Guest Article: Guide to Clarinet Freelancing
This RMS guest article is written by Atlanta-based clarinetist, Miranda Dohrman.
Breaking Into The Freelance Scene
When I was 23 years old, I auditioned for a one-year Principal Clarinet position with an orchestra. I won the audition, and within the week, I put my Masters degree on hold, packed my things, and moved to a brand-new city. As my one-year term drew to a close, I faced a new challenge – what next? I could return to school and finish my degree. Or, I could try something else – freelance work.
In my years of conservatory and university training, no one ever mentioned freelancing as a career path, but while I played in the orchestra, I met dozens of musicians who actually made their living by stringing together freelance work. Could I support myself with freelance work while preparing for auditions? I packed my things again and headed to Atlanta to find out.
Of course, I had no idea what I was doing. With just $1000 in my bank account, I found a tiny apartment in the middle of the city. I knew a few musicians in town, but that was no guarantee of work. I had to wing it. Almost 15 years later, I’m still here and still freelancing. It has its ups and downs, for sure, but the variety of work has given me flexibility and fulfillment that I would have never found as a full-time orchestral player.
If you find yourself in a new city and are looking for freelance work, here are a few steps that may ease the transition.
Do Your Research
Polish your 1-page resume and send it out. Look up all the orchestras in the area and contact the personnel managers and principal players. Reach out to any musician contacts you have in the city – email, phone, social media, etc. Consider joining the local union (American Federation of Musicians). Do everything you can to get your name out there.
Play For Everyone
Play for the symphony musicians in town, since they will likely need to hear you before they hire you. Play for the top freelancers, too, since they likely have different connections. Take every sub list audition you can. Play for colleagues who play different instruments. You never know what connections can happen.
Say Yes – And Play Well
Eventually, the calls and emails will start coming in, and when they do, say yes. Low pay? Out of town gig? Genre that is out of your comfort zone? If you can make it work, take the gig. Make sure you are prepared, and that you play well. One caveat – try to avoid playing for free. It can pigeonhole you as a ‘casual’ or ‘amateur’ musician.
Find The Hang
Freelancing is one giant networking event, so get out there and spend time with other musicians. Maybe there is a weekly jazz jam, or a restaurant where musicians go after their performances. Introduce yourself. Sit in on a set. Make yourself known.
Spend (And Save) Wisely
There is no shame in the day-job game. If you need extra income while you get started, look for jobs with some schedule flexibility. Make a budget and stick to it (an app like Mintcan really help). Spending money on a musician hang may feel like a luxury, but those connections can sometimes lead to more gigs in the future. In many cities, freelance work slows to a crawl during the summer, so it’s a good idea to save a little money each month for future dry spells.
People hire based on personality far more than you think. Respond quickly to all phone calls and emails. Be gracious. Be prepared. Be pleasant. Be flexible. Be respectful. And have fun! We are all in this together, and it is always more fun to work with people who are enjoying the ride.
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