College can be tough for many musicians. You can often be so busy in class and practicing that you don’t get the chance to play any gigs. This is a problem because when you are practicing everyday and have no chance to show your skills, it can be discouraging. Playing music is also just fun, and it is of course more fun when you have an audience other than your roommates and neighbors (who are usually not interested in hearing your long tones and scale exercises). And of course gigs are great for making the rent. So amidst your busy schedule and social life, what gigs can you do while you are still in college? Here are a few I have been able to take advantage of in college so far:
Pit Orchestra Musician
Many local theatres will often need musicians in their orchestras and often aren’t enticing enough monetarily to attract degree holding musicians. This gig for woodwind players often requires some doubling skills but they aren’t usually very rigorous parts. This gig provides you with an opportunity to try out some of your doubling chops and the chance to play some different styles. One of the best parts about playing theatre gigs, is that many theatres have seasons that line up with traditional college breaks, such as summer seasons and Christmas shows.
Making friends with a lot of guitarists and drummers has paid off for me. Hanging out with the rockers long enough landed me a spot in a couple different bands. Convince that R&B singer that he needs a horn section and you could get the opportunity to write a horn arrangement or play in a recording session. These are great experiences for after graduation. Sometimes these gigs pay a little bit and sometimes they don’t pay anything at all. Either way it can be fun to stretch your chops out and learn to play in some different styles than you are learning about in school. Rock bands like to play loud, and learning to cut through 3 amplified guitars and a drum set can be a new challenge.
You likely won’t be competing against professional studio musicians, but if you go to a university that has an arts or music technology program you might be able to play on some student recording projects. Though working for fellow students may not always be the most lucrative opportunity, it can help you learn a thing or two about what microphones sound good on your horn or how to get a good headphone mix. An added benefit could also be some free pizza. I played clarinet on a recording session in exchange for homemade cake once, and what college student doesn’t love free food?
That Restaurant with the Patio
Every campus town has at least one bar or restaurant with live music a few nights a week on their outdoor patio. Find out who books the bands and talk to them about your music and let them know you are willing to play. All of my gas money in high school came from playing jazz at a pizza place every Sunday night. These gigs can be pretty easy to get if you just ask around a little bit.
All of these gigs were made possible for me because I asked someone. Introduce yourself to a theatre’s musical director or the manager of a restaurant. You also have to be creative and make a gig for yourself. Don’t be too proud to play in a Reel Big Fish cover band or too unsure of your talents to lead your own jazz combo or substitute for someone for a musical. College is not only a time to develop your musicianship, but also time to practice playing in front of people. If you keep your mind open to new performance opportunities, you can get some great experiences.
Ben Woodard is a Senior Commercial Music major at Millikin University. He plays his primary instrument, saxophone, in many top Millikin Ensembles. He is a doubler on clarinet and flute and also plays drums in various rock bands as well as guitars as a hobby. Ben is also a front of house sound engineer for several Millikin ensembles as well as a freelancer in the Decatur area. In his free time he plays intramural basketball and watches Wes Anderson films.