These points are talked about from my job as a freelance drummer. You can of course get lucky and land a gig with one great band who are selling music and touring. If that’s your goal most of these points still apply to get you to that place.
Some of these tips are pretty much common sense but you’d be surprised at how they often get ignored and others are maybe not so obvious. So here goes in no particular order of priority a few pointers for you to help you get to a place where you can make a career out of doing what you love….
- Be Prepared Whatever you do if you have a gig make sure you learn the material for that gig inside out. That means making charts if necessary although they don’t have to be complete notated charts. I often just write out the form of the song with feel and tempo at the beginning, whether the drums lead in etc 3×8 Verse,1×4 Rest, Out on 2an Dead stop etc That sort of thing. The less you can rely on charts the better but they are very useful for remembering large amounts of new material and just the act of listening to the songs and writing the form down has the song almost learnt before you actually physically play a note. The people you’re playing for will appreciate that you’ve put the time into learning the show. I know good drummers who didn’t learnt the show properly and never got called back.
- Be Nice If you go to your gig with a chip on your shoulder or a grumpy disposition it doesn’t matter how well you play you probably won’t get a call again. Be sociable and friendly and play well and they’ll want to have you back. If you’re going to sit in the corner looking at your phone then forget it.
- Say Yes To Everything If you get offered to get paid to play a gig then take it! Even if it’s not your bag or you might think it’s beneath you. You never know who you might meet at that gig or who may be watching. Even consider it if it’s a free gig,especially if there are people playing that are in other bands that are getting regular gigs. Getting busy as a musician is all about making connections and you don’t make many connections sitting at home watching TV because you didn’t feel like doing the gig. Doing a shitty gig and nailing it could get you a call to do a much better gig in the future. This has happened to me on more than one occasion. As you get a better reputation and get busier you can pick and choose your gigs a bit more but to start off with just do everything that comes your way.
- Become A Well Rounded Player I’ve played everything from Jewish Bar Mitzvah’s to reggae gigs,Jazz,Bollywood Rock, Musicals,soul funk bla bla bla. Even if you only get a kick out of playing a certain genre it’s unlikely you’ll land all your gigs in that narrow confine. So get good at everything, at least get the fundamentals down so if somebody calls you up you can say yes with confidence and this will open up more doors for you.
- Learn To Read Music Again it’s about opening as many doors as possible. I do a few gigs where it’s all charts and they’re usually better paid. It also gives you another skill set…You can write your own charts, download ready made charts for songs you need. And of course you have to be able to read to teach drums in my view.
- Listen Listen Listen It seems obvious but some drummers and other musos don’t really listen. Make sure you’re playing to the room, not too loud not too quiet. Don’t listen to just yourself,listen to the band and how the whole things gelling. Listen to the vocalist,is he rushing the lyrics because you’re playing too fast? You can often tell when things are working because the other players look happy and relaxed. If you’re getting dodgy looks then somethings not working more often than not. Listening is the most important aspect of becoming a musician that people want to play with. You’re creating a sound together,it’s not about you and how cool your licks are. Play for the band,don’t get in the way and be a supporting musician and people will want to play with you. If people feel comfortable when you’re playing they’ll always want you back.
- Respect The Gig When you get a booking for a gig,even if it’s a low paid gig at a crappy venue do your absolute best. Learn the songs and play like you were playing the best venue in town. Don’t dump the gig if a better one comes along on the same date, if you have a gig in the diary it’s locked in. You have to get a reputation as a reliable player with integrity.
- Get Great Time and Learn to play naturally with a Click Another point here that is absolutely crucial if you want to be busy doing paid gigs. You must have good time,by that I mean playing with feel and not speeding up or slowing down during a song. I’m not talking about pushing a chorus a little or pulling back a verse I’m talking about actually getting gradually faster or slower during a tune or after a fill or during a guitar solo etc. Play exciting not excited This is a number one complaint about drummers from other musicians. Your job is time keeper. Work with a metronome a lot and develop your time keeping. Lot’s of gigs these days involve playing with a sequencer,so learn to play naturally and comfortably with a click so you’re not pushing or pulling against the beat. If you can be one of those drummers with great feel with or without click you’ll be in work. Of course some of this has to do with natural ability but good time can also be practised and developed.
- Be Punctual Just like any other job turn up in plenty of time and be dressed appropriately!
- Have great sounding gear If you’re going to get paid to play then you have to have a good sound. I’m not saying you have to have a top of the range kit but you have to know how to get a good sound out of the equipment you have. Tune your drums for the gig you’re doing. It’s all part of you as a package so if your drums sound like shit then it makes you look bad even if you played really well. At least get decent quality cymbals and a nice snare and build up your setup as you get busier.
- Keep up with technology This is maybe not essential but it’s a good idea to be able to use some electronic samples and trigger pads in your setup aswell. I’ve done quite a few gigs where this has been a requirement. Again it’s all about you being versatile and covering as many options as possible.
- Play with energy and joy I think of live music as an energy transfer between the band and audience, if you don’t play with energy you’ll be getting yawns from the audience and the band won’t have a vibe. Give it everything you’ve got and play with a positive attitude. The audience and other band members will feel it.
- Be Proactive in finding work The gigs aren’t going to come if no one knows you exist. Build a profile. Get some photos done,build a website with some audio and video clips. Send bands a link to your page. Have some business cards. Advertise on whatever music magazines and websites there are in your area. Get yourself out there!
This is by no means a complete guide but I hope it may have given you something to think about. Feel free to comment and add any ideas of your own. If anything else springs to mind I’ll add it to the list. May the groove be with you…