What does it take to be a “successful” drummer? How do I get gigs with big touring acts? How do I get session work? Should I get a day job or be a “starving artist?” Do I need to specialize or be a jack-of-all-trades? How do I get noticed? Do I need to move to a major industry city like L.A. or New York or Nashville? What should I practice? Is it really all about who you know? These are the questions we all want to ask but are too afraid of appearing out of the loop. This column is my attempt to answer those burning questions while highlighting what I feel is required of you to get work as a gigging drummer. These are the hard-earned lessons I’ve learned along the way. Hopefully they’ll work for you too.
Regardless of where you reside, the people who will get you gigs, sessions, T.V. appearances, etc., are other musicians. Very rarely do I get a call from a manager or a talent “head hunter” for a gig unless another musician liked what he or she heard in me and passed along my number. Word spreads fast. If you can play, are a fast learner, reliable, easy to get along with, and have a sense of humor, you will get work.
Say yes to any and all gigs at first. Don’t expect money, yet perform with your full enthusiasm and effort because you never know who may be listening. To make ends meet, I “pulled” espresso and made great tips while simultaneously promoting to the customers. I always had a strong musical concept, and a killer band with positive energy and humor, but I still had to get the word out. That barista job provided infinite promotional potential and eventually my gigs were packed.
Get a steady gig at a club, coffeehouse, theater lobby, art gallery, anywhere folks can hear you regularly. Be in your element when people get their first impressions of you. Let yourself be weird. Take the filters out. No one needs to hear you imitate whatever drummer is at the top of the economic food chain right now. Express yourself. Most of all, have fun! If people see that playing with you looks like a blast, your phone will ring.
*Hint: I always booked my gigs Sunday through Tuesday where attendance expectations were low, allowing me room to grow. The audience built up over time. I always thanked the attendees personally and they left with the impression that they were privy to a scene that had not “blown up” yet.
Be social, be honest, be confident, and be yourself. Don’t fake like you don’t need a gig. Listen well, and don’t talk yourself up. If you’re a little mysterious, folks will wonder what you have going on and why they don’t know you. Network by introducing people (instead of waiting to be introduced) and you’ll start to be viewed as the center of activity.
Always be fueling the fire. Creative energy and enthusiasm is contagious and magnetic.
John Wicks is an L.A.-based songwriter, session player, and drummer for Fitz And The Tantrums. You can read more of his musings on drumming, music, and other relevant topics at drummersseat.wordpress.com or facebook.com/johnwicksdrummer.