Cynicism and making a living as a musician

drummingman

Gold Member
I have talked with a good number of people about making a living as a performing drummer and i have really come across some people ( Drummers, some in the early 20's, some older) that are horribly cynical. They have such and attitude of jaded negativity about the whole topic. Its like they believe that people that strive to make a living as a performing drummer are just waisting their time and throwing their life away. I think that this is a sad thing because they have no belief that they can be successful as a pro drummer in the style of music that they love (in this case metal). They may feel this way about any style of music. Its like they have lost all hope that the goal of being seccessful as a pro musician can be achieved.

Im not saying that being successful in the music business is easy, it does take a lot of hard work and dedication. But to come at it like it's impossible and to view others that are striving to achieve this goal as foolish i think is a sad thing. I really disagree with the viewpoint that says a person cant be successful as a pro musician in any style of music.

In all of this im talking about making a living as a pro musician playing original music. Just wanted to point that out.

Im wondering what you all here think about this?
 
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joeysnare

Silver Member
Honestly i belive you make your own destiny, let these people continue to fail because of their negativity and generally piss poor attitude.

Id rather fail shooting for the stars than fail wallowing in the mud of my own insecurities.
 

JPW

Silver Member
Well, it's just the money speaking. For those people who want to get paid well and keep a high standard of living it would be a quite risky move to strive to be a professional drummer. Most of them don't make huge amounts of money. It's just reality. But then again, if the low pay doesn't matter, why not pursue your dream? That's why most parents want their kids to go to the med or law school. To secure theirs and their kid's future financially. But no one seems to care how the future is going emotionally.
 

Average

Senior Member
You can make a living playing drums. Getting rich doing it is a lot harder but possible. You'll greatly increase your chances of a little money if you also write music. Shoot for the stars, if you only make it to the moon at least you're not stuck down here with all the douchebags.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Im not saying that being successful in the music business is easy, it does take a lot of hard work and dedication.
And most of all, luck. Hard work, dedication, correct choices and perserverance are important, but there's no automatic career path in the arts the way there is in virtually every other profession in which such dedication has a real likelihood of paying-off. Doing all the 'right' things as a player doesn't necessarily lead anywhere. Being in the right place at the right time is the most important thing a musician or actor can hope for.

But to come at it like it's impossible and to view others that are striving to achieve this goal as foolish i think is a sad thing. I really disagree with the viewpoint that says a person cant be successful as a pro musician in any style of music.
You have to understand that different genres have varying appeal, and the ability to achieve success (regardless of how you want to define it) is commensurate with how many people are interested in hearing that genre. Jazz may be a well-respected genre among musicians, but the fact is, there's very little money to be made playing it and only a relative handful of players have achieved any notoriety (or finacial freedom!) This has nothing to do with what's good, or creative, or whatever. It's just that Jazz is not what most people want to listen to. Same for speed metal, for example. Yes, there are a handful of successful groups and players, but the style has a very niche appeal compared to other styles.

That's not to say you shouldn't pursue the style you enjoy, but you have to know that practice, optimism, and simply wanting it are not enough to get to your goals. So if you have the passion for playing, do it. Do it because you love it... but not because you expect to be successful. That will be the icing on the cake if it happens.

It's not cynicism, it's just how things work at this time in music. Who knows, maybe in another 10 or 20 or 30 years, appreciation of certain genres will dramatically shift.

Bermuda
 
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GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
I just read an article in Drumhead Magazine about Ken Aronoff who drummed for John Cougar Mellencamp and now for John Fogarty, and one of the highlighted sections said"I'm worjing harder now and making less." I find these articles interesting and I'm not sure how many you have read, but the road to success for all of them has been long and hard. I wish not to sound negative but realistic. If you know people, can read music, have no family ties, then go for it and expect to be poor for a long time. It just is that wayfrom most of these bio's I have read.
 

Eric

Senior Member
Well, if you ask me, it's the question itself that's the issue. Those who ask it usually come off as naive and quixotic. The ones who are out there making original music they believe in have had to re-assess their definition of success, and it's probably safe to say that almost none of them are making a living playing original music. Most people aren't getting by just playing music anyway, even if they're compromising their "integrity" by playing music they don't care about. (What I'm doing right now is a combination of playing good original music, bad music that pays, and leaning on the wife who has a day job. I need to make more, though.) Just about all of us are at least teaching lessons, working a part time day-job, living off a wife, girlfriend, parent, trust-fund, or at the very least, playing whatever gig they get called for, including music they don't care for. If it's important to you to play original metal music, then I think that should be your focus. I believe I read a danny carey faq where the question was "What's your advice to a band that wants to get signed?" and his answer essentially was "quit." I totally agree. The scene is too clogged up by idiots who have nothing to say as a musician because they have these romantic ideals about becoming a rock star. Get some part time work or a rich girlfriend or whatever, then focus on making music that matters, do all the b.s. involved with clubs, marketing, whatever, get whatever $ you can and leave it at that. That's my advice.
 

rogue_drummer

Gold Member
I totally agree. The live music scene in my area is in the tank, so to speak. Two bands I'm in have great musicians, but we're having to experience the slimeballs, greed, and poor business practices in dealing with clubs, promoters, and other venues. It's frustrating, to say the least.

