What is the life of a pro drummer like?

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
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.
And that's a feeling that money can't buy!

Or... can it? :)
 

Chris Whitten

Well-known member
I think the max savings for eligible people was around £16K and musicians with less than that set aside got various funding help
Not to belabour the point, especially on a largely US drum forum, but the govt also set a threshold for a 'viable business'. It wasn't based on income or turnover, it was based on profit. They compensated you for profits you lost because of lockdown etc... Most of the musicians I know try to limit their profit in order to lower their tax bill (like The Donald). So we invest back into our business, buying new gear, maintaining our gear etc.. You had to show accounting for three years. A lot of people who had changed jobs within a year or so of the pandemic lost out on any support.
Most of our crew (backline, lights, PA) took jobs delivering groceries for supermarkets. You did what you had to do to survive.
 

River19

Senior Member
Great thread. Tons of great perspective and advice.

At 46 years old now, my perspective is that I had similar questions as the OP back in the day and envied some of my friends who took the leap to go to Berklee and play music 7 days a week. When I talk to them now, the ones that stuck with it are a little burnt out with the fact they HAVE to play music and hustle 7 days per week.

I looked in the mirror and realized I prefer stability vs. risk and I went the business route working for the man while doing the music as a side gig not the other way around. I was realistic with what I wanted and the easier more high percentage path was the one I chose. That being said I played many a year in a well paid wedding band making great money for a side gig (or at least to me it was @$500-1000/gig to me to play the typical array of wedding tunes over and over in a tux and enjoy the hell out of it.

Today I play for me and pick and choose my gigs and I know who I am as a player and my wife and I are successful in our professional endeavors by most people's way of measurement.

I KNEW I wasn't the guy that was going to stay up all night at 21 years old and transcribe shit I didn't really want to play in the first place. Sure maybe here and there but certainly not enough to establish myself enough to support a lifestyle I wanted.

There is also nothing wrong with being a good musician while having a career in something else. It was/is flattering to hear "wow, you should play drums full time".......but that feeds the ego not necessarily the bank account. Everyone has to be honest with what they want.

IT can go the other way as well.......I know others that turned a hobby into a profession and regret it.........fly fisherman that tied flies for years for himself......went "pro" for the larger houses and now never gets to fish......all he does is fill orders......sucks.

Have a good heart to heart with yourself and if you know you won't sacrifice everything to drive all night eating Powerbars and transcribing ABBA tunes for as long as it takes.......think of options.
 

Sakae2xBopster

Well-known member
pt3407 Go for it! You have the whole rest of your life to pursue a career outside music, but if you think you might want to be a professional musician, do it now. The longer you wait the harder it will be to break into it.
50 years ago last month my best friend and I tried out for the marching band. We spent 4 years playing next to each other in the drum section. He went on to music school, moved to New York City, and has had a great drumming career. (I pursued a conventional career as a lawyer, put down my sticks at age 25, and did not pick them up again for 35 years.) I've watched my friend play on Broadway, in churches, in tiny clubs, and on YouTube. It's been wonderful following his career and I met up with him 3 weeks ago in NYC:


THIS is a small glimpse of what it is like to be a professional drummer. Number one, you want to be the person that everyone else wants to perform with. That means showing up on time (or early!), being thoroughly prepared, being a likeable person, and being willing to "serve the song." Very rarely will it be about you; it will be about the people you are with. Second, You'll be running a small business--Mr. Drummer, Inc. That means acquiring lots of skill, staying healthy, maintaining (or having access to) lots of equipment, managing your own schedule well, and diversifying your income streams by teaching, playing in lots of different genres, and locating yourself in a place where people who are willing to pay for your talents are located. Third, you'll need to put yourself out there. This entails learning to record yourself at a professional level, and getting your work up on social media. And not just on your channel, but on other peoples' channels. It means going to other peoples' concerts, and getting to know as many musicians as you possibly can. In summary, it's a lot of effort, but everything you do well will pay dividends. Good luck!
 

oldskoolsoul

Silver Member
Btw, regarding musicians needing gouvernement money during the pandemic..

If gigs were the main income source and gigs fall away, then, at least in most western countries, there is plenty of other work..

