The pros and cons ... or the cons of pros

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
There's a side discussion going on about what's good and not good about being a pro drummer in the self-taught thread. I feel it deserves its own thread.

You could probably throw a stone in here (figuratively speaking) and hit someone who had once wanted to be a pro but life got in the way. Let's find out what we missed out on! Let the up-and-comers find out what they are really hoping for.

Skitch & Jay, you might want to copy and paste to save re-writing if you decide to post.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
We're just talking about people who work as musicians for a living, right? We're not talking about the upper-1% of people who achieve some kind of stardom, I hope?

Then those of us who attempted to make a living at, or did at one point, would qualify for this discussion?

It's funny being a sound guy at Disneyland because the musicians I meet are all working towards the day they never have to play anymore. It's kind of a running joke here, and musicians that work for the mouse have it a little better than those who don't, but alot of the same challenges face them.

When I was younger all I wanted to do was play and be able to make a living at it. To an extent I achieved some of that, but as life took over, I began to see what I was really hoping for:

Never taking a vacation - let's face it, as a musician you are somebody's vacation!
Never earning money when you did take a vacation - and you didn't have enough when you were working.
Unless you had alot of money in the bank, you weren't seeing a doctor, either. Your average emergency room visit in Southern California is about $1500. More if you need tests (you ever watch 'House'? Yeah, every case who comes in must have insurance, eh?)
No retirement, again, a money flow issue, when you only get enough to pay your current bills, how do you put anything away for the days when you physically can't play anymore?

I just didn't see myself as getting into my 50s and having to live with a number of people in a rented house. There is a Musician's Union that helps with benefits and such, but you have to be able to get and keep the Union gigs to make that a reality. I know there are people who do, it just wasn't me.

I'm not down on people attempting to be pros. I was young and arrogant enough to not look at the reality of my situation and what I wanted out of life. I don't want to "push an image", but I grew up in middle class America with mom and dad in a house and they worked hard for me to be able to play drums and do what I wanted to do. As I got older, that was the type of life I wanted for myself: house, cars, the ability to live and get taken care of when you get sick. The ability to replace things that get destroyed, the ability to eat when you were hungry, that kind of thing. I wasn't asking for much.

When you put those things in perspective to how much you're earning to pay for it, playing music is hard. Some of our youngin's will immediately chastise me for not working hard enough, or not wanting it enough, or just plain sayin', "the ol' man is wrong. What does he know, anyway? He ain't me."

It's expensive to be poor these days. Ask guys who live and play in New York. You're always paying for something. As a professional musician, you end up sacrificing alot. The food you eat, the place you live, the clothes you wear, the car you drive. After a while you get tired of being poor (I think I said that enough to my friends) and just want to have a life, you know?

I know people who are very successful as musicians, though. It's a good gig if you can get it.
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
Never taking a vacation - let's face it, as a musician you are somebody's vacation!
Not true. In fact, I have more control over my schedule than most people and can simply decide not to book gigs/lessons during a period that I want to take off. Depped out a gig and rescheduled 3 lessons to go to Wales this weekend, in fact. Don't like losing the gig fee, but the guy I depped will likely return the favour one day. Things have a way of working themselves out.

Never earning money when you did take a vacation - and you didn't have enough when you were working.
It depends on how well you do. Last year my wife and I had a 4 day break in Amsterdam and Brussels and a longer holiday in Canada. We'll be going back to Canada next summer, as well. If you make teaching part of your income, a lot of your schedule will be effected by school terms. Here in the UK, I get a week off every 6-7 weeks during which I teach privately, woodshed profusely and generally make a nuisance of myself around the house.

Unless you had alot of money in the bank, you weren't seeing a doctor, either. Your average emergency room visit in Southern California is about $1500. More if you need tests (you ever watch 'House'? Yeah, every case who comes in must have insurance, eh?)
Well, I can't help you there. But you could move to a civilised state/country that provides some form of basic health care for all its citizens and taxpayers. Or, you could work on cruise ships where healthcare is provided. Or you could work as a teacher in schools and have a healthcare plan. Or you could work for a large corporation, like Disney; It's my understanding they have a health scheme for their employees, do they not? Or you could simply squirrel a little money away into a Blue Cross plan each month. A few less pints = a little more peace of mind.

