THIS POST IS HUGE BUT READ IT IF YOU WANT SOME UPLIFTING INFO!
A while ago, I was checking out some Neil Peart videos, trying to see what he did in a solo context that made him so great. Now, this isn't the place for slagging off Neil Peart; I've said before I'm not a great fan, but there is no denying that he is immensely good at what he does. I was just trying to understand how he played. In the context of this little anecdote, though, it's everything.
Anyway, I didn't enjoy the solos from a drummers perspective; loads of showmanship, of course, but couldn't see what everyone was raving about. No matter. I found some songs he was playing on and enjoyed them a lot more.
Now, a comment I found on one of these videos was attacking Neil Peart. I took offense at this, after watching all the other videos he was playing on, and we had a huge heated argument about why we had these conflicting views, which soon got kinda personal. I figured it would be better to apologize, because I was speaking in a horrible tone, arguing against someone who I kinda had the same opinion with. We exchanged opinions, and I found out this guy was in his 50's, who had been drumming since the late 50's. I had immense respect for him, and we soon reached an understanding.
This person is an artist in every sense of the way. A few weeks ago, I spoke to Lew Hunter, the greatest screenwriter in the world, about how inspiring I found his book on screenwriting to be. The response I got was one of an artist, full of love and compassion and the real drive to help me get better. Similarly, this drummer responded in a very similar tone; with experience, care and determination, but also with the seriousness of those who understand the concept of drumming as an art do. He said I could ask him about anything at all; I asked him, how plausible is it for someone, who is so incredibly passionate about drumming, who practices all the time, with or without sticks, on it or off, to create a career out of it?
This is the incredible response I got.
"Let me tell you a story. In 1970 when I was 15 I took a bus trip of about 3,000 from my east coast home town to Los Angelas. The purpose was to spend 10 days with a family friend (a man that my father grew up with) that was a semi famous professional drummer and he became my mentor from the time I was 5 untill his death in the mid 1990's. He was a long distance mentor and would constantly write me and teach me about drums. Well, a year before that, he had told the great drum legend Louie Bellson about me. Louie sent me an autographed picture in '69 and EVERY letter from then on that I wrote to Louie, he replied. Now, imagine, it's 1970 and only one year B4 Lou sent me this picture. When I arrived in L.A I went to the drum shop in Hollywood. I told the owner of the drum shop that if there was any way...I wanted to meet Louie before I left and went back home. That night, I get a call from the drum shop and the owner tells me that Louie would drive from his home....over 100 miles away...to spend the next day with me at the drum shop. So, round trip for Louie was over 200 miles, to spend an afternoon with this 15 year old kid that wanted to meet him. We had a wonderful time, and that was the start of my relationship with the great Louie Bellson that continues to this day. I see him once or twice a month.
The point of that story is...I made a vow when I was 15 after that happened, that when I became an adult, I would never turn away a younger person if I could help them. That day at the drum shop had a profound effect on me that continues to this day almost 40 years later!
Other things that I have been taught with my association with Louie, my studies with Alan Dawson at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and my original mentor is that the learning never stops. The next paragraph is of SUPREME IMPORTANCE!
I want you to embrace the concept of "NOW". Now is all we have...whenever now is. The past is a memory and the future is a dream. NOW is all we have. That is never so obvious as when you are performing. Each moment you are in the now. MAKE IT COUNT. Everytime you play, play as if it's the last time you will ever play. It just MIGHT be your last time. And...for that matter, make every second of every day count. You are now in the now. Do not regret what you didn't get done because you can do it now. See what I mean? Not even the richest man in the world can get back time that they have lost. It's gone. BUT, you DO have NOW.
Learn to read music. It's a method of communication just like written words. Learning to read music is NOT rocket science. It's easy and logical if you keep your mind open to learning it. ANYTHING you want to know in music is written down somewhere. It will NOT stifle and hinder your creativity...it will ENHANCE it. Being able to read music will take the mystery out of many things and IN FACT will save you a lot of time when you try to learn something new. By the same token, if possible, start taking lessons with someone who has a REALLY good reputation of being a great drum teacher. The way to do this is to ask people you know are really good players who their teacher was/is. I mean REALLY good players. Don't cheat yourself. You want someone who will make you work hard and practice the RIGHT things; Reading drum charts, reading snare drum music, rudiments, 4-way co-ordination on drum set, standard drum set rhythms of every style, phrasing.
