You might not always have the luxury of getting to play your own gear. Before long, you’ll find yourself in a scenario where you are part of a seven-band bill and there isn’t enough time for a full changeover between sets. Or perhaps the club is too small (most clubs in Manhattan, for instance) to stash gear for all the bands. The sound guy/girl might be finicky and demand all the drummers play a house kit.
Eventually, if you’re fortunate and your band becomes successful enough, you’ll have no choice but to play unfamiliar backline kits for fly dates, festivals, and international tours (the benefit here being you can sometimes ask for specific sizes and brands).
Get used to it as soon as you can and embrace the variety. It will make you a more versatile player over the long haul. You might even find something you like better than what you currently play. Another benefit that the savvy touring drummer reaps from sharing is avoiding the hassle of setting up and tearing down (though using your own snare and cymbals is a common courtesy).
While it can be a major drag to play someone’s kit if it’s crummy and outfitted with two-year-old, pocked-out heads, look at it as a challenge. The great drummers sound like themselves no matter what kind of tubs they’re wailing on.
Touring offers a great chance to see a variety of players up close, usually from the side of the stage or behind the kit. Take advantage of these unique vantage points to pick up new tips and tricks. You can learn something from everyone, even if it’s just deciding what you don’t like.
Take note of how hard other drummers are hitting, how well they maintain tempo, and how they execute fills. Are they “busy” players? Do they play along to a click or backing tracks? Do they incorporate any kind of electronics in their setups? How about the tones they get from their cymbals and drums? Is it better than yours? Observe how they tune their drums before the show.
You can also sit behind different drummers’ kits and see how they like to set up. You might find that something you’ve never tried really works for you, like bringing your snare up or down, adjusting the tilt of your toms or cymbals, or changing the height of your hi-hats or throne.
When you’re a young player, it’s a lot easier to eat Taco Bell three times a day, stay up all night, and still play well. But at some point, you’re going to get sick and/or turn in some bad performances. Try to strike a balance between health and junk food, water and booze. Eat fruits and veggies whenever you can, and load up on vitamin C. Stay away from soda and candy whenever possible. And get some sleep! Once you get sick on tour, it can be really hard to recover.
Having good social skills is a huge asset in this business. There’s strong camaraderie between drummers, and it’s best to befriend those you’ll be on tour with sooner rather than later — you never know when you’ll be in a pinch and need to borrow something!
Also, don’t talk to just drummers. Meet as many people as you can — other musicians, tour managers, promoters — these are all people who might hook you up with your next gig!
Whatever you do, don’t be a jerk. Word spreads quickly in music circles and the last thing you want is to be known as someone who is difficult to be around. You certainly won’t get recommended for future drum auditions. Most often, just being a good person is more valuable to a band than how slick your chops are.
Very few musicians survive solely on their art — especially these days. Unless you still live in your parents’ basement, you’ll likely have to supplement any band income with a day job. Find an employer that will give you the flexibility to leave for long periods of time, yet will let you work upon your return so you can start making money for the next tour.
Service-industry gigs are among the best “rock jobs” to have. Try to find a restaurant/bar/pizza joint that is consistently busy and allows you to take home cash every day. This way you won’t have to wait for a paycheck if you get home at the end of the month and rent is due in five days. Do a good job (you’ll get better tips) and endear yourself to the manager so he or she will give you shifts upon your return from the road.