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Author Topic: Freelance Trombone Playing Query  (Read 46535 times)
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LX

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« on: Nov 19, 2007, 12:23PM »

I just got a nice note from a young trombonist who is figuring out where he wants to live and how to go about establishing a career in music. He asked me for some general advice and I thought I'd share it here too.

Best wishes,

LX
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Hi _______,

Thanks for writing.

As I see it, success as a freelance trombonist requires a combination of well-rounded competence, personal reliability, musical consistency, patience, trustworthy-ness, diligence, humility, knowledge of your own strengths and weaknesses, a total love of music [regardless of the kind of musical situations you find yourself--if the music on a given gig is not "your thing", you play the gig the best you can, you keep quiet, you take the money and go home], and there's also a significant amount of plain old luck.

Luck enters with regard to where and when certain critical people hear you play, so it's always important to play and be your best in whatever situation you agree to commit to [no matter how "lame" it may be or how much/little it pays!!]. It is important to always...above all, actually....to do something to remind yourself why you took up your instrument in the first place every single day. Before music was a business for any of us, it was something we LOVED to do. Certain players usually get hired in part because they vividly communicate this love they have for Music, so it is not trivial to a successful music BUSINESS outlook. Any given gig might be a drag, but Music is what we really love. People [not just audiences, but the people who hire you] will pick up on this important characteristic. I have witnessed world-class players not get hired back because they just looked like they were having a lousy time on the gig. And I am not talking about "schmoozing", or just trying to be funny or popular, or pretending to be something you're not. It is a part of successful player's total character.

As I say all this, keep in mind I "broke into" the business starting about 25 years ago. A lot has changed since then. The musical demands for players has changed, the taste/s of the public has changed, the music business has changed, technology has changed. Anyone who is successful NOW probably went about certain things quite differently than someone expecting to establish themselves STARTING today! Watch, observe,listen and treat people with respect. You play WITH not THROUGH other people. Freelancing is not a race, it is a more of a potluck dinner. Everyone brings something for everyone else to enjoy. Sure, there are comparisons between who is the better player [or who makes the best potato salad!], but leave that to others to judge you in comparison to other players. You focus on what comes out of your horn and what comes [or DOESN'T come] out of your mouth.

For all but the two or three players I can think of making their living as soloists, professional trombone playing is still centered around the ability to BLEND in an ensemble situation. The players I like to play with the most [even though many of these players might also be well-known soloists!!] make the act of playing music comfortable and easy for everyone around them-regardless of the "style"! They pay attention, they listen, they play with a great sound. Since they pay attention THE FIRST TIME, they don't feel the need to ask too many questions in the process; they take in more than they "put out".

Again, given the chance, they can "step up and be noticed"--often on a world class level-- but they also know when to tuck in and blend. They play with consistent time, pitch and dynamics. If placed in a "lead" chair, they treat others with respect and instantly remove any doubt as to what they are going to do musically while remaining open to alternative approaches. If they are placed in a section chair, they do so without complaint or fanfare [yes, that was a 'round about trumpet player reference ;-)]

Sure, we all have egos and each of us wishes we were getting the acclaim as players we deserve. But we also deserve the chance to prove ourselves in a section position. One of the busiest and most well-known lead trumpet players in the world has said, "I pay my bills playing second and third trumpet on movies." So he is in-demand in either case...lead or section. Diversification can lead to more opportunities.

The players I like to play with "check their egos at the door" and focus on making the most of the music in front of them.

They know how to tap and communicate the music in whatever style of the music they are asked to play--whether they "like" that kind of music or not. If there are kinds of music you cannot hide your hatred or discomfort from, save everyone [including yourself] the hassle--turn the gig down next time!!

In other words, successful freelancers tend to know what they are getting in to!! If it is something they don't feel like they can do, they know when to admit it to the leader, composer or conductor and even recommend someone who does. They avoid these types of situations, however, by constantly seeking out new musical opportunities and putting in the time and effort to learn how to deal with them. They have curiosity and use it to grow and adapt.

Successful freelancers have well-rounded abilities in many things inside and/or outside music. They adjust, they cope, they tend to help others do the same.

