How To Stay Alive As A Drummer
“You look for the things that are missing from a contract,” he says. “It’s not always what’s there. The most important thing you need is a reversion clause – that’s what I learned from my first book. A reversion clause protects the author if the book goes out of print. If you don’t get a statement within a certain period of time, all the rights to the book revert back to you. Then you have the ability to shop it to another publisher or publish it yourself.”
Videos are a whole other animal. Practically all drumming videos are instructional, and like method books, they provide a study course. If you are an up-and-coming drummer, it is much harder to break into the video market than it is to author a book. For one thing, the video market is completely saturated with titles that cover an incredibly wide range of styles and techniques. And video companies are entirely focused on signing big-name drummers, even if they aren’t particularly good in front of a video camera. So if you have your heart set on becoming a video star, you will first need to get your drumming career rolling.
Always an available option, teching for other drummers can be a lucrative enterprise, depending on the level in which you work. It can also lead to bigger and better things. White Zombie’s John Tempesta, Bad Religion’s Bobby Schayer and former Megadeth drummer Nick Menza all spent some time working as drum techs before they got their big breaks. It’s a great way to learn the ins and outs of the drumming biz up close.
There are two types of techs: one specializes in setting up and tuning drums in the studio, and the other performs similar duties on the road. At the professional level, there are only so many available jobs out there, and like many other aspects of the music business, most of them go to those who already have built solid reputations.
The studio tech market is the most elite, and hardest to break into. Well-known studio drum techs like L.A.’s Ross Garfield, New York’s Artie Smith and Nashville’s Harry McCarthy have built their businesses by renting high-end drum gear to album producers and first-call session drummers, and providing cartage and in-studio tuning consultation. All of these studio techs are expert drum tuners, and launched the businesses by developing extensive collections of rare and vintage drums and cymbals. When you rise to their level, you can expect to earn a pretty penny for your efforts. But none of these fellows plan to retire anytime soon. However, they occasionally hire talented techs and less skilled humpers, so if you happen to live in one of these three cities, you could try to land a position with one of their production companies.
You’ll find that there’s a greater turnover among road techs. And that’s because it’s a tough gig that requires a strong back, resilient attitude and plenty of patience. Road techs tour with a particular band, and are responsible for maintaining the drum gear in tip-top condition. This can include not only setup and tear-down, but tuning, regular maintenance, cartage, ordering replacement parts and, the bane of all live drum techs, polishing cymbals. And depending on which drummer you end up working for, the job can also require taking crap from a condescending employer and sometimes being a psychologist, marriage counselor and bail bondsman to boot.
Getting a gig as a drum tech is not dissimilar to getting a gig as a drummer. It largely depends on who you know, and being in the right place at the right time. Bands never interview prospective candidates when they need a new tech. They don’t need to. They always just seem to know who is available at any given time.
So if you are interested in becoming a drum tech, the best thing you can do is become a regular face on the scene. If you live in a big music town, try getting a job at one of the major rehearsal studios like S.I.R, where bands rehearse for tours and do auditions. Network with whomever you meet, and see what happens.
The Drum Industry
While some view jobs in the percussion industry as a graveyard for failed drummers, it is actually an area that offers a number of career options, even for gigging players. By working with a drum company, you can remain closely involved with the one thing that you love most – drumming – and can sustain a long career with plenty of room for upward mobility.
Many drummers get their start in the drum industry by working as customer service representatives. This can be a particularly thankless job, requiring you to take calls from consumers, some of whom can be hostile. But as you work your way up the ladder, you can find a wide range of jobs available, such as artist relations, sales, and even product specialist.
If you’re interested in a career in the drum industry, you need to conduct yourself with a bit more of a business-like attitude than you would as a performer. Compose a resumé that emphasizes your work history over your playing credits. Dress appropriately for job interviews, with a shirt, jacket and tie, and act professionally.
Successful drummers can beef up their incomes by performing clinics. These are usually arranged through endorsement companies, who underwrite clinics from their promotional budgets and hand them out as bonuses to retailers who have moved a lot of their product.
The sponsoring store is usually required to purchase a particular drum set or set of cymbals for the clinician to play during the workshop, which the store can later sell. Some clinicians make special arrangements with the sponsoring store to also teach a handful of private lessons, either before or after the clinic, which can generate a little more income for the clinician.
Drummers are usually paid somewhere between $500 and $1,500 per clinic. In return, they are expected to deliver an authoritative educational experience for the clinic attendees. There’s nothing worse than having to sit through an unorganized, badly prepared clinic. “When I first started doing clinics, I kind of wrote out a script, because I was really scared,” says Chad Smith, who regularly performs clinic tours for Pearl and Sabian. “I’m so flattered that people would come out and see me play. It’s a chance to just talk about my take on drumming.”
Oh, Right. We Forgot. It’s About Drumming.
After all this folderol about the music biz, it’s far too easy to lose sight of the fact that you must be a good drummer if you ever plan to break into the music biz. No matter how fabulous your haircut, or how fancy your business card, never stop working on your technique and musicianship. That’s the most important thing of all.