No retirement, again, a money flow issue, when you only get enough to pay your current bills, how do you put anything away for the days when you physically can't play anymore?
Again, this depends on your income. I have a pension fund that I contribute to on a monthly basis, and being a private arrangement (i.e. not state-run) I can up or lower the contributions as needed.

I just didn't see myself as getting into my 50s and having to live with a number of people in a rented house.
Then don't do that.
 
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Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Yeah Bo. You qualify. Interesting thoughts. As with any job, your security really depends on your income, I guess. Must say that having paid holidays and sick leave and an employer putting in for my super is good. On the other hand, I have to front up at the office each day ...
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I'm not sure how much I can add to the conversation. I have a high-profile gig and also play around L.A. in 3 other bands, and each complements and somewhat enables the other. At the risk of being immodest, I won't divulge anything about my lifestyle, but I will say I feel privileged to make a good living as a musician.

Bermuda
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
If you make teaching part of your income, a lot of your schedule will be effected by school terms. ..... Or you could work as a teacher in schools .
That's a big IF though.

Obviously, people do support themselves teaching, and that is making a living from drumming, and many "pros" include teaching as part of what they do, but to me, that is a separate item from making a living "playing" drums.

IF you make enough money from playing, and teach because you want to, OK. But if you HAVE to teach to make ends meet, that's not much different than having any other day job, other than at least it involves drums. It's a non-playing obligation.

I taught drum lessons near San Francisco for a bit. Then I moved to LA, and there were 4 drum teachers on my block, and another 6 around the corner, and another 100 drum teachers with in few miles of me. There was almost as much competition for students as there are for gigs. A much different environment than being out in the suburbs.
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
That's a big IF though. Obviously, people do support themselves teaching, and that is making a living from drumming, and many "pros" include teaching as part of what they do, but to me, that is a separate item from making a living "playing" drums.
Sure, but education/teaching has long been something that professional players do. Heck, some orchestral gigs come with a teaching chair at the local university music program. Players from the Boston Symphony have been teaching at Boston University and the NEC going back decades. Vic Firth has been teaching at NEC from the moment he graduated. Tim Genis, who took over from Vic in the BS is now the Principle Timpanist and the Head of the Percussion program at BU. Interestingly, Vic started a small company turning sticks using equipment he'd purchased to turn sticks/mallets for himself and for the other percussionists he worked with to make some money on the side. We all know how that turned out. Listen to Tommy Igoe talk about his youth and his dad, Sonny, having students when he wasn't on the road or busy in New York. I used to hear the "I'm a player" bit from all the guys who were teaching at the universities and colleges in Toronto. And they were the absolute bees knees of local players. But, there they were...

IF you make enough money from playing, and teach because you want to, OK. But if you HAVE to teach to make ends meet, that's not much different than having any other day job, other than at least it involves drums. It's a non-playing obligation.
It's still being involved in music and making your living from your skill as a player. I can't teach if I don't know what I'm doing. You can't teach a student how to make it as a professional if you aren't in the business. In the end, it's my skill as a player that allows me to have a successful teaching practice. The better you are, the better the students you can take on, and the more money you make.

Those that make their living entirely from playing are a very rare breed. And even many top pros supplement their incomes with educational stuff, clinics, DVDs, etc. Look around the forum here and see how many great players are flogging educational material - Todd Sucherman, Pat Petrillo, Fran Merante, etc. You simply must have plenty of irons in the fire these days, whether they be playing obligations or other drumming-related activities. So, I play, I teach, I write, I consult, I do whatever it takes. Believe me, having my income entirely from music is waaaaaaaaaay better than some of the jobs I've held in the past. Even on the worst day, I've probably still had sticks in my hands for 4 hours and talked about drums and been paid to do it. That's a damn sight better than slinging pints at the local pub. Believe me. There is less and less paying live music work all the time. Diversification is simply shrewd survival skills.
 
