Crowdfunding: a new way of financing music, videos and concerts

Whether producing new songs, shooting a video or financing a tour: those who make music – and want to make a living from it – are increasingly turning to crowdfunding to make it happen. Platforms including Kickstarter, Startnext, Indiegogo and Patreon now allow musicians to have their projects funded by fans. Not sure how to go about it? This article contains handy hints and tips for your next campaign.

Recorded music sales are in decline

Thanks to widespread upheaval in the music industry, the last decade has been tricky for record companies and even trickier for career musicians. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reports that revenue from sales of recorded music in Germany fell from € 2.3 billion in 1997 to € 577 million in 2019, prompting many labels to reconsider their level of investment in new talent. Not surprisingly, alternative forms of financing for art and culture are becoming increasingly popular.

Crowdfunding for music

Platforms such as Kickstarter, Startnext and Indiegogo allow users to request voluntary contributions from fans and followers to support a specific project. In return, these backers receive material or non-material ‘rewards’ from the project owners. As well as funding countless start-ups and innovative new products, crowdfunding has enabled many musical projects to see the light of day.

Between its launch in 2009 and November 2020, Kickstarter had collected almost 5.5 billion dollars from fans. While a quarter of this was for games projects, bands like De La Soul and TLC also used it to pre-finance their album productions. At German competitor Startnext, where backers have contributed some 115 million euros to date, musical projects are the most popular category. More than 1,000 campaigns have been successfully concluded, with bands like Hundreds, musicians like Peter Licht and organisations like the Bavarian Philharmonic Orchestra or the Auerworld Festival raising funds for their events or recordings.

Kickstarter, Startnext & co. can be useful – but they offer no guarantee of success

The rise of crowdfunding shows how quickly conditions in the cultural sector have changed. It also highlights new opportunities for creators and consumers of music as a result of technological progress. The fact remains, however, that music is much less profitable a career than it was 25 years ago. Moreover, although crowdfunding for musical projects is becoming more popular, many projects are still not successful in securing the funding they need.

On Kickstarter, the success rate across all projects is 38 percent. Campaigns that do not reach their funding goal leave empty-handed. Startnext, meanwhile, reports that 73% of all music campaigns on the platform are successful – i.e. that they reach at least their predefined minimum funding level.

14 tips for financing music with crowdfunding

It’s only natural that musicians wonder how they might benefit from crowdfunding – and what challenges they might face along the way. To answer these questions, I’ve put together 14 tips to help secure the success of your own music-related crowdfunding campaign:

  1. Think of the launch of your crowdfunding campaign like the release of a new album. In addition to a memorable title, you need a well thought-out ‘corporate design’ that allows the campaign to be recognised easily. Adapt the look of your website and all social media channels accordingly. Consider having new band photos taken so that fans have something new to consume during the campaign. Finally, don’t forget to plan exactly what content you want to publish on the crowdfunding platform (and when) so that your project retains momentum and attracts as many potential backers as possible. The best way to do this is to create a regular content plan.
  2. This brings us to the next important point: the rewards. Your main goal here is to offer only things that your fans really want or can use. When, as often happens, a crowdfunding campaign fails reach to its goal, unappealing rewards are most often to blame. As such, my tip is to consider your rewards with care and allow adequate lead time for planning: a minimum of six weeks, preferably two months. This will pay off. How many rewards should you offer? What makes most sense? In my experience, a choice of 10-12 unique, high-quality ‘goodies’ for fans is more than sufficient. In addition, don’t forget to devise one or two more extravagant rewards costing 3,000, 5,000 or even 10,000 euros each. Far-fetched, perhaps – but you never know what will happen! As you do so, remember that high-priced rewards must stand out clearly from the crowd. You need to be more creative than other bands to attract the attention of potential backers. ‘Get the album a month before release’ has long since been insufficient to secure the success of a campaign.
  3. Similarly, your project video plays an important role. It’s a simple fact that campaigns with videos are more successful, so plan for this element right from the start. It doesn’t matter how you create the video – whether ultra-professional or on a budget with smartphone and gimbal – as long as you present yourself in an authentic and interesting way. Consider, too, that producing a video cheaply doesn’t mean you don’t need a plan or goal. Structure every step meticulously; only then will you be able to maximise the potential of your crowdfunding project and your musical vision.
  4. At the same time, keep your goals realistic. For most projects, the chance of raising 10,000 euros from 50 supporters is highly unlikely. On Kickstarter, the vast majority of financial contributions range from 0-100 US dollars – so choose a goal that is both reachable and covers your expenses for the rewards. Accidental (and costly) miscalculations are to be avoided. In addition, don’t forget that Kickstarter and Indiegogo charge around 8% to 15% commission on the total amount raised, while Startnext charges 4% for the payment service provider and a voluntary commission of an average of 3%. Where applicable, be sure to account for the costs of sending packages to your supporters. Finally, remember the 50/50 rule: 50% of the budget for production, the other 50% for marketing. Plan accordingly.
  5. Even once you’ve reached your funding goal, you can encourage your followers to keep supporting you. This can be done by creating so-called ‘stretch goals’: additional promises that go beyond the scope of the original campaign goal. This could include, for example, the plan to record additional songs or shoot a music video when the next funding milestone is reached.
  6. Kickstarter explicitly states on its website that the most successful projects run for 30 days. Where projects last longer, fans can sometimes lose interest before the goal is fulfilled. A project duration of 60 days might give the impression that your needs are not so urgent – and anyway, no-one benefits from dragging things out.
  7. Once you’ve published your crowdfunding project, it’s time to get the campaign off the ground. Celebrate the launch on your social media channels and share it with everyone you know. Work day and night to ensure you reach your crowdfunding goal. Enjoy this time together as a band – it’s a great excuse for fun! In my experience, it’s usual to achieve one third to 50% of the total funding goal in the first week of the campaign, so most of your energy should be invested in this period. Don’t forget to respond promptly and politely to inquiries from potential backers.
  8. After the success and momentum of the first week, a little inertia can sometimes creep in. The initial excitement has faded and the urgency of the opening days is gone. Your task now is to come up with things to keep fans interested – a free live stream from rehearsal, for example, where you play songs from the upcoming album and answer questions from fans. This way, even those who are still undecided will be encouraged to be part of the vision.
  9. As the above makes clear: it’s crucial that your supporters feel they are part of the journey. Invite them to accompany you and think of them as an integral part of your (street) team. ‘Succeed together or fail together’ is the order of the day.
  10. By the same token, there will be supporters who don’t comment on every update or share your projects with others. Instead, they simply wait for the reward to arrive in the post. This is perfectly fine: not everyone wants to be ‘part of the process’. Treat these people with the same respect as you would your most die-hard fans. Perhaps they just like your music or are satisfied with a discount or the chance to get the album early. There are many reasons why supporters can be silent!
  11. As you see, not every fan is the same – which is why your communication should be as diverse as they are. Consider how to reach out to different target groups within your fan base, perhaps by assigning a band member to each. Discuss and plan this together in advance, since you won’t have time to do this once the campaign gets off the ground.
  12. One common yet easily avoidable mistake is forgetting to share the link to a campaign. No-one likes to spend time searching, especially not in the internet age. As such, there is no limit on how many times you can post your campaign link to make it easy for potential backers to support you. Even if it feels strange to start with, you’ll soon get used to adding the link to anything else you share. Your crowdfunding project must be easy for anyone to find!
  13. With this in mind, I give you one-time permission to do what I’d never normally advise: annoy people! Tweet, write and post several times a day on all social media channels. Make TikTok videos and exploit your campaign to the fullest. Everyone should know that you’re raising money for your music on a crowdfunding platform: after all, this is the next important springboard in your career.
  14. For the same reason, don’t be afraid to write personal messages to friends, family, fellow musicians and fans. These personal appeals for support are often very effective – so be sure to customise the messages and make them full of life. This can be a great way to kick-start that second, slower-paced week. While it’s a time-consuming process and can feel uncomfortable, it’s worth it: an amount in the low thousands can quickly find its way into your coffers and help you reach your funding goal.

