How To Stay Alive As A Drummer

Perhaps a more effective way to quickly build a roster of students is to teach out of a drum shop. Many stores have teaching rooms in the back, outfitted with drum sets and related equipment, which they rent out to teachers on an hourly basis. The relationship between a store and its teachers can be mutually beneficial. Since most drum shops serve as the hub of a particular drumming community, they naturally attract young drummers who need instruction. And since drum teachers usually see students on a weekly basis, the stores can count on a certain amount of regular customers walking through their doors.

Generally, private drum lessons are taught by the half hour, and usually cost between $20 and $25 per lesson. Cancellations represent the biggest headache for private drum teachers. To counteract this problem, most teachers require payment in advance for an entire month of lessons, and 24 hours notice for any lesson cancellation. That way, if the student doesn’t show up, the teacher retains payment for the lesson.

how to stay alive as a drummer

Leading A Band

Just because most bandleaders are singers or guitarists doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider forming your own band. If you are a songwriter, the advantages of leading your own band are obvious, since you would be the lucky duck who gets to keep the songwriting royalties.

But even if you don’t have a knack for penning catchy tunes, you can greatly enhance you earnings from gigs by leading a cover band that specializes in playing Top 40 hits or oldies at parties, wedding receptions and corporate functions. For one thing, party gigs tend to pay a whole lot more than club gigs do. For another thing, if you are the leader, you can reasonably expect to keep 15 percent of the gross revenue as a commission for booking the gigs. Add to that your regular pay as the drummer in the band, and your nightly earnings increase significantly.

Let’s take a look at some real numbers. Your five-piece band is hired to play a wedding for $800. As the booking agent, you take your 15 percent off the top, which comes to $120. After splitting the remainder, each bandmember receives $136, including yourself. So when you add your booking agent fee to your drumming cut, you walk away with $256. Not too shabby for a night’s work.

Of course, there are other responsibilities that come with the job. John Xepoleas is a San Francisco Bay Area—based drummer who leads a party band called the Fundamentals. “I do everything from payroll to contracts to dealing with advances for gigs, which in my case numbers about 120 dates a year,” he explains. “At this point, most of my business comes from word of mouth, from contact agencies and destination management companies.” Destination management companies are hired by corporations that want to put on an event. They hire everything from the busses to the ballroom to the band.

“I also have a production company, so that when the Fundamentals are booked, I’ll book another band,” Xepoleas continues. “There are a dozen bands that I currently work with, and they’re all booked into September of next year. I probably have six bands booked on New Year’s Eve,” which is not bad at all when you consider that Xepoleas keeps a 20 percent commission for the other bands that he books.

In case you are tempted by the math, here’s a little tip. If you do decide to form your own party band, be sure to play it straight with the tax man. By law, you are an employer, and are responsible for reporting the earnings of your bandmembers to the I.R.S., and providing each player with a W2 form at the end of the year. “I would go to jail if I didn’t do that,” Xepoleas warns. Better safe than sorry.

Writing Books And Making Videos

Very few people have become rich from writing drum-method books or producing drum videos. But quite a number of drummers have discovered that book and video publishing is a good way to supplement your income, especially with titles that enjoy a long lifespan.

If you would like to explore the idea, the first thing you need to do is come up with a good idea. Just keep in mind that there have been plenty of drummers before you who have had good book or video ideas. In order to compete with them at the retail level, you need to offer a fresh concept. So go out to your nearest drum shop and investigate the titles that are currently available. Make some notes. Try to identify a niche that hasn’t been exploited. Believe me, it’s going to be difficult. There are more instructional materials on the market today than ever.

Drum books generally fall into one of two categories. Instructional method books are the most common. They provide a study course that covers a particular drumming style or technique, include lots of musical examples and target readers at a certain level of proficiency. Narrative books thoroughly investigate a topic, which can be historical – such as the story of swing drumming – or technical – such as a how-to book about recording drums.

Once you land on your utterly unique book idea, you need to decide whether you want to self-publish or sign a contract with an established publisher of music-related books. The only real advantage of self-publishing is that you retain a greater percentage of the profits, though you will still need to cut a distribution deal with a publishing company,which accrues its own costs.

Most authors choose to work with publishing companies, and for very good reasons. After all, drumming is your real profession. You don’t want to spend all day marketing and promoting your book, and chasing down debtors. When you sign an agreement with a publisher, they take on the day-to-day headaches, and you only have to collect your royalty checks.

To pitch a book idea to a publisher, you need to write a brief summary of the book, a table of contents and at least one or two chapters. Even though you don’t have to present finished, designed pages, make sure that the presentation is neat and organized.

Most standard publishing agreements promise to pay the author 10 percent of sales. But what kind of sales? Wholesale or retail? That is actually a negotiable point, and naturally, 10 percent of retail is much more attractive than 10 percent of wholesale. Often publishing companies will ask an author to accept only 5 percent for foreign sales revenues, which is negotiable.

After signing the contract, you can expect to receive an advance against future sales, which can amount to anything from $500 to $5,000, depending on how much of a wheeler-dealer you are. From then on, publishers tend to pay royalties every six months. John Xepoleas has published three books: Studies for the Contemporary Drummer, and Lessons with the Greats, Part 1 & 2, and has learned a thing or two about reading publishing contracts.

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