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  1. #1

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    Here are some ways I've paid the bills as a musician:

    Working in a Record Store
    Working in a Guitar Store
    Running Sound at a Nightclub
    Teaching Private Lessons
    Teaching Clinics
    Teaching a Class at USC
    Copy Work (doing charts) - You'll need Finale 2011
    Playing Jazz Gigs
    Playing Top 40 Gigs
    Playing Classical Music at a Restaurant
    Playing Weddings (classical guitar)
    Playing Rock Gigs
    Playing in Cover Bands
    Playing in Original Bands
    Playing in a Pit Band (for plays/musicals)
    Playing in Worship Bands
    Leading Worship
    Writing Worship Songs
    Writing Rock Songs
    Writing Classical Songs
    Writing Pop Songs
    Writing Music for Television
    Writing Music for Film
    Being a Music Director
    Being a Contractor
    Playing on Records/CD's
    Playing on Movies
    Playing on TV Shows
    Sidelining in TV Shows (on camera appearances)*
    Producing Records
    Developing Artists

    What are some ways you've paid the bills with a guitar in your hand?

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  3. #2

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    Working in the office 4/5 days a week and playing in the evenings and in the weekend....

    But I guess you wouldn't call me a "pro".....

    Although I make a good living, allowing me a mortgage, a car, holidays to foreign countries and a wife and daughter, I must admit that I've reached a point in my live where working at the office that isn't satisfying anymore, and I started music and guitar studies in the evening. Not sure where that will bring me, but it feels good!

  4. #3

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    Wow, that is quite the list. You've really had to pursue just about every thing. Maybe that's what it takes.

  5. #4

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    Back in my playing days I did a lot of that list add working at music school. The one that many friends did and still do to an extent is writing music for TV and small films. Quite a bit of work in writing, but you have to be able to work fast.

  6. #5

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    wrote music for TV show
    wrote music for independent videos
    wrote music for and performed in plays
    played in a salsa band
    played in a brazilian band
    played in a jazz band
    backed oscar brown jr
    played as a street and subway busker

    i met george freeman, who used to play with gene "jug" ammons, at a funeral. he had been hired to play solo guitar at the repast following the service. a musician'll do what he gotta do.
    Last edited by patskywriter; 06-24-2012 at 11:23 AM.

  7. #6

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    When you multiply much of my list by the instruments I play and the styles I play it's really quite crazy. I've chosen the path of saying yes to everything to have a career, but I really respect the guys who just pursue excellence in one thing and have a career. That I believe is more difficult but you tend to get more renown. I just wanted to make a living so my wife could stay home with the kids. She hasn't "worked" in 15 years!

  8. #7

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    Very cool...I've been making my living as an independent guitar teacher for the past ten years or so.

    I played in a rock band in high school and made some money there, but it wasn't something I wanted to keep doing.

    I played a bit as a singer-songwriter for maybe a little under two years, no money there and I wasn't too aggressive about getting gigs, wasn't really the point anyway.

    The past four or five years have been pretty much entirely jazz, I do some gigs but am a bit of a musical hermit and haven't been that aggressive about playing out more. Most of the gigs pay pretty well but they are few and far between, and I'm still doing them just for the playing experience.

    For me, I'd much rather give a lesson than play music I don't like. I did the GB type of gig just a couple of times and couldn't stand it. For the past few years I've only wanted to play jazz or teach and you'd have to pay me quite a bit to do anything else.

    It works out well, I enjoy teaching although the repetition can get a little monotonous...but I'm self employed, make my own hours, and I get the sanctification knowing of knowing that I'm helping other people with music.

    An interesting question to anyone reading:

    Would you rather

    A. Make your living entirely off of music but have to play and do tons of things that aren't your style or your preference

    or

    B. Make your living off of something that is not musical at all but still have a few hours in a day to pursue music for your own personal enjoyment, creativity, or whatever you want?

  9. #8

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    Jake, that's a great question. For me it would be A for sure. Don't get me wrong I've done other non-music jobs too in the past but not for 25 years. I think one of the keys to being able to do many of the things I did above is to move to a major media city. In my case LA. But New York, Nashville, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Seattle, and some others would avail many of those opportunities, (sans maybe sidelining.) Though you will find much more competition and a higher cost of living.

  10. #9

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    Now that i have a son...B is the choice for me.

    I enjoy teaching private guitar lessons but teaching high school is much more rewarding...and difficult!

