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Becoming a professional drummer is not easy, not only does your music have to be top-notch but so does a million other things. You need to know how much you can charge and how electronics work.
To make a career as a pro drummer has always been hard, but with programmed drums and smaller budgets, it has gotten even harder. However, this does not mean you give up but rather that you have to work that much harder to get your goal.
With dedication, aptitude and work, you will be able to learn the drums fairly quickly – say, 10 to 12 months to become proficient, and about 18 months to 2 years to get really good.
To give you motivation, here’s how much a professional drummer make.
If there four members in the band, meaning that the drummer would make approximately $125,000 per show, minus whatever the crew makes. If an average, well-known band might make between $50,000 and $100,000 per show, the drummer will average about $15,000.
Here are some key qualities that you will have to develop in order to become a professional drummer.
15 Things you need to do become a Professional Drummer
1. Buying a Decent Drum Kit
While a low-cost beginner drum kit might have been perfect for you to practice and have fun sessions with your friends, it sadly is not cut out for the professional scene. The biggest advantage of a decent drum kit is that they sound so much better than a basic kit. You will be able to appreciate the nuances of each technique better. These drums also tend to have much higher visual appeal, this is something that cannot be understated in performances.
While you may be reluctant to spend a significant amount of money on a drum set, understand that it is a great investment that will last you many years if you take proper care of it. If you aren’t able to buy one brand new, see if you can get one on the second-hand market. Some service and a little cleaning of the drum set, you will have a good sounding drum at fraction of the cost of a new one.
On a similar note, buy a good pair of drumsticks. A single set of good quality drumsticks will last you much longer than an entire bag of cheap drumsticks. You also get much better playing experience. Try buying drumsticks in bulk to save a little money in the long run.
2. Start taking drum lessons
Research a little and find out a list of the best teachers in your locality. There are usually two or three well acclaimed teachers in each town or city. See who seems suitable for you and enroll with them. A real life teacher can be so much more helpful than any YouTube video is ever gonna be. They will be able to spot flaws and guide you towards what you need to be practicing and improving.
A few teachers even have trail sessions, so feel free to test a few teachers and see whom you are most comfortable with. If the best teacher in your locality is out of your budget, take classes with him/her once a month rather than every week. A single session with a great teacher is more valuable than four sessions with a mediocre one.
3. Start teaching
Teaching is not easy, but it is something that is worth giving a shot. As a teacher not only do you help others learn, but it can actually be a learning journey for you as an artist and a person. Teaching gives you a better understanding of music itself, as you will have to analyze each student to see what style works for them and what doesn’t.
Some people think that you can’t make a living as a drummer. But I can assure you that you can still make enough money from teaching the drums. Depending on your skill level, experience, and confidence, you can make anywhere from $30-$200 an hour.
At the end of the day, being a teacher gives you a new way of learning. The added income and recognition from being a teacher are also quite helpful, especially when you are yet to become a full-time drummer.
4. Practice a lot while working on your technique
You will have to spend months and years practicing. Practicing an hour a day is the bare minimum, you should try to do longer than that. When you are just setting out, stick to one style, and learn everything about it. You should have mastered every nook and corner about it. Versatility is important as a drummer, but you will have to first master one style before learning a hundred others. If you practice more at home, then you should get a quiet drum set so that you can practice without disturbing your neighbors.
You will also need to work on your timekeeping skills. It’s a crucial aspect when you are performing with a band. While it will take some time to master, use tools like metronome to speed up the process. You should also speak up when you notice that someone’s timing is off. This is because if you haven’t noticed it, then no one else probably has.
5. Learn Multiple Styles as you grow
Gone are the days where niche drummers were the thing. Today, a professional drummer needs to be able to play multiple styles comfortably. For example, if you wanna be a pop drummer, you will need to learn everything from dubstep to rock.
You must look into the popular songs in each style and learn the unique rhythms and feel for that style. You should also be able to make remixes and alternative plans quickly. All these skills will allow you to satisfy every demand of the artist.
6. Knowing your Drums and electronics
As a drummer it’s crucial that you know every aspect of your drums. From knowing how to set it up quickly to tuning them, everything should become second nature for you. While you shouldn’t exactly practice assembling and disassembling your drums, keeping a mental checklist of the order of steps can help hasten the process.
Being fast with your assemblies and disassemblies gives you extra time to calm down before you begin playing and will also give you a good image with the next drummer.
You must also know what configuration of drums you need for each style. Some styles demand extra floor toms while others need a secondary ride cymbal, so understand what each style demands. If you lack the component for a style, rent it out for the session. Also, keep a checklist of the components of your drum kit, this is to ensure you do not forget anything and are not left asking people for drumsticks and kick pedals during an event.
Nearly all shows now have electronics playing either a minor or major role, so it is important that you understand how they function. From being able to properly trigger samples to enhancing your acoustic drums with extra sounds, you will need to know everything.
Having a hybrid drum set of acoustic and electronic drums gives you a much greater sound range and consistency. This becomes even more important if you specialize in electronic genres. Simply put, unless you understand electronics you are not gonna last long in the professional scene.
7. Master the Art of Sound of your Drums
As a professional drummer, you need to have a crystal clear understanding of how your drums produce sounds. Each note is a result of your head selection, your tuning, your recording, your mixing, and your mastering, among a million other things.
While you might be tempted to blame your “defective” gear for a sound you are unhappy with, it is usually you who is to blame for that sound. Only if you understand the factors affecting the sound, will you be able to progress as a drummer.