I believe that fans are still willing to pay for music – but that musicians need to find new ways to ask them to do so. Crowdfunding can be the first step to getting your music out into the world.

What are your experiences? Have you ever started a crowdfunding campaign for a musical project? Was it successful? If not, where do you think you went wrong? I’d love to chat to you in the comments.

Earning a living with music and culture: not just a hobby!

“Better to do something secure,” my father said, as we sat at the dining table and I talked of my dreams of becoming a drummer. “Be a doctor, a teacher, or get a job in the public sector. Then you’ll never be out of work.” He looked at me expectantly. I was in my last year of school and about to sit the Abitur, the German university entrance examinations. The question of what to do afterwards was more pressing than ever. If I wasn’t going to be a professional drummer, I at least wanted to do something cultural, musical or media-related – to pursue one of the many new and very modern-sounding skilled occupations that had popped up in these fields in recent years.

Studying and working in the music and cultural sector

Digital media designer, digital media manager, sound designer and more: Over recent decades, new technologies and requirements in the working world have resulted in the birth of a number of new professions and training avenues. Digitalisation has completely changed the way music is produced, marketed and sold. Those on the commercial side of the music industry must not only possess the necessary business knowledge, but be familiar with the relevant legal landscape, too.

Those whose talents lie in the organisational realm may seek a career in culture and arts administration, for which internships and training posts can be found in a variety of locations and institutions. How do cultural institutions work? How do I plan projects and events? With public funding often scarce, questions of this nature have long been considered secondary to financial ones. Knowledge of business administration and marketing is more important than ever before, and it is now almost impossible to consider the funding of culture in isolation from fundraising and sponsoring.

It’s a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed. Some years ago, Prof. Hermann Voesgen, long-time former director of the ‘Kulturarbeit’ [‘Cultural Work’] programme at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences, wrote:

“The establishment of culture and arts administration as a field of training and a recognised profession was accompanied by a comprehensive, still-ongoing process of social deregulation with an increasingly liberal economic orientation.”

Education and training opportunities in the cultural sector: a lack of standards?

In Germany, at least, this appears to be an unfortunate truth. From my own experience and from that of friends and colleagues, it seems that education and training opportunities in the cultural sector are often rather lacking in comparison to those other industries. Reasons for this might be that they are oversubscribed and that the standards of the positions are not regulated sufficiently, or indeed at all. Some time ago, in a telephone conversation with a national representative of independent business operators, I was asked whether I would consider opening up my recording studio to apprentices. When I replied that I had not been certified as a trainer and could not provide any other evidence of my entitlement to work as one, I was informed that this would be no problem at all. On the contrary: I was left in no doubt as to the high demand for training places in this area and the fact that, as a small business, I could undercut the regular Ausbildungstarif [the wage paid to apprentices in Germany] by as much as 10 to 15%.

Once I had recovered from the surprise, I politely refused. My rule is always that if I’m going to do something, I’ve got to do it right. Nevertheless, I thought about it for a long time afterwards. Was this really the best we could hope for – to create as many exciting-sounding training places as possible with no regard for the quality of the businesses providing them – just so that young people could have a training place at all?

A lack of practical orientation in education and training 

Unfortunately, my experience is backed up by the stories of numerous colleagues: those who took up the new, in-demand programmes in culture and arts administration or studied sound or media technology at one of Germany’s private universities. Such programmes are often far removed from real-life practice. As such, it is little wonder that few graduates can concisely explain the purpose of the Künstlersozialkasse [Artists’ Social Security Fund] or, for example, the differences between GVL [the German copyright collection society] and GEMA [the German performing rights society]. It’s like a medical programme turning out doctors without the first clue about anatomy.

What makes things worse is that in many cases, these cultural graduates are on a one-way path to unemployment. There are not nearly as many jobs in the cultural sector as there are graduates to fill them, and the imbalance becomes worse year on year. I have written previously about the struggles of life as a professional musician – and for many other professionals in the arts, cultural and creative industries, it’s no different.

No money for culture?

Just as most famous painters and musicians used to depend on noble benefactors to survive, only a very small percentage of today’s musicians are successful enough to thrive financially. But must their less commercially successful counterparts really be satisfied to work for a pittance? Should musicians content themselves with the chance to dedicate part of their lives to their passion, even if the work they do is usually out of proportion to their earnings? In many regards, I find that our society lacks a fitting appreciation for art and culture. It is an oft-repeated trope that for a musician, the creative value of their work is more important to them than financial success and the potential for profit. But even if this true, it doesn’t negate the problem of how they’re actually supposed to survive.

One thing that’s for certain is that they won’t survive from selling music alone. As Sir Mick Jagger once told the BBC: “People only made money out of records for a very, very small time… there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.”

Selling records, but not making money

I know this can happen, because I’ve experienced it. Many years ago, I played in a relatively successful metal band. Naturally, we were keen to start shifting records as quickly as possible, so we looked at signing a Bandübernahmevertrag – a contract governing the assignment of copyright to a recording label – with an established South German label. On the surface, the deal would have seen us receive around 20% of the ‘published price to dealer’ (PPD), the wholesale unit price charged by recorded companies to retailers. The PPD at that time was between 9.50 and 11.50 euros, meaning 1.90 to 2.30 euros for the band per CD sold. Okay so far.

Under closer inspection, however, these already-low revenues would be offset by production costs of several thousand euros that we, as the band, would be required to pre-finance. In addition, we would be required to purchase all of the CDs from the label at the abovementioned PPD in order to conduct direct sales. Even without a degree in business, it was obvious that this wasn’t going to be very profitable for us.

