You may have heard people say the music industry is suffering, or worse… That it’s dead. Certain areas of the business have taken a hit in the last decade but the live performance side of the business is THRIVING and full of opportunity. Lucky for us, playing the drums is very much a part of the live side of the business. Musicians and bands play everywhere from concert venues to music festivals, bars, country clubs, casinos, art exhibits, private events, corporate parties, street festivals, and more. The challenge is that there are so many good drummers and competition for work can get kind of thick. While the recording business hasn’t been very kind to drummers lately, there are still opportunities there as well. The key is getting ahead of the competition and learning how to be the drummer people want to hire and you have a much better shot at landing live and recording gigs.
This is why drum lessons at The Jon Ardito Drum School are not just focused on drumming, but also how to put those skills to use for professional gains including networking, building your individual brand, and pursuing musical career opportunities. I feel a responsibility to set expectations for my students as well as upcoming musicians because it’s different being a drummer in 2015 than it was in 1975.
So what is a “good drummer” in 2015? To me, it’s a lot more than someone who can play. Read any job description out there. They all have a long list of responsibilities. Very rarely is the job title itself the only thing you will be doing. Drumming is no different. The ones truly up for the task have a full package to offer. Sounding good is part of it but I believe a “good drummer” is someone who also has the following:
Knowledge of the business: As I said, the business has changed. I can’t even have a conversation with an “old head” about the music business because it is so drastically different from when bands were bringing in money by selling albums and when pop music didn’t all sound like regurgitated garbage. I won’t be a broken record to make a case for the changes technology has caused, but I will echo the learnings every businessperson has endured in the new music industry. Today’s landscape is different. If you have the most amazing chops in the city, that might be enough to get you the gigs you want. Knowing the landscape, understanding the business, and adapting to the new way of doing things will enhance your chances for success. The challenge is that it is a very experimental process. Musicians didn’t quit when the record industry tanked. Actually, the DIY paths actually created MORE musicians since we now have access to resources that weren’t as available in the old days. And yes, I’m referring to technology. So be prepared to compete in a saturated space with a challenging revenue model, but keep a peripheral view of nontraditional avenues that may help you.
A sales-minded approach: In addition to knowing the business, you need to get comfortable as your own sales team. When a real-estate gets someone to buy a house, they make a sale. When you book a gig, you make a sale too. Musicians frequently struggle with the sales aspect of their careers but our goals are the same as every salesperson out there. Develop a plan, know the right people, network, and learn from other successful musicians. To my previous point, there are those who will get a chance simply by being a great player. Some just know the right people. Others are rewarded by being at the right place at the right time… But most people in this world have to sell there skills to some degree.
A passion-driven attitude: Simply put, following your passion will get you further than chasing the dollars. If you are a musician because you want to be rich, you are in the wrong business. Many many musicians make very little money but love what they do so much that it trumps their need for nice shoes and fancy cars. Assess your financial needs and come to terms with the fact that your desire to be a musician requires a lot of hustle that may never lead to a fat paycheck.
An ethic people want to work with: Nobody wants to work with an asshole. If you have a good personality, attitude, and show others that you are on top of the “non-musical” responsibilities, people will want to play with you. Don’t have an ego, show up on time, know the material, make sure your equipment works, and don’t create conflicts. This goes a long way but isn’t always easy. You will have to put in many non-billable hours, work with difficult creative types, take direction from others, and maybe even play music you don’t necessarily enjoy. Rise above the emotions and do your job… With a smile on your face, and occasionally bringing donuts!
A multi-faceted skill set: I have friends that are now Instagram celebrities because they tapped into social media to build a fan base. I know drummers who book more gigs because they can also perform live with Abelton. I know musicians that became so good at marketing themselves, that they actually learned their talents were a better asset on the marketing side of the business. As for my story… It’s still being written but I noticed a passion and skill for teaching, along with an interest in the special events business. So I still play at local clubs but I make a living teaching and booking talent. The point is to consider all avenues. I’m one of those jerks that needs nice shoes and a fancy car so quite simply, the hustle was difficult for me. I did some research and noticed areas that have a better chance of producing the income I desire, so I adjusted my plan. I face challenges all entrepreneurs face but I feel a little better about my ability to bring in money while staying connected to music every day of my life… and I’ve never played the drums more on a week to week basis.
Competence on the instrument: These are the tactical things we go over in drum lessons, the subject matter in tutorials you watch, and other functional elements directly related to your instrumental abilities. There is no substitute for amazing chops. So whether you want to improve tempo, play cooler fills, develop a better groove, or anything else, you should always be honing your skills and seek ways to become a better player. This is very rarely enough, although the extremely talented ones tend to get noticed more quickly. The cream rises to the top but it takes a lot of practice and experience to get to that level. Once you are the best player in town, you might be able to weight your responsibilities a little more heavier on your practice routine and less on some of the areas we discussed.
The Jon Ardito Drum School is devoted to preparing students with the tools and abilities they need to succeed in today’s musical climate. While the words “Drum School” are in our name, we also have an obligation to educate aspiring drummers on the field they are entering. So when a student comes to us and says “I want to be a professional drummer,” we give them the option to designate a portion of our time together towards education of the industry. This allows you to move forward in your drumming endeavors with clear expectations of the business and a plan to succeed.