Being able to properly tune a drum is one of the crucial skills you need as a drummer. You should be able to tune your drum as per the requirements of the style of music you are going to play.
8. Record drum tracks or bands in your home
Having a recording room in your home is an amazing asset. While having an expensive studio-grade recording room is not possible for everyone, even a mediocre recording studio is pretty good. This allows you to bring your band together at your house and record your albums. This will save you a lot of money that would have normally been spent on renting recording studios.
A home studio also allows for a relaxed environment for recording as you are not worried about wrapping the session within the stipulated time. Recording yourself at your home also allows you to play your tracks back and see where you have gone wrong.
You could also think about becoming a recording drummer. Budgets have been becoming tight for studios and labels over the years and this has opened up the scene for remote recording drummers. You can set up a space at home for recording, this will allow producers and artists to hire you to play for them at a cost effective manner from around the world. All you have to do is share the recorded audio file via the internet.
9. Your ears are your asset
As a drummer you should always listen to the song and get an understanding of it before you begin playing. Only once you understand the song will you be able to deliver strong sections and transitions. Random frills and crashes are a mark of an amateur. You should think about each bar and verse and work out what would best compliment them.
As a drummer you are in a world of constant noise that is not good for your ears. Having chronic ringing or noise induced hearing loss will not help you out in any manner. You won’t be able to listen to music properly and your drumming will take a hit.
So invest in some noise reduction headgears when you are practicing or out attending performances. While it might seem like a hindrance, it is important that you protect your ears.
10. Relationships and networking are important to a pro musicians career
Networking is probably one of the most important qualities after being a good drummer. You should network as much as humanly possible. Attend as many music events you possibly can. From national conferences to regional gigs, visit anything you can spare the time for. You will be able to get a lot of contacts, feel free to share samples of your music to them.
Connect with music companies and professionals and get yourself known. You could also join with local drumming groups or bands and network with them. You can never know who will lead you to your next gig.
Importance of having good relationships cannot be overstated. Having many people know you and have a good rapport with you is extremely beneficial. Work on cultivating good relationships with influential people, for example music directors and people from labels.
Not only will they be able to give you opportunities to work with them, but they will also recommend you to others who need an artist like you. This doesn’t mean you are free to illtreat your peers, being respectful of others will boost your image and people will respect you back for it. And you never know who knows who, your geeky acquaintance might turn out to be a friend of a prominent music director.
11. No job is too small
While you might feel that playing in Small Gigs, college bands, weddings, or corporate jobs are not big enough for you, they can be a nice way of making money when you are starting out. These events do not demand experienced drummers, so it’ll be a perfect place to begin. Just learn popular songs and you can have fun while easily making money. Playing at such events also opens you up for future opportunities as you will never know who’s in the audience.
12. Hustle 24/7
To become a professional drummer, you need to dedicate your life to it. You must be motivated to the maximum and must always be hungry for the next opportunity. You should be able to keep working without feeling lazy. Even if you have gigs lined up for the next two months, it does not mean you slack off and stop working hard. You can never be sure that you are gonna always have to work.
You will have to spend a lot of time every week networking and getting work. In the time that you have left, you will have to practice, rehearse, learn songs, travel, and perform. Always stay grounded and give it your all every hour of every day, because all it can take is one lousy performance for everything to come tumbling down.
13. Use Social Media to become Famous
Social media is probably one of the most cost effective ways to market yourself. Every video uploaded on YouTube and Facebook creates an online library of your skills. Nowadays, most MDs do not spend hours auditioning hundreds of drummers, but rather go through these videos to know about you as a drummer and a person.
Just take care to upload videos with good quality sound, and looking nice can not hurt your chances. Even if your YouTube channel doesn’t get a thousand subscribers within a month, do not stress about it. Just keep working on your networking and other skills, and you will feel your social presence grow with time.
14. Try to get Endorsements from Drum companies
This is not something you should be actively doing during the early stages of your career. Your name is not gonna be well-known and most companies are not willing to sponsor people who are not yet established. However, once you have properly entered the drumming scene and have yourself established, you can start pursuing some of the best drum brands for endorsements.
Networking and professionalism are actually very important qualities that are needed to secure an endorsement deal. Once you are endorsed, life does become a little easier. You will no longer have to spend copious amounts of money on equipment and the extra income is not bad.
Negotiation is a skill that you are going to have to learn. While you might be tempted to undercut your competition and charge low rates for your time, this will eventually end up lowering the future earnings of yourself and your fellow drummers.
You should research what the local musician’s union rates are and estimate what you are worth. You will be able to negotiate higher rates by having some of the additional skills mentioned before. Once you have done this, stick to your terms when discussing finances with a possible employer. As long as you are a good fit for the event and aren’t overcharging, you should get the result you want. Even if you do not get the event, move on, it’s better than doing work you might resent.
Playing in bands vs being an independent artist
Being an independent artist is completely different to being part of a band. When you are in a band, you have a group of people to support you. There is camaraderie between the members and you all work towards a common goal. You travel, write, and record as a group and it’s quite mystical when everything comes together at the end.
When you are an independent artist, you are out on your own. You always have to be ready to jump at the next opportunity and your reputation is really important. It’s important that people respect you as both an artist and a person to get more work.
The music industry presents a lot of challenges for a drummer. However, no one is going to help you out but yourself. So take out your drumsticks and start building your career up. Work on these qualities and you might stand a chance of becoming a professional drummer one day.