When all was said and done, we as a band would have made a total of 1,900 to 2,300 euros per 1,000 CDs sold. I know now that at least 85% of bands at the time did not even manage to cross this threshold. Moreover, if a band did manage to bring in 2,000 euros, it would still need to be divided up appropriately. A manager – if there was one – would receive 15-20%, with the remaining amount being shared among the members (for a four-piece line-up, 450 to 550 euros per musician). Today, such ‘generous’ takings would be absolutely inconceivable.

Musicians as low-income professionals

These figures are sobering, but they are no exaggeration. Statistics from Germany’s Künstlersozialkasse [Artists’ Social Security Fund] paint a similar picture – not only in the field of music, but for those working in visual arts, performing arts and the written word. The average self-reported annual income of musicians under the age of thirty is around 13,000 euros. This means that many professionals in the arts and media fall firmly into the low-income bracket (though many still feign being somewhere in the middle, like musicians of their parents’ generation).

The loss of earnings caused by the Covid-19 crisis has also been dramatic. According to a survey conducted by Encore Musicians, an online booking platform for British musicians, two thirds of those surveyed (musicians earning 80-100% of their income from music) told Encore that they were considering giving up working as artists: overall, they had suffered a more than 80% reduction in live performances since the spring. 

Better ways to support arts and culture

Whether they’re planning tours, performing on stage, organising concerts, producing films and radio or working in events companies and cultural offices: just like doctors and teachers, musicians and other cultural workers are following a vocation. What’s more, they are doing so despite the often uncertain financial prospects. The romantic image of a musician spending the whole day in search of inspiration, without any of the routine and discipline of an office worker, bears little relation to reality. In fact, the ability to make a living from delivering relaxation, joy and escapism to audiences requires organisational talent, flexibility and perseverance. Now, in times of Covid, it is clearer than ever how much poorer we would be in a world completely devoid of culture.

It is high time that cultural, music and media professionals ask themselves how they want to live and work. Ultimately, it is unacceptable for graduates to stumble from one unpaid internship to the next or to remain precariously employed for years. Every internship and training position must comply with legal standards, be paid appropriately and be subject to social security contributions. This is one side of the coin. The other side is that – finally – artists organise themselves and lobby to assert their legitimate demands. Nobody wants to work for free or for a fee that is (often) not enough to live on. In this regard, minimum fees for performances and public engagements could be a step in the right direction for the future.

Now – you’re up! What do you think is driving so many young people to want to work in the music and culture? What’s the incentive, and what price would you personally be willing to pay? Let me know in the comments!

I made it! What does it mean to succeed as a drummer in the music industry?

Recently, I was asked – for the first time in a long time – why I decided to become a musician. I didn’t have an immediate answer. Was it because I “loved” making music? Actually, no: “love” alone doesn’t explain it. I love making music, but I also love Italian food. So what distinguishes one type from the other?

The difference between is that I wouldn’t be happy eating Italian food every day for the rest of my life. In a similar vein, to build a career as a drummer, it’s not enough to merely “have fun”. You need a huge amount of passion, perseverance and staying power to get a foothold in the music industry and succeed in the long term.

Fame, notoriety, success: what drives you as a musician?

If you’ve watched the Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt, you might be picturing a musician’s life as wild parties, expensive hotels, groupies and sold-out stadium tours. For life as a drummer in a successful band, this can sometimes be (part of) the picture. More often, however, the reality of life as a drummer is 16 hours’ work a day, holding down a side job, being economical with the food shop and sometimes, in the worst cases, struggling to pay rent. Nevertheless, many musicians tolerate these hurdles in order to play the sold-out stages of small or medium-sized clubs.

There’s a piece of wisdom that says that those who get into music for fame are doomed to fail from the outset. Throughout my career, everything I’ve seen and experienced has confirmed that this is true. The pursuit of fame alone does not afford a person the passion and drive they need to succeed. When it comes to your music career, it’s better to view fame as the “icing on the cake” – an added bonus that will (hopefully) be granted after a lot of hard work and a little luck on the side.

When friends and family have doubts about your music career

If you attempt to establish yourself in the music industry, you may find – to your surprise – that support from friends and family is less than forthcoming. Non-musicians will often fail to understand your ambitions. “You really think you’ll make it as a drummer?” they might ask. Of course, these sentiments can be highly discouraging. The truth of the matter is: if you wait for approval from your nearest and dearest, your music career will be over before it’s even begun.

Quite early on, I realised that my family and friends really did just want to help. More importantly, they wanted to protect me from harm. Even after my ten years in the music business, they still can’t understand why I chose to work in this field: one that’s often mentally challenging and, at the same time, offers no reliable route to professional success. In my experience, these conversations with loved ones are the hurdle at which many aspiring musicians fall – not just drummers, but other creative talents too.

What does it mean to be successful as a musician?

In addition to the questions above, I’ve often been confronted with a particular recurring argument: “Michael didn’t manage it either – and you know how talented he is!” These moments cause me to question the ways in which people measure success. Michael hasn’t played a sold-out European stadium tour or earned a Gold record, and thus has not – in his friends’ eyes – achieved what they expected of him. For many outside the music business, “success” is equated with megastar status. In reality, this would mean not only obtaining the financial backing of a label or investor, but also – most likely – becoming a singer or songwriter in addition to a drummer. But even this isn’t really the issue. Isn’t it impressive enough for someone to carve out a years-long career in music, be able to earn a living from it and to even afford the odd holiday to boot?

In the town where I run my studio and produce my music, there’s a little winegrowers’ cooperative. They make fantastic wine, the employees have fun at work, the shop is attractive and the company culture is great. The management seem to have done everything right – yet they’re not as famous as Sogrape Vinhos, Portugal’s biggest wine dealer. Does this mean they’re “not successful”? Personally, I wouldn’t say so. What about the established bookstore two streets across – the one that only has five employees, but enjoys almost mythical status among its customers? Should we deny the owner the accolade of success, just because Amazon sells a few more books? Most would say not. Why, then, is it different for the music industry? Music remains one of the few fields in which “making it” is inextricably linked with worldwide success and huge media attention – and the definition of success is always in the eye of the beholder.

Your goals as a drummer

With all this in mind, your foremost goal should not be the pursuit of fame, but the achievement of your individual goals as a drummer. If you’re holding on for explosive success, the likelihood is it that will never arrive. Discovery is near-impossible in today’s unwieldy music market – and while there are exceptions, they’re rarer than a full set of lottery numbers. Rather than focusing on fame and glory, you should concentrate on building a professional reputation. Generally, bands and artists prefer to work with drummers they’ve already know, and whom they know they can rely on. A well-maintained network is the most important prerequisite for success in the field.

Despite this, I know many musicians who seem content to sit back and wait for success to arrive of its own accord. Many of them, from what I’ve seen, aren’t even sure what they want to achieve. “Becoming a rockstar” is not a legitimate goal: it’s much too ambiguous. What does it mean? Sold-out stadiums? A long list of radio hits? Earning lots of money? All of this at once?

