Making a music career work is about versatility and learning to market yourself really well – all the while having the money in your pocket to keep it going. Unfortunately, jazz music is one of a number of things that do not fit into the capitalist paradigm very well. Unless you have generous parents, another source of revenue, or a wealthy patron sponsoring you, you will find the balance between your bread and butter ‘GB’ gigs (weddings, bars, etc), your day job, and your true creative pursutis a tough one – especially in a City like New York.
When I graduated, the people willing to pay me as a musician didn’t care about hearing me play Cherokee in twelve keys, or chorus after chorus of rhythm changes… What they wanted was someone who could read anything, transpose on sight, double on clarinet and flute, blend into a section, and not be the soloist. I spent a lot of time playing with Latin dance bands, and doing musical theater. Through that experience I learned to double and read well.
To make a living in the music business you must be extremely versatile. You have to be more than a ‘sax player’. You need to be able to write music. You need to be able to teach. You need to be able to arrange. You might consider producing music for other musicians. You might consider booking bands. You might write your own music, put together your own band, find your hidden marketing genius and book your own. The keys for most players setting out are going to be how well they read, how well they play, and how adaptable they are. You also can’t be shy – you MUST sell yourself. But you also must be a likeable enough person that people enjoy having you around! It isn’t always the best players who work. It is the ones who are the most reliable, the easiest to work with, and the most capable. While there is always room at the top for the next great soloist; there is so much competition – so many great saxophonists out there – that unless you really have something special and different to offer you’ll need to find other sources of revenue.