What is the life of a pro drummer like?

Chris Whitten

Drum Expert
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.
First, it boggles my mind people keep linking professional music with sex. :(
If you are in financial business and driving a Porsche you probably have sex more often than a poorly paid musician who is in a different town every night for 10 months of the year. I often play an exhausting 2hr show. You get 6 hours sleep before lobby call to fly to the next town, rinse and repeat. I'm not gong to be up all night having sex.
Or you are on a tour bus overnight with ten other guys.

No one goes full time musician for the money, the food, or 9-5 hours. People go into it because they want to play music every day, not fit it n around another demanding career
You CAN make good money and you CAN eat well and have nice hotels. It's not a given that everything is gong to 'suck' if you are a professional musician.
 
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Chris Whitten

Drum Expert
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.
Sure. When I had absolutely no money and no career I ended up agreeing to play drums with a theatre group headed to New York City.
At times I literally had ten cents in my pocket and walked the streets of Manhattan because I couldn't afford the subway. But I got to play at Max's Kansas City and CBGB just a couple of years after The Ramones, Talking Heads, B52's and Devo were regulars there. This was 1979 and both venues are gone now.
Just through a friend of a friend, the first record I played on in 1981 was an Italian album made in Rome, which was a fabulous experience. They liked what I did so invited me back a couple of months later to record with one of Italy's biggest stars (Riccardo Cocciante). I was still broke and sleeping on friend's couches in London at the time. I got paid a flat fee, but the album went on to become a huge hit in Italy.
In 2007 I was eating in an Italian restaurant in Sydney, Australia and one of the tracks came on the house system. I was on holiday in Rome in 2017 and magazine stands on the street were still selling the album.
If that's all I had ever done I would still have great memories.
 

Caz

Senior Member
Yeah these last few comments are right on.. Wouldn't change it for the world and if everything changed tomorrow I'd be more than content with my lot in life. Getting the $1 bus from Boston to New York to stay up at Smalls jazz jam until 4am, then kill a couple of hours until the morning bus goes back.. guess that's the kind of thing some people are describing here as long nights. All I remember is the excitement of getting to hang at Smalls all night with great music.. guess that's what people need to consider, do you get that buzz from music or not.

Caroline
 

jimb

Member
Yeah these last few comments are right on.. Wouldn't change it for the world and if everything changed tomorrow I'd be more than content with my lot in life. Getting the $1 bus from Boston to New York to stay up at Smalls jazz jam until 4am, then kill a couple of hours until the morning bus goes back.. guess that's the kind of thing some people are describing here as long nights. All I remember is the excitement of getting to hang at Smalls all night with great music.. guess that's what people need to consider, do you get that buzz from music or not.

Caroline
Well I guess its me ur referring too. and thats cool. Listen, back in the early 80's I was here there and everywhere as a part time bassist (it basically doesnt matter what instrument it is its the same for everyone) . I recorded in the studio Robert Fripp worked in and played a lotin Londons West End and spent a lot of time on the road. Then once that kinda didnt work out it was the holiday trade....camps, seaside clubs etc. My reading wasnt tip top so the cruises were never going to happen. Those early memories are precious but the idea that I was gonna be doing it for the rest of my life very sooned wained. Even at my lowly level I could see how hard the life could easily be.
 

Caz

Senior Member
Well I guess its me ur referring too. and thats cool. Listen, back in the early 80's I was here there and everywhere as a part time bassist (it basically doesnt matter what instrument it is its the same for everyone) . I recorded in the studio Robert Fripp worked in and played a lotin Londons West End and spent a lot of time on the road. Then once that kinda didnt work out it was the holiday trade....camps, seaside clubs etc. My reading wasnt tip top so the cruises were never going to happen. Those early memories are precious but the idea that I was gonna be doing it for the rest of my life very sooned wained. Even at my lowly level I could see how hard the life could easily be.

Wasn't referring to you in particular jimb.. also I'm not particularly digging on Larryace's comments either, he's a nice bloke and am sure these opinions come from real-world experience, they're valid opinions. I'm just saying I feel really lucky to be working as a musician, and if that changes in future then cool - there will be lots of memories I'll look back on and smile. I do think it's a great idea to play music 100% for your living at some point in life.. You'll only know what it's like if you do it, don't think I've heard people say they regret time spent doing it. I'd encourage anyone with a thirst for it to go for it.
 

Chris Whitten

Drum Expert
My opinion is the earlier you start the better.
No... at my age I need sleep and decent food. When I was between 20 and 30 I just had fun, and if it meant staying up all night with just a pack of pretzels for sustenance, that was fine.
 

Neal Pert

Regular Poster
I watched the Harry Miree video and realized that back in the years when I was playing loads of musical theater, I was probably earning more than what some major label touring drummers were making AND I got to sleep in my own bed every night.

My best years were 2001 and 2002, during which I earned about 25K. I played 150 gigs in 2001 and 200 2002, most of which were union musical theater gigs. A double back then (drums+ percussion) would earn me about $125 per hit. I had about 15 drum students, too, and I coached a drum line.

