Why Drummers Have To Wear So Many Hats
Something struck me like a trap case to the face while proofreading this issue’s cover story on Travis Barker. It turns out that he began playing drums in earnest in 1992, a year after we published the first issue of DRUM! Magazine. It really wasn’t all that long ago — unless, of course, you’re 13 years old, and then it seems like a lifetime. But seriously, think about everything Travis Barker has accomplished between then and now. It’s pretty impressive.
Okay, he is most famous as the drummer with Blink-182, the breakthrough pop punk band of the late ’90s. But you have to admit, even though he’s got tons of chops and talent, when it comes to his association with Blink, Barker just happened to be in the right place at the right time. But while other drummers would be more than happy to rest on their laurels and cash those stacks of fat royalty checks, Barker was more ambitious than that. A lot more, in fact.
He launched his own line of clothing and accessories. He formed several other bands (including the one that we focus on in this issue, Transplants). He started his own record label. He opened a taco stand in southern California. He parlayed his product endorsements into business franchises, and even became the star of his own reality TV show. In the process, he became his own brand. Take it from us — if you put the Travis Barker name on a product right now, it will sell.
In other words, he’s a really smart guy. But in fact, he isn’t nearly as unique as you might think. I know plenty of drummers who must diversify in order to make a living, and few of them are as wealthy as Travis Barker. Most drummers manage to sustain a career in the music business by juggling a number of skills, and at least some don’t have much to do with drumming.
Foremost, naturally, they play drums. But that often brings in only a fraction of their monthly nut. So they also teach lessons or work in drum shops during the day. Some conduct seminars for high school music departments, or facilitate drum circles. Others become bandleaders or booking agents. Some write drumming method books or make DVDs, launch drumming web sites, or even publish magazines, like we did (just don’t get any big ideas!). In short, they do whatever it takes to keep their heads above water.
But some young drummers seem to think everything they will ever need to know can be learned while sitting behind the drum set. Go back and read that diverse list of peripheral income sources. If you wanted to blend all of those into your drumming career you would need to know how to read music, write lesson plans, work with budgets, create graphic presentations, and write business plans, scripts, and editorial content using proper English. You don’t learn those skills in your band’s rehearsal studio. You learn them in school.
Playing drums is an infinitely rewarding, but inherently unforgiving profession. It usually doesn’t offer enough revenue to buy a house, raise a family, and send kids to college. But by finding creative ways to develop your love for drumming into various profit centers, you can spend your entire life as a professional drummer. And I honestly can think of nothing more rewarding than that.