What is the life of a pro drummer like?

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
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.
While you have a valid point, I have to disagree.

People like Lars Ulrich, Tommy Lee, Phil Collins, Don Henley, etc they're successful because they chased success.
I don't think Tommy Lee would be playing weddings or musical theatre if Motley Crue hadn't ended up selling millions of records.
Don Henley wasn't content being Linda Ronstadt's touring drummer. He wanted more and chased it.
Terry Bozio didn't stay with Frank Zappa forever, he left to chase being an MTV star by forming Missing Persons and starting from the bottom all over again.

It's well documented Jimmy Page was having a successful career being a studio musician, but he wanted more and formed Led Zeplin.
These weren't bonuses or happy accidents, they were deliberate career moves to chase success.

Look at all the name musicians who say they got their start because they saw the Beatles on TV. No one who saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan thought "Oh, a drummer would be a nice career, playing pubs and musical theater" they saw Ringo and wanted to be on TV playing to screaming girls like Ringo was. OK, maybe reality sits in and people change what they want in life and are happy just playing anything that comes along.

But most people who ever pick up a pair of sticks do so because they heard a record, saw a video on tv, or something similar, and they thought "I want to do that!"
 

Chris Whitten

Well-known member
It's not quite as simple as that.
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a full time musician because I loved playing my drums everyday and never wanted to work in an office and just play my drums at the weekend.
I went to big gigs in town, but I was wowed by the PA and the lights, and the shiny new gear on stage. It honestly never occurred to me to think about the fans screaming, or the money the musicians were making. I just looked on the stage with an incredible drum kit bathed in glamorous lighting, then I heard these cannons coming out of the PA. It was exciting.
For years I played music I wasn't particularly a fan of. I've probably done that the majority of my 40+ year career.
I've worked a lot with very famous musicians, I would not swap my life with them. Never being able to go out? If you do go out, being harassed by paparazzi? In a bar or restaurant having everyone else stare at you the whole evening, have multiple people ask for an autograph or selfie?
I'd rather have a bit less money, an older car, a smaller house and live my life how I want to live it.
 

Chris Whitten

Well-known member
While you have a valid point, I have to disagree.

People like Lars Ulrich, Tommy Lee, Phil Collins, Don Henley, etc they're successful because they chased success.
Quite a lot of people are not exactly 'chasing success'. They are not happy playing someone else's music and feel they can do a better job in their own band. If you are an amazing musician with something personal to say, you don't want to spend your career backing a pop singer, or playing random music on studio sessions.
It is more about expressing yourself without compromise and less about being 'successful'.
 

Chris Whitten

Well-known member
I grew up listening to and loving funk, RnB and dance music.
My music college years were fuelled by George Duke, The Crusaders, Herbie Hancock and Narada Michael Walden, as well as Chic and Parliament/Funkadelic.
I turned pro just as punk was morphing into New Wave. Those were the only gigs going as I moved to London and started auditioning for multiple bands. Over time I got a reputation for being a 'good' rock drummer. I played on a couple of hit records that had a dancey vibe (The Waterboys and Swing Out Sister) and people seemed more surprised that I could cut it. I have never been asked to play for a band with that kind of dance music at their core. I only ever get hired to play guitar based rock, which I find very boring and old hat these days.
 

oldskoolsoul

Silver Member
..I played on a couple of hit records that had a dancey vibe (The Waterboys and Swing Out Sister) and people seemed more surprised that I could cut it..

Like, i knew allready a little of your background, but i am just quoting this because to me is kinda refreshing that there is someone posting under his own name with actual recordings or gigs..

I see lots of times people here mentioning how busy they are in the studio and having a huge amount of work as a “hired gun”, while here they are only a popular forum avatar and no one knows who the hell they are..

But, i read your posts with interest, thanks for that..🙂
 

MG1127

Well-known member
While you have a valid point, I have to disagree.

People like Lars Ulrich, Tommy Lee, Phil Collins, Don Henley, etc they're successful because they chased success.
I don't think Tommy Lee would be playing weddings or musical theatre if Motley Crue hadn't ended up selling millions of records.
Don Henley wasn't content being Linda Ronstadt's touring drummer. He wanted more and chased it.
Terry Bozio didn't stay with Frank Zappa forever, he left to chase being an MTV star by forming Missing Persons and starting from the bottom all over again.

It's well documented Jimmy Page was having a successful career being a studio musician, but he wanted more and formed Led Zeplin.
These weren't bonuses or happy accidents, they were deliberate career moves to chase success.