Then one day I was in the pit playing an equity run of West Side Story -- 8 shows a week with the best pit musicians in town playing one of the best drum books ever in a 500 seat theater that was packed every show. I was on about the 50th performance and during the rumble sequence I suddenly thought, "This is probably be absolute peak of what you can do without going on the road. It only gets worse from here." Five months later I had been hired as a college chaplain. I kept playing a lot-- 75 gigs a year at first, then tapering off to more like 50. These days I'm just rehearsing in two local all-original bands. It's fun.

The one thing I will say: Despite all the financial hardships, despite always worrying that the phone was going to stop ringing, despite playing a lot of music I didn't like, at that stage in my life I was pretty content. I didn't understand why people would need vacations to get away, or why people would turn to drugs or alcohol to handle their stress, or why they'd retire to Florida with a haunted look in their eyes and wear Hawaiian shirts and flip flops. "Craft a life where you don't need any of that," I'd say. Twenty years into a well-compensated but frequently high stress job, I'm not convinced I've taken my own advice.

I think professional happiness happens when directing one's talents and passions toward helping improve the lives of others. That may sound like a pretty bougie way of looking at things, but I'd stand by it. Any path you take will involve suffering and hardship-- it's inevitable. So, find the intersection of what you love, what you're really good at, and what helps people. That seems to be the sweet spot.
 

cbphoto

Gold Member

MG1127

Well-known member
If I'm honest the whole... "I gave it a go and just couldn't do it" ...thing to me only clarifies that you never wanted to do it in the first place.

Did these folks have some sort of delusions of grandeur that they would be a millionaire playing to 60,000 screaming fans every night and staying in lavish hotels ?

It is not that hard to make a living as a musician ... It is not any more difficult that owning your own company as an electrician, plumber or any other contractor.

You learn your craft... you go where the work is... and you build a reputation

If you bob and weave through the industry as a solo entity you will have a far better chance of making a living than if you join a band with some delusions of "making it"

I've spent many years touring ... I ate just fine... got plenty of sleep ... got time to myself whenever I wanted it (probably too much actually) ... didn't make a whole lot of money ... but that is because I wasn't hired under contract but in a band who was "all for one"

Since I've reverted to a contractor I've made a very good living and pretty much set my own hours.

I have a home studio where I do most of my tracking for clients
When I'm not tracking at home I have no problem going into the studio
I take the gigs I want and refer someone else for the gigs I don't want.
I rarely take tours but when I do I make sure the finances make sense.

It's really not rocket science ... when you get a good gig don't blow your pay on a Ferrari

Live modestly and comfortably

Be punctual with a good disposition and you'll get referrals

seriously ... if you live where there is work, play well, and are not stupid you can make a perfectly fine living

That doesn't mean being world famous ... that has nothing to do with any of this.

We are talking about working and if you want to work you can work

The first question you need to ask yourself is ... Do I want to work ?

Not do I want to do whatever I want because I'm an "artist"

Do I want to work !?
 

Lee-Bro

Senior Member
If I'm honest the whole... "I gave it a go and just couldn't do it" ...thing to me only clarifies that you never wanted to do it in the first place.

Did these folks have some sort of delusions of grandeur that they would be a millionaire playing to 60,000 screaming fans every night and staying in lavish hotels ?

It is not that hard to make a living as a musician ... It is not any more difficult that owning your own company as an electrician, plumber or any other contractor.

I respectfully disagree. I view professional musicians in a similar light as being a professional athlete: very few ever make it to the big leagues, but there are plenty of minor leagues too where a living can be made. Just because someone doesn't make it at any level, doesn't mean they didn't want to do it originally. Sometimes timing, talent, and life keeps people from achieving what they thought they would.

I do agree that it's like owning any other business. But as we know, most small independent businesses fail.

"It's often said that more than half of new businesses fail during the first year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this isn't necessarily true. Data from the BLS shows that approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more." -emphasis added by me. Source, Investopedia.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
If I'm honest the whole... "I gave it a go and just couldn't do it" ...thing to me only clarifies that you never wanted to do it in the first place.

Did these folks have some sort of delusions of grandeur that they would be a millionaire playing to 60,000 screaming fans every night and staying in lavish hotels ?


I wouldn't call it a delusion of grandeur, more of a goal of grandeur. (Hey, I was a teen in the '80s, MTV made it look simple).

That said, I don't disagree. I do think on the subconscious level, there was an element of that.

It is not that hard to make a living as a musician ... It is not any more difficult that owning your own company as an electrician, plumber or any other contractor.
Now that I own a business outside of music that is in the trades, I have to say to a certain level, you're right on. There are many similarities. The mindset required, hard work, discipline. Not giving up. It is amazingly similar at times.