One of the best dutch percussion players, Martin Verdonk, who played with Lionel Richie, Richard Bona, Santana, James Taylor and many others, actually started working for a supermarket when the gigs were gone and the same for myself on a part-time basis..

There is NO reason why musicians can not work a normal job when the gigs are gone..

And everyone who thinks they are too much of an “artist” to take a normal job, should look at a world class percussion player like Verdonk and take an example on that..🙂
 

Chris Whitten

Well-known member
Sure. I know a lot of people who got work at supermarkets. It is just a question of fairness. Most of the regular workforce were supported financially by the government. Many could work from home. With no gigs for a year, everyone in live entertainment, from musicians, to crew, to backline rental were regarded as not having viable jobs in this government's value system. They chose to financially support people with
'viable jobs'.
Being over 60 I took the scientific advice to stay at home and socially distance unless absolutely necessary.
I was not eligible to be fully vaccinated until April 2021. So there was 12 months when I was advised to stay at home, and most other people in the same situation were paid 75% to 80% of their wages to stay at home..
**Look, I'm OK with the whole thing.**
I just couldn't agree that musicians were often the lucky ones during the pandemic. In reality we were the first to be jobless, we are just about the last to get our jobs back (gigging still isn't really up and running 1.5 years into this) and we were usually at the bottom of the pile when it came to financial support.
 
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Living Dead Drummer

Platinum Member
Sure. I know a lot of people who got work at supermarkets. It is just a question of fairness. Most of the regular workforce were supported financially by the government. Many could work from home. With no gigs for a year, everyone in live entertainment, from musicians, to crew, to backline rental were regarded as not having viable jobs in this government's value system. They chose to financially support people with
'viable jobs'.
Being over 60 I took the scientific advice to stay at home and socially distance unless absolutely necessary.
I was not eligible to be fully vaccinated until April 2021. So there was 12 months when I was advised to stay at home, and most other people in the same situation were paid 75% to 80% of their wages to stay at home..
**Look, I'm OK with the whole thing.**
I just couldn't agree that musicians were often the lucky ones during the pandemic. In reality we were the first to be jobless, we are just about the last to get our jobs back (gigging still isn't really up and running 1.5 years into this) and we were usually at the bottom of the pile when it came to financial support.

This is true. Many of my musician friends have been unemployed for over a year and a half. Some gigs are starting to come back slowly, but it's not full blown normal yet. It's not uncommon for professional musicians to also have side gigs or some kind of flexible day job. In fact it's more common now that you don't seen bands that tour for a full year or two on record support cycles.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
It's not uncommon for professional musicians to also have side gigs or some kind of flexible day job.
Back in the day, I had a full-time career along with my touring & recording schedule. This lasted 14 years until it was time to walk away from the day job. It was great to have a steady income doing one or the other, but I also didn't have any time to myself. A week vacation with my wife was out of the question. But no regrets, and no weirdness about leaving for a 3-month tour then returning to my desk at the end. My musician friends would have killed to be in my shoes, and I truly valued the arrangement.

I haven't considered going back to work in the last 25 years, but I would certainly do so if anyone would hire a 65-year-old who wouldn't be a long-term employee. With social security on the horizon, I probably won't need to. :)
 

oldskoolsoul

Silver Member
..Being over 60 I took the scientific advice to stay at home and socially distance unless absolutely necessary..

Thats ofcourse a valid argument..

My annoyance was more about a sentence in one of the previous posts that was speaking of getting gouvernement money or certain “Help Musicians funds” or whatever, and saying..: “it's like a salaried job to practise”..

This thread is about being a pro drummer..

There is literally no one on this forum who can be considered “more pro” than Martin Verdonk is..

From his site..:

“..Martin Verdonk also played, recorded or performed as guest with the following international artists:​

Richard Bona, Steve Winwood, Incognito, Prince, Lila Downs, Andy Narell, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan, Snarky Puppy, George Benson, George Duke, Pimpy Panda, Donna Summer, Tollak Ollestad, En Vogue, Santana, Leonardo Amuedo, James Taylor, Zucchero, Carl Verheyen, Ole Borud, Gianni Vancini, Toots Thielemans, Jeff Kashiwa, Allen Hinds, Lalo Schifrin, David Sanchez, Chip Taylor, Shaggy, Adam Hawley, Abdullah Ibrahim, dr.Lonnie Smith, BAP, Ray Obiedo,WDR big band, NDR big band, BBC big band, Paquito D’Rivera, James Moody, Jon Faddis, Roy Hargrove, Sandra St. Victor, Tony Carey, Horacio”El Negro”Hernandez, Alex Acuna, Rich Wyman, Demis Roussos and many more……”


If such a guy, who also teaches at conservatory, starts working in a supermarket after the gigs are gone, he has my biggest respect..

