This article is copyright 1990 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in the Percussive Arts Society Percussive Notes, Vol. 29, No. 2, December 1990. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.

This article appeared as part of a series addressing
a variety of career options for percussionists
but is applicable to any musician.


Alternative Career Choices

by Antonio J. García


Most musicians I know are creative in more than one facet of music. They are not only performers, not exclusively teachers: they write music, perhaps conduct, record, and publish music. Maybe they have joined or founded an arts organization that they manage in the community, handling programming, promotion, or legal concerns.

Such a multi-faceted career is often a creative advantage: for example, what you learn as a composer/arranger can improve your performance skills. Diversity offers a business advantage: the more people you know in the industry, the more likely you are to make the “connections” necessary to a growing career. And multiple talents can provide a definite financial advantage: you have more ways to earn income!

But most importantly, musicians are often surprised to discover that being creative away from an instrument is often as satisfying to them as performing can be. As Diane Dorn, Ravinia Administrator for the Steans Institute for Young Artists in Chicago, once remarked to my Music Industry class: “I enjoy creating: planting a garden, teaching a student...or starting an institute!”

Whether you are looking for ways to augment your performance career or replace it, a knowledge of alternative career choices can provide you an overview of the industry that surrounds every performer. Because performance, teaching, and merchandising have already been discussed in the previous articles, I will focus on a variety of additional options available.


Be the Boss!

Most freelance performers work repeatedly for local contractors who book sidemen to play behind different acts or shows. Though many contractors are players as well, most have chosen to set aside their instruments in favor of organizing music for local occasions and traveling attractions. The financial incentives are good: most contractors earn double a sideman’s pay or more! And contractors enjoy a certain working relationship with the “stars” and their managers who call. But to pursue this career track you had best be reasonably organized, able to get along well with people (specifically the acts, the sidemen, and the public), and willing to live a good part of your life by the phone. If you wish to be a contractor, work as a sideman for as many as you can and observe their strengths and weaknesses. There is no substitute for self-education in this field!

Another leadership position is that of musical director/conductor. Circuses, ice shows, musicals, nightclub acts, and other attractions generally require an individual who can blend the musicians into one ensemble sound. Liza Minelli’s set drummer, Bill Lavornia, has been her touring director virtually all her life, never wielding a baton. But you may wish to pursue the podium as well. Mike Brothers, a touring percussionist with such Broadway shows as “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber in Concert,” enjoys his creative time as a conductor of local musicals but also offers a warning. “At the Broadway tour level, I know of no conductors who are percussionists; most are former rehearsal pianists, pit pianists, vocal coaches, or a combination of all three. So there is a tendency to typecast the desired background of a Broadway conductor, even to typecast a given conductor’s specialty: orchestral shows, rock shows, etc. Still, there are lots of musicals to he conducted elsewhere!”

Again, good interactive skills are helpful; and formal conducting study is essential. But director/conductors also need a theatrical sense of timing and nuance that can only come from observing and performing in many styles of the genre: not only theatre but opera and symphonic literature as well.


Write the Music!

A musician’s options as a composer/arranger are almost endless, including writing works for classical or jazz performances, commercial jingles, film scores, popular songs (“top forty”), even kids’ music! Though some writers focus on one style only, many enjoy the variety and challenge of composing chamber music one day and jazz or pop the next—and perhaps all for a single film score. A writer’s paycheck is generally related to the size of the work, the deadline, and the job environment. Naturally, the competition increases at the most lucrative pay levels. And while income may be higher in New York or L.A., so is the cost of living as compared to many other cities.

A writer must be prepared to live by the phone and meet the pressures of often-ridiculous deadlines. Some writers freelance; others work for a business such as a “jingle house.” Most have completed some degree of formal study, though the need varies with each individual and job. Knowledge of MIDI and other electronic techniques is especially helpful in the commercial field. If you aspire to be a writer, realize that your career advancement may hinge primarily on the demo tapes you assemble at each stage along your career. Schools and film workshops offer the opportunities to write, record, and meet current and future composers in your idiom.

