THE BIZ : Musician, Play Thyself

Looking to pay the rent while reaching for the musical stars? Well, if you’re a member of the American Federation of Musicians, you can hire yourself out as scenery for $144 a day.

Hollywood is hungry for musicians who’ll do bit parts playing--and sometimes just appearing to play--in TV and movie scenes.

On-camera musicians, says union spokesman Carmen Fanzone, often only pretend to play; the actual music is usually recorded elsewhere by studio musicians.

If you play an offbeat instrument or have a distinctive look, your chances of getting a gig increase. Joseph Saldo, who assembles on-screen bands for shows such as “Matlock” and “Diagnosis: Murder,” typically peoples his ensembles with the young and the charismatic. Rival band contractor John E. Oliver’s computer lists 1,200 musicians; among the instruments they play: the koto (a Japanese zither), the African flute (made from bamboo), the balalaika (a three-stringed, triangular guitar).


John Bilezikjian plays the oud, a pear-shaped, crook-necked lute from the Middle East that produces music when stroked with an eagle feather. He’s played at Carnegie Hall and on more than a dozen albums. He’s also appeared on “Three’s Company” and “Perfect Strangers.” “I’ve been training my whole life to be a virtuoso,” he says. “Playing at Carnegie Hall was the high point of my life.” The TV jobs, he says, “were just entertainment.”

Fanzone, a trumpet player who is now the assistant to the union president, says that when he came here from Detroit 16 years ago, sidelining “allowed me to stay in town and compete in the industry. I couldn’t have paid the rent without it. It still does that for a lot of musicians.”