Planning a career in the music business

When I was younger, my goals also used to be overly simplistic. That was before I rethought my strategy. Some time ago, a friend told me he’d been thinking hard about where he saw himself in one, five, ten and 25 years’ time. Prompted by this, I also began to reflect – and I can only recommend doing so yourself. Since then, I’ve been 100% conscious of what I’m working towards each day. Imagine, for example, that you’ve spent the last ten years on tour and aren’t keen to keep travelling all the time. Because of this, you plan to spend more time in the studio. How might your action plan look?

After one year: You’ve worked on album recordings with five different clients, with three or more  songs ending up on popular Spotify playlists.

After five years: The songs you’ve worked on have racked up a total of more than one million streams. You have a stable income and can feed your family.

After ten years: You’re the owner of your own studio, with a monthly income of seven and a half thousand euros, and have racked up more than ten million streams on Spotify.

After 25 years: You own a globally recognised residential recording studio, where you work with a wide range of artists and producers. The waiting list is famously long!

Succeeding in the music industry has nothing to do with age

Once you’ve outlined a rough plan, you can begin developing your goals with further details. Which artists do you want to work with? What are your preferred genres? What equipment do you want to use? What will your daily schedule look like? The more detail you can provide, the better. Print out your plan and hang it on your bedroom wall – this will make sure that your goals are always in mind. Put a cross next to each milestone you achieve, and try to cross off your first-year goals within the first twelve months.

Up until now, I’ve only told a small number of people about this regimen. A few of them reacted with surprise: “Aren’t you too old to plan like this for long-term success in the music industry?” My answer? No. As always, it’s your goals that are important. Moreover, a person’s age has absolutely nothing to with their success or talent. Take Butch Vig, for example, who produced Nirvana’s Nevermind at the age of 35 and only broke through with his own band, Garbage, at the age of 40. Neil Young was 44 when Rockin’ in the Free World came out; Leonard Cohen was 50 when he released the incredible Hallelujah. If you work hard enough, you’ll make it, regardless of how many years you’ve got behind you.

What is “making it”; how do we define success?

To conclude, I want to talk about what it “making it” means to me. As I view it, success in the music business means being able to pay your bills with your creative talent and have a bit left over for you. When you’re financially comfortable enough that decisions are no longer driven by what you can afford, you’ve achieved a degree of freedom that many can only ever dream of.

What do you think? What does “making it” mean for you? What is success – and have you already achieved it? Let me know in the comments!

4 qualities without which you will not be successful in the music business

“Be professional as a musician and agreeable as a colleague”: if you’ve paid attention to my last few blog posts, you might have noticed this advice crop up more than once. But what does it mean in practice?

Stay down-to-earth on big stages

A few years ago, I recommended a colleague for a job with a big German artist. He went to the audition, was perfectly prepared and won the gig. Initially, this made me proud – I was pleased it had worked out for all involved. Unfortunately, after rehearsals were done and the tour had kicked off, my acquaintance began to change. I still have no idea what caused it: up to that point, I had known him as a friendly, skilled and reliable drummer who got along with all. Not so over the course of the tour, where he became increasingly inflexible, failed to keep appointments and berated the crew regularly over minor issues. To help alleviate some of the tension, I apologised on his behalf (and secretly wished I had never mentioned his name).  In the end, he played just seven of 49 gigs before getting the sack – and thus missed the chance to play an amazing tour, earn good money and establish himself as a dependable session musician. If he’d behaved differently, he might have ended up as one of the most sought-after German session musicians on the scene today.

Soft skills for musicians

If this example shows one thing, it’s that success in the music industry doesn’t depend merely on your instrumental skills. Your soft skills – your manner of dealing with colleagues and business partners – are equally as important. To be able to land regular jobs as a musician, it’s important you’re perceived as a pleasant, friendly individual with an upstanding character. Whenever I’ve been recommended for projects, it’s not only been due to my professional experience, but also the way I’m perceived as an individual. In my experience, cultivating an great reputation from the outset is a vital determinant of your later success. Never forget this! Conversely, I’d also argue that in some cases, a musician’s personality is what prevents them getting better studio jobs, playing bigger tours and, ultimately, achieving greater success. More than once, I’ve found that technically savvy, musical “workhorses” are preferred over absolute virtuosos of their craft, simply because they are easier to work with. Always keep in mind that the easier you make it for your colleagues to work with you, the greater the chances they’ll recommend you to others.

6 questions musicians often fail to ask themselves

With this in mind, I’d suggest that instead of practising as normal today, you take time to answer the following questions:

  • Would you class yourself as an upstanding person; one who does not shy away from hard work?
  • Are you a team player who is able to go “above and beyond” when the situation requires it?
  • Are you easy to work with, or do you tend to think that those around you owe you something?
  • Do you generally think you compare unfavourably to other musicians your area?
  • How do you deal with constructive criticism?
  • Imagine you are an artist, a producer or a musical director. Would you hire yourself? Why / why not?
4 qualities you need to succeed in the music business

A word of warning: the next step is where it gets really uncomfortable. Ask these questions of a person close to you and prepare yourself for honest answers. Ask them to tell you how you are perceived, and think about why this impression might exist. This will provide you with valuable feedback and enable you to work on your character and soft skills. While I’m fully aware that this step is not easy, I promise it’s worth it. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that success as a musician depends, more than anything else, on the following four personal qualities:

  • Motivation
  • Gratitude
  • Perseverance
  • Patience

Motivation

If you’re motivated, you’ll approach every job with a positive attitude. Your enthusiasm will be contagious, and you’ll encourage those around to give their best. Trust me – they’ll thank you for it! Being highly motivated will also give you the ability to take positive lessons from difficult situations and, as a result, to find better solutions. The key question to ask yourself is: how much of your motivation is apparent to those around you? Not every listener can tell exactly what you’re doing with your instrument, but all of them can tell whether you’re doing it with passion. Because of this, I consider it vitally important for musicians to learn how to convey their emotions in a groove, since this is what allows them to really connect with their audience.

Gratitude

You’ve no doubt heard the saying “you reap what you sow”. When it comes to dealing with other people, I don’t think anything has ever been truer. No-one can succeed in the music business alone – and because of this, I show gratitude every time someone helps me or “opens a door”. I do it with a personal phone call, an email, a small card or a gift – whatever I deem appropriate for the situation. For me, it’s a matter of course; why, then, do so few other people do the same? Over a period of ten years, only three (of a total of more than 60) have thanked me sincerely for helping them progress. With this in mind, I urge you to remember to say THANKS when needed – it costs nothing, yet is worth so much. At the same time, be sure not to use false expressions of gratitude as a tool to manipulate others. In the freelance sector, in particular, nobody is bound to work with you twice. Most will remember if you treat someone badly or exploit them.

