Forget flipping burgers. Instead, use your musical skills to earn money this summer. Theme parks, music stores, and possibly your own high school or college campus all need musicians for hire.
Photo courtesy of Cedar Point Beach Band
The old adage goes, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”
Sounds great, but if you need a summer job, knowing the E minor scale of the Phrygian mode and marching perfect 8 to 5 strides isn’t exactly going to pay the cell phone bill during the summer months, is it?
Well, you might be surprised.
If you know where to look, there are numerous ways to profit from your marching band talents during the break between concert season and the start of football. Besides, if you’re not marching drum corps, you’ll need a way to keep your skills sharp.
The first thing you probably imagine is traveling across the country in a well appointed tour bus nailing horn lines and rocking out in Justin Timberlake’s backing band. While there are many opportunities to perform over the summer, your musical acumen can also be put to use in other rewarding and edifying ways. You can teach at a summer camp, give private lessons or intern in the music industry—all ways to put those skills you learn in band to work.
Living the Dream
For most of us who have grown up in music, making money playing an instrument is a seemingly unreachable aspiration. We’d all do it every day for free if things like tuition and the need to eat didn’t get in the way. For some lucky marching band kids, this pipe dream is a reality.
The premiere gigs for students are programs like the Disneyland Resort’s All-American College Marching Band, which selects 21 college musicians from around the country to perform for the summer at “The Happiest Place on Earth” in Anaheim, Calif. With the gig’s proximity to Hollywood as well as clinics with top music professionals and performances around the park, it’s a valuable learning experience for college musicians.
Disneyland, however, isn’t the only theme park that hires college musicians. Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, has the Beach Band, a brass and drum ensemble that performs from mid-June to mid- August. Outfitted in swim trunks and Hawaiian shirts, the Beach Band has two trumpeters, two trombonists, a tubist and a percussionist.
It’s a great gig for returning member David Richmond—a trumpet performance major at the University of Akron and member of its Ohio’s Pride marching band—who made a steady paycheck last summer while building his chops on a diverse repertoire. “The music is demanding because it’s just a brass quintet,” he says. “We play just about everything. Our main style is pop and rock because it gears to the general public, but there’s a lot of jazz influence. Everyone in the group last year had a jazz background.”
A typical set features simple marching band maneuvers melded with dance moves and even a little audience participation, like when they approach unsuspecting female crowd members to sing “My Girl.” Last year’s repertoire included “Gangnam Style,” “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Livin’ La Vida Loca.”
For Richmond, it’s not only fun and a source of summer cash but also preparation for his future in music. “It’s great training to perform at all levels,” he says. “I played a low A to a double E seven times a day. This is the last summer before I finish college, and my goal is to play in theme parks either in Florida or California where they’re open year-round or go on a national tour.”
For some other students, an international tour makes for an exotic summer job—and there’s free food! Joining the crew of a cruise ship as a musician can be an exciting vacation gig and even lead to longer worldwide tours. These house musicians typically play two to four hours a day in Broadway-style productions and small jazz ensembles at various venues on the ship. Salaries generally start around $2,000 per month but can be negotiated depending on your experience, the cruise line and your instrument; however, the real fun starts when you pull into port.
“I visited at least 60 countries on cruises,” says Jeremy Deaton, a graduate of the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California, where he was also in the marching band. “My favorite place to go was New Zealand; it was stunning. Some of the most beautiful places to visit are only accessible via ship.”
Onboard the ship, the musicians are part of a community of crew members bonded together after months-long voyages. “I liked the atmosphere on the ship,” he says. “You got to meet people from all over the world.”
Future band directors of the world can get an early taste of what it’s like behind the megaphone by helping out at summer music camps. Numerous major university marching bands like the University of Texas at Arlington, University of Virginia and Baylor University offer camps to high school students; their current members help out to earn a little cash.
At the University of Pennsylvania, assistant director Dr. Kushol Gupta chooses the counselors for his band’s summer camp. “We staff the camp in part with college musicians—most often, members of the Penn Band,” he says. “They are selected from a pool of applications based in part on an essay and references and paid a $350 stipend for the week in addition to enjoying the amenities of the camp, including food and lodging.”
