Become a Session Drummer

Phil Kelly

Junior Member
First, a little background on my career ( this being one of my first posts )

I started my career as a "session drummer" back in the mid 60s ( after about tive years on road bands and working with pop singers of the day ) The requirements back then required you to be an EXCELLENT reader and capable of playing all of the pop styles of the day, but basically being a capable big band drummer first off. All dates were simul with a band spread all over a large room separated by baffles and goboes. There was no cue system.
All the players had to learn to deal with the the "delay " factor and be very sure of their own interior time and not "bend" to anything they might be hearing delayed. The only time a headset was used was when a click track was employed ( and then usually only the drummer, lead trumpet player and conductor if present got them ) The standard recording medioum was 3 track tape. ( From '65 to '70 , the number of tracks rapidly increased from three to 16 and rudimentary cue systems were put into use. )

By 1975, I had pretty much left the playing chores to younger more current rock based players who had the ever enlarging catalog of rock styles down and concentrated on writing, arranging and prodcicing which I still do to this day ( at the age of 73 ). By this point, the process of "building" the tracks had become the rule, and much of the recording was accomplished by overdubbing on a basic skeleton rhythm track ,and the use of electronics began to be felt. As the 80s wore on, the process of electronic tracking became even more and more prevalent ( and the consequent loss of work by seasoned session guys had begun to be noticeable. )

From the 90s onward, more and more work was done by solo musicians using DAWs ,samples and loops. This process really changed the basic way music began to sound
and continued to remove valuable jobs from the session scene. The introduction of tapeless recording, Pro Tools and like systems mad it vastly easier to produce tracks from people all over the world through a cyber connection.

Today ,( being a certified old timer with a specialty in writing for and working with "live " players when required ) most of my work consists of assembling these sub groups where ever they may be and assembling the final product over the internet. A recent project involved remote recording of a basic rhythm section in a small studio in Nashville,
( which I "produced in real time over the phone from my home in the Pacific NW ), sending simultaneous multi track mixes over the internet to a bassist in Dallas and a Guitarist in LA to add thir parts ( again, producing them over the phone ). Eventually, all these tracks were returned to my engineer in Seattle who assembled all these tracks on a Pro Tools "master" which was then finished off with horn Overdubs in Seattle and Tacoma ( which I actually attended )..and then mixed.

All of this just goes to show Bermudas basic point of what the "session players" of the current century will look like : individual players ( many with home studios ) who , via the internet, will either hook up and /or add their individual parts to a project. The only need for actual large recording rooms will be when a large group of acoustic players need to be tracked ( i.e. a full string or horn section that for musical reasons can't be best assembled by "layering" by fewer players ) Regarding the use of drum boxes or loops, I have recorded actual "live "sections usuing a loop or drum track as a basis for recording live remote players, and then having a live drummer replace the reference loop.

so : after this long winded explanation -I think tomorrows "session players " in addition to being monster players in all styles that can read fly droppings, will:

* be familiar with internet file sharing and remote collaboration.

* have the equipment and the facility to their own instrument(s) in their own space.

Traditional session work will still continue in some cases and places ,but It's my opinion more and more recording will be done in the manner I've described.
 

danarchy11

Junior Member
Just to clear everything up, I live in Bronx, NY (moved up here from PA to pursue work as a drummer) and I've been playing over 10 years with and without a metronome behind me, studied music in college and recorded over 10 cds and played well over 1000 shows. The networking aspect is what I'm having most trouble with. I've been networking for years (even a few years before I actually moved to NY) Just wondering if there are any "tricks" to getting noticed but by the looks of it, I'm going about it the right way lol
 

AJNystrom

Member
If you want to get in touch with producers, sound engineers, etc. around the globe (including NYC, obviously) you can check out 1212.com

Also, you can put yourself out there on MusoList and other musician connection sites. If you're willing to do relatively any work you can check out Craigslist.

Basically, networking is putting your info out there in an educated way (If you're fishing for bass, fish where the bass go-- sorry, saw Bermuda's avatar) and putting yourself in a position where the right people will see your stuff.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Basically, networking is putting your info out there in an educated way (If you're fishing for bass, fish where the bass go-- sorry, saw Bermuda's avatar) and putting yourself in a position where the right people will see your stuff.
Speaking of my avatar, you also have to be careful which fish you kiss!
 

AJNystrom

Member
Jon,

SOOO right... so so right! I always make sure to do my homework as best as I can before I take a job. If I don't know them I'll check with other people in my network. If they don't know them and the client seems to be very under the radar you've got to protect yourself
 

Ami

Senior Member
As usual lots of great stuff has been brought up which is great to read.
One thing which all the successful players (on any instrument) I have met have in common, is a good, positive attitude. I think when someone calls a drummer for a session, that drummer is a solution to a problem. The ones who get called back are those who provide the solution without any drama, and certainly without causing a problem.

Good luck with it!
:)
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
In the June 2011 issues of Drum! magazine (with Derrek Roddy on the cover), on page 54, Kenny Arnoff discusses the changing music scene when it comes to session work.

