How much are great session drummers getting paid?

Just out of curiosity, how much do you guys think that session aces like John "Jr" Robinson, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jim Keltner, Josh Freese, Chris McHugh etc are getting paid for doing a record or a gig?

FP
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
A lot of pros can negotiate their rates, and those rates vary. Some charge a flat fee per day, $1500, $2500, or more... it varies. Others charge per project, basically an album's worth of songs.

There's also union scale, which in Los Angeles is $380 for a 3 hour session that includes up to 15 minutes of music, basically 3 or 4 songs. And top players command double and triple scale.

So, let's say that one drummer charges a flat rate of $2500 a day for his time in the studio. Another drummer is triple scale, $1140 for every 4 songs. Another charges $10,000 for the whole album, 12 songs. All scenarios sound attractive, and on a regular basis, they all represent a good income.

If each drummer cuts 8 tracks in one day, and 4 tracks the next day to finish all 12 songs, the triple scale guy will make $3420, the daily flat-rate guy will make $5000, and the project-rate guy will make $10,000 for his two days' work.

But, rates are negotiable, some are higher, some are lower. And depending on the economy, some drummers have to lower their rates so the producer doesn't dig up some hotshot kid who'll do the sessions for next to nothing.

Bermuda
 

inneedofgrace

Platinum Member
A lot of pros can negotiate their rates, and those rates vary. Some charge a flat fee per day, $1500, $2500, or more... it varies. Others charge per project, basically an album's worth of songs.

There's also union scale, which in Los Angeles is $380 for a 3 hour session that includes up to 15 minutes of music, basically 3 or 4 songs. And top players command double and triple scale.

So, let's say that one drummer charges a flat rate of $2500 a day for his time in the studio. Another drummer is triple scale, $1140 for every 4 songs. Another charges $10,000 for the whole album, 12 songs. All scenarios sound attractive, and on a regular basis, they all represent a good income.

If each drummer cuts 8 tracks in one day, and 4 tracks the next day to finish all 12 songs, the triple scale guy will make $3420, the daily flat-rate guy will make $5000, and the project-rate guy will make $10,000 for his two days' work.

But, rates are negotiable, some are higher, some are lower. And depending on the economy, some drummers have to lower their rates so the producer doesn't dig up some hotshot kid who'll do the sessions for next to nothing.

Bermuda
Great info - I was always curious about the potential income, even though I have never considered drumming full time. Not that I would turn down an opportunity like this.....
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Again, I'm just citing some possible scenarios, although the L.A. union rates are correct as of January. And even those are negotiable and somewhat flexible. Somebody could be called the "leader" which doubles the basic rate, and there are are other "doubling" fees, like of the drummer adds percussion or even sings. It depends on whether the drummer insists on that, and if the client accepts it. But if I set a flat fee per day, I do whatever is asked of me. So while asking $2,500 a day seems like a good fee, the amount of work involved could easilty be worth more at triple or even double union scale, with the allowable extras.

It's mostly negotiable, and whatever the demand for that drummer dictates. For example, is it really necessary to have Vinnie play on a Leann Rimes or Faith Hill's albums when there are countless top Nashville drummers available? No, not really, but there's a certain caché to having Vinnie on the album. Does it make a difference to the listener? Not really. But in the business, it can be a cool thing. Maybe it means selling 5,000 extra copies of the CD to drummers who might not normally buy it... who knows?

At this point in time, I'd have to say that Vinnie, Gadd and J.R. are the top paid session guys. There are certainly a bunch of drummers making a LOT more than they are because of a specific group affiliation and the salaries and percentages that go with it for successful bands.

I'm not comparing myself to Vinnie or the like, but I'm glad I'm in a band. :)

Bermuda
 

BillBachman

Gold Member
There are very few guys getting paid like that of course. The trend here in Nashville that I always hear about is there are maybe ten "flavor of the five year span" or so players that get most of the work while everyone else fights for survival. Yes those ten guys are good, but it's mainly the reputation for hits they're on that makes them popular. (Everybody uses the same musical formulas with the same players thinking the same formula will work for them too, that's why so many songs sound completely the same or totally inbred.) It's known here in Nashville that many session greats that used to only top master sessions are now doing cheap demos or even (gasp) going out on the road which used to be only for the lower class "road dogs".