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Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Yeah Bo. You qualify. Interesting thoughts. As with any job, your security really depends on your income, I guess. Must say that having paid holidays and sick leave and an employer putting in for my super is good. On the other hand, I have to front up at the office each day ...
I admit - with Disney - I'm just another cog in the wheel. Well, it is the biggest entertainment corporation in the world with over 100K employees world wide. For all its warts though, it is a nice wheel.

I'm not sure if I agree with the teaching angle, either. I participated in that part of college (music education) while there, and I discovered that all of my friends who finished it and went on to get jobs as music educators - that's a whole 'nother can of worms. Private students? You might as well be trying to be a playing musician - everybody and their mother teaches out here in LA. You're hustling around just as much.

Really, I'm not lazy. I just realized that what I want to do is be a performing drummer-vocalist in a great band. I'll take the day job so I can pursue just that, and have all the fringe benefits of being a highly-paid employee for somebody else's vision. I have a wife and a house to worry about - and she's slogged through enough hard times when I was working as just a musician. Her goals are mine too - traveling especially - but maintaining our status in the middle class is not a bad thing, especially in this crappy economy. I take nothing for granted.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Obviously, people do support themselves teaching, and that is making a living from drumming, and many "pros" include teaching as part of what they do, but to me, that is a separate item from making a living "playing" drums.

IF you make enough money from playing, and teach because you want to, OK. But if you HAVE to teach to make ends meet, that's not much different than having any other day job, other than at least it involves drums. It's a non-playing obligation.
Well, that's reality of the business. Virtually every pro (not sure why you use the scare quotes) I know relies on teaching and/or other non-performance income to get by. At least they supplement. Personally, I have paid my dues and don't need to keep taking bad out of town gigs just to consider myself a professional in your or anyone else's eyes.

Unless you're lucky(?) enough to make an ample living just showing up to gigs to play other people's music and doing nothing else, you are going to have these "non-playing obligations"- teaching, writing, booking gigs/tours, making demos and creating other promotional content, promoting your CD/band/business, doing web and graphic design, producing and selling CDs and other merchandise, applying for grants, and on and on. That's what being a professional musician is.

Re: the original question, the pros and cons-
I don't think the good and bad points of being a musician ever entered the equation for me. The only question was (and is) "how am I going to make this work?"
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Well, that's reality of the business. Virtually every pro (not sure why you use the scare quotes) I know relies on teaching and/or other non-performance income to get by. At least they supplement. Personally, I have paid my dues and don't need to keep taking bad out of town gigs just to consider myself a professional in your or anyone else's eyes.

Unless you're lucky(?) enough to make an ample living just showing up to gigs to play other people's music and doing nothing else, you are going to have these "non-playing obligations"- teaching, writing, booking gigs/tours, making demos and creating other promotional content, promoting your CD/band/business, doing web and graphic design, producing and selling CDs and other merchandise, applying for grants, and on and on. That's what being a professional musician is.
I'm not sure why I used the scare quotes either. LOL.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against teaching. I know plenty of people who make their living teaching and gigging, or used to teach before they got too busy gigging. I've taken lessons from many of them!

But to what I took from Polly's initial post, when we're young and dreaming of one day making it, touring, recordings and such, the writing, booking, promoting go along with the dream of being a professional drummer . I don't know how many kids dream about one day becoming a drum teacher though. Some, I'm sure, I know some people do dream of becoming teachers, but giving drum lessons seems to be more of something most people get into to supplement their income, not because it's part of their dream.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. We all do what we have to do.

I just don't agree with the assumption that teaching is an integral part of being a professional, nor that taking up teaching erases some of the negative aspects that come with trying to be a professional musician any more than any other day job does.

As Bo said, private lessons can be like hustling gigs, especially when one finds themselves surrounded by hundreds of other drummers attempting to do the same thing.
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
I just don't agree with the assumption that teaching is an integral part of being a professional, nor that taking up teaching erases some of the negative aspects that come with trying to be a professional musician any more than any other day job does.
Well, I didn't say it was, however it has been an integral part of many, many professional musician's careers for eons. The point of bringing it up was by way of suggestions for things to do to mitigate some of the negatives that Bo was talking about. The world is full of compromises and opportunities, it all depends on how you tilt your head whether you see one or the other.

