sight read on the show a lot). I don’t want the audience to hear the “sausage being made” because we’re still trying to get the mic levels set and practice that tricky passage before the show.

Bring a pencil. This one gets its own paragraph. Attending rehearsal without a pencil is like sitting through a university lecture without a taking notes. Even if you think you’ll be able to remember every direction the conductor gives, every dynamic change, every cut, and every ritardando, really, you probably won’t. Keep a couple pencils in your instrument case so they’re always on hand.

And use it. Often times I hear musicians, particularly student musicians, tell me they already know what I asked them to mark. Or sometimes they tell me they are confident they will remember. That may be true, but we all have mental lapses and it’s best to be safe than sorry. And if that doesn’t convince you to properly mark you music, consider that sometimes players have issues that require a sub to play a rehearsal or performance for them. If your music isn’t clearly and cleanly marked your sub will not have a chance. Be prepared.

Leave your arrogance at home. Members of the orchestra are all equal; everyone is contributing. Don’t gloat if you have a solo, and don’t bust out personal solo concertos and performances pieces just to show off. Everyone will be more annoyed than impressed. Also, don’t practice another orchestra member’s solo to demonstrate that you can play it better.

This goes to jazz rehearsals too. I don’t feel it’s cool to jam on someone else’s changes between charts and show off how hip you are. It’s also rude to hog solos. By all means, if you’re not blowing many solos on the gig and want a chance speak up at the rehearsal and ask for one if something gets opened up. Sometimes the band leader will be receptive if you jump up and blow a chorus when it’s not specifically asked for in the chart or fill in behind the vocalist, etc., but remember that other folks like to solo too and if you’re already blowing a lot on a gig or rehearsal that those times are better for giving other folks a taste.

Check out more common sense, but often overlooked, advice for how to behave in orchestra rehearsals here.

Weekend Picks

Here are some random music-related links for you to check out this weekend.

A lengthy and interesting master class by jazz pianist Kenny Werner on improvisation, from 2005. Early on, he says:

You have to learn to play what is within your control.

Check out the context and more here.

Geared mainly for orchestral string players, there are some good nuggets of advice for any musician who rehearses and performs in 39 Orchestral Etiquette Tips Every Musician Ought To Know.

Here’s a nice resource for music theory students about a variety of topics, including Backcycling, Chord Basics, Scales, and Transposing.

Lastly, if you’re like me and both a Weird Al Yankovich and a Frank Zappa fan you’ll enjoy Yankovic’s tribute to Zappa, Genius In France. Unlike a lot of Yankovic’s popular music, this isn’t a direct parody of a Zappa tune, but rather written in the style of Zappa.

Weekend Picks

Happy Friday. I hope that some of you might come catch me at one of my gigs tonight or Sunday. If you prefer to spend your weekend home surfing the net, here are some random music-related links from around the web.

I feel all music teachers should practice the craft of teaching, as well as the craft of making music. Dr. Brad Hanson discusses some Strategies for Teaching Aural Recognition.

The way we conceptualize knowledge in the general sense informs our understanding of musical knowledge and how it comes into play during listening and performance. If musical knowledge goes beyond the ability to recite facts and extends into the ability to operate on musical information through performance, the charge to music educators is to teach students to think critically in addition to developing basic musical skills. It is possible to structure learning experiences in lessons and rehearsals through which students identify problems, critically evaluate them, and work together to solve them. If ensemble players are expected to blindly follow the conductor, there is no room for decision-making or independent thought. In skill-based music curricula students memorize information, but are not challenged to use that information to solve or pose problems. Any curriculum that focuses on performance without the integration of history and theory, or without providing opportunities for students to pose or to solve problems is limited in its effectiveness.

Using electronic musician Scott Hansen (AKA Tycho) as an example, David Holmes writes up on How To Make It In the New Music Industry. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the genre of music Hansen mainly covers in his article, I think there’s some good food for thought for musicians of every kind in there.

…Hansen regularly plays to sold out crowds around the world and sells or streams enough of his music to make a decent living. This runs counter to the narrative that unless you’re one of the hallowed few who write disposable pop hits that play well to Middle American Clear Channel listeners, music is no way to pay the bills. His career arc is not the story of a man who profited by sacrificing his art to the trends of the day. It’s the story of how an artist, with enough time, pressure, patience, and business acumen, can build a sustainable career while staying true to a vision. It’s still almost impossibly difficult to accomplish and requires a massive amount of serendipity. Then again, you could say the same thing about building a successful startup.

In Bb is an interesting idea reminiscent of John Cage’s music.

In Bb 2.0 is a collaborative music and spoken word project conceived by Darren Solomon and developed with contributions from users.

And lastly, trombonist David Finlayson gives us a slide’s eye view of a Rochut Melodious Etude.

Weekend Gig and Weekend Picks

If you’re in western North Carolina this weekend, come on out to hear the Asheville Jazz Orchestra perform at the White Horse Black Mountain on Saturday, September 20, 2014. We play two sets of big band jazz starting at 8 PM.

Here are my picks for your weekend music-related surfing.