It's rough here. When I'm travelling to do drum clinics I get a lot of people asking to me about the Nashville scene as they're thinking about moving here to pursue a drumming career. I tell them what I've generally found to be the case: Most people want a solid, yet generic and totally unnoticeable drummer to play the most basic functional framework for the song checking any artistic ambition at the door. From there, there are about 5000 other drummers who want that gig and would do it for free for the all important "exposure", so you've never been so disposable/replaceable in your life.

I'm in Nashville, but not in the normal scene or circles. I've ended up playing jazz-funk with a pretty well known bassist Sean O`Bryan Smith and progressive rock with Neal Morse. Both of these gigs are extremely "un-Nashville" and require/encourage artistic input and skill above the norm. As for making money, it's practically a miracle that a few drummers still can honestly play for a living. Personally, I rely on drum clinics, educational and entrepreneurial projects to pay the bills.

Anyway, I didn't mean this as a rant and please don't read it that way, it's just a reality check.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Very interesting stuff, Jon and Bill.

Bill, have you noticed any common qualities of the ten or so chosen ones - the flavour-of-five-years players? No doubt they will tick all the obvious boxes - great time, sound, control, reading, quick on the uptake, reliable, amenable, flexible, tech literate etc.

Or do they tick the boxes at a higher level than the majority of the other 4,990 or so would-be sessioners?
 
Bermuda: If I`m not wrong Abe Laboriel Jr is touring with Paul Mccartney and Sting and has played on some huge selling records. Is he the up and coming both studio & touring drummer in the LA scene these days? And is being on the road with artists like PM and Sting very well paid?

Bill: Thank you so much for your update on whats going on in Nashville these days. I`m from Norway but have for many years now been very fascinated by the studio scene in Nashville. Someday I`m for sure going to visit Nashville. I remeber Paul Leim and Eddie Bayers being the drummers that were used on the biggest selling records from Nashville. I don`t see their names on records any more and it looks like Chris McHugh and Shannon Forrest ( I`m huge fan of them both) are the drummers really making it these days. Are my observations correct?

Geir, Norway
 
M

mediocrefunkybeat

Guest
Very interesting stuff, Jon and Bill.

Bill, have you noticed any common qualities of the ten or so chosen ones - the flavour-of-five-years players? No doubt they will tick all the obvious boxes - great time, sound, control, reading, quick on the uptake, reliable, amenable, flexible, tech literate etc.

Or do they tick the boxes at a higher level than the majority of the other 4,990 or so would-be sessioners?
Bill, correct me if I've misunderstood.

I think what Bill means is that there are essentially five drummers getting all the gigs at one time because of 'formula thinking'. If I've read this right, you could have a player that gets a session and the album or song that that particular drummer plays on might become a hit or a success within or outside the scene. People want to emulate success, so they hire the same musicians thinking that it was those players that made the album successful and then that player might then get hired on reputation rather than any inherent higher ability.

This tails off after a while when that success isn't repeated.

I hope that's what you mean, Bill!
 
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Pollyanna

Platinum Member
I think what Bill means is that there are essentially five drummers getting all the gigs at one time because of 'formula thinking'. If I've read this right, you could have a player that gets a session and the album or song that that particular drummer plays on might become a hit or a success within or outside the scene. People want to emulate success, so they hire the same musicians thinking that it was those players that made the album successful and then that player might then get hired on reputation rather than any inherent higher ability.

This tails off after a while when that success isn't repeated.

I hope that's what you mean, Bill!
I'm okay with that bit Duncan, but if a drummer isn't "in", how do they get to play on a hit in the first place? I'm thinking about chicken and eggs ...
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
I'm okay with that bit Duncan, but if a drummer isn't "in", how do they get to play on a hit in the first place? I'm thinking about chicken and eggs ...
Good question, I hope Bermuda and Bill can weigh in. I'm betting that if you're an aspiring drummer, you'll take an unpaid internship on Music Row, mopping, sweeping, and getting coffee for producers and engineers. Then one day the session drummer has car trouble or gets sick, at which point you say, "hey, I play drums!".

