BY JOHN WICKS
What does it take to build a career in drumming? How do I get gigs with big touring acts? How do I get session work? Should I get a day job or be a “starving artist?”
Do I need to specialize or be a jack-of-all-trades? How do I get noticed? Do I need to move to a major industry city like L.A. or New York or Nashville?
What should I practice? Is it really all about who you know? These are the questions we all want to ask but are too afraid of appearing out of the loop.
This column is my attempt to answer those burning questions while highlighting what I feel is required of you to get work as a gigging drummer. These are the hard-earned lessons I’ve learned along the way. Hopefully they’ll work for you too.
Are drummers in demand?
Good drummers are always in demand. Although it’s not always easy to find a gig, don’t think that the drummers are not needed. It’s just a question of getting through the competition and, of course, how good you are.
There is plenty of good drummers out there, so you should work on your unique style if you want to be noticed. If you stick to one genre, it can be useful because you can get involved with the particular scene, make connections and develop your skill according to the genre’s specifics.
On the other side, if you can play various genres, it can get you different kinds of gigs, and you might have more possibilities to earn money from drumming. In the end, it all depends on what you prefer; the rest will come with the dedication and hard work.
You will need a lot of effort to earn a living with drumming, but it’s surely possible. Just look at all those successful drummers out there. But, don’t give up when you bump into obstacles because there will be many of them.
After all, there are many drummers out there, and the competition is hard. If you have ambition, it’s important to keep trying even when you fail.
Musicians = Employers
Regardless of where you reside, the people who will get you gigs, sessions, T.V. appearances, etc., are other musicians. Very rarely do I get a call from a manager or a talent “head hunter” for a gig unless another musician liked what he or she heard in me and passed along my number. Word spreads fast. If you can play, are a fast learner, reliable, easy to get along with, and have a sense of humor, you will get work.
How to become a professional drummer?
So, how to become a professional drummer, you ask? First of all, it takes years of dedication and practice. There is no magic switch, and you will need to work hard to get to the professional level of drumming. However, there are some steps you can take to get there faster.
Step 1: Take drumming lessons.
Take some professional drumming lessons. There are thousands of courses available online, or you can get live lessons with a teacher if you prefer.
Although many drummers are self-taught, there are benefits to taking lessons.
First of all, you will develop a proper technique from the beginning, especially with the lessons in person. The teacher can point out your mistakes and show you how to fix them.
A proper fundament is the core of becoming a professional drummer and is worthy of investment.
If you build your fundamentals on strong and solid ground, you can develop your unique technique further.
Step 2: Get the professional equipment.
Naturally, the drums are your main tool. If you want to be a professional drummer, you will need professional drums. These might be expensive, but consider them as an investment in your drumming career.
The price of high-end drums is usually at least $3000. The kits in this category are built of high-quality wood and have detailed finishing.
Most pro drummers will already have their own collection of cymbals and hardware, so the pro drums normally come in shell packs. Although it might seem to you that a full drum kit would be a better option, this way you can opt for your favorite cymbals and hardware.
Step 3: Constant improvement.
If you want to be a professional drummer, it’s important to be open to constant change. This means developing your technique and not sticking to the same old routine. Although routine is important, discovering new techniques and technologies will help you develop your skill.
Professional drumming is constantly learning and improving, so you will probably never get to the point when you say you learned everything. And most of all, you will learn from the experience. The more you play, the more you will discover about drumming and adapt to the new situations.
Don’t quit your day job (at first)
Say yes to any and all gigs at first. Don’t expect money, yet perform with your full enthusiasm and effort because you never know who may be listening. To make ends meet, I “pulled” espresso and made great tips while simultaneously promoting to the customers. I always had a strong musical concept, and a killer band with positive energy and humor, but I still had to get the word out. That barista job provided infinite promotional potential and eventually my gigs were packed.
Create your own scene
Get a steady gig at a club, coffeehouse, theater lobby, art gallery, anywhere folks can hear you regularly. Be in your element when people get their first impressions of you. Let yourself be weird. Take the filters out. No one needs to hear you imitate whatever drummer is at the top of the economic food chain right now. Express yourself. Most of all, have fun! If people see that playing with you looks like a blast, your phone will ring.
*Hint: I always booked my gigs Sunday through Tuesday where attendance expectations were low, allowing me room to grow. The audience built up over time. I always thanked the attendees personally and they left with the impression that they were privy to a scene that had not “blown up” yet.
If you’re not appearing, you’re disappearing
Be social, be honest, be confident, and be yourself. Don’t fake like you don’t need a gig. Listen well, and don’t talk yourself up. If you’re a little mysterious, folks will wonder what you have going on and why they don’t know you. Network by introducing people (instead of waiting to be introduced) and you’ll start to be viewed as the center of activity.
How do you know if you are a good drummer?
It’s hard to know if you are a good drummer if you are prone to self-criticism. You might always have the feeling that you can develop more and that your drumming is not good enough. And there is truth in that. There is always room for improvement.
However, there are some signs that can show you that you are getting to the level of professional drumming. First of all, if you get the rhythm with ease and have good coordination, you are already a good drummer. The rest is a question of how far you want to develop your technique. And that might never end. The more you learn, the better you will be.
So, don’t stop developing your skill even if you consider yourself a good drummer. A professional drummer has a plethora of skills, experience, and a stone-solid technique.
Also, if you can handle the pressure of the work and have discipline, it’s a sign that you take the drumming professionally and have what you need to be a good drummer.
Never stop practicing
Always be fueling the fire. Creative energy and enthusiasm is contagious and magnetic.
John Wicks is an L.A.-based songwriter, session player, and drummer for Fitz And The Tantrums. You can read more of his musings on drumming, music, and other relevant topics at drummersseat.wordpress.com orfacebook.com/johnwicksdrummerHow to become a professional drummer?
Building a drummer career is not easy. If you want to become a professional drummer, be ready to endure a lot of hard work, sweat, and blisters.
Besides developing a good technique and working on your skills, you need to do many other things that are not exactly drumming. It means going out there, making connections, and becoming a part of the scene.
Drumming can be a job that you can earn a living with, but don’t quit your day job just yet. The scene is flooded with the good drummers, and you will need to be unique to get into the spotlight.
So, practice, meet other musicians, invest in your skill and equipment, and most importantly – dream big. Because only ambition can push you to reach the career of your dreams.