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"What it Takes to Live in New York City as a Professional Musician: An Overview from a Veteran" by Ray Marchica

I’ve been living in New York City as a professional musician since 1977. Man, It’s been a long time, and I still love it.

If you live in or want to move to NYC to play music, I would guess the reason is because you love music and everything about it. Most of the younger musicians I meet, and play with, are really talented, well trained and very upbeat about being a musician.

If you are passionate, driven, feel you have a calling, a burning desire to play, practice, perform, and record music that you can share with the world, then choosing to be a professional musician here will make you a fulfilled and happy person. You’ll meet the most amazing people on stage, in the rehearsal room and in the audience.

You’ll become inspired and you’ll inspire!

I also want to say (and this is just my opinion) that you shouldn’t be coming to New York to be a professional musician if money and wealth are your main goal.

Photo of The Ray Marchica Nina Hennessey Group.The Ray Marchica Nina Hennessey Group.

A lot of things have changed since I graduated college and became a professional, and a lot of things are still the same, however; the amount of work in the city has changed.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s (before the advent of drum machines, and computer generated music) there were more recording studios, more record dates, jingles, weddings, hotel gigs… etc.

There was more of a need for live players. If someone needed a drummer, they had to call a drummer to play the drums. There was no option for someone to program a drum part.

When I was younger, the older musicians used to say that the 50’s and 60’s had more gigs. I’m sure when they were younger, they heard the same thing about the 30’s and 40’s.

I’ve been fortunate to have a busy career as a Broadway musician, but I’m focusing here on the many other opportunities available to musicians.

Thank God there was and still is a lot of theater work here and I trust it will come back in some form when this pandemic subsides.

The types of gigs and work out there now are different.

Photo of Rays setup for the Broadway production of Mamma Mia.Ray's setup for the Broadway production of Mamma Mia.

The best way to make it here is to be very versatile.

There are so many small professional and home studios all around the city. Do everything you can to be well versed in digital music technology. Get involved with one of these studios, or create one for yourself or even become partners with someone.

Learn Logic, Pro Tools, or Ableton Live. Get your audio engineering skills together. Become a great drum/percussion programmer, learn how to use Sibelius or Finale.

Start teaching, play percussion as well as drum set. Learn another instrument, (I studied piano and theory with the late great Mike Longo for years). Learn how to sing. Start writing music either by yourself or with a co-writer.

The cost of living in NYC was a lot less in 1977. Now, you’ll most likely have to have a room mate in order to afford to live here.

Photo of Ray Marchica playing in the Ed Palermo Big Band.The Ed Palermo Big Band.

Is the music business competitive? Yes, for sure.

Are you going to feel you need to be better… YES! ALWAYS!!! Will there always be someone who is better than you? Most likely, yes!

Are you going to be disappointed if someone gets the gig and you don’t? Yes, of course, but go past it. Be happy for your peers who got the great gigs.

Will you feel proud of what you’ve chosen and how hard you worked and practiced to get here? Yes. ABSOLUTELY!

There will be down turns (besides this pandemic) when the calls, texts and emails for gigs become sparse. It can be tough for sure. It’s not always easy.

It’s times like these when you have to find a way to be positive. You’ll have to dig deep to find what works for you.

A typical NYC music/business day for me would be any combination of the following: A rehearsal of some kind, teach a student or two, practice, practice music for a gig or a rehearsal, go to a sound check, play a gig. Make business calls and emails.

For me, the gigs I do are: playing jazz gigs, Broadway shows and performing with singers.

When you have a gig or a rehearsal, hang out and socialize with your fellow performers.

The hang is fun and you and your peers get to know each other better.

Photo of Rays setup for the Broadway production of Miss Saigon.
Photo of Rays setup for the Broadway production of Miss Saigon.Ray's setup for the Broadway production of Miss Saigon.

On the personal side of things, be a positive person to be around. Be the type of person that you yourself would like to hang out with.

Why are you living in NYC? Because it is one of the cities in the world that has the best of the best. Say yes to everything you’re free to do, especially if it sounds like it’s going to be with other talented creative people like yourself.

Play lot’s of live gigs, free rehearsals, go to jam sessions. This will expand your network of peers and professionals and it gets the word out that you’re good and ready to play. Over 35 years ago, I got recommended to play drums at a rehearsal with a great musician and band leader named Ed Palermo. I’m still in Ed’s band… since the mid 80s! He is a great friend. The guys and girls in the band are like my family.

This was really my life prior to 3/12/2020. Once the COVID-19 crisis is over it’ll all be happening again. Keep the faith!

Hey, wait a second… it’s still happening on Facebook, Instagram, and Zoom!

As we all know, learning about music is endless. I’m still trying to improve all of my skills.