Or, you might book your own group in one of those studios, and hope to impress someone who works there.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Bermuda: If I`m not wrong Abe Laboriel Jr is touring with Paul Mccartney and Sting and has played on some huge selling records. Is he the up and coming both studio & touring drummer in the LA scene these days? And is being on the road with artists like PM and Sting very well paid?
There is a difference between 'session' players aand those who are better know for touring with high-profile artists. There's certainly some crossover, although that wasn't always the case; back in the day, studio players rarely traveled, because they could work more consistently by staying in town, and make more money. Maybe 15-20 years ago, you started seeing well-known studio guys like Gadd and Keltner on tour, because the session work had decreased.

I'm not aware that Abe Jr. is doing much independent work, and there's no question he makes more on tour than doing sessions. But do players deliberately choose to stay home if they can do sessions, rather than tour? Of course. Touring is hard work, and can put a strain on personal and family life. Many players prefer to stay home if they can make good money, and keep their sanity and relationships together at the same time. Often, with enough touring in their youth, players just get tired of the road and begin to resent having to travel just to play music. That's obviously not a healthy attitude to have while trying to make music. I've also seen people burn-out by the time they're 40, which is still young.

There are many potential 'streams' of income for a musician, although sessions and touring seem the most glamorous and can be very profitable. Touring salaries vary widely, $500/wk, $5000/wk, $10,000/wk and more. It's unfair to guess what Abe Jr. makes with Paul or Sting, but it would be in the higher numbers.

Bermuda
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Then one day the session drummer has car trouble or gets sick, at which point you say, "hey, I play drums!".
That can happen, and has happened on the road to a degree, where a member of the crew - not always the drum tech mind you - ends up sitting in for a show or two. Whether any of that leads to bigger things, I don't know.

The answer to getting a foot in the door is that's there's no answer. Well, no single answer, and no answers that are certain.

Getting a break is an oft-discussed subject, and in a nutshell, it boils down to being in the right place at the right time. There's no way to engineer or create it, you just have to be ready if and when it happens. Talent alone is not a guarantee. Desire, passion, and diligence are not guarantees. Going to a 'school' and getting a diploma means almost nothing to a producer or artist, and it means even less in the real world of having to audition to get gigs. There is no career path in music or specific steps to take in order to move up the food chain. The best you can do is be out there in the music community, network, play because you enjoy playing, and be a nice guy or gal.

In this business, nice guys finish first.

Bermuda
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Bill, correct me if I've misunderstood.

I think what Bill means is that there are essentially five drummers getting all the gigs at one time because of 'formula thinking'. If I've read this right, you could have a player that gets a session and the album or song that that particular drummer plays on might become a hit or a success within or outside the scene. People want to emulate success, so they hire the same musicians thinking that it was those players that made the album successful and then that player might then get hired on reputation rather than any inherent higher ability.

This tails off after a while when that success isn't repeated.

I hope that's what you mean, Bill!
That is how I took it too.

It happens. Producers get it in their head they must have player-x, and that's pretty much it.

I've known guys who went to an audition, got the gig, everything looked roses, and then the call comes that management or the producer wants a name player for the album/tour, so sorry, you're out.
 

BillBachman

Gold Member
That is how I took it too.

It happens. Producers get it in their head they must have player-x, and that's pretty much it.

I've known guys who went to an audition, got the gig, everything looked roses, and then the call comes that management or the producer wants a name player for the album/tour, so sorry, you're out.
Yes and yes, there are a lot of politics and some people think that name dropping is going to be the ticket.
 

MattRitter

Senior Member
Getting a break is an oft-discussed subject, and in a nutshell, it boils down to being in the right place at the right time. There's no way to engineer or create it, you just have to be ready if and when it happens.
This may be true. However...for the young up-and-comers who are reading this...there's also some good news:

In my experience, most (if not all) players do eventually get opportunities if they TRULY have high level drumming skills. There is a myth floating around that the world is full of incredible drummers who just never "get a break." If this were really the case, then we would all know a drummer or 2 who fit that description. I personally don't know a single one. Every drummer I know who truly has world class drumming ability has eventually been given the opportunities necessary to make a life out of this. Some perform, some write instructional materials, some teach, some produce, some do a combination of things. In fact, come to think of it, nearly all of them do a combination of things.