One band got completely shafted out of $400.00, and the other couldn't get a small-time promoter to even reveal the name of the venue he was trying to fill and was toying with the $ per head. First he said $42 per head for everyone brought in the door, then he said he "goofed" and didn't hit the $ sign above the 4 on the keyboard when he was typing the amount. Instead it was $2.00 per head. He only "revealed" that mistake after we pressed him on it. Yeah, sure.... After asking 4 times for the venue name and still not getting it, we declined. He even got mad when we asked about getting more per head and a % of the bar receipts. Simple questions, right? Two guys in the band would have to travel over 40 miles just to make the gig. The last email I received from the poser said "all slots are full now"....

So yeah, I'm burned out....
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Well, if you ask me, it's the question itself that's the issue. Those who ask it usually come off as naive and quixotic.
Playing music is very alluring, but not everyone knows how 'the business' works. At least there are places like this where the question can be asked and players with varied experience and in varied economic situations can reply. When I was young and hopeful, there was no easy way to reach anyone to talk about it.

Now I'm old, still hopeful, and I talk about it all the time! :)

Bermuda
 

volvoguy

Senior Member
When you're young, the sky seems to be the limit. Once you get a bit older, you get a bit more realistic.

There is soooo much luck involved with becoming a "professional musician", and the bottom can fall out at anytime. As a drummer, it makes no real difference how good you are (well, perhaps as a session musician), it's about the outfit that you're in.

One of the smarter things my Dad said is, "Money won't make you happy, but being broke all the time sure can make you unhappy."

As a reference point, 40 hours a week at minimum wage here in the states hardly gets you through a no-frills existence. Don't forget health care.

Bottom line, is give it a try if you want, but have a "Plan-B". There's a difference between cynicism and being realistic.

-Ryan
 

mrchattr

Gold Member
I'm actually making a living as a drummer, and I'm still very cynical about the business. It's a horrible, horrible business, filled with a lot of bad people, depressing set-backs, and painful changes in perspective (like being told you are the best band the owner has ever had, sincerely (and I know it's true, 'cause he actually started coming to our other shows), but that you don't get enough people, so he's not paying you for the night, or having you back).

Another thing that sucks is that, in my experience (I do all of these), the pecking order (as far as how you are paid and how you are treated) is:
Studio musicians
Teaching

Theatre work/fill in shows



Cover Bands












Original Bands.

Sad, but true. It's one thing to say that you are going to make it as a musician. In general, you have some control over that. There is still luck involved, but there are also a lot of opportunities that you can find out there. To say that you are going to make it as a drummer in an original band, without any of that other stuff? Well, it happens, obviously, but even many of the drummers who play with original acts started their careers with all of that other stuff, too. I mean, the original band I'm in has played all over our local areas, Philly, New Jersey, done some New York City gigs (including playing the Bitter End), have been featured on the covers of local music magazines, have gotten glowing reviews of our shows and albums, etc...but we are still less respected and make less money per show, by far, than the cover band I am in. I couldn't be making a living off just the original stuff, and yet, I have had more success with that band than most musicians ever experience.
 

mikeg

Senior Member
Many of the responses that you perceive as negative may be coming from people who have tried making a go of it and found it tougher than they were willing to live with. I've been playing in clubs since I was 16 and I'm 49 now. The clubs were paying more money back in the 70s and 80s than they are today and even then I knew I wanted a higher standard of living than what a club playing musician could earn. These days, I have a good job and though it isn't playing music, I get my music fix on the weekends. If you feel strongly about playing music as a way of life, give it a shot. If you have the chops and bit of luck, who knows?
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Honestly i belive you make your own destiny, let these people continue to fail because of their negativity and generally piss poor attitude.

Id rather fail shooting for the stars than fail wallowing in the mud of my own insecurities.
I'll agree with this.

I recall twenty years ago, I got a lot of the same attitudes from some drummers/musicians, and this was the 80's when bands were getting signed left and right!
Plenty of older drummers who hadn't made it had poor attitudes, and would tell me it's not possible, don't even try, etc.