It do be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye scurvy dog! Drink yer grog and let loose with some Pirate Music & Sea Shanties.

Now this is concentration. Watch as this flautist performs flawlessly in spite of a butterfly landing right on her nose and camping out for a while.

 Here’s a very interesting and insightful essay posted by trombonist Alex Iles about Versatility vs. Adaptability. He writes:

Just as a gymnast must adapt and constantly re-distribute her weight and energy in order to perform difficult choreographed routine on a 4 inch wide balance beam, freelance musicians must adapt to a wide variety of demands that are constantly changing.

Here’s one for the trumpet players, although every musician will get some good info from this one. Pick up some advice on how to play in a big band trumpet section.

And lastly, since it’s marching band season here’s a description of the Seven People You Meet at Marching Band Contests.

Weekend Picks

Lots of projects keeping me busy lately. Until I can get some more original content posted, here are my weekend picks.

How many times does the chorus repeat in your favorite song? How many times have you listened to that chorus? Repetition in music isn’t just a feature of Western pop songs, either; it’s a global phenomenon. Why? Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis walks us through the basic principles of the ‘exposure effect,’ detailing how repetition invites us into music as active participants, rather than passive listeners.

Not your cup of tea? How about looking through a Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments?

Do you have aspirations to freelance as a musician? Danny Barnes has some great advice on How To Play In Someone Else’s Band.

Lastly, web comic The Oatmeal describes in a both amusing and enlightening way The State of the Music Industry.

AJO Tonight and Weekend Picks

AJO-Logo-Transparent copyI’m directing and performing with the Asheville Jazz Orchestra again tonight (Friday, August 8, 2014) at the White Horse in Black Mountain, NC. The show starts at 8 PM and we’ll play two sets of big band jazz. If you’re in the area looking for live music, please consider coming on out.

Here are some music related links for you to check out this weekend.

Low-Down Sires Busk
Low-Down Sires Busk

The first time I ever performed on the street (AKA “busking”) I had just graduated high school. A sax player heard me play and we talked for a while about a band he was playing in. A month later I went off to college and coincidentally I met another member of that band, eventually leading into me recording and playing some gigs with them. Recently I started busking again with some friends I play trad jazz with. We’ve found it to be a fun way to practice new material, essentially becoming a way to make a bit of money to rehearse. Sometimes if we’ve got some down time on an out of town tour we will go out and play on the street to not only pick up a few more bucks but also plug our gigs later. If you’re interested in trying out performing on the street, check out this advice on How to Busk.

One piece of advice I often give to my composition/arranging students is that they should show their parts to players that perform the instruments they are writing for. Even instruments in the same family will differ in terms of playability. For example, I sometimes get parts written by trumpet players that lay horribly for trombone because they took what they wrote for a trumpet and simply transposed it down an octave. Horn is a particularly challenging instrument for me to write well for because it has some idiosyncrasies that don’t translate from the other brass instruments. Fortunately, John Ericson has given us 9 Ways We Can Tell a Composer or Arranger Doesn’t Know How to Write for the Horn.

Did your metronome battery die? Or maybe it’s just too quiet and you need to blast a metronome through your computer speakers. Here’s a handy (and amusing) online metronome that simulates a pendulum style metronome.

And lastly, since school is about to start up after our summer break, here is a list of Ten Things You Should Never Say to Your Music Teacher. The tone may be tongue-in-cheek, but the advice is golden!

Weekend Picks

I’ll be playing and directing the Asheville Jazz Orchestra again at our monthly show at the White Horse Black Mountain in Black Mountain, NC this Saturday. The first set of big band jazz starts at 8 PM. I’m excited about a couple of “subs” who will be playing with us. Visiting from Michigan State University, Joe Lulloff will be playing alto sax. Brad Jepson, one of the co-directors of the Greenville Jazz Collective Big Band, will be playing in our trombone section. It should be a particularly hard-swinging band this time around, so I’ve put a bunch of challenging charts in the set list. If you’re in the area, come on out.

At any rate, it’s Friday and here are some of my picks for your music-related surfing this weekend. Enjoy.

I’m involved in a few nonprofit organizations devoted to music education and end up performing at fundraisers from time to time. Chris LeDrew makes a compelling case for Why Musicians Should Never Donate Their Talents.

DarwinTunes has put together an interesting musical project. Using loops and  they allowed the music to evolve through public choice. You can listen to some of it, and participate yourself, at their web site.

Here are 20 handy Jazz Musician Tips. A sample:

If the ensemble has to stop because of you, explain in detail why you got lost. Everyone will be very interested.

I had bookmarked this page with a black and white photograph of Louis Armstrong In Egypt. It talks a little bit about the United State’s “jazz diplomacy” during the Cold War. Coincidentally, I recently came across a very well done colorized version of the same photo (and 53 other colorized historical photos).

And to finish off this week, if you ever suffered from self-defeating thoughts about maybe not just having the natural ability to play music, watch this amazing horn player.

Weekend Picks

It’s Friday, so I’ll share some more bookmarks of random music related stuff around the net.

