Becoming a successful drummer might be one of the hardest things in the world to achieve. There are many ups and downs, no career security, and tons of competition to deal with. That being said, this article will focus on how to be a successful drummer: the many things you can do to improve your odds, stay ahead of the game, and have a better shot at having a career in drumming.
How To Be A Successful Drummer – What Makes One?
A successful drummer depends on your definition of success. Maybe this means touring the world playing sold out arena shows every night. It could mean that you have a YouTube channel with 1,000,000 followers. Maybe you just love playing the drums and are content playing for fun. If you are the latter, you must understand the risks and the work ethic required to gain this kind of exposure and break through the competition.
Drumming In A Band
There are no guarantees in the music business. It’s one of the toughest industries out there, especially ever since the major record labels took a hit in the early 2000s. Musicians, now more than ever, are at a giant disadvantage making money with a major record label.
Getting The Major Label Record Deal
Let’s imagine you are in a band and write music with your friends. You promote your music online, play tons of shows, and have a decent fan base. Miraculously, your band strikes a record deal with Atlantic Records. You get a nice signing advance, a team of people to help promote your music, and are set to start touring within the year. What most bands don’t know, however, is you have literally sold your music to the company and, most likely, will never get it back. Your royalties from album sales will generally be between 14% and 18%. Good luck keeping a business alive with those numbers.
Now just because we mentioned that percentage there, it’s important to know that you will receive additional royalties from a Performing Rights Organization such as BMI or ASCAP (either one is good to choose) every quarter. If you have a song that’s doing well at radio, expect these checks to be pretty decent.
Radio Is The Key To Success
One way for your band to make money now is to have a song that blows up and tops the charts at radio. It’s such a slim chance, but it might be worth going for it. Keep in mind, you’ll be told from your A&R to write songs that fit into their rigid boundaries (hit the chorus within 45 seconds, no longer than 3:30, etc…). You won’t get to release anything without their approval either. Not all record labels are this strict, but I can promise you, it does exist.
Now you have an album set to release and hopefully a radio plan to go with it. The record company will send out reps to each market to promote your new music to the program directors. With a little luck, hopefully you will get an add date and your new song will be in rotation on that station. Typically, you need about 30-50 stations all playing your song at once, 5-7 times per day, in order to chart in the top ten, at least at Alternative radio.
Sell Your Merchandise Like Crazy
Another way your band will be making money, is off of merchandise and ticket sales at shows. While this number may not be a lot in the beginning, this is pretty much the only way your band will make money. For a show of 150 dedicated fans, you can expect to average around $1,000 in merchandise sales that night (important to note that this number isn’t perfect, just an estimation). There is a way to setup an online store that provides fans merchandise via on-demand printing. I wrote an article on how to set up an on-demand merchandise store here.
With the rise of the internet, it’s easier to promote your music and make a name for yourself without a traditional marketing campaign or record label. This is a good thing, but it does make for a lot of competition.
You need to take advantage of every social platform possible when promoting you or your bands music: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc… If you don’t have any graphic design friends you know, it’s best to start learning. You’ll need these skills to create social graphics, ads for shows and new music, and many other applications. Personally, I use Adobe Creative Cloud. These service is a little expensive, but I get access to every single one of their applications.
Now, with all that said, at any point in your band’s career, the record label can pull the rug out from under your feet. I’m sure we’ve all heard this horror story: getting dropped from a record label. It may seem like the worst thing in the world, however, in many cases the record label was actually holding the band back in a kind of purgatory of non-existence.
Imagine a totem pole: you have all the top AAA bands on the top, medium-sized groups in the middle, and your band is sitting there right at the bottom. It’s not your fault, you’re just not priority when other bands have giant releases coming out. Eventually you won’t be releasing music, touring, or doing anything to promote your brand.
When you or your manager receives the phone call from the major label, it will be a shock, but hopefully will be for the better. It’s something no band should ever have to go through, but it happens so often. With the dead weight off your shoulders, hopefully you and your band will pick each other up and start cracking once again.
Drumming Without A Band
For many drummers out there, they don’t have a band. This is totally acceptable in today’s world given that we have the internet. The two most popular places to become a successful drummer on the internet are YouTube and Instagram.
Being A Drummer On YouTube
YouTube is a perfect platform for uploading drumming videos and building a fan base. It’s free, pretty easy to do, and a lot of fun. You can make drum cover videos, instructional lessons, jam to loops, or anything you can possibly think of. Here’s a clip of one of my favorite players, David Dockery, literally drumming to a clip from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
Not only is this video very technical and difficult to play, it extremely unique. I had never seen anything like this before and that’s why the video has gotten over 1.2 million views. Notice that the audio isn’t the greatest, the camera is zoomed in way too far, and looks like it was made in just a few minutes. Quality doesn’t matter if the content is amazing. Creating original and unique videos is the key to becoming a successful drummer on YouTube.