Look at all the name musicians who say they got their start because they saw the Beatles on TV. No one who saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan thought "Oh, a drummer would be a nice career, playing pubs and musical theater" they saw Ringo and wanted to be on TV playing to screaming girls like Ringo was. OK, maybe reality sits in and people change what they want in life and are happy just playing anything that comes along.

But most people who ever pick up a pair of sticks do so because they heard a record, saw a video on tv, or something similar, and they thought "I want to do that!"
everything you are talking about happened nearly 50 years ago my good friend

but I do understand your point

I hope you are well
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Well-known member
It's not quite as simple as that.
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a full time musician because I loved playing my drums everyday and never wanted to work in an office and just play my drums at the weekend.
I went to big gigs in town, but I was wowed by the PA and the lights, and the shiny new gear on stage. It honestly never occurred to me to think about the fans screaming, or the money the musicians were making. I just looked on the stage with an incredible drum kit bathed in glamorous lighting, then I heard these cannons coming out of the PA. It was exciting.

For years I played music I wasn't particularly a fan of. I've probably done that the majority of my 40+ year career.
I've worked a lot with very famous musicians, I would not swap my life with them. Never being able to go out? If you do go out, being harassed by paparazzi? In a bar or restaurant having everyone else stare at you the whole evening, have multiple people ask for an autograph or selfie?
I'd rather have a bit less money, an older car, a smaller house and live my life how I want to live it.

this was exactly the same draw for me. Especially the not wanting to work a "normal" job thing. To me, doing music was a normal job. It still is.

but my desire was to become famous for my playing skills, not my drinking skills. While I appreciate all of the people who come out to see my bands play, I don't want to hear their drunken blathering afterwards. I don't want to participate in the false camaraderie that the "party" after the gig brings on. Like Chris says, I would rather be not rich, slightly anonymous, and still free to play and experience muic the way I want.

I sort of "lucked into" my 9-5 - a full time percussion instructor - by hanging around, being a pest, and also being good at what I do (sort of like a touring gigging drummer) It is a position that would have never actually been created without my persistence, and in our area especially, is a very rare thing. In fact, I think I am the only one in our area who is payed to do just percussion at the high school level.
 

Living Dead Drummer

Platinum Member
It's not an easy life. For the last two weeks I've been living out of a suitcase, and I won't see home again until October. Even then, I'll only be back home for about two weeks, minus weekend fly dates, and then I'm gone again until Thanksgiving. Beyond that I fly out just about every weekend until January.

I'll try to circle back on this in more detail later.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
It's not an easy life. For the last two weeks I've been living out of a suitcase, and I won't see home again until October. Even then, I'll only be back home for about two weeks, minus weekend fly dates, and then I'm gone again until Thanksgiving. Beyond that I fly out just about every weekend until January.

For most musicians - even those who have a share in a group's record sales - playing live has become the primary source of income. Be glad you're staying busy!
 

Quai34

Junior Member
I grew up listening to and loving funk, RnB and dance music.
My music college years were fuelled by George Duke, The Crusaders, Herbie Hancock and Narada Michael Walden, as well as Chic and Parliament/Funkadelic.
I turned pro just as punk was morphing into New Wave. Those were the only gigs going as I moved to London and started auditioning for multiple bands. Over time I got a reputation for being a 'good' rock drummer. I played on a couple of hit records that had a dancey vibe (The Waterboys and Swing Out Sister) and people seemed more surprised that I could cut it. I have never been asked to play for a band with that kind of dance music at their core. I only ever get hired to play guitar based rock, which I find very boring and old hat these days.
Well, we grew up with the same music and while I was always in rock band, I have the same feeling so, I finally started my own funk dance band...The musicians you named are the same as the ones I had in mind for music I wanted to play!!!
 

Living Dead Drummer

Platinum Member
For most musicians - even those who have a share in a group's record sales - playing live has become the primary source of income. Be glad you're staying busy!
I count my blessings everyday, but I have had to make major adjustments for what most consider a "normal" life. I've had to have roommates much longer into my adult life than I am comfortable with. I've had relationships fall apart. Miss out on important family matters, like weddings, births, and funerals. Sometimes because I was on the road, and many times because I just didn't have the money to go.

I intentionally keep a low overhead on my living expenses in order to make sure I do the gigs I want to do. It's a constant live of cutting corners anywhere possible, but it has allowed me to sit behind a drum set and not a desk for 20 years.
 

