Tips for the working drummer (part 2 – action)

So we worked on your attitude in Tips for the Working Drummer (part 1 – attitude) but now you have to do something about it.

Face it, you’re a salesman! You have a service. You want other people to use it. Don’t start thinking quotas and nagging bosses. However, the sooner you accept your mission, the more successful you will be. Learn about the business you are in and develop sales tactics to be successful. Make sure you do this in a way that is personable and genuine. Be considerate in your communication and make sure you point out the ways others will benefit from what you offer. You will have to spend time making phone calls, writing e-mails, and doing research. Find out who you need to know and get to know them. And keep your eyes open. You never know where a new opportunity is lurking. Sometimes when I see a poster advertising an event, I look up the company putting it on and contact them for future opportunities. My band was recently booked for a show this way. You could also find these companies through facebook. They are the ones flooding your inbox with invitations to their events. Maybe if you get on their good side they will be flooding other peoples inboxes with invitations to events you are playing at. However you decide to spread awareness, just keep in mind the more people you know in your field, the more opportunities you are opening up for yourself.  No single approach works best but anything you can do to be proactive is better than waiting for others to come to you.

Network your ass off. There are plenty of trade groups, clubs, affiliations, internet resources, and local events that could help build your contact list. Everyone with something to sell has to get out and meet people. This should be done on and offline. Musicians and industry professionals have taken the internet by storm. If you haven’t yet, you are missing opportunities to connect with people you should know. While social networking sites are valuable tools, there is nothing like face time. When people see you, they know you are proactive. When they can talk to you, you can prove how awesome you are. This business is all about relationships. When someone knows you are awesome, they will be more inclined to work with you. Keep an eye out for networking events. I’ve landed many gigs just by being at the right place at the right time. Once you have a list of contacts, don’t let the connection die. What good will it do if they just forget about you a year down the road? Send e-mails, meet for lunch, get on the phone. A few weeks ago I posted a funny youtube video on a friend’s facebook wall (local philly guitarist… never played music with him in my life). He gave me a “lol” and asked me to sub on a gig with him…. Cha ching!

Practice, practice, practice, practice and, uh…. practice. You don’t get better unless you commit some time actually sitting behind a kit. People always ask me how long they should practice for and I have yet to find an easy answer. When I was a University of the Arts student, I took a lesson with Carl Allen… I told him I practiced 2 hours a day (confidently and actually stretching the truth a bit)…. He laughed and congratulated me on a good warm up. Carl is a pro and felt 5+ was more suitable if I wanted to hang with the big boys. So I think it depends on your goals. If drumming is a hobby or something your parents are making you do, 30 minutes a day might be sufficient… maybe even painfully time consuming. If it’s a part time job, 1-2 hours a day should be sufficient. If it is a full time job, you have more time to commit and more to lose if you don’t practice.

But what do you practice? This is where a teacher may come in handy – Take drum lessons from someone who has formal training and years of experience. Learn from someone who can turn your weaknesses into strengths. If you are strapped on cash, there are plenty of drum lessons available online, either for free or very cheap. Again, let your goals drive your practice regimen. If you are solely interested in being a rock drummer, your time should not be spent learning bossa novas. However, if you want to be versatile, you better know how to play bossa novas, sambas, songos, and a lot more. Technique, coordination, and tempo are 3 areas I devote significant practice time towards. No matter what the other focal points are, I make sure to not only keep up with the basics but also test their limits and utilities.

Go to jam sessions. How obvious is this? You want to be heard, right? Play at places where people will hear you!!! Jam sessions are a great place to network AND walk the talk you’re talkin. It’s one thing to hand someone a business card but it’s another to hand them your business card and then melt their mind with your chops. Some jam sessions are poorly run. Some tend to favor the “in crowd” over the players just dropping by. Those might not be your best bet. If its THE BEST JAM SESSION IN TOWN, then keep showing up. Converse. Meet people. Eventually they will let you get up there. Just make sure when you do get up there that you have something to contribute. You wouldn’t approach the pretty girl at the bar without something to say. Don’t approach a drumset in a room full of musicians without something to say either. If you are a newbie, know your limitations… You may want to test them by sitting in with the heavy hitters but just understand a lot of jam sessions have an etiquette and expect a certain skill level from participants. I admire a beginner for having the guts to play with strangers in a free-form setting but if you aren’t on the same playing field as the rest of them, sit back a minute and try to learn from them. If the best thing you get from hanging at jam sessions is envy, you are making progress. Don’t hate the house drummer for being amazing. Take lessons from him, talk to him, and learn how he got to be that good. Whatever he did, you can do too.

