Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Musicians riff to pay the bills

Posted on April 14, 2014 in Arts & Culture
By Francis Flisiuk

Randy Hazelton
Randy Hazelton

Singers and musicians whose passion is pouring hours of practice and rehearsal into honing a musical craft, are finding plenty of ways to make money that go beyond just playing gigs.

Landing gigs and performing at esteemed venues is near the end of the long road to making it big in a very competitive industry. But through various methods, USM student musicians and performers are finding ways to network with local creatives, spread their talent through performance and education and ultimately make some cash for their efforts.

Whether you’re a musical theater performer or a drummer in a rock band, there are plenty of ways to make money that go beyond an open guitar case on the side of the street. According to Danielle Lane, a musical theater performer and senior, USM has helped equip her with a specific skill set that is incredibly important if you want to make a name for yourself in the performance arts industry.

“Learning how to audition is huge, we [musical theater performers] need to know how to market ourselves,” said Lane.

Acing the art of the audition requires a lot of preparation and a lack of shyness with an audience of judges, and that’s just what Danielle Lane brought to the stage at an audition that landed her a job at the Maine State Music Theater in Brunswick.

“When auditioning, I try to channel any nervousness into positive energy,” said Lane. “I’ve been taking an auditioning course at USM that’s really boosted my confidence.”

Described by Lane as an “insanely professional company,”  the Maine State Music Theater brings in talented actors, vocalists and musicians from all over the country, including ones from Broadway. However, according to Lane, the theater also values local actors, especially ones from USM, because they perform at a high level due to their education.

“USM has completely equipped me with the tools I need to be a performer,” said Lane. “I really knew nothing about the process until I came here.”

Auditioning and performing isn’t the only way students are getting paid for their artistic abilities. For Jen Precopio, a junior music education major and saxophonist, performing paid gigs in a wedding band called Retrospecticus is only half the way she pays the bills. The other half is teaching.

When she isn’t playing gigs,she’s teaching others how to do the same in private lessons at the Midcoast School of Music on Forest Avenue. There she teaches a class of students ranging in ages from 12 to 17, the fundamentals of saxophone, clarinet and flute four days a week.

“Taking classes and learning from the faculty at USM has helped me grow not only as a musician but as a teacher,” said Precopio. “I’ve learned so much about music that I’ve now expanded and taught to my own students.”

Precopio recently had the chance to see a solo jazz performance from one of her younger students. Seeing the effects of her teaching so far, she said, has been incredibly rewarding.

“It was so great to see the instructions and lessons that I had taught shine through during her performance,” said Precopio.

Going far beyond just playing shows, Precopio also writes music, teaches children and is also directing an all-girl rock ensemble, featuring several young performers, playing the piano, drums, two saxophones and a flute.

Precopio is also in the midst of developing a lesson book for beginners who want to play the saxophone, flute or clarinet. This decision was influenced directly by a course called Woodwind Pedagogy taught by USM jazz instructor Bill Street . According to Precopio, she’s incredibly busy but also diligently following her dream.

“It doesn’t feel like I have a job,” said Precopio. “I’m always excited to come into the studio, I get here early. Music and teaching have always been my two passions, and once I put them together, it’s like euphoria.”

Senior music performance major Jacob Forbes, shares Precopio’s “follow your passion” mindset by crafting a career based around his musical interests, specifically mastering the drums and the saxophone.  Forbes has been playing for over four years and supports himself with music, saying that teaching jazz is his steady income, while performing shows earns his “fun spending” money.

“It’s almost a relieving feeling, realizing that you can make money doing something you truly love,” said Forbes. “It’s a wonderful physical and spiritual feeling, getting an audience full of people excited about your music.”

But, according to Forbes, just because you’re getting paid for something you love doesn’t mean it isn’t’ a lot of hard work. For Forbes, work entails teaching music classes in Portland and Kennebunk and finding a balance between performing small, more laid-back shows at bars or restaurants for tips and booking larger shows at bigger venues like the Portland Stage.

“How you spend your time is incredibly important as a musician,” said Forbes.

Although nights performing jazz at smaller venues, like Blue and Local Sprouts, often usually don’t pay much more than $30 to $40 per performer after the audience finishes “passing the hat around,” it’s still a valuable way for a musician to spend his time, Forbes said.

“Even though you’re not making that much money, playing in a public setting is always a worthwhile learning event,” said Forbes. “If nothing else, you get a free meal, a couple beers and a chance for people to hear your music. Musicians just want to be heard.”

Forbes said that the connections he made in school played a huge part in his success as a local jazz artist. Through working with faculty members like Edward Reichert, a lecturer in musical theater, on USM productions, Forbes managed to land gigs that were outside of USM. One of these was an eight week contract job at the Maine State Musical Theater, that paid “quite a bit more than a regular old night at the Blue.”

“There are a lot of opportunities to become a successful musician in Maine, you’ve just got to connect yourself with the right people,” said Forbes.

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