The week long camp teaches high school students musicianship and leadership while exposing them to life in college. The emphasis, says counselor Samantha Rehrig, is to enjoy music and companionship. “The camp is designed to have fun with music,” she says. “A lot of times high school bands are so serious. You have to play notes this way or march that way. It’s more about the fun aspect of playing in a group.”
In addition to rehearsals, campers and counselors take walking tours of Philadelphia, have movie and board game nights and play the national anthem at the Camden Riversharks minor league baseball game. At the end of the camp, the staff and students perform a joint concert of classic marches, concert band music and popular songs.
Sometimes, summer camps don’t even have to offer a music program to provide jobs for musicians. Scott Loeffler, who plays clarinet at the University of Michigan, performed in the pit for Olmsted Performing Arts summer theater productions when he was a marching band student at the local high school in Olmsted Falls, Ohio.
“They pay high school and college students to play in the pit orchestra,” he says. “It was really fun to do a summer show when I didn’t have school the next morning. And it really did help me as a player. There were a few music majors, and they were really good, so it was great to play with them.”
Giving lessons is an easy and fulfilling way for musicians to earn a few extra dollars from grateful moms. The hard part is getting your name out to prospective students.
For high school musicians, the simplest way is to teach younger students in your section. You can also talk to your director to get leads.
Some other methods to market your services are to post flyers around campus, place an ad on Craigslist, ask around on Facebook, or create an instructional YouTube video and put your contact info in the description. Whichever way you choose, utmost professionalism is required if you want parents to take a teenager seriously as a teacher for their child.
College musicians need a more polished approach when recruiting students. If you’re the entrepreneurial type, you can contact high school directors and offer a free clinic for their programs. After working with the band for a day, you tell the students they can continue training with you in private lessons. This way they already have experience with your teaching style and know what you can offer.
You can also teach lessons at the neighborhood music store. For teachers, the music store route is an easy way to find students. “Go and give them your card,” says Mark Santos, the band director at Los Angeles’ Lincoln High School. “They often have someone in place, but you can be put on the waiting list. They usually get a cut of your fee.”
Speaking of music stores, working at one can also be a valuable way to accustom yourself to a variety of instruments and their accessories. A knowledge of reed strengths, the difference between a Harmon mute and a cup mute, and the variations between drumstick sounds can be useful if you aspire to be a music educator.
Because of your iPod with 10,000 tracks and the phone in your pocket that streams unlimited songs, aspiring music professionals also have access to new internships in the recording industry. With big labels no longer the titans of music, more opportunities have opened up as the industry has splintered.
Students can work in a variety of aspects of the business, including publicity, tour management and artist management—all departments that were once consolidated in the Artists and Repertoire department of a label.
Beyond the music recording business, students can look at the music industry in general. At Yamaha’s Band and Orchestral Division, students working on bachelor’s degrees can intern during the summer. Each year, three interns work a full-time job five days a week to learn about the marketing of instruments to music dealers and consumers.
“We get a lot of kids from drum corps when they age out and want to get into the music industry,” says Troy Wollwage, the marketing manager for percussion instruments. “[We also] get a lot of kids who want to go into the industry or become a music teacher. Really, there’s all types. They attend meetings for all kinds of products, learn all about marketing strategy and work with dealers. They need to have a can-do attitude, be a sponge for knowledge and ask a lot of questions.”
Alumni of the program have gone on to work in the music business industry, become educators or earn their master’s degrees. Ten former interns have even gone on to work for Yamaha.
Many college bands also keep a staff of students over the summer to answer phones and help prepare for band camp. These are often work-study positions or part of the requirements for a scholarship. These jobs are a good way to establish relationships with directors and senior staff while learning the nuts and bolts of band administration.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go
Apply for a job this summer in music. You never know where it will lead.
I somehow got a marching band gig—even though it’s just writing Twitter blurbs every day—because I worked in the band office as a student manager during the summer. I could never have imagined getting a real adult job in the marching arts when I first stepped on the field at band camp my freshman year.
Even if you don’t foresee a career in music, you’ll inevitably become a better musician and stimulate your brain way more than you will flipping burgers or just sitting at home mashing on an Xbox controller. I bet you’ll have a lot more fun, too.