Successful freelancers are usually easy to get in touch with. Even if they are NOT available for the gig, they are available to reach. They return phone calls. They're pleasant to talk to. They don't complain much, but are usually quick to address or point out important/controversial issues of concern to whatever group they are a part of.

Out here in LA, these days, it feels like our business has been changing on almost a daily basis!! No one has a crystal ball which outlines what the future holds for us as musicians--and trombonists are at the bottom of this particular food chain too. Trombone players have lived with the "Last hired, first fired" joke/philosophy ever since the last of the big bands were replaced by rock and roll bands at school dances. But many of us have managed to survive these changes. Perhaps we provide an example to other "busier" instruments of how to adapt to the ever-changing world of the "music business". I predict it will continue to become less and less likely that a trombonist in his/her 20's will be able to make their living ONLY as a player. There will be exceptions. A few great players will get a few of the necessary "breaks" and get in there, but the bad news is very few of us [since we are basically "fired" when we leave a gig] ever feel completely "in there".

I think some people new to this world tend to consider music from a very personal point of view, and only judge what it must be like to play trombone professionally based on what they hear on certain players solo cd's. That's fine,but there are many ways of making a living in music and there are often alternatives that you must consider when you decide to do it for a living. Sometimes that might include teaching, arranging, producing, contracting groups, or even a flexible NON music job.

Each person I work with has arrived at his/her current position of the "pecking order" [which doesn't really exist on paper anywhere!] in his/her own way. Some have self-promoted quite a bit, others totally let their playing do all the talking. One thing I say to many of my students is that no one really wants to hear "what you can do" they want to "hear you do it"!!

Also, a very wise freelance oboist I know said, "Everyone I know who talked themselves IN to a job has immediately or eventually talked their way OUT of it!!"

No matter where you end up living, just keep listening and sharing your love of music!!

Best wishes,

Alex
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« Reply #1 on: Nov 19, 2007, 03:15PM »

Thanks for a great posting! This strikes me as good advice for anyone who wants to play 'professionally,'  regardless of whether they expect to be reimbursed monetarily.
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« Reply #2 on: Nov 19, 2007, 04:59PM »

Thank you Alex. Very well put.

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« Reply #3 on: Nov 19, 2007, 10:30PM »

Go Alex! 

One of the best posts on this forum I've ever seen.

Keep on spreading the good word,
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« Reply #4 on: Nov 19, 2007, 10:46PM »

Beautiful, Alex!

Tim Coffman, my dear colleague and free-lance trombonist buddy here in Chicago, has a great bit of advice he is always reminding me of when I start wanting to speak up or "go-off" on someone - and he credits Keith Brown with the wisdom:

"Never pass up an opportunity to shut the f%#+ up!"

(Sorry for the profanity!)
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« Reply #5 on: Nov 19, 2007, 10:56PM »

Thanks for the nice responses. I am always altering this little "speech" I give students and I love hearing other people's ideas on the subject. Most young people who usually pose this question are very sincere and I really do think it's important to offer constructive suggestions.

Tom, I love Tim's line. I am reminded of one of trombonist Bruce Otto's many memorable one-liners ...

"Think before you speak. Then DON'T."

 Idea!
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« Reply #6 on: Nov 19, 2007, 11:14PM »

Dispite my lack of interest in playing trombone professionally (I'm just not good enough) I found your post interesting and thought provoking. I like your philosophy and your honest and articulate voicing of it.

good post

 Good!
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« Reply #7 on: Nov 21, 2007, 02:17PM »

thanks for the free lesson, lx.

erudite advice from someone who has been out there doin' it just about was well as it can be done.

may i suggest that a moderator sets this thread to stick around at the top of this board going forward?

valuable stuff.
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« Reply #8 on: Nov 21, 2007, 05:26PM »

Outstanding, valuable advice!  The kind of thing that I need to remind myself of from time to time.
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« Reply #9 on: Nov 22, 2007, 09:54PM »

Hi Alex----A great bunch of advice for all of us to ponder.

Thanks for sharing it with all of us! Good!
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« Reply #10 on: Nov 23, 2007, 08:36AM »

Beautiful, Alex!

