I’ve received a number of letters from aspiring young drummers who are frustrated with the difficulties of making it in today’s music business. These young drummers are, for the most part, hardworking and willing to make sacrifices to succeed. But they’re unsure as to how to proceed.
Let’s examine the problems that all musicians face in today’s professional environment. First of all, there are more drummers than ever before-but fewer places in which to play and gain experience. In Los Angeles, there are so many groups looking for opportunities that bands very often play for nothing. This is called “showcasing” because the hope is that a manager or record company representative will hear the band and give them a chance. Less fortunate groups are often asked to “pay to play” by selling tickets to all of their friends. The group has to buy the tickets from the club. If they are unable to sell all of the tickets, the group loses money.
No doubt, we are in a competitive business, but those who are undaunted by the odds may still want to give it a go. Once you’ve made that decision, you should prepare for success in every way that you can. Play, study, listen, work, watch and practice because it is always best to try to be ready for any opportunity.
Young women have an even tougher time as drummers, because a lot of men won’t give them a chance-or refuse to take them seriously. Although I think this has been changing for the better in recent years, it’s happening very slowly.
Musicians want to be paid a great deal of money- to do what they want to do. In most other jobs, the boss not only tells you what to do, but how to do it. This is tough for creative people who deeply want to express their personal feelings and point of view. If you expect to be paid to play what you want to play, you will have to be very good indeed.
Not everyone has the talent to be a superstar-or even a working professional drummer. Evaluating your chances can be a tough task. We all desperately want the chance to show what we can do. Along with giving it your best effort, you should also be honest with yourself. Listen to the top players, with respect and use them as a guide for your progress. Give yourself a chance to succeed. But if after some time you feel that you will honestly not be a top player, relax! Have some fun. Make playing your creative outlet. After all, you can have a lot of fun playing even if you are not a superstar.
Personality is also a significant factor in a musician’s success. Talented people who have difficulty working with others often don’t do as well as they should. So less talented-but more cooperative-drummers sometimes get the jobs.
Then we have the age-old conflict of money versus music. Should you join a talented “originals” band and rehearse month after month for no money or should you join a Top-40 band and make good money but enjoy the music less? One thought is that if you have little or no playing experience, you should join a Top-40 band. At least you will be playing, getting experience, performing in front of people and being paid at the same time. You can always graduated to a more creative band once you have some experience.
The other approach is to play in a Top-40 band and rehearse with an “originals” band until something breaks. Many top studio players often work clubs for low money just for the chance to play, stay in shape and have some fun.
Unrealistically high expectations can be another hindrance. When my son, who plays guitar, was a teenager, he told me that he intended to make one hit album do one giant tour, and then retire and never have to work again. But he soon realized that life is not that easy. Now in his late twenties, he has recently stared a small business. He still loves to play but has decided that life of touring isn’t for him. He is happy, still loves music and enjoys his new business. This was his way of working things out.
We are in a tough business, so be prepared. Learn all you can about music and drumming while you’re young. Read some books on the “business” of music. Remember, work and preparation, plus opportunity, equal luck. Give it your best hot and see what happens.