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What to do if I get offered to play professionally for the first time

Hello everyone. I'm snakeman5001. I recently joined this website because I was fascinated by the people that posted about their professional gigs they got hired for (especially gigs in the pit orchestra and gigs that some have done before). Here's what I'm asking: do you remember your first professional gig and if so how did you go about with it? How did you prepare for it? Where did you go to contact the musical director or contractor? The point I'm trying to get here is what should I do if I get offered to play professionally for the first time. Right now, I'm a senior in high school and I would like to go to college for music education. But what if there comes a time when I get offered to play professionally, and I want to prepare for that. Now I've messaged other people on this forum and they gave me some advice, but I also want to hear from others too. Who should I contact how should I contact them? How do I go about with being offered to play proffesionally? How do I prepare for it? That is all and thank you for your time.
My daughter is also applying to music conservatories right now.

My biggest piece of advice is not to wait for offers, but to proactively go out and get them yourself. I would not wait for college to get these, although it may assist you.

My daughter and I both started getting paid gigs at age 14. They started small, and grew into more. The biggest difference I've seen between what I had to do (four decades ago!) and what she has to do is that she must be a much more advanced and well-rounded musician than I was, because there are fewer jobs that pay--pit orchestras, weddings gigs, etc. On the other hand, due to the internet and other technology, you have ways to advertise that were not available to my generation.

My daughter started by playing a couple of pit orchestras, for free. Her first one was at a high school, when she was still in 8th grade--Thoroughly Modern Millie--and that was a tough musical to start out on. She had to teach herself clarinet first--that took her two months. practicing clarinet about two hours a day. And that was in addition to the hours she put in on her main instruments, oboe and saxophone. She also competed in concerto competitions, won some, and had public performances to post on her youtube account. When she wrote to musical directors the first time trying to get some (poorly paid) gigs, she referred them to her youtube account, and that's how she got hired. Now she gets calls to play in pit orchestras and semi-professional orchestras, and makes some money off of them, but not enough to earn a living, yet.

Musical directors and conductors like her because she is friendly, funny and humble. She could easily have complained about getting hired to play second oboe, for example, behind others she is better than. But she kept her mouth shut, played and behaved professsionally, and sometimes the same conductors call her later to play a principal part.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Regarding LOOKING for a gig, two tried & true places would be on the bulletin boards in your local music store(s) and at a local college/university, if they have a music department. You might also want to check with the director at your school and/or other surrounding schools. Even if those directors don't have need of you in a school production, every school music director I've ever met has some other thing on the side and he might need you for that.

Around "big" holidays, like Christmas and Easter, a lot of churches put on productions. You might want to find some of the bigger ones in your area, then go and ask. Also keep checking the "Religion" section in your newspaper. Some churches advertise there for musicians there.

As far as advertising yourself, take a look at the above notes. Give people business cards and post flyers on those bulletin boards. I'd also recommend a professional-looking website with some music samples.

Also take a drive/ride around. Near where I live are a couple dance studios and a couple community playhouses. These folks might want musicians.

As far as preparing, start practicing a lot and get better at sight-reading, because you might have one or two rehearsals until showtime -- if any rehearsals at all. I've not checked if you're a multi-instrumentalist, but it's a good thing if you are, start a bit inside your field: play clarinet, sax and flute if you're a single reed player ... then expand to some double reeds. Learn to do some vocals and basic piano, too.

If you happen to own "lesser played" instruments, like a baritone sax or a contrabass clarinet, make sure you mention that to the folks you "network" with. That'll either make you or your instrument more employable.


Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
My advice is to go to where the actual gigs are taking place. Talk to the musicians, the bandleaders, and the conductors. Offer to sub for a non paying rehearsal, for instance. Musicians often will sub out a freebie rehearsal to take a paying job that day. Expectations might not be as high in rehearsal (especially if you're doing them the favor of filling a chair) and you'll be getting a valuable insight into the workings of professional music.

If you want to work the pits, go to where the shows are in your area, finagle your way backstage, and offer your services as a sub. If you're interested in jazz, then you have to go to the jazz club, and maybe ask to sit in. Wedding bands are a good entry level vehicle. Go to the catering hall or local hotel ballroom on Friday or Saturday night and talk to the bandleader and the persons playing your instrument. Offer to sub, and to make whatever rehearsal they need you for.

When you make your rounds, dress well. As snakeman, I assume that you're male, so wear a jacket and tie, or a suit and tie. Get cards made. Nobody keeps phone numbers and other info that's been written on cocktail napkins and bits of paper. Get a nice business card with your name, your intrument(s), your phone number, email, and websight address, if you have one.

Once you get out there, as a working musician, be ready for anything. I've been a full time player for just about 40 years, and I can't for the life of me remember playing an easy gig. The musicians life isn't for the faint of heart. So you need to pick up your instrument and keep it picked up. You have to be able to play anything.....right now. So.....you need to practice, practice, practice.

One last thing. In order to be a really good musician, you have to know the realities of life. No drugs. No alcohol. Not even a little bit. The stuff dosen't make anything any easier, they just do the opposite. So if you run into any of these distractions, just go the other way. If the people on the gig are into that and they want you to be into that in order to make the gig, then you don't need that gig. There's always another gig coming! So stay clean.

Good luck and keep swinging!



Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
The best thing I did to network with *real* musicians (after I'd been outta music for almost 30 years) was to join the best community band that I could find in the Seattle area. Yes, there are more than ten! Then, I started getting invited to sub. I also started up my own sax quartet and then jazz combo.

I did my first theater ever shortly there after and found I really didn't enjoy the death marches as much as I thought I would. But then I had a demanding day job, family, and other commitments.

The best thing, and most successful, that I did was to start my own big band. It's been a labor or love, but now we are gigging more than I have time for, and I get to play with some really talented people. I like to say I'm the weakest player in the group. But don't get me wrong, I've taken lessons for more than 10 years since I started up.

As you become known to the music community, soon you will be able to cherry-pick the jobs you really want. Remember, the first jobs aren't about the money, it's about becoming known.

Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I'd recommend focusing on graduating from high school and getting into a good college music program.

Study with the best teachers at your disposal - even if they aren't teaching your instrument. This is how I got into percussion and single reeds - I went with the best teachers available at the time.

As to pro gigs, study with the best teachers in your area - they are the ones getting the pro gigs. I know them and worked with them in Waterloo and the region. There are some serious players in your area, study with them and get them to know you.

Beyond that, keep on studying and playing and if you get asked to do a pro gig it will take care of itself - for better or worse. You are either ready or you aren't.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I'd recommend focusing on graduating from high school and getting into a good college music program.
Carl speaks truth, thus he is quoted.