What Does a Television Band Member Do?

Live bands are a vibrant part of live television shows, playing background music for sketches, accompanying guest performers, and entertaining the audience during commercial breaks. For professional musicians, membership in a show's house band provides many elusive and coveted perks, including a steady paycheck, employer benefits, and a significant career boost. Although some television programs feature established bands, such as the Roots on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, most hire bandleaders or music directors to assemble an ensemble from scratch.

Within the larger groups of session and touring musicians, only the best of the best—those who always come prepared, memorize difficult charts in the blink of an eye, and never miss a note—are qualified to become television band members.

A typical day for a late-night band member begins around 10:00 a.m. with a band meeting, during which the group maps out and rehearses the day's musical tasks, and also records any pieces that won't be played live. The pieces played by television bands include shorter segments—play-on music and commercial bumps—as well as lengthier compositions: the music played underneath skits, as accompaniment for performers and guest musicians, or to entertain the audience during commercial breaks. Once night has fallen, it's time to tape the main show. During the show, band members might interact with the audience, deliver comical dialogue or spin off spontaneous interactions with the host, or even play small parts in sketches.

People in the Field

Maddie Rice

Name:

Maddie
Rice
Class of 
2014
Position: 
Guitarist

Television Band Member at a Glance

Career Path

Within the larger groups of session and touring musicians, only the best of the best—those who always come prepared, memorize difficult charts in the blink of an eye, and never miss a note—are qualified to become television band members. Joining a show's band opens up a number of career opportunities, including working similar gigs on other shows, becoming a bandleader or television music director, or leveraging one's television experience and connections to participate in television in another capacity—as an actor, producer, or composer, for example. 

Finding Work

Television show band members are usually selected by the bandleader or music director, although officially they may be hired by the producer. Turnover is low and jobs are unlikely to be posted publicly. As such, it's crucial for aspiring television band members to network with bandleaders and music directors beforehand—as well as develop an industry reputation for musical versatility and professionalism—in order to land these rare and competitive jobs.

Professional Skills
  • Deep instrumental proficiency
  • Sight reading
  • Accompaniment
  • Highly prepared, good time management
  • Collaboration
  • Flexibility
Interpersonal Skills

Television band members are skilled, flexible, and reliable. They are consummate professionals, never arriving late or unprepared and possessing a keen understanding of when to relax and goof off and when that behavior should be turned off. Having experience with both studio and live performance, as well as the ability to learn large quantities of music on a daily or weekly basis, is vital. They should possess excellent communication skills and the ability to take direction well.

Work Life

Television bands work roughly 10 months per year, the entirety of a network television taping season. Band members enjoy a reliable paycheck, consistent hours, access to television industry events and parties, the opportunity to play with a group of master musicians, and the absence of touring woes like late nights and gear hauling.