    I'll take the occasional "hustle" gig now for extra cash... But what i really want to do now is write...and write...and woodshed. My five year plan is to actually form a group and play original compositions.

  11. #10

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    Being fully retired now, my life choice turns out to be "B". It kind of funny about my career and that's because of the way I think about it. For those that don't know me, I worked thirty years as a dentist specializing in prosthetic dentistry or in other words, oral replacements of all kinds. Big whoop. It was never really my passion like a lot of other practitioners who ate, breathed and slept dentistry. It was my way to take care of my family, live halfway decently, eat and buy cool guitars. That's it. My real passion has been music, being able to play historically significant guitars, learn the music they were used to play and use that music to make people feel good. My big dream, which will unfortunately never be realized was to own a high class restaurant,( have someone else run it because I don't know the business at all) and sit in a corner playing whatever I wanted for 3 hours a night as many days as I wanted with no hassles from management. Unrealistic yes but cool nonetheless.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by JakeAcci
    I did the GB type of gig just a couple of times and couldn't stand it.
    Not sure what this means.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by JakeAcci
    An interesting question to anyone reading:

    Would you rather

    A. Make your living entirely off of music but have to play and do tons of things that aren't your style or your preference

    or

    B. Make your living off of something that is not musical at all but still have a few hours in a day to pursue music for your own personal enjoyment, creativity, or whatever you want?
    We got into this in improv class once to quote the teacher... some of the best soloists he's heard were hobbyists, because they can play whatever they want, because they don't have to worry about making a living playing.

    Being an Artist or a working musician are two drastically different things except for a very small handfull of people. As this thread show a person can make a living as a musician, but you have to be flexible.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by paynow
    Not sure what this means.
    probably another way of say playing casuals.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by paynow
    Not sure what this means.
    I took it to mean "George Benson", meaning a gig where the emphasis is more on the entertainment side.....am I way off?

  16. #15

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    GB = general business, the typical wedding band thing. I've also heard 'jobbing' and 'casuals' used to describe the same thing.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by paulkogut
    GB = general business, the typical wedding band thing. I've also heard 'jobbing' and 'casuals' used to describe the same thing.
    Thanks. Shows you how ancient I am. We used to just call them club dates. That being said "doing the CD thing" doesn't work, because after all, most people would want to release a CD.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by paynow
    Thanks. Shows you how ancient I am. We used to just call them club dates. That being said "doing the CD thing" doesn't work, because after all, most people would want to release a CD.
    Around here used another term was 'BM' gigs. BM = Bar Mitzvah gigs casuals where kids hated you because you weren't a rock band and parents were drinking and didn't care.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by docbop
    Around here used another term was 'BM' gigs. BM = Bar Mitzvah gigs casuals where kids hated you because you weren't a rock band and parents were drinking and didn't care.
    "And that, folks, was "Lush Life," in Gb...now let's get Grandma out on the dance floor to do the "alley cat"..." Yeah, I've been there.

    Grandma usually being a woman resembling Leona Helmsley, sporting a gravelly voice and a Virginia Slim with a mile long ash that never fell off, constantly asking for Streisand tunes with the caveat that she be allowed to sing them. WHAT FUN!

    My choice is B. Much respect to the OP; there's a lot you have to do to keep afloat in the music business.
    Last edited by paynow; 06-24-2012 at 05:28 PM.

  20. #19

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    Great posts guys! The B choice is the easier less heartbreaking path for sure.

    In spite how you might feel if you did my path listed in the original post, I enjoyed and enjoy every one of those jobs. Looked forward to every student, every gig, every session. Any fear or boredom disappeared as soon as I picked up the guitar. I've had fun and I'm only having more fun now as royalties roll in and I'm getting more and better work. I moved to LA and consequently I get to work with some of the best musicians in the world. Scary sometimes, but always a blast.

    My wife married a musician and didn't ever want me to give up. She didn't want to be married to someone with a lot of regrets, like my own father. It's been tough, but as I look back I have no regrets. I just wish my career would have launched sooner. But that could be true for any career path.

    As far as choosing to be an artist. I played in some original groups that sought record deals, but I've always been wired to be a behind the scenes kind of guy. Now that I've worked with some artists I prefer my life in the shadows. I have way too much ADD to be happy as an artist doing the same songs for the rest of my life. But I'm sure true artists are wired to love that!