How To Make Drum Videos – Good Cameras For Filming YouTube Videos
If you want to make YouTube videos to grow your fans as a drummer, you’ll need a camera. Obviously you could use your phone’s camera, but I believe you need something a little more high quality. I personally recommend buying a GoPro Hero6 to record drum videos. Not only does this camera take excellent video, the audio sounds great for a camera. I have two of these cameras, one mounted above me and one mounted to a cymbal stand. I also use a Cannon T3i for a wide shot out in front.
You need to be consistent. If you want to create a sizable following in the least amount of time, be sure to upload a new video at least once a week. Give your subscribers a reason to come back to your channel for more. As I mentioned earlier, Adobe Creative Cloud comes in handy for this purpose as well: editing video.
When you’re just starting out, the camera audio is most likely fine. If you are at the point where you’re ready to upgrade the quality of your video and capture audio from your drums, you’ll need to purchase quite a few things: a computer, an audio interface, microphones, and cables.
A Solid Computer For Recording Drums and Drum Covers
If you don’t already have a computer, you’ll need one to edit the audio and video for your drum covers. Anything with an i5 and up should be fine. Laptop vs Desktop? It’s really up to you. I have a desktop and a laptop that I use for both audio recording and video editing. If you’re okay with PCs, ASUS makes really solid laptops that are very affordable when compared to an Apple computer.
Best Audio Interface For Recording Drums
In order to get sound from microphones into your computer, you’ll need what’s called an audio interface. There’s tons of options available ranging from very affordable to expensive studio interfaces. For the purposes of recording drum covers, the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 is our best pick. You get eight pre-amplifiers allowing you to record eight separate channels of audio: kick drum, snare drum, toms, overheads, and maybe even a room microphone.
If you want to spend a little more money on your audio, consider checking out the Universal Audio Apollo Twin in conjunction with an eight channel external ADAT preamp. My setup consists of an Apollo Twin alongside a MOTU 8pre. With this setup, I’m able to record ten separate channels of audio and two of them consist of the Apollos “unison” preamps which are modeled after famous analog premaps like the Neve 1073.
Now that we have the computer and audio interface, it’s time to look at microphones. You do have many options from purchasing a big pack of microphones to buying them all individually. There are benefits to doing both.
If you purchase everything together in a pack, you’ll probably see a nice price break. However, with this decrease in cost comes a decrease in quality. Pyle Pro, for example, makes a drum microphone pack that might work good for a beginner, but definitely isn’t going to get you the greatest sound.
If you’re looking for a package of drum microphones, check out the Sennheiser e600 Drum Set Microphone Pack. In my opinion, Sennheiser makes the best and easiest to use drum microphones on the market. With this pack, you get a kick microphone, four clip on mics for snare and toms, and a set of overheads. It also includes XLR cables to connect from the mics to your audio interface.
The final piece of this recording audio and video puzzle is the digital audio workstation: this piece of software captures the audio from your microphone and displays it on your computer, so you can edit it and save it to an audio file.
The picture above is showing a DAW called Ableton Live 9. This is one of the most popular digital audio workstations. While I don’t personally use it for music production, I know many that do. My choice of digital audio workstations is Cubase. These types of software can get quite pricey, so often times you can purchase the introductory version of the software, capable of doing everything you will need without some of the professional features.
Learning and understanding the concepts of recording audio is an art form, so don’t expect to be amazing at it the first time you try recording yourself. It’s best to take it slow and really learn the concepts prior to jumping in. Here’s a video detailing how to record yourself in a digital audio workstation.
Being A Drummer On Instagram
In conjunction with your YouTube channel, it’s a good idea also to post content to your Instagram page. There’s tons of drummers on Instagram and even some who exclusively use it to promote themselves as a drummer.
What you can do is record drum videos for YouTube, make minute long clips of each video, and upload them to Instagram. Be sure to include a link to your YouTube channel in your biography, as well as writing call-to-action’s in each post. You can also use relevant hash tags to get your post more views. For example you could write this for a caption:
“Hey everyone, here’s a new cover video I did from x band called “y title.” Check out the full video at the link in my bio!” #drummer #drumcovers #instadrummer #vicfirth #VF15 #awesomedrums #hashtaggoeshere
With these two platforms in place, with consistent uploads and communication with fans, you’ll be on your way to becoming a professional drummer.
