Thursday, February 11, 2016

Advice for sons wanting to become professional drummers

Dear son,

So you are thinking you might want to grow up to be a professional drummer.

Go for it.  You should always pursue your dreams, as the vigorous pursuit of dreams brings much happiness in life.

But if you want to make a living, that is, pay for things, live in your own house or apartment, eat and have stuff, you'll need to be strategic about how you build your career.

Your average professional studio musician makes $64,979 a year, at least according to this site.  That's a reasonable middle-class salary.  To make this amount, you'll need to be a truly excellent drummer, able to play flawlessly in any style of music.  And you'll need to be a hard worker, and reliable.  You'll probably also need to live in a major city where studio musicians are in demand.

I do worry that advances in technology will make it easier and easier for studios to simply program realistic sounding drum tracks, meaning that technology may eventually put you out of a job.

You could join a band and tour constantly, building a name for yourself.  At worst, you'll get paid in free beer.  At best, you could work up to playing big festivals and making decent money---from time to time.  Ask our barbers, both of whom have toured in major festivals.  There were moments when they were paid well.  But the money was not consistent enough to keep them touring full time for their entire lives.

When you play a club, a bar, a venue of any type, or produce recorded music for any entity, you will typically be paid a fraction of the money your music earns.

Working for fractions of pennies on the dollar isn't new.  Rush, The Foo Fighters, Pink Floyd...all of the mega-music bands in the last 50 years, made a lot more money for someone else than they ever did for themselves.

If you care about earning money, try to emulate those who profited from the music of the last 50 years.  Spend your time studying capitalism and business in general, in addition to practicing your musical chops.

I suggest you form a band and think of it as a business entity.  In fact, you should make it a business entity if you are going to invest a considerable amount of time in it.

Make sure the roles are clearly understood.  If it's your band and your brand, make sure you protect your interests.

Band members will flake. Make sure your brand (band name and identity) remains yours when they do.  Start out with clearly defined roles and ownership positions.

Make music that appeals to others.  You can play music all day you love but no one else does, but you won't make money.  Respect your audience if you expect to be paid for your efforts.  Give them something that excites and interests them.

Get out and play.  Play anywhere that will let you play while you build your brand.

Control the venue as soon as you can.  When I was younger and played in bands, I occasionally played to crowds of around two-thousand people.  Each person there paid $10 to get in, generating $20,000, and that doesn't include profits made at the bar or merchandizing.  My cut was $100.  This is not uncommon.  Bands are suckers, driven by ego, and they often fail to understand the value that they are producing for others.

Control the venue.  Find a venue, and rent or buy it.   Do your own PR, rent or own the PA and lights, make sure you have staff to control the crowd, have appropriate insurance.  Be aware that hosting a show is an investment and a lot of work.

Do this, and at the end of the night, you'll go home with a lot more than $100.

Merchandise.  This is capitalism 101.  Make stuff at a low cost and mark it up and sell it.  This is how you make a living in America.

Don't ever buy into the dream that some big record label will come along and "discover" you and make you star.  That was always fiction, and now more than ever.

It's up to you.  Roll up your sleeves, work hard, adapt when change is necessary, play well, put on a good show, and you can make a living at this.

But if you want to really live well, you'll need to be more than just a drummer, you'll need to be in the business of entertainment.  Notice the keyword is business.  Considering the business aspects of music doesn't make you a sell out, in fact, quite the opposite.  This is your thing, that you get to do your way.  And if you are smart about it, you can have it all.  You can make the music you love, find an audience, and make a living off it at the same time.

Making a living doing something you love---it's the ONLY way to live.

Good luck!





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