  21. #20

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    yeah, GB= General Business. Weddings, functions, etc - I associate the term with playing pop covers as opposed to any jazz. I love playing background jazz gigs, those are great.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by paynow
    "And that, folks, was "Lush Life," in Gb...now let's get Grandma out on the dance floor to do the "alley cat"..." Yeah, I've been there.

    Grandma usually being a woman resembling Leona Helmsley, sporting a gravelly voice and a Virginia Slim with a mile long ash that never fell off, constantly asking for Streisand tunes with the caveat that she be allowed to sing them. WHAT FUN!

    My choice is B. Much respect to the OP; there's a lot you have to do to keep afloat in the music business.
    Oh good grief. You've brought back so many memories of those club dates for me. When we did some real jazz and got into some good improv, we used to get complaints like "I can't make out the melody" and " is he just fooling around with that saxophone?" Then, somebody always managed to put some old farts at a table right up near the bandstand who would put their hands over their ears and shake their heads back and forth indicating we were playing to loud. At the same time, a bunch of dancers kept hollering they couldn't hear the beat. Then we'd start a song and somebody would say "we don't wanna hear that, Play ----. We'd start to play their request and somebody else would rake their hand across their neck wanting us to "cut" and play something else. Then the old farts would start complaining they couldn't hear themselves talk. This went on back and forth all night.

    Oh yeah, I almost forgot. To this day, every time I see prime rib, stringbeans almondine and twice cooked potatoes on a plate, I just sit there and cry. I haven't been able to eat that since 1976.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Little Jay
    Working in the office 4/5 days a week and playing in the evenings and in the weekend....

    But I guess you wouldn't call me a "pro".....

    Although I make a good living, allowing me a mortgage, a car, holidays to foreign countries and a wife and daughter, I must admit that I've reached a point in my live where working at the office that isn't satisfying anymore, and I started music and guitar studies in the evening. Not sure where that will bring me, but it feels good!
    Little Jay,

    It brings you to where most of us live - it's a place called "Compromise", situated within the borders of "Reality", but just outside "Your Dreams". Lots of us reside here and just wish we had the talent/bottle to make the move...but those of us with (for example) two kids to put through college and lots of other bills to pay, accept Route B and make the best of it.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by mangotango
    - it's a place called "Compromise", situated within the borders of "Reality", but just outside "Your Dreams".
    I thought it was situated between "the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge." Anyone else remember that?

  25. #24

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    Correct me if I'm wrong, because I really don't know how these things are working these days, but I'd imagine that if somebody wants to make money from music that knowing a little bit of jazz to be "passable" is useful or important, but beyond that, any jazz skills become somewhat financially useless...especially on guitar.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by JakeAcci
    Correct me if I'm wrong, because I really don't know how these things are working these days, but I'd imagine that if somebody wants to make money from music that knowing a little bit of jazz to be "passable" is useful or important, but beyond that, any jazz skills become somewhat financially useless...especially on guitar.
    Jake: I think you are absolutely wrong. Also, I'm sure that many working, gigging recording jazz guitarists would disagree as well. I think you're looking at the lower profile, small club, cafe, dinner jazz, corporate function. etc., as a general rule. Think beyond that too. Think in terms of Jimmy Bruno, Jack Wilkens, John Pizzarelli, Bucky, Pat Methany, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Randy Johnson, John Scofield, Henry Johnson, Howard Alden, John Scofield . . . and too many hundreds of others to list here. These guys tour internationally, record, thrive on inter net teaching, books, etc.. Without substantial jazz skills . . . none of that would be possible.

    However, I also agree that for every one of these hundreds of successful full time "professional" . . . (there's that adjective again) . . there are thousands earning too little and need supplemental income.

  27. #26

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    Right...but that's what, ten cats? There's probably 500 jazz guitar players here in chicago.

    If you are going to be an average joe no name musician who makes a living...jazz alone is a tough way to do it..lets face it...it's tough to do with ANY kind of music...

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont
    Right...but that's what, ten cats? There's probably 500 jazz guitar players here in chicago.
    Exactly...some people do it...but very few...

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont
    Right...but that's what, ten cats? There's probably 500 jazz guitar players here in chicago.

    If you are going to be an average joe no name musician who makes a living...jazz alone is a tough way to do it..lets face it...it's tough to do with ANY kind of music...
    Yeah . . that's ten cats that I referrenced. But, do you doubt that there are thousands others who are doing well, financially, playing, teaching jazz guitar? Mine was a response to what I felt was way too broad a statement. Also, as you pointed out, just like any other industry . . (maybe any other industry is also too broad) . . most other industries, there are also far more people skilled enough to earn well, that do not do so.