Anyway...the point is...I don't know a single drummer with serious, professional level ability who has just never gotten the "lucky breaks" needed for some sort of music career. Any time I have known someone who couldn't make it work, I could also point to a glaring hole in their drumming ability and/or their general life ability. At the moment, I have one guy in mind that really is a monster drummer at the same level as many pros. Unfortunately, he became frustrated and threw in the towel. But I know exactly why! The guy doesn't prepare the music he is given to learn, he doesn't return emails in a timely fashion, and he basically just makes everyone a nervous wreck if they dare to work with him or recommend him for something. In other words, he gets opportunities but he ultimately SABOTAGES them!

So, I truly believe that if you get your drumming skills and your personal skills together, you'll find some way to have a life in music. This doesn't mean you'll be famous. Fame is a whole different story that has nothing to do with this discussion. There's a drummer here in NY named Ray Marchica. Probably you never heard of him. That's OK - most drummers outside of NY never heard of him. That's because he mainly plays Broadway shows and jazz gigs with his own band. Those aren't the types of gigs that lead to being a household name in the drumming community at large. However, amongst NY musicians, Ray is generally regarded as one of the best drummers in the world. And yes, he seems to have a nice career going...not fame, but a nice career. And I think the same can be true for anybody who truly has the required drumming skills and personal skills. At least that's what I've observed over the years.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
So, I truly believe that if you get your drumming skills and your personal skills together, you'll find some way to have a life in music. This doesn't mean you'll be famous.
And I did say "There are many potential 'streams' of income for a musician" apart from the more high-profile life of a touring or studio player.

There is a myth floating around that the world is full of incredible drummers who just never "get a break." If this were really the case, then we would all know a drummer or 2 who fit that description.
Sadly, I know far too many drummers who have the passion, the gear, the look, the chops (and the wisdom to use them judiciously) but can't keep busy enough because they haven't been able to take the next step. It simply hasn't presented itself. They haven't been in the right place at the right time, and it's not their fault.

How does one know where the opportunities are, or might arise? We don't know, and that's why so many players will never be noticed. Of course that doesn't mean someone should sit around and hope the phone rings. There are things we can do that are more likely to help move us forward, but there are no guarantees. In my 35 years in the L.A. music scene, I've observed far more 'deserving' players who remain unknown, than those who have made a career or avocation by playing.

If there's a career path, or method, or secrets to getting ahead in the business of being a musician, that would be priceless information!

Bermuda
 

MattRitter

Senior Member
Sadly, I know far too many drummers who have the passion, the gear, the look, the chops (and the wisdom to use them judiciously) but can't keep busy enough because they haven't been able to take the next step. It simply hasn't presented itself. They haven't been in the right place at the right time, and it's not their fault.
Wow, that IS sad to hear. Thank you. I'm glad you offered this up, since I've never seen that over here in NY. Maybe the LA scene is different than the NY scene. Like I said in my last post, all the NY players I know who really possess the necessary skills (drumming-wise and life-wise) also have some sort of music career going on. Again, this doesn't mean fame, but I've seen fame happen too. Many of us in NY knew about Kim Thompson and Keith Carlock years ago. They were both playing in clubs, working a lot, and drawing a lot of attention LONG before they were on the cover of Modern Drummer.

Note to Bermuda: I know you understand the difference between fame and having a successful music career going. I'm making that point for the young drummers who are trying to figure out what a music career might mean for them. I want them to know that teaching, playing weddings, creating instructional materials, and even drum programming might end being part of the equation for a life in music. So, both of my posts so far are really addressed to them, even though I quoted some of your good input as a launching point. I mention this because I don't want you to be thinking "why is this guy telling me stuff I've known for 35 years?!" haha
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I know you know I know... :)

I do know a number of guys who teach very successfully, a few who do enough corporate gigs to keep them busy, one in particular who manages to do some theater and studio work, and I know all would love to get a break and do more high-profile work with high-profile money. I have about 125 drummers in my phonebook, most of them semi-pros or at least pro-level, but maybe only 10 are full-time pros. It is sad. These drummers want it, and can certainly lay down grooves as well as play technically if needed. there just aren't aren't the obvious opportunities here.

Bermuda
 
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