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Groove On This: 5 Tips For Aspiring Professional Drummers
Life as a musician isn't easy, especially for drummers. After all, they are always in the background and they seemingly get the short end of the stick with those pithy drummer jokes.
But make no mistake: Any great band worth their salt is driven by a great drummer.
If you've been practicing your rudiments, bidding to keep perfect time with the metronome and knocking out original fills like it's nobody's business, then you might be wondering what comes next. Do you start a band? Post a for-hire ad on Craigslist? Hit up friends for gigs?
With expert advice from the likes of pro drummers Rich Redmond, Stephen Perkins, John Tempesta, and Simon DasGupta, among others, get the lowdown on how to take your drum career to the next level.
Hone Your Skill Set
Mastering any instrument is a lifelong commitment to honing your craft. So practice, practice, practice. And then practice some more. After all, there's a reason this mantra appears so often in music.
"Stay focused on the potential of your playing and your technique [and] chase that goal daily," said Perkins, drummer for Jane's Addiction. "Music comes first. The road is paved by your hands and feet with sticks and pedals."
Additionally, expand your skills beyond your favorite genre of music. For example, if you're a rock player, learn how to play elements of jazz, take a crack at reggae beats or learn how to some Latin-influenced grooves.
"I develop my skillset," adds Jason Aldean's drummer Redmond, "which for a drummer means being able to play rudiments, being able to read, being able to play styles, being able to make time feel good. Have dynamics on your instrument, be able to play with a click track or loop [and] overdub percussion. Be flexible, and then stay hungry for success."
Network, Network, Network
Like most other professions, the music business relies heavily on who you know. For this reason it's important to get out there and meet other music industry folks.
"Remember that the music business is a relationship business. Network, network, network," says Simon DasGupta, educator and founder of online lesson platform Drum Ambition. "You can never know enough musicians, writers and producers — you'll be surprised where your offers [for] work may come from."
Check out drum and music clinics and conferences and get networking with other musicians any chance you get. Have professional-looking business cards or flyers in hand so that the people you connect with can easily find you when they are looking to book a drummer for their upcoming gig.
Court Other Musicians
On a similar note, be proactive about getting in front of the musicians you want to work with.
"Put yourself out there by going to as many shows as you can," said the Cult's Tempesta. "Being at the right place at the right time helps. It has for me."
"Take a great interest in the people you'd most like to work with. Find out what you can about them — who they've enjoyed working with in the past and why," added U.K.-based drummer Gary Husband (Gary Moore, Robin Trower). "It gets you in the door, conversationally. From there on, try and orchestrate a way they can hear you [play]. I think it's very necessary to be proactive — especially these days. If they don't hire you, try hiring them. It worked for me on a number of occasions!"
"Playing well with others is important — not being too flashy, just keeping good time and of course coming up with cool beats." — Chad Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Check Your Attitude
If you've got a bit of a Buddy Rich streak — chucking sticks at other musicians when they don't measure up — nowadays you'll likely struggle to find work. You can be the best drummer in the world, but if you don't have a positive attitude, other musicians will most likely have a hard time working with you. Check your ego at the rehearsal room door and strive to be the drummer everyone will want to hire again and again.
"Avoid negative people, places, things, and habits," said Latin and jazz drummer/percussionist Bobby Sanabria. "Always be positive. … Who knows, your positive energy might enlighten one of those people that Jaco Pastorius, the legendary electric bassist, used to call groove killers."
Never Give Up
Finally, know the road to becoming a steady working musician can be paved with many setbacks. Don't get discouraged and just keep working on your craft, networking, putting yourself in front of other musicians, and keeping a positive outlook. You never know where you might end up.
"In 1998 I met a young up-and-coming Jason Aldean and we have played on 27 singles, eight records, 23 No. 1 songs. We play to about 2 million people a year," says Redmond. "It's really amazing and the only reason that happened was because I didn't give up. So never give up because if you give up you're at the back of the line, you have to start over."