What is the life of a pro drummer like?

brentcn

Platinum Member
I'm trying to see if I want to do music as a hobby or as a career. I did one year of music school and took a year off cause of corona and everything was online. Now I'm rethinking my career. I have a fear of making enough money to live as a pro drummer. So I'm not sure if I want to pursue this as a career. But maybe I would be willing to suffer for a music career, depending on what the lifestyle would be like.

What is it like to be a pro drummer? please, only people who are doing this professionally and are doing this full time, respond. Do you have to survive off of eating instant ramen and apples? what is all of the bad/unpleasant stuff you've had to deal with? sleeping on the floor, homelessness, etc.
Of the few hundred (or more?) professional musicians that I know, there's only one or two that are full-time performers. Nearly all musicians have a day job, teach, or do other music-related work. Do you like teaching, and have the patience/personality for it?
I was never into staying up all night (or was getting up early?) to transcribe and chart out songs for a band you might only do one gig with. I wanted to know there was a chance of many gigs if I was going to do that work. But real pros have no trouble doing that. So what if you're just subbing for one show one time, you put the work in.
...
I very quickly really grew to dislike playing music I didn't 100% enjoy, which meant I didn't pursue gigs that might have lead to better gigs. Nor did I chase gigs that might have gone somewhere. By age 25, I was sick and tired of playing Mustang Sallly 3-4 times a week, every week, and didn't want to do anything like that again. I should have kept a more open mind.

I spent too much time looking for the perfect bands to be in, and not realizing that just playing in bands is the best exposure to being in better bands.
This right here will probably determine if you have a long career playing drums, or not. When you're starting out, you need to take every gig you can, in order to network. Musicians don't hire other musicians out of the blue; they hire when they know you are good at playing the music that's on the gig, and it usually takes a shared previous gig for that to happen. Musical versatility is key, and a university or college music program will usually expose you to music, musicians, and playing experience that you wouldn't get otherwise.

I know a great guitar player who spent his teenage years in a wedding band, and got a Jazz Studies degree. Upon graduation, he found out what he would be making per year playing gigs, and so he turned right around and got a second degree in electrical engineering, and now works full-time in that field. He's a great player, and only takes the gigs he wants to do, when he has the time. His house is paid for, his retirement fund is doing well. He's an enviable example to follow.

There's nothing wrong with getting a music degree, and getting another degree too -- plenty of colleges have programs that won't saddle you with crazy debt. There are plenty of low-cost music colleges that have great programs.

I would NOT suggest that you pursue some other career, and forego this chance to study music in college, like I did. I've managed a mediocre career in music without it, but I'd probably be further along if I had spent my formative years learning to read charts and play a wider variety of styles. The world is littered with very successful doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. who can't play well enough to get a gig, but wish they could.
 

jimb

Member
Well as a life time 'semi pro' bass player ( I play drums a bit now) the one thing Ive figured and learned from all of this is two things. If you wanna be a "pro" you gotta read charts first take and you gotta love being out all night, neither of which once reaching my mid 30's I realised I was able or wanted to do, especialy the being out all night every night for the rest of ur life thing....nope.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Reading what I read here in this thread, it's amazing anyone wants to do music full time. The money sucks, the food sucks, the hours suck.

All the suckiness doesn't outweigh the advantages IMO. Hey I dig having sex too, but I don't want to do it for a living.

If all the suckiness was outweighed by the money to be made...different story. It's the opposite. The money is so bad, so terrible, and not nearly enough to live on, without living like a peasant. With people lining up to do it. That's the part that kills the business.

As it is now, I don't know any worse way to make a living. I just have to laugh about it. it's a terrible career path if you want a normal life with a normal amount of money.

If it were the 1930's or 1940's a lot of drummers could make a good living. Now? Ha ha ha ha. That horse done bolted. For the majority.
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Platinum Member
Just because this comes up a lot.
I was never interested in 'fame and fortune'. I just wanted to earn enough to be making music every day.
The absolute highest ambition I had was to play music I loved and be recognised by peers for doing a good job. I have probably rarely if ever achieved that.
I have worked with people who are famous and I wouldn't want that at all. Being on the road for 9 months and never being able to leave the hotel? Doing a couple of hours of interviews every single day, and being asked the same dumb questions by journalists who couldn't be bothered to do their research? No thanks.

same here!!

and by going into teaching music/band, I did not really step up from that "just enough to get by every day" bracket either

but I grew up in a simplistic lifestyle, and continue to live it.

I feel like if I had ever become famous, I would have probably handled it like Niel Peart and the guys in Rush...I would have respectfully avoided it/tried to liveas simply as I could in it
 

cbphoto

Gold Member
I don't know any worse way to make a living.
Write riffs and pieces of music from samples. Let someone buy it for $30 and watch them make millions.

