If you’re trying to discover the meaning of life, you’ve definitely come to the wrong place. I gave up on that one long ago, but I do know a thing or two about drumming, and recently found myself pondering what it means to be a drummer. Now brace yourself for some profound philosophizing. My synopsis is that it’s not all fun and games … although the best part is. Okay, here’s a bit more detail.
Nondrummers think it looks easy. Of course, they’re wrong. No instant gratification here. Being a drummer means you invest hours of practice every day to become the best you can be. If you’re brutally honest with yourself, even after doing everything right, you’ll keep working on chops long after your abilities reach a professional level. No, we aren’t masochists (at least not all of us). We want to remain competitive and find work. We love the artistry, the creative expression, and the way our bodies feel when those sounds and rhythms flow out of us. We’re a little obsessive about it. We’re drum nerds.
Other kids are out playing baseball. You’re alone in your room trying to nail a Danny Carey lick – over and over ¬ before your lesson tomorrow night. Ten years later, you’re working part-time at a drum shop, sharing a practice studio with three other drummers (you get Tuesday nights and Sunday mornings), and your band practices five nights a week. Another ten years and you teach students five days a week, perform masterclasses in high school auditoriums with your jazz band, and play five to ten gigs a month to earn half as much money as you would have if you had sold insurance all these years. Ouch.
Take it from me. It gets harder and harder to carry that trap case up a flight of stairs as the years go by. It also takes a couple more seconds to catch your breath after a fast number. And if your bass drum leg cramps up halfway through the third set, you play through it. That’s just the way it works.
In other words, it’s exactly the opposite of the stereotype most people seem to have of drummers. Every one of us is a freelancer, even if you are a member of a band. That means that you are in charge of finding work, doing taxes, paying expenses, juggling your gig schedule, showing up to gigs and rehearsals on time and with the right gear, knowing the songs, keeping in shape – in short, everything involved with running your own business. Yes, your business is drumming, but you and your talent constitute the product that is for sale.
That’s right. I’m talking about us. Despite all the hard work, low pay, and sacrifice that our jobs demand, we in fact are the luckiest people on Earth. Just look around you, at all the people who have jobs they don’t care about. They go to their offices or factories and perform their duties in order to make enough money to do things that they actually do care about.
But every single time we climb behind our drum kit – whether its on stage, in the studio, or in the practice room – we know that we are about to have a peak life experience that feeds our souls and unleashes our creativity. Other people have to pay for a chance to have the kinds of experiences that we not only have every day but also get paid to do. We’re the luckiest people on Earth.