Perseverance

In life, you’ll be confronted with a whole load of negative people: people who constantly who tell you that what you’re doing isn’t working and that you’ll never achieve your goals. Sometimes, this can be hard and demotivating. A few years ago, however, I realised that many people behave like this purely because of their own limitations. Perhaps they never experienced they success they dreamed of and begrudge others their own, preferring to dissuade them with destructive thoughts. Don’t let that throw you off track. No matter how far away your destination may be, no matter how arduous the path is, persevere with your goal until you achieve it. If you want to make a dream come true, rejection and knockbacks are an unavoidable part of the package. When I’m in need of motivation, I cast an eye over the life stories of successful people like Leo Babauta, David Bowie, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, who motivate me to keep going when things aren’t going as planned. In my experience, endurance is one of the key differentiators between those who are successful and those who are not.

Patience

Impatience is something I observe daily – and in a time when anything and everything is expected to be available instantly, it’s no surprise that it’s on the rise. Earlier today, I saw customers at the supermarket kick up a fuss because of having to wait a minute at the till – a perfect example of how society is changing. People want the best results in the shortest time, and if things don’t quite work like that, they get disappointed. But patience is not an inherent skill or a special talent, but a matter of pure practice. If you want to be successful, remember the saying that “the path is the goal”. As for many other career paths, a drummer’s path to success can be long and full of  detours. But if you cannot learn to be patient, it is likely that you’ll give up long before you reach your goal. It’s much easier to give up than to persist with your dreams.

To become a successful sideman, you need not only hard work, but a good helping of patience, perseverance, motivation and gratitude. Of course, these qualities in themselves are no guarantee of success as a musician, but will dramatically increase your chances of achieving what you want.

Now, I’m interested in what you think. What qualities are important for success in the music business? What do you do to develop them in yourself? Let me know in the comments!

Your goals as a drummer – and how you can achieve them (spoiler alert: make a plan!)

You’re bound to know at least one person who is an undeniable natural talent: someone who learns easily, understands things quickly and whom everyone believes will make it big. In my case, this was a musical colleague with an amazingly good ear and an extraordinary sense for music. While I only played the drums, he’d managed to master five different instruments. Everyone was certain that of out all of us, he’d be the one to achieve great things – or at least, everyone except him. Sadly, he struggled with a 17-year drug habit and never managed to realise his musical potential.

What do I need to do to get to where I want?

I thought about this colleague for a long time. His story helped me understand that success is not determined by what others think of you, but your belief in yourself and your willingness to set goals. I’d go as far as to say that 90% of failures occur due to the lack of a concrete plan. Without a plan – and thus, without a meaningful strategy – success is almost impossible to achieve. With this in mind, I began early to think about what I really wanted and how I would achieve these goals. 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines strategy as “a detailed plan for achieving success in [specific] situations, or the skill of planning for such situations”. In other words, it’s about what you need to do and about where, when and how you should do it in order to achieve what you want. I know some highly talented musicians who could certainly have achieved more success if they’d formulated a long-term plan. Instead, they went one way, then another, then came back to the starting line. Eventually, they found themselves on a completely unintended path, realising too late they’d lost control of their musical career completely.

Without a plan, you’ll never reach your goal

You’re probably familiar with the saying “failing to plan is planning to fail”. Of course, nobody dreams of spectacular failure; nobody seeks to pursue a line of work they hate and find unsatisfying. Nobody wants to see those around them achieve success while their own lives remain seemingly stagnant. Nevertheless, many find themselves in this situation. Why? Well, usually, it’s simply because they’ve failed to plan carefully or develop a well thought-out plan. This is why, once again, I’d urge you to establish a strategy as the foundation for achieving your drumming goals. Only once you know what you want and have a detailed plan for achieving can you begin to progress along this path.

At the same time, the mere act of following a plan is no guarantee of not encountering setbacks or opposition. You also can’t control everything that happens around you – so focus on the things you can change. This means good preparation, perseverance, tenacity and, of course, patience. You may have to make some detours or adjust your milestones over the course of time, but even in this case, you should never lose sight of your main goal. A good plan will ensure that you always get back to the path you want to be on.

Set short-term goals for your musical career

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to set short-term goals that are conducive to your long-term ones. When I left school with good grades and my Abitur [university entrance qualifications] in hand, there were only two things I wanted to do:

  • Make enough money to buy a new drum kit, and
  • Take drum lessons to further my musical abilities.

Nothing else interested me. I didn’t want to travel, party or hang around with friends – I simply wanted to fulfil these two goals as quickly as possible. In order to do this, I of course had to look for a job.

Through a lucky accident, I found out that Daimler-Chrysler (as it was known at the time) was employing regular holiday workers, and that the roles were very well paid. I worked on a three-shift pattern and spent eight weeks mounting vibration dampers on engines. The work was monotonous, but exhausting nonetheless: I fell into bed at the end of each day and had little energy to practise the drums. But the hard work paid off. After eight weeks, I purchased a brand new Tama Starclassic drum set and had enough money left to take regular lessons. The feeling was unbelievable: I couldn’t believe how satisfying it was to have got what I wanted through my own hard work. It showed me – and I hope will also show you – the importance of setting short-term goals.

Though many people dream of becoming successful overnight, this generally only happens in the rarest of cases. Usually, success requires a number of small steps that build on one another and, eventually, lead the individual to their ultimate goal. It’s also important to remember that the quicker success comes, the quicker it tends to disappear, too.

How to become successful as a drummer

Once you’ve set your personal goals, I’d advise you to do as follows:

  • Structure these goals according to their importance, and
  • Develop a strategy for achieving them.

If, for example, you want to become a well-known jazz drummer, the first step would be to take lessons with a respected teacher. You’d also need to be familiar with all jazz standards and to be able to perform creative solos with different chord progressions and time signatures (3/4, 4/4, 6/8). Your action plan could look something like this:

  • Research the best jazz drummers in your area
  • Identify the top 3 and inquire about lessons
  • Get hold of a Real Book
  • Spend at least 30 minutes a day listening to jazz standards
  • Attend jazz jam sessions twice a week
  • Found a jazz trio/quartet

If this example plan shows anything, it’s that the way to success is actually quite straightforward: you simply have to move systematically from one point to the next. By following a systematic plan, you minimise detours and maintain sight of the ultimate goal.

No plan B: focus on your goal

When I decide to pursue music as a full-time career, it was the only goal I wanted to achieve. I wasn’t interested in anything else – and, if I’m honest, there was nothing else I cared about. It’s precisely for this reason that any “plan B” has an increased chance of failure. Would anyone tell an aspiring doctor to pursue a side career in music “just in case”? Of course not – that would be totally absurd. By the same token, I find it equally unhelpful for people to suggest that musicians should have a professional plan B. Yes, no-one should dedicate their entire life to a path that clearly isn’t working – but this doesn’t negate the fact that pursuing two deviating goals is fraught with risks. The likely outcome is that one of the two goals will fall by the wayside, or you’ll pursue both goals half-heartedly and achieve only limited success in both.