Be the worst in the band. Contrary to some points I made in the paragraph above, there is something very valuable about being the worst one in the group. Obviously, there needs to be a mutual tolerance for every member’s skill level but don’t get intimidated if yours are not quite as awesome as theirs. If they want to play with you, they see potential and already like what you’re doing. This is the fuel the fire needs to burn. I am tested every time I rehearse with Ju-Taun. These guys hear EVERYTHING. I could be sure I nailed it and then I get: “That fill in the 4th measure of the 2nd verse; you played a triplet that should be snare, tom, bass… not tom, snare, bass. Also the pattern your playing on the ride cymbal is changes in the 3rd measure of the choruse. Maybe add some bell to it too. And watch that tempo in between verses”…. Wha??? Was I the only one who heard how awesome I just sounded? Hearing these critiques are constructive. They will inspire you to practice, work on the weak spots, and ultimately make you a better player. Just make sure you are taking them from someone you admire. There is NOTHING worse than getting “feedback” from a talentless amateur with an ego.

Only play “worthwhile” gigs. There are shades of grey here. I’ve heard my whole life that I’m never supposed to turn down a gig. After all, any opportunity to play is an opportunity to advance your career. If you play a gig in front of 10 people, but Quincy Jones is one of them, it just might be the most important gig you’ve played to date. I understand the value in this approach but I have played my fair share of freebies that really didn’t seem worthwhile. How many charity shows can you actually play? You have to make money too. Despite the optimistic persuasion to never turn down an opportunity, I think there is such thing as a bad opportunity or the absence of an opportunity, so I do not hesitate to turn down gigs that don’t seem like they will add value to my career. It’s not a bad thing to be strategic in selecting the gigs you play. Youre not just a musician. To a certain extent, you’re a business man too and business men need a return on their investment. The best thing you can do is get every possible detail about a gig before you accept it. Maybe the money isn’t great but it’s at an event that offers an opportunity for exposure. In the long run, that could pay off much better. Musicians face a public perception that music is “fun” and not always worthy of a paycheck. HAHAHAHA. I got frustrated just writing that. It is a job just like accounting is a job. DO NOT devalue yourself. If you just want to play, then play everywhere, all the time. If you want to be respected as the guy to hire, don’t let people see you as the guy who will play free gigs. Trust me, it will stay that way. Put your foot down. Walk away if you have to. And be patient. The good ones come out of nowhere. When they do, make sure you aren’t booked at your friend’s little sister’s birthday party you agreed to do for $30.

Know what to bring to your gig. I’m amazed how many times I get to a gig and one of the other drummers on the bill asks if he can use my snare. First of all, NO. My snare may be more valuable than your life. Second of all, why would you show up to a gig assuming you can use someone else’s stuff? Now sometimes, unforeseen accidents occur (a snare drum falls out of the van and cracks). I’ll have some sympathy here, but it should go without saying that it is your responsibility to know what you need. Plenty of clubs have house kits and require that you only bring your cymbals and snare. Don’t rely on that though. What if you get there and the bass pedal sucks or the cymbal stands are missing gauze. If I know the venue has a house kit, I will bring my snare, cymbals, cymbal stands, snare stand, pedal, and throne. It doesn’t hurt to be a little prepared here. You also might want to consider contacting one of the other bands on the bill in advance to share gear. Maybe someone can provide the drums if your band provides the bass cab. I will always check with bands when Im playing in a place like New York City. This could be the difference in me driving (paying for gas, tolls, parking, and frequently tickets) or taking a cheap bus for $20 round trip.

Hopefully I was able to provide some helpful insight. Ray Charles once said, “I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me-like food or water.” This is true for many of us. We didn’t choose music. It chose us. Whether that’s a blessing or a curse is for you to decide, but if you take your act on the road, treat it like a job. Have a great attitude, be the guy everyone wants to hire, take action, and never stop learning.

I would love to hear your comments. Feel free to e-mail me.

See Part 1 – attitude HERE

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