But at the same time, don't confuse a poor attitude with people attempting to give you realistic advice.

The opportunities are so much fewer and far between these days.
Read Hal Blaine's book "The Wrecking Crew" and he talks about how for ten years before he broke into the studio scene he supported himself playing strip clubs and bars; and note that most of these venues don't have bands anymore.
In Mick Feetwood's autobiography, he says when he moved to London at 16, he immediately found enough work playing small clubs to support himself, even thought he could barely play, just because he owned his own drum set. Today, millions of kids own their own drum set, and most clubs don't pay that much to bands.
And while not a drummer, if you read Grace Slick's autobiography, she mentions she started her 1st band (pre-Jefferson Airplane) because she made more at night playing clubs than working her day job. Today, the reverse would be true.

Is it still possible? Heck yes. I remember when System of Down was just another local LA band, playing the same clubs I played, getting press in the same local rags my bands were in, and now they're legends. I remember when Static-X was just another LA band before they were signed to Warner Brothers. I've met several other players long before they became well known drummers.

It can, and does happen.

But at the same time, the opportunities are fewer and farther in-between.
30 years ago, many people supported themselves fully just being musicians, even if they weren't well known. Doing jingles, demos, small sessions, and playing clubs. Now all that work has been replaced by drum machines, loops, samples and DJs. Now only the cream of the crop actually support themselves in music.

And you would be amazed at the number of musicians who you would think would be set who have day jobs, or 2nd sources of income, because music doesn't actually make them enough to get by. Or the number of musicians in Hollywood who once had hit records, but still live in small apartments that can barely pay their rent.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
I'm making a decent living as a musician, and I get to work with a LOT of people.

HEADS UP!!! One of the main reasons musicians DON'T get hired is their cynical, bitter attitude. Even if they have better chops than another player, the band leader/booker will more often hire musicians who are easy to work with, have a positive attitude, and will make the band look better and more professional overall. Complaining, grumpiness, bitterness, etc...these are not traits you want to be known for, as they will prevent you from getting gigs!

I know some great players that I've worked with, and they just.....don't......get......many......gigs! When I talk with other musicians/bandleaders/venues/agents about it, they all say the same things: It's their attitude that reflects negatively on the whole experience of the gigs they're at;
1. They grumble during load-in and load-out
2. When you talk with them, they always tell you how much of a struggle their life is
3. They don't visit with the crowd during breaks--they seclude themselves
4. Their negativity works its way onto the stage during the performance (BIG no-no)

You basically carve the path you make in life and your outlook along the way. If you're bitter because you haven't "made it" yet, then chances are you'll never feel like you've "made it", ever, no matter what you've accomplished. I feel, in most cases, that these people aren't bitter because they didn't make it, but rather they were bitter to begin with, and they are self-fulfilling their own prophesy/destiny. Be happy with what you've done, hopeful for where you might go, and determined to move forward. But, of course, be realistic...
 

drummingman

Gold Member
Thanks all for your thoughts.

I am very positive about being able to make a living as a drummer in an original band. As is i teach drums, i have been doing that for a good number of years as is. My goal is to paly as full time as possible in a Christian metal band playing all venues, Christian and non-Christian.

I also believe that people that are negative about being successful may very well never be successful because of their negativity.

Also, any advice that anyone can give on the the business of music i would really like to hear it.
 
D

DamoSyzygy

Guest
I have talked with a good number of people about making a living as a performing drummer and i have really come across some people ( Drummers, some in the early 20's, some older) that are horribly cynical. They have such and attitude of jaded negativity about the whole topic. Its like they believe that people that strive to make a living as a performing drummer are just waisting their time and throwing their life away. I think that this is a sad thing because they have no belief that they can be successful as a pro drummer in the style of music that they love (in this case metal). They may feel this way about any style of music. Its like they have lost all hope that the goal of being seccessful as a pro musician can be achieved.

Im not saying that being successful in the music business is easy, it does take a lot of hard work and dedication. But to come at it like it's impossible and to view others that are striving to achieve this goal as foolish i think is a sad thing. I really disagree with the viewpoint that says a person cant be successful as a pro musician in any style of music.

In all of this im talking about making a living as a pro musician playing original music. Just wanted to point that out.

Im wondering what you all here think about this?
Remember, theres luck and money that need to go into the equation too, but the biggest things Ive noticed that lets bands down particularly metal bands is that they just are NOT organised as bands, and care too much about their music as opposed to other (more) important factors.

