Civilian music careers

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Chat' started by Getzonica, Dec 9, 2009.

  1. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member


    I didn't really know where to put this, but here goes.

    As many of you have worked out, I am dead set on joining the Royal Marines Band Service, however, I am still looking at fall back opitions just in case!

    I was wondering whether anyone could tell me what opitunities there are for civilian musicians, because I would love a career in music even if I don't get into the Marines?

    I know that as a professional military musician you know you are getting paid every month, but what about as a civilian musician?
  2. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Well, there are professionals on this forum regularly who are better placed to comment than I (Duncan Wilson / Bass Trumpet springs to mind), but I do have some insight into the scene as someone who's done a fair bit of semi-pro stuff and has spent significant time around others who are at various stages of brass playing careers.

    Basically, it's a much harder gig to make happen at all than being in the military. You have to be b****y good and you have to have good organisational and people skills to get by full-time. You can be a relatively unskilled, lazy and uncommitted military musician in some bands (I know, I've met people who've ticked all of these boxes - just as I've met some truly excellent military musicians), but you would starve if you tried to apply those same values to any other part of professional brass playing.

    How it tends to work - you go to a music college, and study with a big name. Those three years teach you a lot about playing, but are also a vital way to network - to both get in contact with the older generation of players who have already arrived (i.e. your teachers) and get to know your contemporaries - the people who will pass what could be vitally important gigs your way in the future. If you are not a superstar (and without wishing to be harsh, I'd suggest that you'd be playing somewhere better by now if you were serious about making yourself into one), I suggest that London would probably be your best bet - it's where the playing pool is biggest, so there are more opportunities to network - opportunities to fabricate a freelance career.

    Then the path becomes less straightforward... Very very very few players have the talent at this point to land a salaried position, of which there are very few, in any case. The vast majority go freelance - which is to say that they exist hand-to-mouth for a few years until either 1) they have organised their gig calendar and/or peripheral professional interests well enough that they can live happily off it, 2) they land a salaried position, or 3) they give it up and retrain as something more profitable. (3) happens quite commonly, even to some excellent players. A fair number will do postgraduate playing qualifications, dependent on funding sources. Some players relocate - there are more playing opportunities in some overseas countries, for example Germany. Most will take on peripatetic teaching work in order to make ends meet. Some will move out of the profession entirely in order to concentrate on an unexpectedly more lucrative sideline (e.g. instrument sales or maybe fixing sections or bands for a commission).

    It's a hard, stressful, and uncertain life, and you have to be a good people person at all times - someone who is always helpful, someone who always is first at the bar to get the beers in - basically someone who not only plays everything perfectly all the time, but who is someone that the existing players want to have in their section. I could name several players who squandered trials with big orchestras through their own bad attitudes to those around them.

    Essentially - you're thinking about this the wrong way round. Military music is a much easier career path if you can stomach having to join the armed forces [not a problem for you, I think!], and requires a lesser level of unrelenting musical excellence in order to make a basic living. It is fairly routine to see a good player, tired of the vagaries of freelancing, take a military position as a fallback in order to take some of the stress out of life.
  3. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Should add: If you can manufacture a big opportunity, you can short-circuit all this. If you can set up, market, and sustain a seriously good function band, there is money to be made. But that's not just about playing, you need the whole schmoozing skillset too... Not to mention some decent jazz skills.
  4. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    Maybe being a civilian musician is harder than I thought it would be....
  5. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Couldn't agree more. In a former life I was in orchestral management and was party to a few players' trials - it was often the player who fitted in best with the section that got the job rather than the best player (which of course if the whole reason they have trials as well as auditions).

    The majority of orchestral musicians I knew in Edinburgh and Manchester supplemented their income by teaching as well; some were lucky enough to have regular work from a conservatoire but many took private pupils. Those who didn't teach tended to have "side-projects" - chamber groups, solo engagements, etc., to supplement their orchestral income.
  6. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Thankyou for the recommendation, Dave! I think you've covered a lot of angles in your reply, so I will be as brief as possible so as not to repeat anything.

    A military music career is a fairly easy and pain-free option, however you must remember that you will be a soldier/sailor/marine/whatever FIRST, and a musician second. I am sure you are aware of that aspect, but it's easy to be blinded by the glossy brochure!

    By easy and pain-free, I mean that the required standard for entry is much lower than that of a music college and if you are accepted, you will be earning a salary straight away. In contrast, if you audition for music college, you will have to find your own tuition fees and living expenses to supplement the meagre grants available. When you leave, you will have to try and find employment in a music scene which is already bursting at the seams with great players. Also, forget the cornet - there are no professional cornets players!

    A life as a professional musician can be wonderful, but it's very difficult - believe me! However, if you are happy to enter into a military career and are happy with that lifestyle, then my advice would be to go for it. Also, it might be worthwhile spreading your net a little wider and looking at military music in the Army and RAF too.
  7. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

  8. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    Yep. I definately understand that I'll have to serve as a medic / ambulance driver etc....