He mentions how it used to be all through the union, and he used to get double, even triple scale, but now if it is a union gig, he only gets scale, and many times, he negotiates lower non-union rates just to be able to keep working.

He also mentions that he and "most drummers in LA" have drum rooms now (i.e. home studios) and having his own studio brings in the work.
 

dairyairman

Platinum Member
i don't see how anyone makes much money doing this. i was visiting the web site of a nashville pro drummer (i can't remember his name!) he's really good and has played with all kinds of famous people. he has a home studio and offers drum tracking services at only $75 per song. that's an amazing deal if you ask me! he's probably so good he can listen to a song a couple times and knock out a perfect drum track in one take. i was thinking that if i set up a home studio i could never compete with that.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
i don't see how anyone makes much money doing this. i was visiting the web site of a nashville pro drummer (i can't remember his name!) he's really good and has played with all kinds of famous people. he has a home studio and offers drum tracking services at only $75 per song. that's an amazing deal if you ask me! he's probably so good he can listen to a song a couple times and knock out a perfect drum track in one take. i was thinking that if i set up a home studio i could never compete with that.
Where I'm a bit lost on is the ROI (Return on investment).

I know how many thousands I have into my home studio, and how much more I would need to get it to be on par with what's expected at that level of a studio. And then extra cymbals, sticks, heads, replacing cables when they go bad, etc. Not to mention rent if it's not in a house you already own,

At $75 a song, even if you average a song a day with no days off, it would take a good year or two just to break even.
 

Ethan01

Senior Member
I think there's a paradigm shift in how music is made now compared to in the 60's-80's. The biggest factor is drummers can get a good sounding kit relatively cheaply and for the music that's popular and sells the band's drummer's take is usually good enough. Fixing up a bad drum take these days is dirt cheap compared to when it cost studios money for TAPE!

All-in-all, it's just a lot cheaper to make music. My advice? Join a band. Do music if you love it, not for money. Thinking you are going to get called in to record sessions on a regular basis is almost a twilight dream these days. Very few do it, and there's less and less reason to continue to do it. And when I say very few, I literally mean maybe 5-10 drummers in l.a., 5-10 drummers in nyc, and 5-10 in nashville. There's just less and less reason for a band to hire a studio drummer and pay them a lot of money when their buddy who's played for 2 years can get a decent sound with some fixing in Pro Tools.
 

chris4355

Member
I think there's a paradigm shift in how music is made now compared to in the 60's-80's. The biggest factor is drummers can get a good sounding kit relatively cheaply and for the music that's popular and sells the band's drummer's take is usually good enough. Fixing up a bad drum take these days is dirt cheap compared to when it cost studios money for TAPE!

All-in-all, it's just a lot cheaper to make music. My advice? Join a band. Do music if you love it, not for money. Thinking you are going to get called in to record sessions on a regular basis is almost a twilight dream these days. Very few do it, and there's less and less reason to continue to do it. And when I say very few, I literally mean maybe 5-10 drummers in l.a., 5-10 drummers in nyc, and 5-10 in nashville. There's just less and less reason for a band to hire a studio drummer and pay them a lot of money when their buddy who's played for 2 years can get a decent sound with some fixing in Pro Tools.
While theres some truth to what you are saying, there are definitely more than 5 to 10 session drummers in LA.... I personally know 3 and they are quite busy.
 
$75 a song is not standard at least not in Australia.
Most guys here do minimum $300 for a 3 hour call, even if its only one song.
I think the guys doing it cheaper are the ones recording the tracks at there home studios and emailing the tracks back across.
 

gusty

Platinum Member
There's really no career path to playing music professionally (there are several 'how do I...' topics on this forum.) Being a great player is important, but that qualification only means something if you land in front of someone who is in a position to hire you, and they also agree that you can play. There's just no way to engineer what are typically chance meetings (read: being in the right place at the right time.)

But that's not meant to discourage you, it's meant to point out that there are things you can do to get your name out there.

Networking is crucial. It doesn't have to be some stuffy or jive meeting, it can be as innocuous as sitting-in at a local jam, and handing your card to anyone who says they like the way you play.

And going to local jams is a good idea. You never know who's sitting-in, or who's just sitting quietly in the shadows, and might be looking for a replacement drummer for their project or band. Therefore, don't treat a jam like a place to cut loose or show off your chops. Treat every song you play as if it was an audition, because it essentially is just that for those who hear you and are making mental notes about whether they like your playing.

But with regard specifically to session work, you have to understand that 1) there are fewer sessions because producers are putting together tracks with programmed drums, 2) more bands have drummers who are capable of making master recordings, so they don't need to hire a session drummer, and 3) the remaining live hired guns are a tight-knit group of pros who don't have that much work as it is. You're basically looking at a career aspect that's just a trickle these days, and it's really hard to break into what's left of it.

Again, not to be discouraging, just letting you know how it is in the real world. They say it's 'who you know', but it's really more about who knows you. Get your name out there, the calls are more likely to come, and there's a better chance you'll run into people who can take you to the next level, and the next, and the next.

Bermuda
Bermuda, so awesome to have pros like you on DW.
 
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