I also know about pro violin players who started working for 10 euro/hour in those “corona tracking” call centers, etc, etc, etc..

When knowing this, i think a valid question each “pro” drummer could ask themselves is..: then who am i to ask for gouvernement support..???

For young healthy people, in general, there is not a lot of reason to go to the gouvernement and hold the hand up to get money from them..

If someone is willing to accept work that is maybe a little below their “artistic level” that is..
 
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bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
If someone is willing to accept work that is maybe a little below their “artistic level” that is..
During the last almost 18 months, there hasn't really been any work at any level. That's where the assistance comes in. My accountant suggested I apply for unemployment because I could. I did look into it, but it was a pain. I do have friends that managed to get some decent cash though. Not a year's worth of pay, but enough to pay some bills and not have to sell gear.
 

Juniper

Gold Member
Thats ofcourse a valid argument..

My annoyance was more about a sentence in one of the previous posts that was speaking of getting gouvernement money or certain “Help Musicians funds” or whatever, and saying to be lucky to have “salaried practice”..

This thread is about being a pro drummer..

There is literally no one on this forum who can be considered “more pro” than Martin Verdonk is..

From his site..:

“..Martin Verdonk also played, recorded or performed as guest with the following international artists:​

Richard Bona, Steve Winwood, Incognito, Prince, Lila Downs, Andy Narell, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan, Snarky Puppy, George Benson, George Duke, Pimpy Panda, Donna Summer, Tollak Ollestad, En Vogue, Santana, Leonardo Amuedo, James Taylor, Zucchero, Carl Verheyen, Ole Borud, Gianni Vancini, Toots Thielemans, Jeff Kashiwa, Allen Hinds, Lalo Schifrin, David Sanchez, Chip Taylor, Shaggy, Adam Hawley, Abdullah Ibrahim, dr.Lonnie Smith, BAP, Ray Obiedo,WDR big band, NDR big band, BBC big band, Paquito D’Rivera, James Moody, Jon Faddis, Roy Hargrove, Sandra St. Victor, Tony Carey, Horacio”El Negro”Hernandez, Alex Acuna, Rich Wyman, Demis Roussos and many more……”


If such a guy, who also teaches at conservatory, starts working in a supermarket after the gigs are gone, he has my biggest respect..

I also know about pro violin players who started working for 10 euro/hour in those “corona tracking” call centers, etc, etc, etc..

When knowing this, i think a valid question each “pro” drummer could ask themselves is..: then who am i to ask for gouvernement support..???

For young healthy people, in general, there is not a lot of reason to go to the gouvernement and hold the hand up to get money from them..

If someone is willing to accept work that is maybe a little below their “artistic level” that is..

Respectfully, you’re assuming younger people also have no pre-existing Heath conditions to take into consideration.

Also, I can understand working a supermarket and other minimal wage jobs being less appealing during a pandemic, considering those environments most likely helped the virus spread.

Last year I was a fit and fairly healthy (at least to my knowledge) 37 year old, I wasn’t even visiting supermarkets, let alone work at them.

You’re getting uptight about a sentence but everyone had and has the right to do what’s best for them, the health of themselves and their families during a pandemic that’s killed over 4.5million people to date, with vaccines only recently on the horizon for the masses.

Not everyone’s situation is the same.
 
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toddbishop

Platinum Member
When knowing this, i think a valid question each “pro” drummer could ask themselves is..: then who am i to ask for gouvernement support..???

For young healthy people, in general, there is not a lot of reason to go to the gouvernement and hold the hand up to get money from them..
There is NO reason why musicians can not work a normal job when the gigs are gone..

