New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media

This article is from our magazine. To view it in its original format, click here

INSIDE MUSIC: A day in the life of a working musician

By Rosemary Conte

INSIDE MUSIC: A day in the life of a working musician

Most kids today go to University to prepare for a professional career. After a music major has played his senior recital and graduated…where are the jobs? 

A minor in Business Administration would help a talented person “open shop.” A working musician is just that; a local sole proprietor---in the beginning. For it to be anything more, it takes confidence, which begets “drive,” and a lot of other resources that would fill a volume about “making it” in music. Luck, as most view it, is a minor player. Luck means being so prepared, that when an opportunity appears, one can jump on it.

I see that emerging musicians today approach playing music as the business it is. And when they feel accomplished enough, and are driven, they know how to move ahead. Today, DIY (Do it yourself) is an alternative to the path of success taken in previous decades, where one would build a local following, create a buzz that would resound at the record label level, and get signed. DIY is different. It’s expensive. And exhausting!

Veteran master musicians and singers, many who could play and sing circles around some big stars, and who didn’t find success in the old way, can be found under our noses.  They may play full-time, or have day jobs and play part-time. They play in bars and restaurants; outdoors in music festivals; and concertize in NJ’s numerous arts centers, theaters and libraries. 

Some musicians take on students. And generally, there is no financial security.  Similar to a farmer’s schedule, a working musician’s bountiful season doesn’t last all year long. It’s even more challenging for a freelancer who isn’t part of a set band that has built a following; knows how to get bookings; and works a lot.  

The article continues after this ad


One doesn’t stop being a musician. In some cases, it’s the only skill one has. They frequently play gigs that provide no artistic satisfaction and aren’t worth the time and energy it takes to fulfill them. Money isn’t always the reason for accepting a gig, especially one that’s short on pay. Sometimes, a player is asked to do a favor that translates as low pay. In any case, a player must keep playing to stay relevant. And, often, being true to oneself becomes an inner conflict with symptoms.

Pay for local musicians in area venues is no better today than it was in the 80s (except if you have your own wedding band and a good business sense.) Local gigs pay peanuts, and Pay to Play is alive and well!  (I’ll address that in another column, as well as the foolishness of club owners who don’t keep and maintain a piano.) In many fields you’ll find workers complaining if they haven’t had a raise in a few years. How about decades?  

INSIDE MUSIC: A day in the life of a working musicianMy friend, Marty, is a master pianist who’s played all sorts of gigs, in every kind of setting in his 68 years. He told me, “I can’t take it any more---driving into Manhattan, to the Village, Rockefeller Center, New York Sports Club, or the like, dealing with the traffic, leaving home early enough to allow for hold ups in the tunnels.” 

 There’s the wear and tear on his high mileage 12-year old car; the gas; the tolls; and the stress of finding a place to double park close to the venue to unload his piano, amp and other gear. Sometimes he has to carry equipment through bustling kitchens with wet, slippery floors, dodging cooks and servers with huge trays of food. 

Once the gear is in the party room, it’s back in the car on safari; looking for that parking place that never seems to appear. As gig time approaches, the task turns to hunting for a garage or a lot that might cost $30 or $40. But it’s not just the expenses of the gig; it’s the stress of being on time. Marty’s a conscientious guy who gives 100%.

So he plays the gig.  It’s a party. There’s no bass player.  So, he has to do the work of two musicians, playing the bass parts with his left hand while his right hand plays the chords and melody.  Entertainment offices often book an exceptional pianist who can do the work of two for the price of one. It should be a crime. Sometimes the player knows in advance there won’t be a bass player; sometimes not. It’s hard work! The gig bears no relation to art. To Marty, it’s literally, manual labor!

INSIDE MUSIC: A day in the life of a working musicianAt the end of the gig, his energy is low and he’s not looking forward to reversing the three hour journey home. He breaks down his gear and leaves it stacked, waiting to be loaded, hoping it doesn’t get stolen while he’s retrieving his car, as so often happens in NYC.