As I’m writing this I’m telling myself that someday I need to get better at social media and have a better website and I think some day is gonna be real soon.

Take a chance on yourself, start your own band, call your own rehearsals, record your own music, get your own gigs.

Live, breathe and practice all kinds of music.

Go to clubs to hear and watch live music when this crisis is over, and it will be over!

Remember these expressions, because they are true:
“The more I practice, the luckier I get”
“The cream rises to the top”

Music brings joy. It connects us all to a special spiritual place.

Thank you to all of my wonderful teachers, the amazing contractors, conductors, club owners, musical directors, band leaders and singers who have hired me over all of these years.

Thank you Billy for asking me to be a part of this series, and for inventing The Miller Machine, it has made so many of my gigs much easier and more musical!

Peace, Love, and Good Health to You All.


Photo of Ray Marchica


Ray’s first drum teacher was his Uncle Jimmy who taught him all about feel, groove, soul, and the joy and love of playing and sharing music.

He is a graduate of Brooklyn College, where he studied percussion with Morris Lang of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Music Performance.

Ray is a longstanding member of The Ed Palermo Big Band, which specializes in the music of Frank Zappa, he has appeared on ten acclaimed Ed Palermo CDs. He is also a member of The Mike Longo New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, The Russ Kassoff Big Band, and The Gary Morgan Pan Americana Big Band.

Aside from his own two CD’s as a leader “In The Ring” and “A Different View”, Marchica has recorded with James Brown (1986‘s Gravity) and Barbra Streisand (2010’s live at the Village Vanguard album One Night Only Live).

Marchica has worked with Little Richard, Dan Hartman, Earl Klugh, The Gatlin Brothers, Tony Purrone, Rodney Jones, Roy Buchanan, and Johnny Winter.

He has played live and recorded with, among others, Marilyn Maye, Nina Hennessey, Betty Buckley, Leslie Uggams, Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Tommy Tune, Joel Grey, Lucie Arnaz, Andrea McArdle, Liz Callaway, Ann Hampton Callaway, Linda Purl, Nicolas King, Sally Mayes, Christine Andreas, Donna McKechnie, Jimmy Webb, Billy Stritch and Michael Feinstein.

Ray played drums in the house band for The Rosie O’Donnell Show for it’s entire six-year run, he has performed with Phil Collins, Tony Bennett, Bette Midler, Cher, Marc Anthony, Robert Palmer, Jennifer Holliday, Chaka Khan, and Neil Diamond, among other guests that appeared on the show.

His Broadway and theater credits include: Radio City Music Hall, A Chorus Line, Woman of The Year, La Cage Aux Folles, Starlight Express, The Will Rogers Follies, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Damn Yankees, Mamma Mia, A Trip of Love, Disaster, Something Rotten (took over the drum chair from Perry Cavari) and the 2017 revival of Miss Saigon.

He also played on three of the biggest Broadway flops in history:
1978’s A Broadway Musical
1992’s The Red Shoes
2003’s Dance of The Vampires

Ray is a proud endorser of Zildjian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks, Remo Drum Heads, and Pearl Drums.

Please visit:

Ray Playing Snippets from the Broadway Production of Mamma Mia

Steve Maxwell Webisode - Mamma Mia

Paul Adamy and Ray - Part 1

Paul Adamy and Ray - Part 2

Ray Marchica Group

Barbra Streisand at the Village Vanguard

The Ed Palermo Big Band at the Iridium

The Ed Palermo Big Band playing ”More Trouble Everyday” at the Iridium

Interview with Alan Cohen

The Mike Longo Big Band playing “Ding A Ling”

Nina Hennessey Ray Marchica Group Promo Clip

"After a grueling four years at SUNY I still had one theory class left to finish. I was really depressed. A classmate of mine recommended me for a tour of a Broadway show. This completely changed the course of my life."
  • 7 min read
"When I first got the call to start working on Ain’t Too Proud - The Life And Times Of The Temptations, I was curious about which era the show was going to focus on. Their career began in the early 1960’s and they’re still releasing albums today."
"The unique part of Groundhog Day was that the drummer had to play on stage, in a groundhog costume, wearing a giant groundhog head. Since I could barely see out of the head, it was impossible to read a chart (and there wasn’t a music stand), so it had to be memorized."
  • 4 min read
Patrick Lehosky's percussion setup for In the Heights at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale, New York.
Jay Mack's setup for the National Tour of If/Then at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Washington.
Craig Given's percussion setup for Hairspray at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch, New Zealand, for Showbiz Christchurch.
Steve Gadd's drum solo from the track "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours". From the album Live Stuff (out of print) from the legendary 1970's New York based band Stuff.
Robbie Ameen's drum solo from the track "Spring Fling".

Gene Krupa's drum solo from "Gene's Blues" from the album Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich released November 1955.