But on the second point, I didn't say it "erases" anything, but moreover I disagree that it's no different than any other day job. Slinging pints in a pub or stocking shelves at the supermarket doesn't put back into the music industry quite the same way that teaching does. And beyond thinking of "industries" and "profit" teaching allows me to be involved in music, which is my passion. I just finished teaching a lesson, and for an hour I got to work on improving my student's ability to play music. We talked about fills that fit the genre of the piece he's learning. We talked about what those fills do and how they lead us from section to section. We talked about ideas for improvising and spicing up a simple part in a particular genre. We listened to, and discussed the famous Motown fills of Uriel Jones, Pistol Pete, etc.

Funny thing, though, those are all things that I have to think about as a professional player. And beyond that, they're things I really dig thinking and talking about. So for an hour, I was working on music. I was working on my playing. I was practicing music - in the sense that a doctor "practices" medicine and in the sense that I was "practicing" the skills that I need to work as a player. It all feeds back into my playing. And it does far more for my playing and musicianship than working behind a desk ever did - and I did that for a bit, amongst other things. And finally, it allows me to pass on the wisdom and knowledge accumulated not just in my life, but in those of my teachers. And that's important to me. Far more important than washing dishes could ever be.
 
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Living Dead Drummer

Platinum Member
It's not easy at all to make a full time living off of music.
Teaching private lessons has helped pad the monthly income because with recording and touring it's always a temp situation. For example, last month a did a lot of gigs, shot a new music video and made a decent amount of money with all of it. This month, I don't have as many gigs booked yet and money is a lot tighter. I live month to month and work as had as I can just to make sure my rent is paid on time.

But I can say this, I would never trade any of it for the world. I love the fact that playing the drums is my job, I am so not cut out for the 9-5 life and even though I make little money I can say I am doing what I want for a living.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
But to what I took from Polly's initial post, when we're young and dreaming of one day making it, touring, recordings and such, the writing, booking, promoting go along with the dream of being a professional drummer . I don't know how many kids dream about one day becoming a drum teacher though. Some, I'm sure, I know some people do dream of becoming teachers, but giving drum lessons seems to be more of something most people get into to supplement their income, not because it's part of their dream.
Yes DED, that's what I said but back in the day I would have settled for being a music pro in any capacity other than selling gear. That was the dream. I type this from my work's 22nd floor open plan workstation (lovely view) at what I have deemed as my morning tea break ...


Nothing wrong with that, of course.
Yes Jerry :)
 

con struct

Platinum Member
Skitch & Jay, you might want to copy and paste to save re-writing if you decide to post.
I don't think I can comment, in all fairness, but I will anyway.

When I started out you could get a gig just by walking out your front door almost. This was in the early seventies when there were nightclubs all over the city and those clubs needed musicians.

Working in clubs led to meeting all sorts of really good players, professionals (meaning that they played music for a living) who could play and who knew the business and before you knew it you had many connections, which led to still more connections and eventually it was just the life you were living. There wasn't anything else. And the money was good, very good. Now I was young and strong and could stay up for days at a time just living the life, following the next lead so to speak.

I got to do a lot of studio work, got to do some travelling, got to meet a lot of very interesting people and there were times when the money was great. Lots of guys from my generation did exactly the same thing. And none of us had the kind of careers that young people these days would consider to be succesful, not by today's standards.

But we worked and we made some dough and we bought houses and cars and we grew up and got married and that was life. Nobody knew who we were, none of the guys like me ever got interviewed by Rolling Stone or Modern Drummer and none of us will ever be remembered.

When the nightclubs were finally gone a big part of the process of getting your feet wet in the music business was gone too. So these days the focus is on getting in a band that will be self-sustaining. Really the focus is on getting in a band that will make it more-or-less big.