Instead, force yourself to stay on the ball and work step-by-step towards the thing you want. If your livelihood depends on something, you’ll automatically devote more time and energy to it than otherwise (believe me – I know what I’m talking about!). Of course, we’d all prefer success, prosperity and satisfaction to hardship, pressure and stress, but it’s a universally acknowledged fact that we grow the most in times of greatest endeavour. Things will sometimes be tough, but in the end, striving to realise your dreams will always be worth it.

Believe in yourself as a musician and have confidence in your intentions  

Of course, setting specific goals in itself is not enough to produce success: you also need a high degree of discipline and motivation. Being discouraged by your colleagues or having your goals mocked by friends are no reasons to give up; rather, the key is to have confidence in your intentions. If I could give any recommendation, it would be to work hard and not to shy away from challenges. If you’re willing to do this, you’ve a good chance of achieving whatever you put your mind to.

Now, I want to know about your strategies. How do you plan for success? How do you intend to get there? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Networking: How to build long-term business relationships as a musician

When I decided to spend five years studying at a conservatory, it had nothing to do with getting a nice certificate. Of course, the institution’s international reputation and exclusive academic team were things that appealed to me, but they weren’t the main reason. Really, I wanted to get to know other musicians and expand my network. It was a good plan.

After playing at a jam session in Karlsruhe at the semester opening party, I spent the following months getting to know a number of other musicians. Some I worked with some only once, some regularly, and some never. That’s the music business. Some, who are now good friends, introduced me to other friends and colleagues. If you’re wondering why they did this, I think it happened for two reasons: first, because they thought I was a good drummer, and second, because they liked me.

Getting your network off the ground

By and large, building a network in the music industry works in the same way as in other professions. Ideally, it should be a dynamic process: you work for someone who passes on your contact details, or you meet someone who introduces you to new people. These people, in turn, introduce or recommend you to people in their own networks. The bigger the network you can build, the better it will assist you in finding work.

But before we go any further, let’s take a step back and think about how things look at the very beginning of your music career. There’s a good chance you don’t live in one of the big music cities, like Berlin, London or Los Angeles. If this applies to you, I recommend that you take the following challenge: first, try to become the best musician in your city. Once you’ve achieved that, pack your things and move to the next-biggest city. Try the same there. Here, you’ll meet other musicians who are (usually) better networked than you. This opens up new possibilities for you to win jobs as a drummer.

It’s not uncommon for young musicians to move several times before they feel ready to try their luck in one of the big music capitals. This strategy has been tried and tested by a great number of talented drummers, who’ll usually advise you to work on your personal development and musical craft in parallel. However, if there’s one thing I’d implore you to hear loud and clear, it’s that this tactic works best when you’re young and free. Such a strategy is not without risks and – naturally – is much harder to carry out with a family. As long as you’re independent, you can take your chances and see what happens. If things don’t work out, you can always look for alternatives and plot a course for a successful future in a different direction.

Be a professional player and a pleasant colleague

On my way to becoming a professional drummer, I always made an effort to be part of a young, up-and-coming groups of musicians. For me, this strategy seemed much more promising than trying to “work my way” into long-established networks. After all, there will always be a new, promising generation of musicians who want to be as successful as you – and who form the ideal basis for your new network. If you can build a positive connection with these peers while working your way up the ladder, you have a good chance of winning jobs through recommendations (once they’ve established themself as a sideman in a major act, for example).

As you’ll come to realise, most jobs come from well-maintained personal contacts with other musicians, artists and record companies. But even if you believe you’ve reached your personal goal, I’d encourage you not to rest on your laurels. Every genre and sub-section of the music industry is served by a different circle of musicians, which is why I’d advise you to meet as many people as possible. This is how you win consideration for a wide variety of different jobs. An important rule is never to break bridges – because the people you meet on your way up are the same ones you’ll meet on your way down.

Nobody knows what will happen in the future, or what opportunities will come your way. But take it from me when I say that more than once, people have opened doors for me when I least expected it. Conversely, others have dropped me, even though I counted them among my friends. The lesson here is to treat each of your contacts as if they were the most important person in your life – because anyone you neglect today could be someone who would eventually have brought you forward. There are many examples of musicians who were massively underestimated at the beginning of their careers and went on to prove people wrong. Never blow up bridges you might someday need to cross!

Use gigs and gatherings to network

Over time, as you build your network, you’ll be invited to more and more events, showcases and release parties. In my experience, those who understand how to make good use of these events are the ones who build their networks the fastest – which is why I always have my business card, pen and tablet to hand. In terms of what such an event can do for you, there are two possibilities. The first is that you don’t speak to anyone new, in which case you may as well not have turned up at all. The second is that you leave the event with the feeling of having done your best and made a lasting impression on new contacts. This, of course, is far preferable – but it doesn’t happen of its volition. You’ll need not only to be genuinely interested in the careers and gigs of your colleagues, but to incorporate your own interests and experiences into an intelligent small talk.

I know many colleagues who, instead of heading home after these events, get straight in the taxi and head to the trendy clubs in the city to celebrate and mingle with other musicians. It’s a natural thing for musicians to be interested in other musicians. Personally, I’m particularly intrigued by colleagues who manage both to play well and to enrich a piece of music with their own personal style. If you’re well prepared and have a good command of your instrument, you may well be discovered in a small club by an already-established session musician.

Nourish your contacts – old and new

Nourish your contacts whenever you get chance. Once you’ve met someone and exchanged details, try to arrange a second meeting and to send a follow-up email after two to three months so that they don’t forget you. Whenever I do this, I usually ask them what’s new and talk about the projects I’m currently working on. If you think that networking sounds time-consuming, sometimes even laborious, you’re right. Sometimes, I have weeks or even months where I simply don’t have time to follow up all contacts on a regular basis. In the worst case scenario, it might take me almost a full year to get back in touch with a fellow musician, only to learn that one desirable job or another has already been filled.

Luckily, the timing is often right – that is, I touch base with contacts at exactly the right time to be recommended for a current job. The only reason they hadn’t already done so was because they didn’t have me “on their radar” at the time, or thought I was otherwise occupied. This shows how important it is to maintain your network regularly.

3 practical tips for networking with musicians

1. Always get back to people

Over the past few years, I’ve experienced situations in which repeated calls or emails went unanswered. This, of course, is an absolute no-go. Even if you can’t or don’t want to play a job, you should notify the colleague who recommended you and thank them for their support.

2. Be reachable

Sometimes, it will be you recommending others. To help you be a good contact to others, it’s a good idea to make sure they have your telephone number. It can always happen that they lose your contact information or are not able to access it quickly and easily. Make it easy for them to contact you. They’ll thank you for it!

3. Keep your contacts organised

As your network grows, you’ll soon realise that it’s impossible to remember all the information you need. Because of this, I keep a simple Excel spreadsheet in which I enter the name, email address and telephone number of the contact, as well as additional information such as the position of the contact at a record company or within a band. If you organise your contacts in this way, you can search them quickly using a variety of criteria, such as displaying all the bassists you know with a single click. Clever, right?! In order not to forget important details, I enter this information as soon as possible after meeting someone new.