But where I disagree is demand. The demand for electricians, plumbers, and home inspectors is much bigger than the demand for live drums. And the proof is in the fees. And electrician, plumber, or my home inspection business can demand, and get, bigger fees than the average live gig at a pub. And I can do multiple jobs in a day, every day, and then hire people under me to do even more jobs. As a drummer, I can't do more than one gig at a time. And I can't easily hire drummers as W2 employees to go do gigs on my behalf, wearing my brand on their shirt. Where I do have 6 guys now who wear my shirt, my uniform, and go do the same job on my behalf, and they get paid every other Friday like any other job. And people call every day for their services.

Trying to replicate that with drummers would be difficult at best. And outside of Street Drum Corps and Blueman Group, near impossible.
 

SomeBadDrummer

Gold 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.
Lots of great responses already...and I am not a currently gigging drummer but did play professionally earlier in life.

It is not an easy path; however if you LOVE music and LOVE playing drums even more, it could be the right career. As others have mentioned, many 'pro' drummers do have a day job in addition to playing for money.

My folks played 6 nights a week at local clubs during the 60's and 70's, and then did regular gigs such as big Christmas parties (remember those) for some large companies. But because the 'big break' never came, that was the end of it. I never played a 'regular' nightclub, but did get paid for drumming on countless occasions, so I guess I am a 'pro'.

Drummers get little attention from the crowd (except during solos lol), other band members, or the staff working the venue. Other than that, sometimes there's free food and it's great!
 

MG1127

Well-known member
I respectfully disagree. I view professional musicians in a similar light as being a professional athlete: very few ever make it to the big leagues, but there are plenty of minor leagues too where a living can be made. Just because someone doesn't make it at any level, doesn't mean they didn't want to do it originally. Sometimes timing, talent, and life keeps people from achieving what they thought they would.

I do agree that it's like owning any other business. But as we know, most small independent businesses fail.

"It's often said that more than half of new businesses fail during the first year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this isn't necessarily true. Data from the BLS shows that approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more." -emphasis added by me. Source, Investopedia.
I'm saying.... if you want to work it is not very hard to work ... if something bigger happens as a result then bonus

If you go into it with that huge goal you are setting yourself up for failure and getting a bad taste in your mouth about the entire industry... just ask 99.9% of musicians who are now accountants and electricians with bitter views toward working as a musician.

they feel that way because they wanted to "make it" and failed... they view not living a lavish life of selling a million records a failure... which is ridiculous

But if you go in to work ... you can work quite easily and everything stays pretty pleasant

Just about all of us who work steadily in the industry end up working with a big name eventually for a period of time ... maybe it even happens a few times... but it eventually ends and you roll on.

When it ends that's not failing ... that's the nature of working
 
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toddbishop

Platinum Member
Did these folks have some sort of delusions of grandeur that they would be a millionaire playing to 60,000 screaming fans every night and staying in lavish hotels ?
A lot of people just have no other concept of what it is to be a professional musician-- like the first answer to the OP was "read Kenny Aronoff's autobiography." It's either Kenny Aronoff's career or total failure, and you're not a professional. If his life isn't for you, better choose another line of work.
 

cbphoto

Gold Member
the first answer to the OP was "read Kenny Aronoff's autobiography." It's either Kenny Aronoff's career or total failure, and you're not a professional.
I posted those because Aronoff’s level of effort and commitment is considerable, and Bruford’s book cuz his anecdotes are unvarnished.
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Platinum Member
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.

this is gold!!!
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Platinum Member
If I'm honest the whole... "I gave it a go and just couldn't do it" ...thing to me only clarifies that you never wanted to do it in the first place.

Did these folks have some sort of delusions of grandeur that they would be a millionaire playing to 60,000 screaming fans every night and staying in lavish hotels ?

It is not that hard to make a living as a musician ... It is not any more difficult that owning your own company as an electrician, plumber or any other contractor.

You learn your craft... you go where the work is... and you build a reputation

If you bob and weave through the industry as a solo entity you will have a far better chance of making a living than if you join a band with some delusions of "making it"

I've spent many years touring ... I ate just fine... got plenty of sleep ... got time to myself whenever I wanted it (probably too much actually) ... didn't make a whole lot of money ... but that is because I wasn't hired under contract but in a band who was "all for one"

Since I've reverted to a contractor I've made a very good living and pretty much set my own hours.

I have a home studio where I do most of my tracking for clients
When I'm not tracking at home I have no problem going into the studio
I take the gigs I want and refer someone else for the gigs I don't want.
I rarely take tours but when I do I make sure the finances make sense.

It's really not rocket science ... when you get a good gig don't blow your pay on a Ferrari

Live modestly and comfortably

Be punctual with a good disposition and you'll get referrals

seriously ... if you live where there is work, play well, and are not stupid you can make a perfectly fine living

That doesn't mean being world famous ... that has nothing to do with any of this.

We are talking about working and if you want to work you can work

The first question you need to ask yourself is ... Do I want to work ?

Not do I want to do whatever I want because I'm an "artist"

Do I want to work !?

more gold!!!
 
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