Getting Gigs as a High School Student
I just turned 17 and my father said he would buy me a car provided I attempt to make money on the side through my violin playing. I feel a bit overwhelmed by my ignorance on the subject; I have no idea where to start to be honest. How does one attain a few side paying jobs, assuming the quality of my playing isnt a chief concern (according to my teacher). Any and all advice is appreciated. My teacher said something about a union?
Getting gigs as a teenager is very difficult. It's not impossible or unheard of, though. If you want to earn money, it is much easier to earn a decent amount of money if you work at a store or something just like most teens. Earning money by gigging is very difficult and you won't earn a lot.
Union: American Federation of Musicians. Dues might be $300 per year, so you need to figure that into your economics.
Plenty of gigs if you want to work for free.
Learn some wedding repertoire. Put together a couple of recordings, and get in touch with wedding planners in your area. You might also team up with a pianist to have a wedding duet.
Weddings are a great way to go, my brother does this and teaching on the side. He also tutors maths to younger students, so perhaps tutoring in a subject area you are good at could be a good shot?
There is a lot more to playing for a wedding than simply being able to get through the notes of the gig arrangements. I would never recommend that a student try to jump into that cold; at the very least, the OP should have played some wedding gigs alongside experienced musicians before attempting to market himself. Weddings are pageants put on by amateurs and the potential for unpleasant surprises and/or missteps is pretty big. The most stressful part of playing for weddings is getting through the processional smoothly--you have to be able to stop on a dime in a way that at least does not sound musically obtrusive, and you have to be able to respond to the unexpected in the blink of an eye.
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My son does some gigs (he's in 8th grade). The first thing you need to figure out is if you need a work permit in your state. By 17 probably you are OK in most states, but important to check. Incidentally, we tried to get one for my son and were turned down until he reaches age 14.
Network while still at school, is good advice, but at 17 you've left it a bit late to start. Spread it about like crazy at college. Mind, the only gigs I ever got were Gilbert and Sullivan (oboe) and playing piano for a ballet teacher. Weddings can be really heavy duty. My teacher plays viola at weddings among other things. Her quartet's repertoire is seriously heavy - I can't remember how many pieces of music it includes, but we're talking literally hundreds.
Adam posted some background here at the start of this school year (September 2018):
"Plenty of gigs if you want to work for free."
I have never heard of a teenager needing a work permit to play a gig.
Haha Mr Wells, there is no agenda (I think?). They do seem opposed to idea of me just getting an ordinary job though. Ms. Goree, i do have a similar arrangement which lets me use to family car for errands or for when they don’t feel like driving me. Perhaps I’ll hold off on getting a car...
You might also consider learning some good n' hot fiddle tunes, and start a duo with a guitar player for busking or parties.
I'm with George Wells. The "deal" your dad is offering you sounds really contrived. George is correct that you're unlikely to make much more playing entry-level gigs (such as community theater musical pits) than you are working at Starbucks, especially if you're being realistic and accounting for your travel time, practice time, and all of that. I did musical pits during high school (starting in middle school actually) even though they didn't pay that much more than minimum wage because I didn't really have much social life anyway, and the shows were on weekend nights when I didn't have school the next day.
Mary Ellen Goree regarding the work permits -- the info I was given may or may not be accurate. I inquired about it once my son was filling out W9 forms for gigs and that was what I was told for my city (Chicago). We decided things like church orchestras really were not "employment" and did them anyway. I'm not entirely sure on the legality of it, and the only thing I was told about kids under 14/15 was they could only work as models and actors. I guess it doesn't come up often!
You might want to see if a local music store needs help. Someone has to check in/out rentals, help with sales and such.
To do gig type jobs, you do not need a work certificate (which Illinois requires if you're under 16 and want to work, say, at McDonalds). You can babysit or hold a paper route or the like without one, and gigging is arguably more like that. Doesn't interfere with the school schedule, etc.
My teacher's "wedding" portfolio contains around 900 pieces. That's how big weddings (and similar social events) are!
Well then I am glad we haven't been breaking the law! I'm not surprised I was given incorrect information by the city. They looked at me like I had two heads.
That makes more sense to me regarding the work permit question. My first paying gig was when I was in junior high, so about age 12, playing Vivaldi Gloria at a church. There was no mention of anything required other than showing up and playing the notes.
By the way, we did not file tax paperwork for me when I was a minor. I'm not sure whether that was a good idea. Rather, my dad simply claimed the income on our family taxes. (I had a SAHM so my dad was otherwise our only income.) Dad was not happy about the tax consequences since nothing had been withheld, and putting it on his tax filing certainly boosted the tax rate above what I would have paid myself. (I made enough money gigging when I was 14 to have almost been able to pay for the contemporary violin I was using -- and it would have purchased a decent used car.)
Lydia, not a good idea for you...your father also got credit for the increased income for his social security benefit calculation. That income should have been credited to you and included in your future benefit calculation. Probably wouldn't be making any difference whatsoever given your career trajectory since but it might make a difference to others reading this.
Mary Ellen Goree do you know the tax responsibility when it comes to competition winnings? I totaled up what my son earned this year between gigs and competitions and it isn't enough to have to worry about, but he plans to do more competitions next year when he is in high school.
I am not in any way a tax professional so please ask someone who would be knowledgeable, but my guess would be that competition winnings count as income.
Competition winnings should be like self-employment income, which means you can also track your competition expenses to offset the income. I wouldn't go overboard on general violin expenses but anything directly competition-related should be fair game, such as participant fees, travel, rehearsal pianist, sheet music, and the same goes for gig expenses. (I did my own W-2 and self-employment taxes for a while before enlisting a professional to handle some more complicated stuff and also just to learn from. By the way, to show more taxable income for purposes of loan qualification, IRA eligibility, etc., one can choose not to deduct expenses and the government will happily take your money. It's pay now or pay later!)
If your violin and bow are valuable, they really should be on a separate musical insurance policy, regardless of whether you use them to make money.
Susan I bet your son is plenty bright enough to start getting an education about how he's going to manage the business end of his career in future. Perhaps books on this?
Have you considered teaching? I found it easier to get consistent income from students (either privately or at a teaching school) than to get gigs at your age. It'll still be hard as you're very young, but if you lower the fees, you shouldn't have trouble finding some students. It's also a good skill to develop ASAP if you plan to be a pro one day.
Regarding teaching when one is still a high school student: I am generally not in favor of it but if you must, the way to do the most good and the least damage is to work with middle-school or late elementary kids who are already playing through their school programs but who cannot afford private lessons with a qualified teacher. Charge a very low fee and work with those kids. Avoid young beginners and please refer anyone who can afford lessons with a fully fledged teacher to one of those teachers.
Amen to Mary Ellen.
I was busking at your age. Was fairly decent money in a short amount of time and got me used to large numbers of people being generally indifferent to my playing!
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