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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: freelance

Great Insights Into Freelancing

Andrew Hitz

A couple of years ago I was having lunch with my good friend John Abbracciamento, a trumpet player with the President's Own Marine Band, here in DC. Our conversation, as always, started with us articulating our distastes for the others favorite sports teams (he is from New York, I am from Boston.) But this one day the conversation ended up segueing into a very interesting discussion about the music business. It got good enough that I jotted down a couple of notes.


I asked him about his career before joining the Marine Band. He started out as a freelancer in New York City. He told me he started getting a lot of phone calls very quickly, to play everything from small gigs to becoming a regular sub with the New York Philharmonic.  

To paraphrase him, he was getting more calls than he "should have" gotten. He's always been a great player. He's in the Marine Band! But he said he was getting more calls than other guys who were either as good or better than he was in town. So naturally I asked him why he thought that was.  He gave me two answers:

I got a lot of calls for two reasons. One, I can keep my mouth shut. And two, I can almost immediately match anyone else’s playing.
— John Abbracciamento, Trumpet Player "President's Own" Marine Band

The first point is an imperative one. As musicians, we are taught to share our (musical) opinions all the time. Sometimes it can be challenging to not let that naturally extend to things off of the horn. I was taught to ask myself three questions any time I want to open my mouth to criticize anyone or anything:

1. Does this need to be said?
2. Does this need to be said by me?
3. Does this need to be said by me right now?

Unless I answer yes to all three of those questions, I've learned to keep my mouth shut.

John's point was that he didn't criticize colleagues. He didn't criticize conductors. He didn't complain about the pay on a gig (which he had already agreed to or he wouldn't be there in the first place!) He kept his mouth shut as a sub and kept his head down.

And the second point will get you hired over and over again. As Rex Martin used to preach to us at Northwestern, our job as musicians is to make those around us sound better than they actually are. And John shared a compliment that Woody English, the fantastic former trumpet player for the Army Band, once gave to him:

I like playing with you. You make me sound better than I am.
— Woody English, Former Trumpet Player US Army Band "Pershing's Own"

If you can do the two things that John did during his time in New York, you will find yourself with a phone that rings an awful lot.

Two Stories Every Musician Should Hear

Andrew Hitz

Sorry I've been AWOL from this blog for the last month.  I just finished a project which will be unveiled in the next week or so that has taken up all of my time! But I'll start posting again, I promise! I recently heard a story that we can all stand to hear but it's especially for young musicians who are trying to make a go of it as performers.  That story reminded me of another one that is also a good lesson for us all.

First Story:

I have a good friend in a brass quintet that does quite a bit of work in their city.  They work more than anyone else does in this town and they all get paid quite a bit of money as a result.  There is one instrument in particular that's had a good deal of turnover within the group and they are always looking for someone to fill that spot in a more permanent fashion.

There was a graduate student who had been recommended to them a number of times by various people as being a good guy and a great player.  When the opportunity availed itself, my friend hired this guy to play a graduation ceremony.  As a result of being held in a large stadium, there was a sound check for levels before the actual gig.  The call time was exactly 15 minutes before the sound check.

20 minutes beforehand, no graduate student.  15 beforehand, no graduate student.  None of the regular members could even get this guy on the phone and before they knew it, the sound check started with only 4 guys.  At this point, my friend (the contractor) and their quintet looked like clowns because they couldn't get all five guys there on time.  About 5 minutes into the sound check, this guy came sauntering up and quietly sat down.  He didn't apologize or offer any acknowledgement that he was late.  He also didn't say anything about it between the rehearsal and the gig.

Fast forward to a few months later when this guy saw my friend at a party.  He told him that he enjoyed playing with the quintet and hoped that they could work together in the future.  My friend then told him that they would never call him ever again for any reason.  The guy looked shocked.

Who knows how much work he lost by being late, not being reachable, and not even acknowledging that his actions had consequences for people other than himself.

Second Story:

Jeff Conner, one of the trumpet players in Boston Brass, needed to hire a horn player for our big band Christmas show.  Every year we hire a number of musicians to fill out the trumpets, horns, trombones, and a rhythm section and we pay out a whole lot of money as a result.

Jeff got a very strong recommendation for a horn player who was in graduate school in Texas where we had a few gigs over 5 days.  Jeff called this guy's cell phone and got his outgoing voicemail message.  The message was some heavy metal music.  Jeff waited for 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds and there was no acknowledgement of whose machine it was at all.

At that point, Jeff hung up.  He then called the next guy or girl on the list.  This guy lost over $1000 in work but lost something much more important than that.  He lost the opportunity to network for 5 days on the road with Sam Pilafian, Scott Hartman, Jens Lindemann, all of Boston Brass, and many others.


If he was as great as the people who recommended him said he was which is quite likely, who knows how much work he could have gained from that experience.

And the worst part? Jeff just hung up.  He didn't wait for the beep and leave a message explaining who he was, what he had to offer, and that he was going with someone else.  He has no idea he lost that money and that opportunity.

Moral of the story, you have to be on time, prepared, and accountable all of the time.  No exceptions.  And your voicemail message should convey who you are and be very short, professional sounding, and to the point.  That horn player was not the only person Jeff had to contact that day.  He needs to know that he is leaving a message for the right person or he has to carry around in the back of his head that he might not have actually contacted anyone at all.

Don't leave any opportunities on the table.  There aren't enough of them out there to waste!