“Dutch record producer YoungKio composed the [Old Town Road] instrumental and made it available for purchase online in 2018. It features a sample of "34 Ghosts IV" by the American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails. The sample was placed behind trap-style Roland TR-808 drums and bass. Lil Nas X purchased the instrumental for US$30 and recorded "Old Town Road" in one day. At the time, he had been living with his sister after dropping out of college; his real world struggles were an influence on some of the lyrics.“
 

NouveauCliche

Senior Member
I'm trying to see if I want to do music as a hobby or as a career. I did one year of music school and took a year off cause of corona and everything was online. Now I'm rethinking my career. I have a fear of making enough money to live as a pro drummer. So I'm not sure if I want to pursue this as a career. But maybe I would be willing to suffer for a music career, depending on what the lifestyle would be like.

What is it like to be a pro drummer? please, only people who are doing this professionally and are doing this full time, respond. Do you have to survive off of eating instant ramen and apples? what is all of the bad/unpleasant stuff you've had to deal with? sleeping on the floor, homelessness, etc.

I had a whole lot of advice typed out - but honestly Bermuda and the guys have it covered well. Watch your finances hard.

As far what the experience is like? Lots of ups and down - emotionally, economically, etc...especially when you're starting out and building a network and taking whatever gigs you can. There's days when you wake up and are packing up for a some cool venue or some cool project and it all makes sense - all the sacrifice and all the BS and you know you're on the right track.

There's days when you just want to hit reset and take your mom's advice about being a pharmacist.

Those moments though - when you're creating on stage or connecting with other musicians in the studio - those are absolute magic and make it worth it.

I've been very fortunate to build a career that's half performer, half arts administrator (building a non profit, throwing festivals, online music series, designing and building projects, etc.) and my only PRO tip among pro-tips is that it's a wonderful idea to diversify your artistic endeavors. If you can have a solid ground base gig...then build other projects that will take a few out of the year and do enough of those - you'll have enough work for years and that is a blessing among blessings in the arts world. (Also, check out arts orginzations like Westerns Arts Alliance, Chamber Music of America or APAP, etc. and look at grants and programs that can fund your projects or yourself on a much larger scale).
 

Caz

Senior Member
Reading what I read here in this thread, it's amazing anyone wants to do music full time. The money sucks, the food sucks, the hours suck.

All the suckiness doesn't outweigh the advantages IMO. Hey I dig having sex too, but I don't want to do it for a living.

If all the suckiness was outweighed by the money to be made...different story. It's the opposite. The money is so bad, so terrible, and not nearly enough to live on, without living like a peasant. With people lining up to do it. That's the part that kills the business.

As it is now, I don't know any worse way to make a living. I just have to laugh about it. it's a terrible career path if you want a normal life with a normal amount of money.

If it were the 1930's or 1940's a lot of drummers could make a good living. Now? Ha ha ha ha. That horse done bolted. For the majority.

I'm not sure where this impression comes from to be honest. Lots of pro musicians in my circles work as much as any other job and many have mortgages which is very difficult for anyone in our generation - so the banks seem to think we're doing ok. John Ramsay told me in lessons what Alan Dawson told him, if you study hard and raise your standard to a professional level, you'll have a good living. It's like any other self-employed trade. You don't have to be the best, and there are many factors other than just playing ability - but in my opinion you have to be full-time and dedicated to it to get the best work.
 

PorkPieGuy

Platinum Member
I think what makes this question so hard to answer is that the answer has changed and continues to evolve over time. Musicians have to be reactive to the ever-changing scope of the music industry. 30 years ago, I think a drummer could just perform in a solid band and be ok. Back in the 80's, a solid bar band in a decent network could make a pretty decent living (I know a guy who did).

These days, there's so much more to it to try to make ends meet:
Teaching
YouTube
Instagram
Facebook
TikTok
etc.

As time moves on, the job will continue to change and evolve.
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Platinum Member
I think what makes this question so hard to answer is that the answer has changed and continues to evolve over time. Musicians have to be reactive to the ever-changing scope of the music industry. 30 years ago, I think a drummer could just perform in a solid band and be ok. Back in the 80's, a solid bar band in a decent network could make a pretty decent living (I know a guy who did).

These days, there's so much more to it to try to make ends meet:
Teaching
YouTube
Instagram
Facebook
TikTok
etc.

As time moves on, the job will continue to change and evolve.

I will also add that the concept of "doing well" is constantly changing, from your own personal definition all the way out to the world view of it.

and age and experience also changes that outlook

when I was 20, "doing well" meant being the best musician in the room technique-wise; it didn't matter if I ate or where I slept
when I was 30, "doing well" meant being the most sought after player for studio/pit orchestra/live gigs...I was now used to meager accommodations, but wanted a bit more stability in that area; it meant building my school program
when I was 40, "doing well" meant not running from bill collectors, and having a bigger place to put my stuff; it also meant keeping my (good) rep as a professional consistent
now at 52, "doing well" means planning for when I can not physically do what I have been for the past 30 years; it means achieving career goals now with my school programs; it means planning for our "retirement dream castle"

being "rich" has never really been a definition of success for me. Being secure IS...I don't need tons of money for security, but I do need tons of stability. tons of consistency.
 

PorkPieGuy

Platinum Member
I will also add that the concept of "doing well" is constantly changing, from your own personal definition all the way out to the world view of it.