In the end, it’s all about who you know and how you can easily reach them at the right time. Nobody can tell in advance which of their networking efforts will ultimately lead to success or, at the very minimum, to the next gig. But one thing I can tell you for sure is that – at least for drummers – networking is an indispensable part of working in the music industry.

Now, I want to hear from you. How did you build your industry network? Let me know in the comments!

Drumming in the studio: Practical tips for your career

I worked in a recording studio for the first time at the age of 16. Looking back, it’s clear to me that this experience, which I shared with my band, was a highly formative one – though not in a positive sense. My snare wires rustled every time I hit the bass drum. A screw loosened in one of my toms during the second song, completely spoiling the drum sound. No matter how much effort I made, it was as if I was jinxed: nothing seemed to work the way I had envisioned. I’d thought that recording in the studio would be relatively easy, but it turned out that neither I nor my equipment were sufficiently prepared for this costly adventure. I had disappointed my bandmates, annoyed the studio owner and, on top of all that, was annoyed with myself for having been so naive. I received the recording after ten days and, inevitably, I couldn’t have been more disappointed.

The right preparation

Luckily, a few years later, I was able to start afresh: I participated in studio work with several well-known producers, and had the chance to prove my worth as a drummer. The home recording field had evolved rapidly in the intervening period, which meant that suddenly, I had the opportunity to prepare for studio visits in a very different way than six years ago. I used test recordings to analyse every aspect of my playing, right down to the smallest detail, and was able to see exactly where I was going right and wrong.

Then, as now, I recommend that if you take your own equipment to the studio, you should make sure everything is working properly and nothing is clattering or squeaking. Now would be the time to put on new skins, tighten all your screws and check your cymbal stands.

Be flexible

If you want to work in a recording studio, you should be familiar with as many different styles of music as possible; that is, you should be able to adapt to them and offer the producer a wide range of sounds and beats. It’s a big plus if you’re capable of sight-reading (classical music study is helpful in this regard) and if you know how to write lead sheets. Drummers who are skilled in sight-reading always read a few bars ahead and, as a result, are rarely thrown off by difficult passages. In my experience, a drummer’s  ability to read notes and sheets is most important in big band, jazz, fusion and serious symphonic music. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the ensemble, the higher the likelihood that you’ll have to play from the sheet.

What kind of work awaits you?

Looking back, the golden years for studio musicians were the 60s, 70s and 80s. Today, it’s virtually impossible to earn a living from studio work alone, which is why many drummers combine studio work with touring and live concerts. The benefits of this are twofold: firstly, it maintains a stable level of personal income, and secondly, it offers the drummer more opportunities for musical expression (studio work tends to offer rather less variety). At a basic level, there are four different types of recording sessions:

  • Music

The aim of such projects is that the artist and/or record company holds a finished and publishable product in their hands at the end of the production process. In order to be successful in this environment, it is incredibly important to be able to listen very well. After just a short time, you should be able to intuitively interpret a given song in a form that is agreeable to both producer and artist.

  • Jingles

Jingles and advertising music are now produced all over the world. In most cases, advertising agencies outsource “music production” to independent producers, and musicians are hired directly by the producer or composer to carry out the work. As such, it doesn’t hurt to have a well-maintained network in this area of the industry, too. Since advertising work is ruled by the mantra “time is money” (and because most jingles being recorded today should already have been finished yesterday), producers expect a very rapid pace of work with minimal errors. If you take too long, this will cost them unnecessary money, and you’ll be left in no doubt that you’ve worked with them for the last time. In general, I recommend you think hard about whether you’re cut out for the music industry in general, because the pressure here is enormous. I consider it to be one of the hardest and most challenging fields of work there is.

  • Film and TV

Still today, most of the work for film and series music can be found in Los Angeles. Since I’ve never worked in that part of the world, I can only share the impressions I’ve gleaned – which are, first and foremost, that there’s plenty of money to be made. That’s why these kinds of jobs are typically in high demand among session musicians, and why the drummers who work in this field are usually among the best in the world (names worthy of special mention here include John “JR” Robinson, Jim Keltner and Vinnie Colaiuta). Essentially, if you want to work in film and TV music, there are two key points to remember. The first is that this type of work places extremely high demands on the abilities of each musician – ones that only a few drummers are able to fulfil. The second is that opportunities for drummers are passed around only among a small, selected circle of musicians. If you’re one of them, you might get lucky. Overall, I think the pressure here is even greater than in the field of ad music and jingles. Film and TV music is almost always recorded with a large orchestra, which leaves no scope for error at all.

  • Demos

To facilitate your entry into the world of session playing, I recommend you get involved in production sessions for demo songs. Sure, it’s not the most glamorous thing – but you can learn a lot, as well as making yourself known to producers for consideration on future projects. These types of recording sessions will also give you the chance to meet different musicians, some of whom will have already made good names for themselves. It never hurts to maintain a good relationship with colleagues and to collaborate as often as you can going forward, since this will often open the door to work with established artists and record companies.

12 rules for working in the studio

Regardless of which area you’re interested in, I’d advise you always to observe the following rules:

  • Treat your fellow musicians, producers and sound engineers with respect. Try and make their lives as easy as possible.
  • Suppress your ego and always be flexible – no matter what’s going on around you.
  • Unless you are asked to evaluate or comment on a decision, don’t. After all, your job to is bring to life the musical visions of others.
  • Play consistently and never with more or less energy than during an actual recording.
  • Always be able to repeat exactly what you played in the take before – without rhythmic or dynamic variations and with the same tone.
  • Only accept work that you believe you can do perfectly.
  • Always make sure your equipment is in perfect working order and that nothing is squeaking or rustling.
  • Bring a variety of drumsticks and skins with you to each recording session.
  • Once the sound engineer has positioned the microphones, don’t alter them further.
  • Turn off your phone – a simple tip, but one that’s too often forgotten. Nothing is more annoying than the perfect recording being ruined by a ring tone or message tone.
  • Bring something to eat and drink. Most of the time, recording sessions take longer than planned. Take responsibility for your own sustenance  – you can’t necessarily assume that someone else will do it for you.
  • Concentrate on the music without being tense or nervous. Enjoy your work! It’s one of the most pleasurable types of work there is.
Obtaining studio experience

Keep in the mind that in the past, recording studios occupied their own exclusive corner of the music industry. Thanks to digitalisation, however, it’s now no longer necessary to rent out a recording studio for tens of millions of euros in order to produce music. All over the world, “bedroom producers” are publishing professional-sounding recordings with limited resources. This has its own pros and cons. Although it means that anyone who wants to get involved in the music industry has the opportunity to produce and publish music, it also means that an already very chaotic market is flooded with music that would once never have seen the light of day. Nevertheless, technological advances and the emergence of smaller studios is giving younger musicians, in particular, the chance to learn in a quieter environment and to gain the experience they need to become a skilled and valued session musician.