If you don't have one, get a metronome. USE IT! It will show you your tendencies. After all, our job is being experts of time, right? Get a practice pad too. You may already have these things and know the things I mention in this important letter to you. I only say this letter is important because...have you ever had anyone outline the things I am outlining for you? Make copies of this letter. Read it often.
Now, to answer your question...
1st, you must KNOW without a doubt that this is what you passionatley want to do. This is what you are on this earth for. Do not second guess yourself. Understand however, that you will ALWAYS be between gigs. AS you know, it's not a 9 am to 5 pm job. So, you MUST make yourself marketable to the widest possible areas in music. Don't wait to be "discovered" because you will be very disappointed. Here is what my concept of being marketable was and is. I became experienced and very well versed in many many types of music. I LOVE jazz, but I knew early on that if I only played jazz...UNLESS I was in a big name long term jazz group, I would be starving. So...realizing that there are gigs everywhere all the time...I thought...the best way to deal with this is....DON'T GIVE ANY BAND LEADER A REASON TO NOT HIRE ME. So, what does that mean you ask? It means learning and getting experience in playing many styles VERY well. CONVINCINGLY!
I make my living playing drums. I am what is called a "1st call" drummer. But along with playing big band and small band jazz, I play rock gigs, pop gigs, studio gigs, all style gigs, blues gigs, reggae gigs, latin gigs, country gigs,and even on occasion I have played with the symphony. On latin gigs for example I needed to learn to convincingly play mambo, rhumbs, bossa nova, tango, baion, many types of samba, and many other rhythms. So, when a band leader needs a drummer, I wanted my name to be the 1st name they thought of.
2nd thing (and I've done this my whole life) is be familier with standard tunes of many different styles. I'm sure that by now I know somewhere between 10 to 20 thousand songs. I have no idea. Just be listening to music all the time.
Learn about phrasing. 4, 8, 12 bar phrases. Then even if you don't know the song, you can hear how the song is constructed with how many measures are in each phrase of the song.
Play with as many musicians as you can in as many different styles and situations.
Sure, it's cool to "be in a band" and rehearse you tunes. But, are you going to wait around until that 1 band gets a break? Don't waste time. Rehearse, BUT ALSO play with as many other people too. LEARN with the suggestions I've mentioned.
Always have a paper and pen handy to write down ideas and things you want to learn about. Ideas come and then are forgotten. Write them down.
One way to accellerate your progress is to start transcribing drum parts note for note of other drummers you hear on recordings. Start simple. The more you do it the better and more advanced you will get.
So, the answer to your question is YES! it IS VERY plausable to make a living playing drums IF and ONLY IF you are TOTALLY commited to a lifetime of learning and improving. You've GOT to be committed. Are you committed ENOUGH to do the things I outlined? THAT is the REAL question.
You have time on your side to get REALLY good...but you will need to work hard as every really good drummer has done and continues to do. The learning will never stop.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, GET THE BOOK
EFFORTLESS MASTERY BY KENNY WERNER.
READ THIS BOOK MANY TIMES! (you don't really need to listen to the CD that comes with it as much as you need to read the book....getting this book will change your life as a musician."
Honestly, I still can't write a reply to this. I'm so stunned and moved by it. This person speaks straight to my soul. Ever since I picked up sticks, I've said to myself "this is what I'm going to do, this is what has to be done". But now I have had such a change of perspective. To be a 'first call' drummer... a band drummer would be fantastic, but, as Cliff Burton always said, "there will always be some kid in a garage somewhere, better than you". I want to be that kid in the garage. Even if I don't get out of small clubs, even if I hardly have enough cash to pay the rent... I want to be the number one name on everyone's lips when they need a drummer.
I have never been so inspired as I am now. God, I love art.