Back when I was playing and living music twenty-four hours a day being in a band didn't matter. Getting the next gig was all that mattered, getting the money gigs and doing the job better than the last drummer who'd had that gig. When you reached the level where most of the gigs were money gigs you were doing alright, doing alright. Some of us did very well. Some of us did just okay. I fall into the middle somewhere.

At my age the idea of living like that now fills me with dread. But I did it because it was there to do. I don't know what there is to do now, not for someone who's embarking on a career as a professional drummer.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Jay, I've heard this rave from you before but in parts - but now you've joined all the dots. Really interesting stuff. I think the journeyman (journeyperson?) players still exist but they would be gigging a lot less than in your day and augmenting their income with lessons, the odd studio date, demo sessions, working in music shops and probably other things I don't know about.

The new model for "making it" - through viral web videos - seems to be about as lottery-like as the old way, ie. being picked up by an A&R person, although I imagine the odds would be longer now.
 

Skitch

Pioneer Member
Not true. In fact, I have more control over my schedule than most people and can simply decide not to book gigs/lessons during a period that I want to take off. Depped out a gig and rescheduled 3 lessons to go to Wales this weekend, in fact. Don't like losing the gig fee, but the guy I depped will likely return the favour one day. Things have a way of working themselves out.



It depends on how well you do. Last year my wife and I had a 4 day break in Amsterdam and Brussels and a longer holiday in Canada. We'll be going back to Canada next summer, as well. If you make teaching part of your income, a lot of your schedule will be effected by school terms. Here in the UK, I get a week off every 6-7 weeks during which I teach privately, woodshed profusely and generally make a nuisance of myself around the house.



Well, I can't help you there. But you could move to a civilised state/country that provides some form of basic health care for all its citizens and taxpayers. Or, you could work on cruise ships where healthcare is provided. Or you could work as a teacher in schools and have a healthcare plan. Or you could work for a large corporation, like Disney; It's my understanding they have a health scheme for their employees, do they not? Or you could simply squirrel a little money away into a Blue Cross plan each month. A few less pints = a little more peace of mind.



Again, this depends on your income. I have a pension fund that I contribute to on a monthly basis, and being a private arrangement (i.e. not state-run) I can up or lower the contributions as needed.



Then don't do that.
But here's is what is the most important part of your reply, Boomka.....you have a wife which allows for two incomes and the possiblity of your wife carrying you on her employer's insurance plan.

There are quite a few musicians who are in this category and there is nothing wrong with it; I, myself, don't ever see me getting married or having children. So anything like this would just be a marriage of convenience (not very romantic).

I agree with some of what you have said, especially the saving money - so few people do that anymore!


Mike

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Skitch

Pioneer Member
Re: the original question, the pros and cons-
I don't think the good and bad points of being a musician ever entered the equation for me. The only question was (and is) "how am I going to make this work?"
Good point! You may have to think outside the box - a cliche but what is it that you have to offer so that playing music full time isn't quite as scary!


Mike

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Skitch

Pioneer Member
[
I don't think I can comment, in all fairness, but I will anyway.

When I started out you could get a gig just by walking out your front door almost. This was in the early seventies when there were nightclubs all over the city and those clubs needed musicians.

Working in clubs led to meeting all sorts of really good players, professionals (meaning that they played music for a living) who could play and who knew the business and before you knew it you had many connections, which led to still more connections and eventually it was just the life you were living. There wasn't anything else. And the money was good, very good. Now I was young and strong and could stay up for days at a time just living the life, following the next lead so to speak.

I got to do a lot of studio work, got to do some travelling, got to meet a lot of very interesting people and there were times when the money was great. Lots of guys from my generation did exactly the same thing. And none of us had the kind of careers that young people these days would consider to be succesful, not by today's standards.

But we worked and we made some dough and we bought houses and cars and we grew up and got married and that was life. Nobody knew who we were, none of the guys like me ever got interviewed by Rolling Stone or Modern Drummer and none of us will ever be remembered.

When the nightclubs were finally gone a big part of the process of getting your feet wet in the music business was gone too. So these days the focus is on getting in a band that will be self-sustaining. Really the focus is on getting in a band that will make it more-or-less big.

