Drummers have a tough time in life. Besides devoting long hours to practicing, resigning themselves to working nights and weekends and often spending protracted periods traveling, they are faced with the basic difficulty of earning a living.
“Earning a living” presents every musician with what might be his or her greatest personal conflict: “Do I try to play the music I love or do I play what makes me money?” The lucky ones make money playing music they love. However, they pay a price for this-usually in the form of traveling. For example, Tommy Aldridge of Whitesnake will embark on a twenty month tour sometime this year. No matter how you look at it, tat’s a lot of traveling: a lot of waiting in airports, a lot of hotels and a lot of strange restaurants
In Tommy’s case, he is at the top of his professional. So at least his traveling will be arranged in a very professional way. This makes it a little easier. However, the drummer who is not a star, or who is not with a big name group may find the traveling a lot tougher. Many bands have climbed into a van a driven themselves from job to job and most likely slept in the same van more times than they would have cared to. To make this kind of effort in the hope that the monetary rewards will come takes courage. But, if you want to be a successful musician, you have to start someplace.
Let’s say that you’ve been able to travel with successful bands but have become tired of being on the road constantly. To stay in one place and make a living requires that you become an all around drummer. You have to play whatever comes along. This means that the music you play may not be as satisfying as when you were touring.
For example, it is not unusual for members of the Tonight Show band to play small nightclubs, just to get out and play. TV shows are great for making a living but even the Tonight Show band rarely plays for more than a few minutes at a time. Consequently, you will see and hear a lot of the guys playing clubs for a chance to play and have fun.
Ed Shaughnessy plays the Tonight Show, performs as a guest artist, presents clinics and from time to time does some teaching. Occasionally, Ed puts a big and together on his won. He has the best of both worlds. However, the not-so-well-known drummer may play weddings, parties, shows or whatever. Again, the drummer will usually sacrifice a little personal preference regarding the music in order to “stay in town”. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. Some people have more difficulty on the road than others, whereas other people enjoy being on the road and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Buddy Rich traveled and played one-nighters right to the very end of his life. He was known to say, “Can you imagine sitting in some office all day, every day, from nine to five, doing the same things over and over with the same people” No Way!” Of course, another way to look at it is to think, “Can you imagine getting on the same bus, every day, with the same people, traveling and playing the same charts, every night?” I know this used to drive me crazy when I was on the road. It all depends on what you love to do and what you are willing to put up with in order to do it.
Some drummers develop another career so that they can afford to take the musical jobs that are more fun. I have a good friend, Steve Hilstein, who opened a drum shop called the Drum Circuit about a year ago. Steve teaches, runs his shop and plays about four nights per week. He lives and works in San Luis Obispo, a beautiful community in northern California. Steve has found the balance between music, making a living and staying in one place. He does work a lot of hours but he works at the things he loves to do. I have another friend who has developed a very profitable photography business. He also has a music store and a teaching studio and he still plays clubs with musicians he likes to play with. He too, has found a balance between money and music.
You will note that the music business is tough. You will also notice that all of the people I’ve described are hard workers. They put in a lot of time and work so that they can play some music that is personally satisfying.
Many people enjoy being in the public eye; many others don’t enjoy it or simply don’t care about it. Some of the best studio players really couldn’t care less about notoriety. They work at a high professional level with excellent musicians, make a good living and “stay off the road.” Other musician love to play for a live audience. Recording is one thing but playing in front of people who are into what you are playing is a special kind of thrill. You simply have to ask yourself which lifestyle appeals to you. If you are not sure, go on the road if you get the chance. I know that I wouldn’t trade the experiences I gained by traveling all over the world for anything. It is a great education in many, many ways. It can also be exciting and at times, a lot of fun. You get to meet some truly interesting and great people. If, after some time, you become weary of the road, be grateful for the experiences but take steps necessary to “stay in town.”
Whether you’re “on the road” or “in town,” music vs. money will always be an issue. For example, let’s say that you are offered the drum chair in a band that plays music you really like. However, at the same time, a more famous group-whose music you really don’t care for all that much—also offers you a job…for twice as much money. Which job do you take? The decision is yours.