Monday, 12 August 2013

So, what does a musical coordinator do?

If you google for a musical coordinator, you will find many pages telling you what a musical coordinator does. None of them are really in agreement, and none of them really describe what a musical coordinator really do. So, here is my take on what a musical coordinator does.

In summary, a musical coordinates all the aspects relating to the music in the production of a musical theatre show. A musical coordinator's job is to do everything that nobody else does.

The tasks listed here are usually the responsibilities of the musical director, but the musical coordinator does not report to the musical director. If he does, he would be called an 'assistant to the musical director'. He would still do all the same tasks. The only difference is, if you report to the musical director, you do what the musical director tells you to do, but if you report to the producer, then you have to take the initiative, check for everything that needs be done, and do it - or find somebody to do it.

In our show, I am performing the role of the musical coordinator. As the production developed, I invented this job myself, and are making up the job description as I go along. Your job description will be different from show to show and in many cases, some of these tasks are not relevant. Just for the sake of completeness, I will add some tasks which I do not perform in this show, but which may normally form part of your task.

1. Song writing

This will depend on the show. The director may ask you to write some songs if he can not find an appropriate song to fill a specific gap. You have to write a song 'to spec'. The director will tell you what mood and feel is needed, and sometimes what the lyrics of song is about. This is not your chance to showcase your personal favorite from your own past catalog. Write a new song according to what the director want. If you can not write your own songs, coordinate with a songwriter. If the show is for a non-profit organization, chances are that you will not get paid for it. Just make sure that you sign a songwriting agreement and retain all the rights to the songs you write. That way you might be able to use the song again in another show or demo reel.

2. Music licensing

If the director makes use of pre existing hit songs, make sure that you obtain permission to use that music from the local music rights organization (SAMRO, BMI, ASCAP, etc.). This may require you to do some research to determine who the rights holders are and fill in the forms, or at least assist the producer in these tasks.

3. Music budget

Ok, in this case, I have no responsibility regarding the budget, but in many instances, the producer may give you a maximum budget within which you have to hire musicians, musical directors and pianists, etc. At least, if the director handles the full budget himself, you may have to make sure that you are compensated for all your own expenses,

4. Hiring

This is a difficult one. It is the responsibility of the show director to hire a musical director. The musical director must be responsible to the director. If the director ask for your assistance in this regards, make sure that everybody understands that you are only acting on behalf of the director. The musical director may ask you to hire a rehearsal pianist. It would be ideal to have the show pianist and the rehearsal pianist as the same person, but it is not always possible. If you have a large orchestra, you also may need to hire a conductor.

5. Musicians

The musical director may abdicate her responsibility regarding the band to you. Check with the director and musical director what kind of sound they want, and put a band together according to their needs. In the average non-profit show you may end up with a 4 or 5 piece band (drums, bass, piano, guitar, saxophone). In the average Broadway show you may have a 9 to 24 piece orchestra.

The director may have made commitments to some people or friends to include in the band. Make sure you adhere to his wishes. Where there are gaps, get somebody. It may even mean that you fill in a seat yourself - just leave your ego at home. This is not a time for you to showcase your talents as lead guitarist, but rather an opportunity to demonstrate how well you can make things happen 'behind the scenes'.

6. Band practice

You must make sure that the band know the songs. Draw up a schedule and agree the schedule with the director, musical director, choreographer, producer, and band members. It is very unlikely that you will get all those people in one place at one time, so you will be required to do a lot of walking and phoning around. The normal schedule would include:

  • Singers training and rehearsals. This is almost always the job of the musical director. Attend the sessions to understand what keys they sing in, what verses gets dropped, and what tempo songs are done in. Record the singers and play it to the band. Keep on recording the songs at each rehearsal and always keep the latest and best version.
  • Band practice. Give the band enough time to get to know the songs before they rehearse with the singers. First just practice the songs until all band members know the music, the chords, and the tempo, etc. The songs don't have to be practiced in any specific order. Spend as much time on each song as may be needed. More difficult songs may need more time.
  • Band rehearsals. When all band members know all the songs, rehearse the whole show from start to finish. At this stage each musician must be on the instrument he or she will use during the show. It is fine for the pianist to use an electronic keyboard during practice, or the guitarist using an acoustic guitar. In rehearsals the pianist must use a real piano if that is what she will use in the show, and the guitarist must switch to the electric guitar if the show needs it.
  • Rehearsals with singers and dancers. Somebody invented the name 'sitzprobe' for this. I have no idea what it means, but it sounds epic. It is your job to make sure that the band knows all the songs by heart by this time. There may be some surprises as you may need to adjust some songs in tempo or key at this stage. During rehearsals songs may be done in whatever order is convenient. Coordinate with the band, directors, and singers to draw up a schedule. You do not want singers to sit around wasting their time while waiting for their songs to be rehearsed. However, when you rehearse a song, it can be a waste of time if the right singers are not present. That includes the chorus ensemble. During this time, take special care to balance the volume between the instruments and the singers.
  • Dress rehearsals. The last week before a show is usually set aside for dress rehearsals. This time, the whole show is rehearsed from top to finish, in the order that the show runs. This is like running the show without an audience. The first dress rehearsal may be stopped and started as needed. The director would want to have at least two dress rehearsals running all the way through without interruptions, before the show opens. As musical coordinator, you must leave proceedings in the hands of the director. Do not interfere, comment, or interrupt. Make sure that no interruptions are caused by the band. If needed, make notes and discuss with the band after the rehearsal. The sound engineer must be present at dress rehearsals to make sure that sound levels are appropriate.
  • Opening night. Calculate your schedule by starting with this date. This is the date you can not miss. Determine how much time is needed for each task and work backwards from here to calculate a start and end time for each step listed above.

7. Coordinating between band, musical director and choreographer

It is your job to make sure everybody has a copy of all the music. Make up a folder for each musician in the band, choreographer, musical director and rehearsal pianist. The 'flip files' work best for this (a file book containing 30 or 50 see-through plastic pockets). Inside each musician's file, place a copy of the chord tabs of each song. Keep the songs in the order in which they will be done in the show. Do not print songs double sided. If a song spills over to a second page, place it such that the song starts on the left side and continue on the right. This will avoid musicians having to turn pages during a song.

Pianists do not like chord tabs. Print out complete scores for the pianists. Again, print on single sided paper. Pianists like to tape the score together to enable them to open it out on one long stream to place it on the piano music shelf. Brass and wind players also need a score printed, but for them you need their dynamic parts, i.e. the music notes containing only the parts they play, with no piano or vocal parts. Take heed of special tuning requirements for brass players.

Each file must also contain a CD of all the songs. This CD must be replaced every week. In the beginning each CD will have only original artist recordings. Replace these recordings with the singers and rehearsal pianist recordings.

8. Other music consumables and needs

You may need to check that all musicians have all they need. Each band member needs a music stand and music lights. Guitarists must put on fresh strings before the show. Pianos may need tuning. Everybody will however have to bring their own toilet paper.

This list is by no means complete. There may be many other tasks added here. Feel free to add anything you feel belongs here in the comments below.


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