Freelance Musicians See Jobs Dwindle. Will Audiences Notice?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Freelance musicians once provided the backbone of New York's classical music scene. Work was abundant for the top players and the lifestyle never routine. But faced with changing tastes and new technology, many of the regional orchestras, Broadway pits and jingle houses that employ freelancers have cut back or shuttered. This is forcing musicians to get a bit more creative and entrepreneurial. 

To explain this state of affairs, host Naomi Lewin is joined by three guests: Miriam Souccar, a senior reporter at Crain's New York Business; Jean Cook, director of programs at the Future of Music Coalition and Mary Rowell, a freelance violinist and host on Q2 Music.

"It just seems that musicians are being hit from all sides. They started their struggle on Broadway back in 2003 when the producers were trying to abolish the minimum requirements for musician in the pits…It’s just coming at them from all sides." – Miriam Souccar

"There's less work going on. People are all looking at Broadway. That’s really the last gasp of legitimate work in New York." – Mary Rowell

"You’re seeing more and more classical folks [taking] relationships with audiences into their own hands. They’re no longer counting on presenters or record labels to do that for them. Musicians, if they’re going to survive, really need to be entrepreneurial." – Jean Cook

Weigh in: Are you a freelance musician? How do you see the job market? If you're an audience member, tell us how this has affected your experience.


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Comments [6]

David Wynne

Timbre and sonorities are two of the most important elements of music. As a pianist I have performed on many of the finest technologically advanced electronically powered instruments utilizing a keyboard, and they are astounding. Still, none can compare to the incredibly infinite range of dynamics possible on an exquisite piano. Without the tenets of color, warmth, richness and texture of acoustic instruments we eliminate and rob ourselves of the supra-human depth of expression.

Jul. 10 2013 01:22 PM
Harry W from Northen New Jersey

It is very disheartening to know that the conservatories are pumping out talented musicians with a bleak professional future.

It is a sad state of affairs when the society relinquishes its responsibility to the arts and focuses primarily on dirty politics, greed, corruption and a myriad of social ills.

The arts is the responsibility of every citizen. History of the Roman Empire indicated that it collapsed from within because of corruption, aggressive wars and the decline of the arts.

Is America going to become another failed Roman Empire?

Jul. 22 2012 09:08 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

In all cases with creative artists and performers, vocal, instrumental, dance, designers, directors and authors and composers, one starts out and often, out of necessity, become freelance. In the current financial and social malaise, it is EVEN HARDER than NORMALLY to achieve what one is talented and prepared for by training and hard work. Speaking from personal experience, right after graduating from Juilliard many years ago, I got my first roles in opera and have pursued careers in singing and as a composer, and as a voice teacher and coach for Wagner and Shakespeare roles. If I were first starting out today, I'd be "pounding pavements" day long without any guarantee of success. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, opera composer: "Shakespeare" & "The Political Shakespeare" & the director, the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where professional actors are trained for the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers are coached in the Wagner roles and voice production and dramaturgy techniques.
Websites:,, and where one may download, free, 37 complete "Live from Carnegie Hall" selections that I have sung in four concerts, three of them three hours-long solo concerts and one a Joint Recital with the dramatic soprano Norma Jean Erdmann, in the main hall of Carnegie Hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium, by opening up, downloading from the "Recorded Selections" venue on the home page. My next concert in New York will be on Saturday, June 9th at the YOGA EXPO at the New Yorker Hotel. The title of the concert is 'BRING HIM HOME, with that song from the musical LES MISERABLES, encouraging the return of our armed forces and inspiring hope and love of country with This Land is Your Land, The House I Live In, Climb Every Mountain, You'll Never Walk Alone, The Impossible Dream, Granada, Wien, Wien, nur du allein, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again and 19 other selections.

Apr. 17 2012 01:06 PM
David from Flushing

Given that most popular music performances come via speakers, it almost hardly matters if the sound is created by a live person or a recording. The day may not be far in the future where lip syncing is the norm on Broadway. Economics is the driving force here, not artistry.

Apr. 16 2012 04:24 PM

Actually, Bernie, you may have just hit 'the nail on the head' - in a manner of speaking. I do think audiences are desensitized to what they're hearing. That's a big problem and not just in classical music.

Apr. 16 2012 10:24 AM
Bernie from UWS

I don't understand how Broadway audiences are so willing to hear taped music. If you're going to be spending over $100 for a ticket, wouldn't you demand an actual orchestra? Are these audiences so desensitized that they can't identify what an actual orchestra sounds like? Dance audiences, I can understand. They're there to see dancers and the music is a side-effect almost.

Apr. 16 2012 07:38 AM

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About Conducting Business

WQXR looks deeper into the issues affecting the classical music landscape. 

Conducting Business is hosted by Naomi Lewin and produced by Brian Wise.

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