Not to sound jaded myself here, but if you are trying to make it big (and thats getting harder everyday also) you CANNOT afford to think that your music matters as much as you like it too, especially if youre playing metal, which globally is a niche market style anyway. Nowadays, you can expose yourselves to a greater audience by NOT playing a venue and instead uploading stuff from home, anyway - But what Im talking about is owning the business side of what you do.

Sadly, musicians are so intimate with the music that they make, that they refuse to see the world around it and see that its a bigger world. The promotion, walking the walk, talking the talk - being PROFESSIONAL both on and offstage, being able to negotiate better conditions and opportunities for your band. Having a website, possibly merchandise, booking/turning down the right shows at the right times and places, etc etc is essential.

We cannot assume that we're going to be lucky enough to be playing to an industry scout at the back of an empty bar one night and he's going to magically jet us off to stardom. In fact, I question whether these kinds of people even exist anymore, and if they do, theyre more likely to be scouting Facebook or myspace for bands that have already started getting the recognition, as this makes it less of a risk for the label.

I have always contended that a band needs to govern itself as much as possible. In this industry, Ive seen more people out there trying to screw you for their 10% than actually
offering to 'help' you as a band. Get to know these people and beat them at their own game. This means dressing like them, talking like them, taking their opportunities and capitalizing on every single one of them.

The 'game' sucks sometimes, but thats the game were playing, and the only way you can possibly win the game is to learn the rules and practise.
 

con struct

Platinum Member
My goal is to paly as full time as possible in a Christian metal band playing all venues, Christian and non-Christian.
My advice to you is to keep your religion to yourself. If your goal is actually to restrict yourself to playing only with other Christians you'll soon find yourself working a day job. The music business is as secular as it gets, make no mistake.

Is there even such a thing as a Christian metal venue?

Playing music well enough to get paid for it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with being in the life to the fullest extent possible. That's where you make your contacts, that's where you make your reputation and that's where you'll either succeed or fail. Either way, nobody's going to care what you believe in.
 

drummingman

Gold Member
My advice to you is to keep your religion to yourself. If your goal is actually to restrict yourself to playing only with other Christians you'll soon find yourself working a day job. The music business is as secular as it gets, make no mistake.

Is there even such a thing as a Christian metal venue?

Playing music well enough to get paid for it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with being in the life to the fullest extent possible. That's where you make your contacts, that's where you make your reputation and that's where you'll either succeed or fail. Either way, nobody's going to care what you believe in.
I want to share my belief in jesus and his love through my music. In my Christian metal band i do want all the members to be fellow Christians. If i cant find all christian members then im cool if non-Christians join the band. But they will have to be cool with the fact that we are a Christian band.

Yes, there are Christian clubs (club 3 degrees in Minneapolis is one). And then there are churches and other venues to play that are Christian.

I will also play in other bands with Christian and non-Christian members as long as they dont have a problem with me being a devout Christian.
 

mcbike

Silver Member
Actually you have more chance making it in christian music than in secular music. There are alot more successful christian bands and they basically have their own audience. I know christian metal isn't as popular as christian contemporary or christian alternative.

I always felt like christian bands have an advantage because their scene is subsidized by churches.

I don't listen to christian music or metal but I'm pretty sure there are some successful bands like underoath, and as i lay dying. P.O.D. went multi-platnium.

It worked for STRYPER!
 

Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
I want to share my belief in jesus and his love through my music. In my Christian metal band i do want all the members to be fellow Christians. If i cant find all christian members then im cool if non-Christians join the band. But they will have to be cool with the fact that we are a Christian band.
Yes, there are Christian clubs (club 3 degrees in Minneapolis is one). And then there are churches and other venues to play that are Christian.

I will also play in other bands with Christian and non-Christian members as long as they dont have a problem with me being a devout Christian.
Your core vaules are yours and yours alone mate.....horses for courses etc. If your belief system is what floats your boat, then I'll never argue with that. BUT, that said, I'm not sure this is the best approach going forward. I can only offer secular advice here, but personally speaking, how can you open up a 'christian band' to someone who doesn't share those core values? Just sounds like a recipe for conflict to me. I honestly think you'd be better served concentrating on people who are 'like minded'.

The only reason why I question this, is that I have 'born again' parents. They are family, yet we STILL have our degree of conflict over this issue (they are believers, I think it's either rubbish or if true, then god has disappointed us all and has a lot to answer for!!).....either way, this mix of secular and believers doesn't promote harmony in a band situation IMO. I think you'd be better served building a band with people who are more 'in tune' with your beliefs.

With, this scenario....forget cynicism over 'making it as a muso'......there'll be more 'cynicism' over internal beliefs and that just can't be good for the common goal.
 
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