For an online, freely editable database of trumpet exercises, visit the Trumpet Exercise Database. It includes warmups, warm downs, flexibility, endurance, scales, etudes, and more.

Are you looking for a fancy online pitch pipe? Check out the Virtual Piano.

Joe Jackson played trombone for Maynard Ferguson, played lead trombone with the Airmen of Note from 1991 to 2011. He also served as the Airmen of Note’s music director from 2004 to 2011. He knows a few things about how to be a good bandleader.

Do you know “The Lick?” If not, watch this video and learn in all 12 keys.

Hand Signals For Jazz Sets

Caution_Jazz_HandsOn a recent gig with the Low-Down Sires our music director had another job out of town and Mick, our cornet player, ended up taking over the direction duties for this show. While rehearsing for this show we got into a conversation about different hand signals that directors will give to keep the musicians together. Here is a list of ones, mostly compiled by Mick (mainly duplicated from here), but with a couple added by Mick and me. Some are pretty standard, but others were new to me. A few of them are a little more specific to the trad jazz style (such as the ones referring to “ensemble choruses”). Some of these are also used by big band directors as well, so even if you don’t play fake gigs they are worth learning about.

  1. The concert key of a song (or key change for the next chorus) is indicated by the number of  fingers held out. The number of fingers held down indicates the number of flats in a key signature. Two fingers held down indicate Concert Bb. Concert C is usually indicated by making a zero or C with two fingers.* The sharp in Concert G would be indicated by extending up one finger.
  2. Your solo. When the player points at you, it means the next solo will be yours. (Don’t jump in immediately; wait until the current chorus is complete.)
  3. I don’t want one. If you don’t want to solo, just shake your head no.
  4. Take two. When two fingers are held up, that means to take two complete solo choruses. This occurs usually on fast tunes in which choruses are very short, so it gives the solo player a chance to stretch out.
  5. Half solos. The X sign, with crossed hands or crossed fingers means to split the solos in half and share them. In other words, instead of a 16-bar solo, you play 8 bars and pass it on to the next soloist. This happens often in large jam sets to allow everyone to have a short solo.
  6. Trade fours (or twos). When one player establishes eye contact with another player, holds up four fingers, and points them back and forth between the two players, it indicates, “Let’s trade four-bar solo phrases” or “Trade fours.” Of course, you can do the same thing with two fingers to indicate trading two bar phrases, although this is trickier to pull off.
  7. Everyone in. When the cornet player holds up one finger and moves it in a round-up circle, it means, “Everyone in, this is an ensemble chorus.” This is usually the sign to end solo choruses.
  8. Last chorus. A fist held up means “this is the last chorus.” Go out at the end.
  9. Go to the top. Touching an open palm to the top of the head means, “Go to the top,”  which usually indicates going back to the verse, first stanza, or sometimes even introduction of the given tune.
  10. Get down. A flat hand held down at knee level indicates that the next chorus is going to be played in a restrained style, at a pianissimo level. This may also be called a “chatter” chorus.
  11. One down/one up. As a band is nearing the last ensemble choruses, the cornet may give a hand signal, pointing down with one finger, then up. That means to play a quiet and restrained chorus, followed by a loud and exuberant final chorus.
  12. Four bar drum break. When four fingers are held up to the drummer, usually in the final chorus of a tune, that indicates that the drummer is to take a four-bar extemporaneous solo, followed by the band playing a variation on the final four bars of the song. It is critical to listen to the cornet player to catch the shape of these last four.
  13. Jump to the bridge. The leader may point to the bridge of his nose. Done frequently on ballads or longer form tunes after solos to keep a tune from going too long. Sometimes used to help get the band back together if someone zones out and looses track of the form.
  14. Open repeats. The leader makes an “O” shape with one or both hands. Used to indicate that this section will repeat until cued out, usually to let a soloist or soloists stretch out and play additional choruses. The cue to go on to the next section is usually done by holding up a fist a bit before the next section.
  15. Play backgrounds or riffs behind a soloist. The leader points at and sort of waves his finger at a section or group of players to indicate that in the next repeat the players should play backgrounds behind the soloist. In a fake gig the leader or another horn player might quietly play or sing a riff to the rest of the players before they enter to get the riff established, if the backgrounds are improvised.

* Several years ago I was playing a dance set with a big band where the leader wanted the band to improvise a medley of bossa novas. He got the band started off on a standard tune with one horn player performing the melody. After that melody the rhythm section was instructed to play a 4 measure transition to the next tune and the hand signals were used to tell them what key to transition to (e.g., two fingers held down to modulate to Bb, etc.). It got around to me and I called Black Orpheus/Carnaval/Day In the Life of a Fool (three different titles for same tune), which is typically played in A minor. I realized as I called the key that I didn’t know a hand signal for A minor. I tried to verbally get the word over to the leader and rhythm section, but because I was way over on the other side of the stage they ended up going to C major instead. Fortunately this rhythm section was on top of things and immediately recognized the tune, but it was an unusual modulation, to say the least.

Who knows an appropriate hand signal for A minor? What hand signals did we leave out?

Thanks for compiling those, Mick!