Walking long city blocks is unpleasant in the dead of winter and in the sweltering summer. As he walks, he calculates. Five hours on the road, then carting, setting up and breaking down, and finding and paying for the parking. He was booked for four hours. The gig took nine hours!  He remembers how once it was glamorous and exciting to be playing in the Big Apple. As he’s grown older, so has the enchantment grown old.

He double parks, loads his gear, and goes back inside to get paid for the days work.  He’s tired. He’s been doing this for 47 years.  

The leader hands him a $100 bill.

originally published: 2017-08-22 14:07:42

Upcoming Events

Levoy Theatre Presents Travis Tritt

Levoy Theatre Presents Travis Tritt

(MILLVILLE, NJ) -- The Levoy Theatre presents country music star Travis Tritt on Friday, July 6 at 8:00pm.  More than 27 years after Travis Tritt launched his music career, the Southern rock influenced artist continues to display strong sales activity, sell-out shows, and stay true and relevant to country music fans across the globe. Continuously performing shows and withholding a heavy appearance schedule, Tritt is proving to be unstoppable. Tickets range from $59 to $69.

The 2018 New Jersey Uke Fest

The 2018 New Jersey Uke Fest

(WHIPPANY, NJ) -- The Folk Project presents the 2018 New Jersey Uke Fest on August 24-25 at the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey in Whippany and an outdoor Jam on the Morristown Green on Sunday, August 26.  This is the Folk Project's sixth annual ukulele festival, complete with everything you've come to expect from a uke fest: concerts, workshops, vendors, open mics, jams and more! Performers include Victoria Vox, Abe Lagrimas, Jr., Gracie Terzian, and The Aloha Boys and Alan Distajo, all of whom will also be presenting workshops. In addition Marc Dutton, Debi Velasco, Tyler St.Clare, Mihal Gross, Dave Kleiner and FiL Wisneski wil serve as additional workshop presenters.

Westminster Choir College Holds Summer Choral Reading Session In Bristol Chapel

Westminster Choir College Holds Summer Choral Reading Session In Bristol Chapel

(PRINCETON, NJ) -- Westminster Choir College of Rider University will host a summer choral reading session on Tuesday, June 19 at 7:30pm in Bristol Chapel on the Westminster campus in Princeton.  Westminster alumnus Anthony Maglione will lead a reading of Ralph Vaughan William’s Dona Nobis Pacem. Participants can bring their own scores or borrow one from Westminster. Admission is free.

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performs free summer concert at Ocean County College

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performs free summer concert at Ocean County College

(NEWARK, NJ) -- The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performs a free outdoor concert of Broadway songs, opera overtures and more at Ocean County College in Toms River on Tuesday, June 26 at 8:00pm. This event is sponsored by JCP&L/FirstEnergy Foundation and PNC Bank and presented in partnership with Ocean County College.

Event calendar
Sunday, Jun 17, 2018


LEE BAINS III & THE GLORY FIRES @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

Radio 104.5's 11th Birthday Show - Day One @ BB&T Pavilion, Camden - 1:00pm

BOZ SCAGGS @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 7:00pm

DAVID CROSBY & FRIENDS @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 7:30pm

Rockit! Academy: California Dreamin’ @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 3:00pm


The Last 5 Years @ Eagle Theatre, Hammonton - 3:00pm

Half Time @ Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn - 1:30pm and 7:00pm


Fathers Day Comedy Special ft. Alex Pavone, Ali Breen, Lucas Connally and Andrew Lee @ Tropicana Casino and Resort, Atlantic City - 7:00pm and 9:00pm

MIKE FINOIA, KEVIN FLYNN, KYLE GROOMS @ The Music Box @ Borgata Casino Hotel, Atlantic City - 9:00pm

Earthquake’s Father’s Day Comedy Show @ Prudential Hall @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 7:00pm

A Conversation with Jon Stewart @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm


Classic Film Screening: THE GODFATHER @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 3:00pm

View all events


For more on our awards, click here

New Jersey Stage © 2018 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 |

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.