And everyone who thinks they are too much of an “artist” to take a normal job, should look at a world class percussion player like Verdonk and take an example on that..🙂
I find this incredibly rude. No American musician needs a lecture about about this. We know we're f-ing minstrels in an unstable, low status occupation. Everyone I know is too busy trying to keep their head above water to dream otherwise. You try it sometime.

You say it as if there's government support to be had. There is none. So the point of this is what? You want to let it be known that you think musicians don't deserve any kind of social benefits that other people get?
 

oldskoolsoul

Silver Member
..You want to let it be known that you think musicians don't deserve any kind of social benefits that other people get?..


Not at all..

Just got a little annoyed by a few words regarding pandemic gouvernement help or funds, which were..: “it's like a salaried job to practise”..

And then i gave an example of a world class player whose attitude i like and respect, because he started to clean shopping carts in a supermarket, after he was able to live more than 40 years only from recording, teaching and touring..

I would have said the same about ANY person who is able to work (if work is available) but decides to take gouvernement money instead, no matter if there is corona or not and regardless the occupation they had before..

Maybe i could have wrote “normal job” different, since i consider being a pro musician pretty much the same as any other job, in case you got offended by that..

But for the rest, this is my opinion on this..🙂
 

oldskoolsoul

Silver Member
Oh and btw..

I had 2 gigs cancelled this weekend for 100-150 people private parties because of corona rules, while in the same weekend in my country the Dutch Grand Prix Formula 1 is held for 60.000 visitors a day..

Meaning, there is no need at all to explain me anything about unfairness regarding corona rules and musicians, etc……🙂
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Just got a little annoyed by a few words regarding pandemic gouvernement help or funds, which were..: “it's like a salaried job to practise”..

And then i gave an example of a world class player whose attitude i like and respect, because he started to clean shopping carts in a supermarket, after he was able to live more than 40 years only from recording, teaching and touring..

I would have said the same about ANY person who is able to work (if work is available) but decides to take gouvernement money instead, no matter if there is corona or not and regardless the occupation they had before..

Maybe i could have wrote “normal job” different, since i consider being a pro musician pretty much the same as any other job, in case you got offended by that..

Where did you get the idea that it's a normal job? People out of work from normal jobs have been getting unemployment compensation with a bonus this whole time. As they should be, since the alternative is economic collapse.

It's so strange how people prioritize their outrage. The US just got out of a 20 year war that was costing $300 million per day. Double the annual National Endowment For The Arts budget every single day for two decades. But you're upset because some musician gets enough money to not work for a little while during a world pandemic.

It's a very American attitude, this moral resentment that working people aren't working hard enough for you.
 

oldskoolsoul

Silver Member
..But you're upset because some musician gets enough money to not work for a little while during a world pandemic..


I am rarely upset regarding ANYTHING internet-forum-wise..

Just gave an opinion about something that annoyed me a little, nothing more than that..

No need at all to drag Afghanistan and what not into this..🙂
 

Chris Whitten

Well-known member
My annoyance was more about a sentence in one of the previous posts that was speaking of getting gouvernement money or certain “Help Musicians funds” or whatever, and saying..: “it's like a salaried job to practise”..
Sure. I was a bit shocked at the suggestion musicians (in general) were some of the luckiest during the pandemic.
The Arts, live events and airline employees have been some of the hardest hit.
I was never offered any government support, which on principal I disagreed with. There were a few arts based funds available, but when you went to the application page it was characterised as emergency funding for people in dire need of financial assistance. That wasn't me so I took it no further.
The principal I disagreed with was this common notion that musicians will always be there, no matter how hard it gets. Musicians will find a way to survive. So we always get ignored. During the darkest days I heard members of the public calling in to talk radio freaking out about only getting 80% of their wage supported by the government. How many people can survive without any income for 1.5 years? Which is what a lot of musicians, tech crew, theatre and live events people have faced.
The other thing is that we were all fit and able to do our jobs, but governments around the world banned gatherings of more than 5 people. So they told us not to work, then said they weren't going to support us - based in the UK on this idea that our jobs weren't 'viable'.
Finally, I totally agree, if you really need money you can find a job stacking shelves in a supermarket, picking fruit, delivering for Amazon.
But then so can furloughed office workers and car assembly plant workers. They all got financial support. Why self employed actors, musicians, guitar techs, and lighting company workers were deemed less worthy I don't know.
 
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