Chris Whitten

Well-known member
I've had this debate with thousands of people since Napster and Spotify. Upfront - my view is that musicians earned a living from a suite of sources; record sales, playing live, tuition/clinics, merchandise. When piracy was a thing (still is...) people kept telling me to adapt by playing live (like I wasn't!), but in reality all that happened was that one of our income sources went away.
The starting point for most non-musicians is that musicians don't do much during the day, maybe a couple of hours work at night (the gig). For that we are paid enough to own mansions, drive luxury cars, waste a ton of money on drink and drugs, are permanently hopping in and out of bed with Victoria's Secret Angels. That was what everyone who took advantage of file sharing told themselves.
Actually the reality is VERY different. And when non-professionals have a little taste of it they generally wouldn't want to do it, for the very reasons Nicholas (above) mentions.
I wouldn't change my life, but at the same time I've given up a lot that most people would not give up in order to stay full time in music for 40+ years. It's those situations that separate the professionals from the wannabes. Do you want a long term career with steady, guaranteed income?
Do you need to know exactly what you are doing next month? Do you need to have next year's Summer holiday already pre-booked? Do you want to be around for baby's first words, first steps, first day at school etc?
 

Caz

Senior Member
Love hearing stories from older players about how things used to be back in the day. There are a lot of older musicians in London that came in the 80s and 90s, got mortgages and now have properties which basically class them as millionaires! Guess that is a sad reality now, things are probably not anywhere near as good as they used to be. I never knew those days and it has always been just what it is now, although the longer you spend doing it you can work up to better gigs, so it has seemed like there's progression on an individual level and with my peers getting better work but probably the scene as a whole is slowly getting harder.. living costs are always going up. From my limited perspective that seems the case for everyone in our generation unless you score a really good job.. it's the 'gig economy' for young workers in any job, pubs, retail, delivery drivers etc - self-employed without benefits. So maybe that's part of why I feel lucky to be a musician, I think that notion of a 'real job' exists less and less for younger people and having a trade and a skill at anything is a good thing these days.

I also felt lucky to be a musician through the pandemic - which was obviously really rough for everyone, but I saw how quickly a lot of people in 'real jobs' got kicked to the kerb by their employers. Full-time musicians in the UK got support as self-employed people, as well as monthly help from a charity called Help Musicians, and there was lots of arts council funding you could apply to. I applied with a project to study privately with Ari Hoenig and Dan Weiss and got awarded funding which covers the lessons as well as the London living wage whilst I do the project.. so this is a bit of a life saver as it's like a salaried job to practise It has been a tough time for sure, but I felt there was more help available because we have a trade, a musicians union etc.
 

Chris Whitten

Well-known member
I also felt lucky to be a musician through the pandemic - which was obviously really rough for everyone, but I saw how quickly a lot of people in 'real jobs' got kicked to the kerb by their employers. Full-time musicians in the UK got support as self-employed people, as well as monthly help from a charity called Help Musicians, and there was lots of arts council funding you could apply to. I applied with a project to study privately with Ari Hoenig and Dan Weiss and got awarded funding which covers the lessons as well as the London living wage whilst I do the project.. so this is a bit of a life saver as it's like a salaried job to practise It has been a tough time for sure, but I felt there was more help available because we have a trade, a musicians union etc.
I hate to be the voice of doom, but apart from a PRS grant which I didn't qualify for but a couple of my friends did receive, the majority of musicians I know got nothing during the pandemic and definitely didn't feel lucky. Almost all the support was aimed at people with no money and about to be kicked out on the streets. Which is fine, they were the priority. (y)Being a bit older, most of my contemporaries had saved for a rainy day. And this was it, so we all burnt our savings for 1.5 years.
Personally I have received absolutely nothing - 3.5 million self employed people didn't qualify for any UK govt support and have had to survive on savings or donations from friends and family.
Most of the UK govt money went to institutions, like The Royal Ballet, or Glastonbury. Whereas most musicians are self employed and not part of an arts institution. I wrote to the MU, I wrote to members of parliament with culture and arts portfolios, but they couldn't do anything to change Rishi Sunak's mind. If you remember at the beginning (March 2020) the government said they would only support people with viable jobs, and if you couldn't play live because of social distancing, you didn't have a 'viable job'.
Lastly, because music is global and globally there are many countries still struggling with the virus, the band I often play for last worked in November 2019. No work in 2020, and they are hoping to play their first show in 2021 this weekend in France (a one off festival).
 
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Caz

Senior Member
Yeah that's a good point Chris - sorry to hear this! You're right, I didn't have a lot of savings when the pandemic hit, that's why was eligible for this help.. most musicians I know in my age groups are in a similar boat to me, I think the max savings for eligible people was around £16K and musicians with less than that set aside got various funding help from Help Musicians, PRS, Arts Council England etc. This is it.. the gig economy. Having over £16K savings seems a lot to me and probably a lot of my peers, but that's all a lot of us have known..
 
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