    As it realtes to jazz guitar, I found Jake's comments and attitude to be those of a defeatist . . . if aspirations are to seek financial success with jazz guitar.

    I could never accept the concept of ... "I'm probably never going to be able to earn a lot of money at jazz guitar . . . so, there's really no reason for me to even try".


    There will ALWAYS be those who do very well financially in jazz guitar. Should people just stop trying to be one of them because it's difficult? Or because the odds are dramatically against it happening? That's just not an attitude that I've ever been even remotely on board with.

    "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great". (Jimmy Doogan, A League of their own.)

  30. #29

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    Mainly private teaching for me, augmented by gigs (mostly jazz), workshops, orchestra pit work, guitar repairs etc.
    Worst ever was accompanying a puppeteer playing kid's songs in a hospital :-o NOT the highpoint of my career!

  31. #30

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    I've done/do everything on the list except writing for TV and movies and i have to say, the money I can count on almost always comes from teaching. In fact, I often remind myself that the teaching is what allows me to do so much playing.

    It's not that teaching pays more, just that it is something a musician can "count on" to a small degree. A rare find in the music world. I am a firm believer in "the dream" and think it is still totally possible, it does require you to jump blindly into uncertainty and work your way up, but I've seen it happen.... I've also seen it fail. Scary stuff, I think most people prefer to play it safe, and understandibly so.

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by paynow
    I tip my hat to you, Tstrahle.
    Thanks PayNow.

    My friends would say I stayed very focused. Moved out here to be Tommy Tedecso, Lukather, Carlton... like 2000 other guys in 1983. Forced myself to stay in music anyway I could, ergo the list in the OP. Lessons were a great way to "stay in the game", there were a few times I got distracted and strayed a little.

    A lot of old guard session players will tell you it's not like it use to be. To which I say "thank God". But I know what they are saying, there is actually a lot more TV work than there use to be, but not union TV session dates. Back in the day there were 10 or so guys doing all the sessions for 3 networks, now there are thousands of guys writing for hundreds of cable channels. I do quite a bit of writing for TV, which I play guitar, bass and keys on. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Many of my "sessions" are writing sessions, in which all are generally recorded as finals. I don't "demo" any more. We make records. This way I've been able to partner with many great producers, writers and artists (Including recently Justin Bieber and Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas)

    I've really tried to grow the business I love, writing and sessions, so I don't have to do the other stuff so much. Turning down work that might prove a distraction is a nice luxury. My church bandmates laugh at me when I say, "I didn't want that gig anyway". Like when I auditioned but didn't get the George Lopez show gig. Had I gotten it I couldn't have gotten the TV writing work I've since done, and that's been far more lucrative.

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by tstrahle
    A lot of old guard session players will tell you it's not like it use to be. To which I say "thank God". But I know what they are saying, there is actually a lot more TV work than there use to be, but not union TV session dates. Back in the day there were 10 or so guys doing all the sessions for 3 networks, now there are thousands of guys writing for hundreds of cable channels. I do quite a bit of writing for TV, which I play guitar, bass and keys on. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Many of my "sessions" are writing sessions, in which all are generally recorded as finals. I don't "demo" any more. We make records. This way I've been able to partner with many great producers, writers and artists (Including recently Justin Bieber and Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas)
    I'm SAG-AFTRA. If I'm acting in a union show, aren't you getting paid a union wage to write music for it? You're supposed to, that's for sure. Favored nations. Even the cable stuff, if it's under a contract, you're supposed to get a session rate.

    You say "the gift that keeps on giving," so I'm assuming you're getting residuals on some stuff you do.

    What I'm curious about is which shows are not paying union? The reality horse-hit?

  34. #33

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    There is no union for composers. They are talking about doing it, but it's not materialized yet. Also many TV shows use library music that's not union. No way to keep track of it. That's just the reality. Most film scores are not even union if they are done out of the US.

    Re: gift that keeps giving I mean BMI royalties.

  35. #34

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    Quote Originally Posted by tstrahle
    There is no union for composers. They are talking about doing it, but it's not materialized yet. Also many TV shows use library music that's not union. No way to keep track of it. That's just the reality. Most film scores are not even union if they are done out of the US.

    Re: gift that keeps giving I mean BMI royalties.
    Oh. Not something I was aware of. But you do get royalties from BMI or ASCAP. And if you play on a show, is it the musician's local, meaning as a session player for the incidental music? If you appear on camera with an instrument, that's SAG-AFTRA jurisdiction.