Making Money As A Solo Drummer
If you’re doing drum covers, good for you. Hopefully your fan base is beginning to grow. Let’s talk about making money as a drummer. You’re going to need to monetize your channels in a way that’s a little different from other YouTube content creators.
Many gamers and vloggers are able to monetize their videos by running advertisements. The pay isn’t amazing, but for a popular YouTuber, the money can be pretty good. For us, however, it’s a bit of a different story.
You Cannot Monetize Your Cover Videos
If you do a drum cover of a popular song, it’s immediately going to get flagged as copyrighted material and your video will then be intelligible for monetization. You will need to come up with other ideas for making money through your videos. Maybe do five cover songs with copyrighted content, so your channel still grows, and then do one video that doesn’t have any copyrighted songs in it. Even though you aren’t making any money making the videos, you are still growing you as a brand.
Use Affiliate Marketing To Your Advantage
If you’re wondering what affiliate marketing is, it’s basically referring people to purchase a product on the internet. The biggest affiliate network online is Amazon Associates. You can simply refer people to purchase products through your links and if they do, you will make a commission. Simply add product links to gear you use in your video’s description and you can create a little stream of income from your videos.
Create Videos That Don’t Contain Copyrighted Material
There’s a ton of resources out there for royalty free music you can jam along to. Sure, they aren’t going to get as many views since they aren’t a popular song, but if your content is good, your channel will grow. You could also diversify your YouTube channel by doing product reviews of gear you actually use and why you like it/don’t like it. Be sure to include your Amazon affiliate links wherever you can. Don’t be spammy.
How To Become A Session Drummer
If all is going right, you should now be on the path to growing your fan base as a drummer and hopefully will have networked with a lot of musicians at this point. This is exactly how you will begin to find people to collaborate with. Becoming a session drummer today starts with networking and exposing yourself to the world.
These days, records are being made in basements and bedrooms all over the world. Your first session experience could be you recording yourself playing at home. Start reaching out to other musicians. Ask them if they need a drummer for an upcoming song. Explain that you have all the necessary gear and can crank out a track for them if need be. By now, you should be pretty competent in recording drums, so this shouldn’t be too hard.
On certain occasions, you may be asked to fly out to a recording studio to work as what I would consider to be the “traditional” session drummer. In this situation, you may have been sent a recording(s) or demo(s) of the song(s) the artist wishes you to appear on.
From this point, people will begin to recognize you in the industry and your phone hopefully is ringing off the hook with artists and bands looking for your work.
Another thing to possibly consider is the idea of moving to Nashville, TN. This is the hub for all session players in the music industry. Networking with people online is key when learning how to become a successful drummer.
Using Your Session Connections To Become A Touring Drummer
Now with a handful of sessions under your belt, you should be able to find bands and artists who are in need of touring drummers. I know a lot of guys who are exclusively touring drummers. If you’re considering it, be aware that touring is not easy and can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health.
Here’s a typical day of the life as a touring drummer. This example focuses on a band traveling in a van who is headlining small clubs around the United States.
You’ll be staying in hotels if you’re lucky. The day begins early as you will be traveling all morning and afternoon to get to the venue by 2PM. Upon arrival, you’ll need to load all your gear and drums into the venue. By 3PM, it’s time for soundcheck. If everything goes off without a hitch (never seems to happen), you’ll have a little break to find something eat near the venue. The opening bands now take their soundcheck. It’s now 8:30PM and is almost time to play your hour and a half long set. Hopefully you aren’t too tired. 10:30PM rolls around and it’s now after the show. It’s time to meet fans and sell merch. If you’re just a touring member, you probably don’t have to do this, but you will be packing up all the gear and loading out. After finishing the load out, it’s now 12AM. Prepare yourself for a two-hour drive to the hotel where you’ll be staying the night. Upon arrival, get to sleep fast, as you’ll need to wake up at 7AM to repeat the day once again.
Touring life really isn’t for everyone, so it makes sense why there are a lot of opportunities in this field. If you’re happy just playing on records, stick to it and become the best you can.
Learning how to become a successful drummer is no easy feat. You’re going to have many hardships along the way and sometimes no success at all. If you have the passion and the drive, you can make it happen. Start small and make sure to be consistent. Whether you’re in a band trying to get your first record off the ground or starting your first YouTube channel, it’s important to keep making videos and stay connected with everyone who watches or listens.
Personally, I believe the no label approach is the way to go in today’s music industry. You can build up a solid following independently using tools like YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and even Facebook. From here, you can create an income from your fans without ever having a record label come in to scoop up the money that should be going to you, the artist, in the first place.
Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below with your thoughts and if you think I left anything out, feel free to share and I will update the article. Thanks for reading.