How To Make A Living Playing The Drums

One question that always pops up in the forums and in conversations between drummers is, ‘How do I make money from playing the drums?’ Many of us play for fun but almost all of us would love the opportunity to do it for a living.

Thankfully, there’s no mystery to it. It’s an achievable goal and if you follow my advice you can join the professional ranks and enjoy a career that will make others envious:

Ways To Make Money
There are many ways to ‘monetize’ your musical abilities and knowing all the options will give you more confidence in moving forward. Here are the most common ways that the modern musician generates an income:

  • Function Gigs
  • Cruise Ships
  • Recording Sessions
  • Tours
  • Clinics
  • Theatre
  • Church
  • Product Demonstrations
  • Musical Direction
  • Teaching
  • Magazine Articles
  • Authoring
  • Songwriting
  • Music Production
  • Merchandising
  • Related Businesses

As you can see there are lots of options for you. You don’t have to limit yourself to one thing (I’d actually advise against that!) and if you are able to manage your time well there’s nothing stopping you earning more than you would in a traditional 9-5.

Pay varies depending on the type of work you do, who you are working for and the reputation you have built so be prepared to go in at the bottom and work your way up. You should also strive to be the absolute best you can be because the people at the top of the tree earn disproportionately more than everyone else.

The Leap of Faith
Most people are not in a situation to go full time right away. There are bills to pay and quite frankly, no-one knows you yet. It takes some time to build your reputation and to achieve a steady stream of work so find a way to earn some cash in the short-term.

You can get a 9-5, temp work, seasonal work… whatever it takes to get by without interfering with your ability to say ‘yes’ to gigs. You can gig and/or teach weekends and eventually drop the job back to part-time hours freeing up even more of your time to gig.

There will come a time, however, where you have to throw caution to the wind and take a leap of faith. It won’t be a perfect situation (there never is!) and you’ll probably take a drop in income but it’s well worth it in the long-run. You’ll have more energy to focus on getting gigs and your career should take off as a result.

Increase Your Chances
There are no guarantee’s in the music industry so all you can do is practice hard, get better every year and hustle your tail off until you achieve your goals. Some people are lucky but the rest of us have to work for everything we get. If you can do something as simple as outworking your peers, you’ll be surprised at how far this will take you.

You should also bring a complete package to the table. First and foremost is to play well, but you should also take care of your gear, dress the part, be a positive person and always be professional. These factors all come together to make you employable or unemployable. Would you employ you? Think about it!

So Where Is All The Work? How Do I Find It?
Here’s a few suggestions…

1) The first thing to do is get up off your drum stool and hit all the local clubs, bars and studios. This is where all the musicians hang so this is where you need to be. Ask to sit in on jam nights and make a point of shaking hands with everyone in the room. Let people know you are available and hand out a business card wherever possible. Every musician, musical director and producer in town should know who you are and what you’re capable of but make sure never to be a d*** about it.

2) Pick up the phone and call all the local function bands. Introduce yourself in a polite and professional manner. Tell them that you are available for dep work and offer to send a demo reel that showcases your work. Ideally you should have a website that serves this purpose. If you’re unsuccessful offer to tech for free on a couple of gigs. There is always a turnover of musicians and if you are first in mind, you’ll get the call when someone drops out or leaves.

3) Check your local listings, gumtree and craigslist. There are always bands looking for drummers. You can also register with www.thestage.co.uk in the UK and www.musicianscontact.com in the US. Whenever you do a gig or an audition make sure to leave a lasting impression so that you are never short on referrals.

4) How many kids in your town want drum lessons? Probably enough to fill up a couple of days in your week. Spend a bit of time tarting up a practice space that you can teach from then put up flyers in schools and social clubs throughout your region. Set up a website with details about your teaching studio, testimonials and easy to find contact information. You could then extend this into Skype lessons and clinics.

5) I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to think long-term and to consider building there own ‘product.’ Whether it’s a band, a show, a teaching studio, educational materials, a production studio or combination of. This approach gives you far more financial stability and control over your career. Again, it’s not easy but it’s something that most pro’s do eventually.

Because I took some time to write a book I’ve been able to do things that many others have not. I was able to stop doing the gigs that I didn’t enjoy too much and start focusing on other projects that I really wanted to get my teeth into. What could you do?

Final Thoughts
With some hard graft in the practice room, plenty of networking and the drive to learn about the business side of things you can definitely pave the way to a successful drumming career. It’s quite simple in theory but never mistake that simplicity for easiness. The market is competitive, you’ll have to work hard to find jobs and work even harder to keep them.

The positives, however, far outweigh the negatives. Playing your instrument for a living, seeing the world and making a positive impact in peoples lives is pretty amazing when you think about it. If this is something that you really, really want then go for it and don’t let anything stand in your way.

Good luck! DN


WANT TO PLAY LIKE A NINJA?

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