    And I have looked at the other services.....but I've decided I'd like to be a marine...
  9. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    In places like Basra and Helmand. I'm sure you're aware of this, because you've clearly researched it, but it bears repeating - if you join any branch of the military there's a chance that at some point you will be expected to lay your life on the line.
  10. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    Yep. I know someone in the marines band and he's served in all sorts of places both as a musician and as a more military role as well.
  11. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    I've hovered around being a professional for a few years now (those of you who know me will know I'm not an especially great player, but it has formed a significant, sometimes entire, amount of my income) and it is a hard, but ultimately satisfying life.

    It is all about who you know and cultivating a reputation as someone reliable, flexible (musically as well as the normal ways - if the boss wants things a tone higher 10 mins before the show etc you can't be crapping yourself), friendly and able to do the job right first time.

    For me it came slowly, getting odd jobs and eventually getting more back when I was a student. I'm sure it's not something you can just start doing.

    Personally I have lots of eggs in different baskets. Back in Aussie between a handful of private students, some playing work and conducting a band I made enough to avoid doing other work. It was a modest income but a very happy year until my visa expired :(

    Here in NZ I do casual admin work topped up with the sheet music business and some playing work. I gave up teaching as I felt the pay here didn't justify the amount of work. The band are getting me for free because I'm a nice guy :D and they helped me with a lot with practical things when I first got here.

    If you are a stunning player and can get yourself a nice salaried professional position I'm sure it's a good life.

    But if you like variety and are prepared to work hard and accept that barring a lottery win you're not going to be rich that level below can be fun too. I have a plan to do something completely different when I settle in a country (I'm still temporary here) but there are worse ways to spend your time and pay the bills.

    I know some great military musos and am a regular sit-in at the local Air Force band but the full-time life hasn't appealed to me yet... but that's just me.

    Peripatetic/itinerant teaching can be a good earner if you have the commitment to it and enjoy working with kids (as much as I tried to encourage adult learners I always ended up back with kids!) but I never felt it was a 'performing' job, at least from a musical perspective.

    Other options for musical careers include music therapy which is a growing industry I believe, retail or workshops (for example, going around schools giving musical demonstrations and a programme of follow-up class work). There are more options than are immediately obvious and I'll probably think of more later!

    </long rambling post!>
  12. andywooler

    andywooler Supporting Member

    I would add though that for any decent function band you really need to be on top of your reading skills too and not the kind of reading you get in a brass or military band! It would be worth looking for a local rehearsal band to get some experience of playing outsode of the band genre - it will pay dividends later on.
  13. davidquinlan

    davidquinlan Member

    I agree with what Dave and Duncan have to say, but also, you can be very busy, and make a reasonable living by being quite average and very very very lucky! :)

    However, I would suggest the work hard approach!

    There are other military bands other than the Marines, would these not be suitable alternatives?
  14. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    Maybe....although I'd prefer to join the Marines band(s)...

    Did more research on that, and although I have already said that I understand this, it's quite interesting what the diffeent services have to say on that subject, as you are a musician first in some of the services. (see quotes below)

  15. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Ssshhhhh! Don't give the game away! ;)
  16. iancwilx

    iancwilx Active Member

    I was extremely average and extremely lucky and earned a decent living solely from the "biz" for 30 years, but without the luck it would have been hard going.
    I consider myself to have been very fortunate.

    - Mr Wilx
  17. still learnin

    still learnin Member

    The recruitment posters and blurb in advertisements is there to sell you the idea of joining up. Nothing wrong with that, I did it and loved it, but they don't go out of their way to tell you the less pleasant aspects! The RM and RAF bands arguably have tougher auditions to get in but the Army isn't a pushover either and getting into a Guards band can be a challenge. There has always been a fair amount of competition for places but I think that it's getting tougher these days as I know a few good youngsters that haven't made the grade.

    I guess that you're still at school and may not be able to to put yourself about in the music circles around Pompey right now but...... it's definitely worth targeting the highest section band that you can find in your area and try to sit in with some local big/swing bands as well. Good luck :tup
  18. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    Yeah. I'm still at school at the moment and my parents have said that until I learn to drive I.ll not be allowed to join any more bands.
  19. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Not be allowed to join others instead of your current bands or in addition to them? In addition to I can understand - instead of is just obstructive.

    If you're serious about becoming a professional musician of any sort you need to be gaining as much musical experience as you can, as soon as you can, at as high a level as you can. You've only got a couple of years left (?) until you'll be starting your potential career - there's no time to waste sitting around.
  20. WhatSharp?

    WhatSharp? Active Member

    Also get yourself along to one of the insight course the army run ( , if your old enough that is ). My sons off on one in March , but it should give you a flavour of what your letting yourself in for ( I know of at least one lad who after doing it decided it wasn't for him ). The only advice I can give is what I say to my son , always have a plan B ( even if it may not involve music ).

    I know lots of people who make a decent living out of teaching but hardly any who make a living solely out of playing ( and only one who's a "known" , though a minor one at that )....

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