Tim Coffman, my dear colleague and free-lance trombonist buddy here in Chicago, has a great bit of advice he is always reminding me of when I start wanting to speak up or "go-off" on someone - and he credits Keith Brown with the wisdom:

"Never pass up an opportunity to shut the f%#+ up!"

(Sorry for the profanity!)

LOLOLOL

How true!

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the advice LX gives.

It's solid advice that can be applied to ANY walk of life, really.  Do the job, even the parts you don't like; Find something to love in the most impossible people and build them up; Love your Music; Take care of yourself, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and Musically.
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« Reply #11 on: Nov 27, 2007, 12:23AM »

Good stuff, Alex, thanks.

It's been a while since this screen has been enlightened.



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« Reply #12 on: Nov 27, 2007, 02:10AM »

What a great post! Nice responses too. Thanks LX.
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« Reply #13 on: Nov 27, 2007, 08:45AM »

I'm thinking the advice applies just as well to amateurs who want opportunities to play with other musicians. If you are in a group of any kind, blending, contributing and fitting in as a person, people around you can visualize inviting you to do more of that in other places.  Fitting well in a church band could get you invited to a chair in a dance band... and so on.
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« Reply #14 on: Nov 27, 2007, 09:31AM »

I was told, some 20 years ago, that you have to be so good that they miss you when you're not on the gig.  It's very nice to read your advice Alex, and be reminded of that. 

I have noticed that many of the younger cats that show up on the scene have the wrong idea.  They're busy trying to show everyone what they can do without checking out what the older cats can do.  If you're in a section next to Benny Powell, why are you trying to impress him?  Think about all the situations that he has experienced.  Think about the great players that have sat next to him...or in front of him and behind him.  Listen to what he says.  Watch what he does.  If you want to be sitting in that chair for the next 40 years, there is a template readily available. 

You are, in my humble opinion, right on the mark about loving Music.  I, like most of us who freelance, have an opportunity to experience plenty of musicians who are "burned out" or jaded.  They "never got their due" attention or respect and now they're making us all pay for it.  One such experience started me thinking recently.  It started me thinking critically about myself, too.  I tried to remember what it was to first understand an altered dominant chord.  I remember being able to connect to timbre to a definition in my mind.  I remember when I found the notes I liked in the chord.  I remember being so excited and energized.  Why has that joy of discovery subsided?  It's difficult to keep that kind of excitement and energy if we don't continue on the journey of discovery....and most importantly, if we need someone else to notice.  When we're in school, there is always someone there telling us when we did it right, or on which things we need to improve.  But, in the real world, we have to adjust our minds to be both critical and rewarding to ourselves. We have to do the internal work and take the results to the bandstand.  If we go to the bandstand looking for someone to notice our progress or reward us for it, we'll probably be disappointed.  It is expected that we'll sound great....we're professionals. 

Thanks for spurring further thought, Alex.  I hope we'll have a chance to sit in a section some time.  Right now....it's a little too far to commute. 


DG
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« Reply #15 on: Nov 27, 2007, 11:25AM »

I was told, some 20 years ago, that you have to be so good that they miss you when you're not on the gig.  It's very nice to read your advice Alex, and be reminded of that. 

I have noticed that many of the younger cats that show up on the scene have the wrong idea.  They're busy trying to show everyone what they can do without checking out what the older cats can do.  If you're in a section next to Benny Powell, why are you trying to impress him?  Think about all the situations that he has experienced.  Think about the great players that have sat next to him...or in front of him and behind him.  Listen to what he says.  Watch what he does.  If you want to be sitting in that chair for the next 40 years, there is a template readily available. 