Many new writers create the “connections” they need by copying out parts for the more established arrangers. Such music copyists “ink out” the individual parts from a music score by hand or use any of several computer programs to deliver an excellent result. Copyists are expected to adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and clear presentation, often to the point of noticing and correcting a composer’s error; so you had best be a stickler for detail to pursue this career track! Any pressured deadline a composer has will be worse for the copyist, who must wait for the writer’s work to progress so that the copying can begin. Payment is generally by the page of sheet music or by the number of measures scored. Copyists desiring a composition career can thus earn a living while observing the techniques of experienced writers. In some cases, a composer may even hire a younger but talented writer as an orchestrator (to arrange given themes) or even a ghostwriter (to compose music—but with the credit going to the employer!)


Distribute the Music!

The music publisher reproduces and distributes music to the public. Many are large, well-known firms that must monitor the consumers’ appetite (or lack thereof) in the market. Such a firm is Columbia Pictures Publications, headed by former percussionist Sandy Feldstein. But a publishing company can also be a one-person “sole proprietorship” targeted towards a particular type of music. As a sole proprietor, you are your own boss; all the profits—and risks—are yours. No lawyers or contracts are needed to set up such a business: a person need only trademark a business name with the area Secretary of State and file the appropriate taxation and/or zoning forms with the proper governmental agencies, tasks often accomplished for less than one hundred dollars. A lawyer is generally needed to negotiate a partnership or establish a corporation, though exceptional cases occur.

Why would a percussionist start a publishing company? “Dissatisfaction with other publishers,” offers one publisher (who prefers to remain anonymous). “Signing over an original composition to another publisher is a trade-off. You are freed of the details of handling production, marketing, etc.; but you also lose control over the accuracy of the transcription from the manuscript to the master, the degree of publicity, scope of the distribution, and certainly the allocation of royalties. I like to control those elements myself. Of course, the disadvantage is that business details can really eat up your creative time; I still perform regularly.”

Large and small publishing firms often need music editors to examine existing projects and incoming manuscripts, evaluate their appropriateness to the firm’s catalogue, and standardize the musical notation and format in a manner set by the publisher. In order to accomplish this, a person must be well-versed in music theory and literature, with a flair for recognizing the creative efforts of the writers seeking publication.


Record the Music!

An artist or composer would hardly achieve recognition without the invaluable work of the recording engineer or producer. Any musician interested in acoustics and technology would be a candidate for engineering study, particularly if physics and mathematics are appealing. While not all engineers are musicians, many of the best are. As with performing or writing, income depends on the size of the project, the deadline, and the geographical locale. Many engineers go on to own and operate their own studios as well.

Often a “bridge” is needed between the artist in the studio and the engineer at the board: the producer serves as liaison by acting as the artist’s “ears” in the booth, listening to ensure that the recorded results will be to the artist’s liking, offering any necessary suggestions to the engineer (who may not be as familiar with the intent of the artist). Because of that link, a producer is often chosen or approved by the recording artist. Engineering skills are not mandatory; discerning ears and the ability to communicate other persons’ goals in a diplomatic fashion are essential!


Broadcast Music!

If you have a good speaking voice and like the thought of sending it out over the airwaves, could you see yourself as a disc jockey? Remember that the market includes a variety of musical styles (including the classical “broadcast announcer”); so you would have to target the area best for you. Frankly, a DJ’s career is about as unpredictably mobile as a musician’s; but if the thought appeals to you, take all the communications courses you can. Try to start logging experience as a volunteer announcer at a non-profit station; you’ll learn quickly whether or not this career track is indeed for you. Many announcers continue to perform musically “on the side,” finding that the publicity generated by one career generates exposure for the other.


Manage/Promote the Artists!