  36. #35

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    Quote Originally Posted by paynow
    Oh. Not something I was aware of. But you do get royalties from BMI or ASCAP. And if you play on a show, is it the musician's local, meaning as a session player for the incidental music? If you appear on camera with an instrument, that's SAG-AFTRA jurisdiction.
    The writing thing pays much better than scale for a TV date. Over time especially. The sidelining gigs (appearing on camera but faking it) are unfortunately AFM not SAG/AFTRA. Pay is about $200 for an 8 hour day, plus residuals. Usually more with overtime and everything. Would make more teaching for the day but it's a nice diversion.

    There are no TV dates for sidemen really. Most everything is samples or played by the composer. Two exceptions I can think of are The Simpsons and Family Guy, both show use real orchestra.

  37. #36

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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick2
    Yeah . . that's ten cats that I referrenced. But, do you doubt that there are thousands others who are doing well, financially, playing, teaching jazz guitar?
    Yes, I do doubt that! But I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

    What can you do...make CDs, teach at a college, write books or start online courses. How many people are making their living from just that - with all of it or most of it being just jazz? I'd be very surprised if it were in the thousands, but I'm just speculating. I don't have the data. If you do have some data, please share. I've heard that it's REALLY rough right now for some of even the best jazz players in NYC.

    As it realtes to jazz guitar, I found Jake's comments and attitude to be those of a defeatist . . . if aspirations are to seek financial success with jazz guitar.
    Honestly...prove me wrong, please. I just have a feeling that there are very, very few musicians in the world who make their living solely (or even mostly) from jazz.

    I could never accept the concept of ... "I'm probably never going to be able to earn a lot of money at jazz guitar . . . so, there's really no reason for me to even try".

    There will ALWAYS be those who do very well financially in jazz guitar. Should people just stop trying to be one of them because it's difficult? Or because the odds are dramatically against it happening? That's just not an attitude that I've ever been even remotely on board with.
    I hear you. I think it's cool to try, if one accepts the risk or is in a position where the risk isn't too great. For example, if you're 18 and motivated and have rich parents. Give it ten years and see what can happen and if all else fails live at home and then go back to school for nursing or something.

    I heard a good piece of advice once, which was to only pursue being a jazz musician as a career if you can't possibly picture yourself doing anything else. If you can do that other thing, do that.

  38. #37

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    Hey paynow. I agree with you 100% that every gig has value. That's what put me through school as well. To be totally honest, I loved to play so much, I never turned down a gig no matter who I was working it with. Not only that but I played a lot of them for less money than I should have just so I could have the chance to play. I had my favorites but there were also a lot of guys that were so square, you could get cut on the corners. I also learned a great deal about music and how to play in a band so you don't step all over everyone else. That was a hard lesson to learn but I enjoyed the experience even though I had to take a bunch of lumps. I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything.

  39. #38

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    Quote Originally Posted by tstrahle
    The writing thing pays much better than scale for a TV date. Over time especially. The sidelining gigs (appearing on camera but faking it) are unfortunately AFM not SAG/AFTRA. Pay is about $200 for an 8 hour day, plus residuals. Usually more with overtime and everything. Would make more teaching for the day but it's a nice diversion.

    There are no TV dates for sidemen really. Most everything is samples or played by the composer. Two exceptions I can think of are The Simpsons and Family Guy, both show use real orchestra.
    I just looked at the SAG Theatrical and Commercial contracts. Dancers and singers are covered in those, not players. I never knew that. But I'm pretty sure that if I was cast in something, as an actor who plays, I would be getting paid through SAG/AFTRA. They'd put it under a special skills category, especially if it was background.

  40. #39

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    Quote Originally Posted by hot ford coupe
    Hey paynow. I agree with you 100% that every gig has value. That's what put me through school as well. To be totally honest, I loved to play so much, I never turned down a gig no matter who I was working it with. Not only that but I played a lot of them for less money than I should have just so I could have the chance to play. I had my favorites but there were also a lot of guys that were so square, you could get cut on the corners. I also learned a great deal about music and how to play in a band so you don't step all over everyone else. That was a hard lesson to learn but I enjoyed the experience even though I had to take a bunch of lumps. I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything.
    Great learning experiences that beat playing in your bedroom. I had a teacher tell me that you have to play with bad bands sometimes to learn what it's like to play with a good one.