Meg Toohey On the Specific Struggles of Broadway's Freelance Community

Meg Tooney
Shervin Laniz

Meg Tooney

At the top of 2020, Meg Toohey finished her run as guitarist for the Broadway musical Waitress and released Butch, her first solo album since 2001. She planned to tour the project in between theater gigs, but with the live industry on hold, Toohey found unexpected momentum with “Lucky Streak,” her tribute to Waitress star Nick Cordero (featuring the show’s composer-lyricist Sara Bareilles), who died in July from COVID-19.

How does a Broadway career compare with a solo career in terms of financial stability?

Broadway is the one gig that musicians look at as a sure [thing] — it’s a constant cycling of work, you’re in a union. I had great health insurance, I had a regular paycheck that was a great paycheck because of the union, I had vacation days and a 401(k). As far as making a living as a musician, that was the way. You can support a family on a Broadway gig.

What financial burden did you take on as an independent artist through this pandemic?

It's not only the financial burden, but a lot of my friends live in these big apartment buildings in the city and it's not exactly conducive to tracking a drum kit. You’re trying to hand in a project and you're on a deadline to pitch a piece that there's probably a hundred other writers in line or musicians in line for, easy, that will do it cheaper. Suddenly, it's like you have to be able to keep up with the Joneses in every single way now. So first of all, you have the price point that suddenly you have to buy all of this new equipment if you're not already hip to the home recording scene, and then there's also the space. Like I've got a ten-year-old who just started taking tap dancing and I'm in my basement in the middle of a vocal take for a Netflix series that I'm writing. I've literally been to Home Depot a hundred times trying to insulate.

Once you realized Broadway was shutting down and you couldn’t tour your album, what were your options?

Everything musical went to social media. So on top of this game of, “Can you get your song on a TikTok?,” every five minutes somebody enormous is doing the same thing you used to do on Instagram where people might actually watch. Now, all of a sudden, you go live and Miley Cyrus is on with Kamala Harris. With the oversaturation in media, it’s kind of impossible to compete.

How have you connected with fans then?

I was really lucky that Sara Bareilles is part of my latest single [“Lucky Streak”]; obviously it’s a lot easier to get people to listen to you if you have somebody like her. But now, I have a song that has garnered a lot of attention, but I don’t have a label, I don’t have a management team, I don’t have money to throw into plastering it all over the interweb and putting together video shoots. I have to create my whole marketing strategy, and I’m not an expert on this stuff. I'm throwing everything I've got at this and hoping that people are gonna listen — and frankly, to be completely honest, that's not very far away from where I was in 2006.

What’s a misconception about Broadway performers and musicians?

The Broadway community gets angry when people say, “Just go out and get a job,” because we’re talking about people that spent their whole lives studying this craft and paid thousands of dollars in tuition and [put in] countless hours practicing. So many people I know finally just got to their level of like, ‘I'm nailing this and I'm making a living as an artist. I'm in a great show, everything is happening.’ And then all of a sudden it's gone. It’s all gone.

Remembering Standout Actor in Broadway Musicals Nick Cordero | THR News

A version of this article originally appeared in the Nov. 14, 2020 issue of Billboard.