Back when I was playing and living music twenty-four hours a day being in a band didn't matter. Getting the next gig was all that mattered, getting the money gigs and doing the job better than the last drummer who'd had that gig. When you reached the level where most of the gigs were money gigs you were doing alright, doing alright. Some of us did very well. Some of us did just okay. I fall into the middle somewhere.

At my age the idea of living like that now fills me with dread. But I did it because it was there to do. I don't know what there is to do now, not for someone who's embarking on a career as a professional drummer.
Yes, that's exactly the point! It isn't the much romanticed industry it once was! It isn't 1975 any longer. You have fewer nightclub venues (competing and drowning against the casinos) with about five times the musicians, who all want ther 15 minutes of fame - whether they should be on stage or not! And believe it or not, this attitude isn't relagated to the younger up and coming crowd!

Speaking of the younger group, when Jay and I were coming up, we had these venues to get dirt on our playing and it made us into seasoned veteran players! The generation which is coming on the scene - well who knows?

Then there's the guys who quit playing 20 years ago in favor of a more stable career path wanting to get back into the scene. Only, due to technology and progress, the scene has been totally decimated!

I'm going to risk sounding like an old fart here:

About a decade ago on the road, my room mate in the band, the bass player made a statement about how things used to be better. I asked him what had changed. He listed off things like the Internet, Pay-per-view movies, video games, movie rentals, cable TV and so on. DVDs and guitar hero were figments in someone’s imagination at that time as was Youtube. His very well-taken point was that there was far more competition for the entertainment dollar than there was in the 1970s. In the 1970s, you had movie theatres, radio and TV and maybe some performing arts to compete with. Sports were not as dominant back then as they are now. Also, DWI laws were less stringent. He also brought up the oil bust, which hit Oklahoma and then everywhere else.

The point is that times change and the Professional musician has to be ready to roll with those changes. You have to be able to do more than play double bass drums sixteenth notes at 225 bpm. Can you run sound? Can you write good songs? Do you have a PA? Do you have good business skills? None of these questions have anything to do with drumming directly.

It is far more important to have songwriting credits than to be able to play 3 against 5. I wish that someone like Steve Smith would weigh in on that because he would know more than just about anyone! Steve was a great drummer when Journey fired him (by voicemail – what a great bunch of friends!) but rumor has it that they had to buy him out. Steve took an absolutely shitty and public humiliation and polished crap into a phenomenal career!

Maybe Travis Barker could be considered a business genius; I think he owns a clothing line, which reaches much farther than drumming products do! Everyone can wear clothes; probably less than 10% of the world’s population plays drums!

Back to what once was; I was playing in an all-original band in 1988. I was under-age and playing in bars and we were getting paid well because the club owners liked our music(?!). This doesn’t happen anymore because the bar crowd these days has certain songs they want to hear and dance to and this is how the bars make their money. If the crowd doesn’t heasr those songs, they go find another bar where those songs are being played and they don’t care whether a band is playing them or it’s being played by a DJ off of an iPod. One bar owner recently told me that he didn’t care how good the band was; he would take a crappy band with 50 friends who drink $50 of beer apiece.

I don't mean to be totally negative in all of this; I still love music and songs. But the business of being a "pro" has had to really change over the last two decades. Many of the younger musicians don't realize how good it once was and that they can actually get paid to play rahter than beg for tips or pay to play.


Mike

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larryace

"Uncle Larry"
The cons of being pro to me are you can't make enough money. If it were common to earn 6 figures annually, I would have stuck with it as a full time endeavor. But the reality of knowing that at best (in my situation) I might be able to make like 30,000 USD a year, no benefits, before my expenses, just wouldn't do...I wanted, needed, knew I was capable, of earning 6 figures. Now music is solely for musics sake and I'm not playing music I am not passionate about just so I can eat.

Yea, the biggest con is the sad state of the business hands down.
When you have Julliard trained pianists answering CL ads....(Ken will tell you all about that), that's a pathetic state of affairs.
 
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