You are, in my humble opinion, right on the mark about loving Music.  I, like most of us who freelance, have an opportunity to experience plenty of musicians who are "burned out" or jaded.  They "never got their due" attention or respect and now they're making us all pay for it.  One such experience started me thinking recently.  It started me thinking critically about myself, too.  I tried to remember what it was to first understand an altered dominant chord.  I remember being able to connect to timbre to a definition in my mind.  I remember when I found the notes I liked in the chord.  I remember being so excited and energized.  Why has that joy of discovery subsided?  It's difficult to keep that kind of excitement and energy if we don't continue on the journey of discovery....and most importantly, if we need someone else to notice.  When we're in school, there is always someone there telling us when we did it right, or on which things we need to improve.  But, in the real world, we have to adjust our minds to be both critical and rewarding to ourselves. We have to do the internal work and take the results to the bandstand.  If we go to the bandstand looking for someone to notice our progress or reward us for it, we'll probably be disappointed.  It is expected that we'll sound great....we're professionals. 

Thanks for spurring further thought, Alex.  I hope we'll have a chance to sit in a section some time.  Right now....it's a little too far to commute. 


DG

Somebody once said to me that he thought great players he'd observed tend to "take in" more than they "put out", even when they are "putting out" a lot!!

Listening means so much more than we usually realize.

Bob McChesney often tells students who want "quick" answers that he won't give them because he does not want to get in the way of the student's own discovery process. As you say so clearly, Dave; it is often the act of discovery itself [and not someone just giving you the "answer"] that makes the things you learn that much more vivid and long-lasting. There are many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle right in front of us. What a great feeling it is when you find a couple of them that fit together just right.

Maybe this is something that students in educational institutions seem to over-look: The act of learning itself [not necessarily "what" you learn] is one of the greatest rewards of education.

Great ideas, Dave.

I too, look forward to playing/hearing some music with you sometime.

The work commute just around town here is getting too far sometimes... >:(

Best wishes,

LX
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« Reply #16 on: Nov 29, 2007, 08:53AM »

thanks  lx
 that was  great  !!!!!!!
-----
its  the  free  part 
to  jump  on the  bus
 the ship
the  plane
-------
the   movie  music
  theres another  story
sinatra  and streisland   elvis   even
live  and  lifestyle
  ----------
dick  nash  for  sure  --man  he  coulda sold  cars  !!!!!!!!!! lotsa  cars  !!!!!!!
-----------
day  gigs  -------?????????????
------------
piano -keyboards -writing --arranging  --[reggie  watkins]
-----------
genius  guys  and  gals 
incredible  talent  and  smarts[[[[and  a few weirdos]]]]]
------------
SUPPORT  GROUP  !!!!!!!!!!!!!
--------------
FORGEDDIDABOUT   ----------
ever see  a  trombone on american idol  ?????????????????
===========
hey  lx  are   you  going to  salt  lake  ??????????
mc  chez     is  wanting to  do something too
================
rodney  lancaster 
came  over  yesterday
 hes  shipping  out  on the  8th
---------
new  guys  at  semo  and  siu
 -----
the new  guy  at  siu ---thats  the  way   i  like   uh  huh    uh     ----kc  band
 his  buddy  is  the  new sax  guy  too
===============
==============
more advice [[ha  ha  ]
get  a buddy  who is  a  sax player[roland  barber -delfayo]
==================




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XXXXooOOOOOXXXXXXXXX
LUCKY  LUCKY LUCKY  !!!!!!!!!!
LX

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« Reply #17 on: Nov 29, 2007, 09:02AM »

Quote
FORGEDDIDABOUT   ----------
ever see  a  trombone on american idol  ?????????????????

Well, yes. His name is Arturo Velasco and he is one of the cats in the band making everyone else sound great [or at least "better"]. ;-)
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"Perfection is a achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Donward59
« Reply #18 on: Dec 03, 2007, 08:54PM »

There's no shortage of first-rate trombone playing. When you show up in a big city and want to work,there are a couple of things to bear in mind-there are already plenty of good players who have been at it for a while. If you play really well,you may get some work. If you play better than anyone(Highly unlikely),but not impossible,you may be busy sooner than later. The other thing is versatility-How many styles of music can you feel really comfortable in? How quickly can you adapt to a situation and become almost invisible in a constructive way?
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« Reply #19 on: Dec 04, 2007, 05:16AM »

Quote
Maybe this is something that students in educational institutions seem to over-look: The act of learning itself [not necessarily "what" you learn] is one of the greatest rewards of education.

VERY wise words!
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