One big thing that has changed has been the concept of "selling out." Back in the day, the idea of a corporation using one of your songs was "selling out" and losing street cred. These days, bands are way more open to the idea of selling a song for a commercial or advertisement because that means that band gets funding to make more music.
 

cbphoto

Gold Member
One big thing that has changed has been the concept of "selling out." Back in the day, the idea of a corporation using one of your songs was "selling out" and losing street cred. These days, bands are way more open to the idea of selling a song for a commercial or advertisement because that means that band gets funding to make more music.
Didn't the trend begin when a band allowed one of their tunes in a movie? Wasn't it Stayin' Alive? It did stay on the charts forever, and showed what happens when the band "sells out".

But, it may have been a different movie.
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Platinum Member
One big thing that has changed has been the concept of "selling out." Back in the day, the idea of a corporation using one of your songs was "selling out" and losing street cred. These days, bands are way more open to the idea of selling a song for a commercial or advertisement because that means that band gets funding to make more music.

yep...credit that happening during and as a result of the "everybody gets a trophy" thing. It was/is no longer acceptable to make fun of or criticize people for bad choices....mixed with advertising dollars being thrown around like leaves in the wind and ant negative space in or on a visual medium now being sold for ad space....
 

MrInsanePolack

Platinum Member
I wanted to be a professional drummer, or so I thought. I'm too much of an antisocial homebody. I love love love writing and being creative. The rest of it I can do without. I lasted 8 years before I just couldn't do it anymore. I got so tired of traveling (being in a vehicle), not sleeping in my own bed, eating poorly, people wanting to stay up and party, playing that same friggin song for the 5000th time, not knowing where I am, no time for being alone, the list goes on. That lifestyle is definitely not for everyone, and I am one of them.

I did jump in the pool and give it a go however. The band got signed years after I left. I have no regrets.
 

Darth Vater

Senior Member
I've played, recorded and road dogged with several well known musicians. I also worked as an arranger for a subsidiary of Epic records. I gave it everything I had from '69 to '86. I wouldn't trade those times for anything even though I had to make a choice of whether to stay in college or tour. Gigs were more plentiful then and the rock clubs were HUGE! I got out because I didn't see a viable financial path and I had met the most beautiful woman who I'd go on to marry and have 2 daughters. Yes, we're still married 34 years later.

I wish some of our younger members could have experienced the rock scene of those times. It wasn't Ipads, Pro Tools and Starbucks. More like big stages, guitar players who didn't need 30 pedals, Rock clubs that were open 4-5 nights a week and they needed bands to play in them. Oh, and whiskey (dope? not me hehe), girls, and spare bass drum/snare heads because you had to keep up with the Marshall stacks and Acoustic bass amps.
 

dwsabianguy

Senior Member
I was good at getting to know people, but I was terrible at letting people know me. Hence, they didn't think to call me.

This is a salient point, and one that's been on my mind the last couple days - how exactly do you get someone to know you, especially when interactions can be so brief?
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Reading what I read here in this thread, it's amazing anyone wants to do music full time. The money sucks, the food sucks, the hours suck.

All the suckiness doesn't outweigh the advantages IMO. Hey I dig having sex too, but I don't want to do it for a living.
I wanted to come back and touch on this.

One, there is the just thought that some people DO make it in the music business, and when you're young, you think, why not me?
Sure, the odds are tough, but some do make a good living, buy a house, etc, and others at least live happily doing what they want to do.

I have a "rocking chair" thought: When I'm 80 and sitting in my rocking chair, I want to not regret trying.
Sure, I may fail, I may look back and see 101 things that went wrong, but at least I tried.

The other aspect is the ADVENTURE of trying.

Sure, my drummer career was an epic failure, and sure I spend a few years being depressed about it. But looking back? Wow.

I've had experiences that sometimes I still wonder how that happened. Some seemed mundane or not that big of a deal at the time, but looking back, it's nutty any of it ever happened to me.

From time to time on this forum or other forums, people will ask "have you ever met a famous drummer?" or "Have you ever met anyone famous?

And I'm like, I could tell stories for days. The number of musicians I met well before anyone else knew who they were is a good handful. The times I've randomly found myself talking to a world-famous drummer or other musicians because I just happened to be in the right place still baffles me at times. The conversations I've overheard, the insights into the music business I've been told by insiders, sometimes I have to wonder "did that really happen?".

And then there's saying, well, at least I played drums in front of a representative of every record label that was in existence at the time. I can at least say I've sat in record company offices. I can at least say I've played all the famous stages around town and stood where Jim Morrison, Janis, and Niki Sixx all once stood. I've heard myself on the radio. I've sold CDs in Brazil. I've received fan mail from Russia. I once played a cover tune in a packed club in front of a person who was on the original recording.

There are hundreds/thousands(millions?) of people who never even tried, and spent their lives wondering what might have been if they had had the courage to try.

And my ultimate consolation prize in now in running my (nonmusic) business, is I've learned so much of what to do and what NOT to do from my drumming days that I can apply to my current business.

Sure, there are a ton of little details that I would do differently if I could do it all over again, but I don't regret trying in the least.
Nor would I change going for it.
 
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