A manager represents the best interests of the “talent”: the employing individual or group. Persons with a strong organizational approach, a business sense, and a sincere willingness to serve others may find management an attractive career option. A personal manager must know what the artist can offer the public and then find a multitude of ways to present that artist attractively to promoters, who will “package” that artist into a performance venue in the manner most likely to bring the artist exposure and everyone financial gain. Payment is usually by a percentage commission.

Managers and promoters are certainly part salesmen; so it is helpful to remember that the positive qualities present in the best salesmen are also needed in these fields. The firm of Thomas Cassidy, Inc. in Woodstock, Illinois has managed such talent as Louie Bellson, Les DeMerle, Ed Shaughnessy, and the bands of Buddy Rich, Count Basie, Woody Herman, and many others. Bob Davis, first associate of the agency, stresses that “a manager must first have a knowledge of and belief in the artist. Honesty is essential, as your trust and reputation are everything in this business. You must be able to listen, be insightful as to others’ needs, and creatively respond with solutions. And your best preparation is a liberal arts education that will assist your understanding of human nature, mass society, and the mass media.”

Arts management extends to organizations as large as symphony orchestras and as small as chamber groups. In fact, due to the economic pressures facing so many ensembles, more and more groups are realizing the value of a trained and dedicated arts manager. I personally view more job listings in this career track than virtually any other! Fortunately, experience is accessible via area and national internships within the profession.

Performers may find themselves transformed into administrators almost without warning! Karl Androes never intended to become founder and executive director of Whirlwind Performance Company, a group that brings music, drama, and dance performances to kids and senior citizens in the Chicago area. “I had a vision that I wanted to fulfill. I didn’t think I wanted to run it; I just wanted to participate in it. But it was necessary to run it at first, and then I discovered I enjoyed running it. I realized that I wanted to create ‘the whole thing,’ not just be part of a larger thing. My musical background encouraged just the sort of creativity I use as an administrator today. This job involves challenges which are satisfying in themselves and more than tempt me to set my instrument aside.”

Musicians wishing to pursue formal studies in Arts Administration will find that an increasing number of universities now offer concentrated majors in the field. Many other colleges offer the potential to “contract” an individualized program drawing from music and business courses.


Protect Artists’ Rights!

If you have a strong interest in legal matters, the work of an entertainment lawyer may appeal to you. The best professionals in this field have a genuine appreciation for performers and have chosen to concentrate their practice in the specifics of the entertainment business (musical and non-musical). Often such “specialists” are amateur musicians themselves; by focusing their work in the entertainment industry they can enjoy being inside the music world but are free from the pressures of performing. The variety offered by this profession is attractive to most people: working with big names and unknown artists, large organizations and small—musicians, comedians, record companies—virtually every facet of the industry.

Should you wish to pursue this career track, begin preparing yourself for law school by incorporating business courses into your music studies. A background in Arts Administration studies may also help your understanding of future clients’ needs, though no one area of study can truly prepare you for what you will encounter. And a call to the bar association of a major city might lead you to visit an entertainment lawyer, perhaps even discussing what preparations he or she undertook along the way to success.


Assist the Infirmed!

Because of the way music brightens our lives, improves our moods, and even engages us physically, we have chosen to study how to perform it. Yet most people are unaware that music can serve those same functions and more within the healing process of the ill and disabled. Stroke victims unable to speak may regain that ability once approached via singing familiar songs. Patients requiring muscular therapy may improve their results when exercise is coordinated to appropriate musical stimuli. Individuals depressed due to their injuries or even confinement in a hospital may be cheered by exposure to certain kinds of music, benefiting not only their psychological state but perhaps their physical recuperative powers as well.

The music therapist evaluates each individual’s needs and devises an appropriate program designed to improve the patient’s well-being. A therapist may work as a lone individual in a sole proprietorship or as a team member in a partnership, contracting services outward as any business might. Or the therapist could be on the staff of a medical institution, providing full-time services there exclusively. Many therapists also continue to perform as their schedules and interest warrant. Chris Hainey is a music therapist at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans. “I also play drums with area rock, dixieland, and jazz bands. When you have a full-time job income and a predictable daytime schedule, playing local gigs simply becomes extra enjoyment and income.

