Bandleaders Musical Opportunities

Bandleaders run their own show as an employer and hire other musicians (known as sidemen) to work for them. That is the way to go if you are a musician who is an entrepreneurial type. As a bandleader, you operate your own business and offer the services of your band to others. You decide the number of sidemen whom you want in your band. Your band will provide musical services to the clients you develop in catering halls, hotels or individuals for weddings, dances, corporate affairs and a wide variety of engagements.

You engage sidemen for the wage you set, which generally may be no lower than the scale established by the local musicians union (if you are a member) for the type of engagement being played and where it is being performed. You enter into a written contract with your client who is engaging your band. You set or negotiate the fee for the entire band. Whatever is left after you’ve paid the musicians in your band and met your other expenses is your profit.

If you are a member of the musicians union, it will provide contract forms for you to use with your clients. You fill in the blanks such as the date, place, starting time and length of the engagement, including the number of musicians that will be used. Part of these forms is a copy for the musicians union so they may be paid the work dues applicable to its members.

If you are not a member of the musicians union, you or your attorney will have to draw up appropriate personal service contracts. In that case, you are under no obligation to hire union musicians or pay union wages.

As an employer, you will be required to pay all other expenses such as income tax, etc. for yourself, and deduct withholding tax from your employees. Many bandleaders engage a payroll service to handle all these details.

As the employer, you will be in complete control of the musicians you hire. You will decide what your employees wear, what music will be played and how it will be played.

Since this type of work is generally classified as “at-will” employment, you may hire any musician who is willing to play the engagement for the wage you are offering to pay and under the conditions you decide. If you are a member of the musicians union, you will be subject to union minimum standards. You are also free to discharge any musician for any reason or no reason at all, so long as you do not violate any state or federal law barring discrimination. That is what is meant by “at-will” employment.

As an entrepreneur, it will be up to you to find engagements for your band and negotiate fees with your clients. Being a bandleader can be a very profitable venture for you if you are self-motivated, disciplined and have organizational skills.

Although by law, labor unions may only represent employees, the musicians union has many bandleaders as members. Often, bandleaders also work as sidemen for others. By the union’s rationale, the bandleader’s client is the true employer of all the musicians in a band including the bandleader. That is a fiction that has been used by the musicians union for many years even though the union’s rationale has been rejected time and again by the federal government’s administrative agencies. Like many organizations steeped in the past, the musicians union has been very slow to change its policies.

Notwithstanding the above, many musicians who decide to become bandleaders find that being their own boss can be very satisfying as well as lucrative. Being the person in charge, and exercising a measure of control over the manner in which you earn your livelihood, can bolster the perception you have of yourself.

For additional information, see the following website of the Association of Professional Orchestra Leaders, based in Chicago.

There is also a National Association of Orchestra Leaders based in New York City. That organization apparently has no website.

Chicago Bandleaders