Making it in music means making ends meet. It’s a mouthful that demands repeating, a mantra that blastbeat drummer Derek Roddy drives home during the 50-odd clinics he teaches each year. A successful drummer must do more than simply follow the beat of his heart — wanting it isn’t enough. What happens when the tour buses, stadium sellouts, and bottomless pockets never come?
Worshipped in metal circles around the world for his frightening speed and near-flawless delivery, in 2006 Roddy was forced to put an end to touring for peanuts. He was always broke when he returned from the road. Bills piled up. He’d recently gotten married and needed backup, something that allowed him to play drums and make money. Because, as he pointed out at a clinic last March in New Mexico, life is not a soundcheck. Second chances don’t exist.
Timing, precision, endurance — these qualities, Roddy has discovered, somewhat ironically, matter more to the drummer’s business considerations than his physical role behind the kit. Yet these traits, paramount as they are, don’t usually hold up in the face of management misfires, bickering bandmates, and the other countless factors pushing back against your passion. The business of drumming, Roddy argues, depends on making another choice rather than a different choice: Stick with the drums, but temper your expectations. Paint with more colors. Be the artist who dreams big and can still sleep at night.
Consider Derek Roddy an intrepid reporter rather than some doom-and-gloom preacher. Having been in and out of a dozen bands and worked the jobs others wouldn’t, he’s approaching 40 years of spreading his wings across a musical landscape diminishing by the day.
“All the bands that I’m known for playing with, I never made enough to where I would ever be able to sustain my lifestyle if I was doing it, which was the whole reason I quit to begin with,” he says. “And it wasn’t because I didn’t love the music, or still don’t love playing or doing any of that. It’s just I can’t do it and live.”
Roddy’s first taste of this bitter truth arrived when he left South Carolina for Florida in 1996 to support death-metal outfit Malevolent Creation. Most of the musicians Roddy met along the way made their real money either flipping burgers, dealing drugs, or tending bar, he realized. This touring life afforded exposure and gratification, but little in the way of economic incentive and growth. Good thing he’d worked behind the counter as a music-shop sales clerk for almost 20 years. Retail closed some of his financial gaps, but it wasn’t enough. And when he met and married Halle, a psychologist, covering the bills back home commanded his attention more than ever.
“It was just like a vicious flushing toilet that I just couldn’t get out of. And I just had to say, ‘You know what? Enough,’” he says. “Really, music has nothing to do with touring. If it’s really for the music, then touring does not matter. It’s irrelevant.”