“Percussion has played a dominant role in every culture. We’re trained in the most kinesthetic family around. As a kid, playing drums provided me with a strong physical and emotional outlet. In high school I developed my skills in math and science. When I entered college as a music major, I discovered music therapy by accident and found it to be a great way to combine my interests in music, science, and helping others.

“Percussion is used a great deal in music therapy. Patients respond quickly to the sights and sounds of exotic percussion instruments, and even a patient untrained in percussion can derive a feeling of success from playing the instruments as novices. Once a person has released that initial expression, I can help his or her emotional and physical concerns on a rational and cognitive basis.

“Still, percussion won’t reach everyone. You’ll expand your musicality by the need to incorporate piano, guitar, and vocal skills into your programs.”

Several universities offer a major in music therapy. Once studies are completed, an additional test must be passed in order to become a registered music therapist. While salaries vary with every situation, music students seem favorably impressed with the published job descriptions that include salary figures!


What’s Right For You?

Due to space limitations, I have left out dozens of other allied careers, piano tuner, music librarian, even music journalist among them. Regardless, in order to recognize the career(s) best for you, you must first determine what qualities you seek in a job, what your strengths are, and what your weaknesses are. Visit and observe people currently doing what you want to do. Pick up a copy of the periodical that caters to the profession that attracts you: do the articles interest you? Don’t be unduly influenced by others’ opinions; what’s right for someone else might not be right for you.

If you need to take a non-musical job in order to pay the bills, search for work that seems creative and stimulating; not all “day gigs” are as horrible as one might hear. And employers are generally more receptive now towards applicants with some sort of Humanities or Liberal Arts degree; they find such applicants are often more creative and self-motivated in their work. (I recall reading an article about a computer-programming firm that only hired persons with strong backgrounds in art or music, so well-documented was the job success of the artistic personnel already employed!)

Finally, keep in mind that most careers evolve, especially musical ones. What you want or get from your job will likely change each year; and as your experience and “connections” improve, new opportunities will surface. So don’t feel as though today’s decision is a permanent one; most of us would probably be bored by a predictable career! What is important is to find a job that provides not only financial means to live but also the creative stimulus to make that life more satisfying.



Recommended Books

American Music Conference. Careers in Music (Chicago: American Music Conference, 1980).

Baskerville, David. Music Business Handbook and Career Guide (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sherwood Publishing Company, 1990).

Burton, Gary. A Musician’s Guide to the Road (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1981).

Dranov, Paula. Career Opportunities in the Music Industry (Elmhurst, IL: Music Business Publications, 1980).

Field, Shelly. Inside the Music Publishing Industry (New York: Facts on File Publications, 1986).

Fiest, Leonard. Popular Music Publishing in America (New York: National Music Publishers Association, 1980).

Frascogna, Xavier M., Jr. & Hetherington, H. Lee. Successful Artist Management (New York: Billboard Publications, 1988).

Muench, Teri & Pomerantz, Susan. Attention A & R [record industry] (Los Angeles: Alfred Publishing Company, 1988).

Rapaport, Diane. How to Make and Sell Your Own Record (New York: Putnam, 1984).

Rosencrans, Glen. A Music Notation Primer [music calligraphy] (Santa Cruz, CA: Pen Pushers Publications, 1976).

Shemel, Sidney & Krasilovsky, M. William. This Business of Music (New York: Billboard Publications, Inc., 1985).


Recommended Periodicals

American Music Center [publishing, composition]

Billboard [record industry]

College Musician [especially the annual “Get a Job” issue]

Entertainment Law Reporter

Journal of the Arts Management and Law

Journal of Music Therapy

Mix [engineering]

Recording Engineer/Producer

Symphony [orchestra management]

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.

Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.

Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."

About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”

Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/ of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.

The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic and an Advisory Board member of the Brubeck Institute, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <>.

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