Even well-recognised musicians, some of whom have been working in the business for decades, are benefiting from these new developments. A lot of work has shifted from the big sound studios to their own private recording rooms, where complete project files are sent to customers worldwide via the internet. This gives them the opportunity to work with any musician around the world who is willing to pay them for their work. Particularly for musicians who are interested in studio and recording technology, this is a fantastic option.

Tips for working with producers

If you’re sure that you want to work with producers, I would advise the following:

  • Take a look at Google to see which music is currently doing well in the charts.
  • Find out who has produced the songs. Think about:
  • Where does the producer live?
  • What are the studios they prefer to work in?
  • Which record companies do they have contracts with?

Try to get in touch with them – but be polite and never intrusive. Master your craft, because nothing is worse than a great opportunity wasted due to insufficient preparation. Despite what you may think, the music industry is still a “who-you-know” business where personal relationships are worth gold. Nobody will hire you because you have a cool demo or great videos on YouTube. Why? Well, because this does not say anything about how long it took you to record the song, how creative and versatile you are, or how easy you are to work with.

Networking in the music business

So, in conclusion: go out and build your network! Play live! Go to jam sessions and concerts and find out where the musicians in your region hang out. You need to meet new people and make friends to make music, which will in turn allow you to be heard by the people with the power to boost your drumming career. In addition to knowing your craft, it’s vital to be a good networker. Usually, as an unknown musician, you will be recommended by someone whom producers or established musicians trust. If you don’t work on your soft skills as much as you do your instrumental ones, you might go your whole life without your talent being picked up.

Now, I want to know about your experiences. Which studios have you worked in? Do you have any interest in being a session drummer, or would you rather be a sideman on tour? What would you add to my rules for work in the studio? I look forward to hearing from you!

Endorsements: who gets them – and what to look out for when striking a deal

I still remember the hours I spent browsing my favourite manufacturers’ catalogues as a child. For me, the huge drums and amazingly shiny cymbals had a kind of magical aura – they were something very special indeed. I still recall the positive feelings I came to associate with them. Though it wasn’t all that long ago, there was one key difference between then and now: back then, there was no internet. This meant that the catalogues that my music teacher brought from from music fair in Frankfurt were my only chance to learn about the drums and other equipment on sale. I treasured them and memorised every detail. If I hadn’t been so young, I would have made a fantastic salesman for our local music shop.

An endorsement: my childhood dream

As a teenager, I was fascinated by endorsements and the prospect of free equipment. At the time, of course, I had no idea how the music business worked, and I didn’t understand what manufacturers stood to gain from such deals. Still, I always dreamed of being featured in a catalogue alongside Terry Bozzio or Steward Copeland. For a while, I wanted it more than anything else. Full of enthusiasm, I founded my first band – I knew I needed to be successful if I were ever to be offered such an opportunity. At the time, I would have endorsed anything, so long as it looked cool on stage and sounded okay too. Today, I realise this is entirely the wrong approach – and I’m grateful that in those internet-free days, it wasn’t as easy to get in touch with companies as it is today. (You must keep in mind that at this point, I was only eleven years old…)

What to avoid if you want to be an endorser

Nowadays, I repeatedly see young colleagues sending out batches of identical emails to fish for  endorsements from companies. This is something I can only warn against. Let things be and see what comes along! The A&Rs of different companies know one another and, of course, will share ideas about potential endorsement candidates. If they realise you’ve flung out the same pitch to several different companies, you’ll look unprofessional, untrustworthy and ungrateful. It’ll come across as though you don’t genuinely support anyone. Instead, you’ll look like a chancer who just wants to get things for free – a very bad starting position for becoming a successful endorser.

Be professional and friendly in your work

Instead of taking the approach described above, I recommend consistently working on your instrumental skills, playing as many concerts as possible and being friendly and pleasant to your peers. No company will give you free stuff “just because”. If they support you by sending free equipment, they will expect, eventually, that they end up selling more as a result. This means that in order to qualify as an endorser, you must have a degree of familiarity with potential buyers, enabling the company to use your name and reputation to promote themselves.

The business relationship involved in an endorsement deal is similar to the one that arises when a record company contracts your band to their label. As with record deals, not all endorsement deals are created equal, and the different types are discussed briefly in the list at the end of the article to enable you to recognise them. Endorsers almost always fall into one of the following four categories:

  • Sidemen playing with top national or international acts

This group includes drummers who have enjoyed an excellent years-long reputation within the music industry, touring regularly and working in the studio with world-class, well-respected musicians. These drummers are usually a manufacturer’s “crown jewels”, because they influence the buying decision of many drummers – consciously or subconsciously – with their opinions about certain equipment.

  • Young, emerging drummers

Companies sometimes award endorsement deals to unknown drummers whom they expect to “break through” in the near future. Although these emerging musicians are only known to a niche group of fans, the companies take a chance on the fact that they’ll soon be recognised by a wider audience.

  • Drum teachers

Many companies award endorsements to drum schools and respected drum teachers. From a  manufacturer’s perspective, the close contact between teacher and student can be a valuable extra string in the drummer’s bow. In addition, many recognised teachers are also authors of educational materials, which presents a further opportunity for targeted advertising by manufacturers (e.g. in books, on blogs and on websites).

  • Technical and/or musical high-fliers

Every now and then, a drummer comes along who is able to spontaneously inspire their peers – mainly because of their outstanding technical and/or musical abilities. In this case, the manufacturer does not care whether the endorser tours regularly or plays in big-name studios. Through workshops and master classes, these musicians are able to represent the manufacturers in a form that is almost always profitable: their audience is made up exclusively of drummers, and the advertising is as target group-specific as it gets.

Just as there are different endorsers, there are also different types of endorsement contracts:

  • A-level endorsements

This form of endorsement is awarded to the small number of drummers who are either highly reputed, highly successful, or both. This includes people like Thomas Lang, Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta and Billy Cobham. In this type of deal, the manufacturer sends the artist all their equipment for free, and may also compensate the artist for using it. The amounts tend not to be eye-wateringly large, but are more to cover the musician’s cost of living. Unlike in sports, there are no millions to be earned. That said, most amounts are still in the middle of the five-digit range.

  • B-level endorsements

Generally, the framework conditions of a B-level endorsement are the same as those of an A-level endorsement – the difference is simply that the amount of equipment is limited. The artist usually receives a free drum set to use during the term of the agreement, which typically lasts for one to three years.

  • C-level endorsements

If a manufacturer is not willing to take a big risk with an aspiring drummer, this is the type of deal that will usually be offered. In this case, the artist is able to buy equipment at the manufacturer’s price or just above. Some companies also offer the endorser the chance to choose instruments directly from the factory, and may provide assistance if something needs replacing. At this point, you might be wondering what advantage such a relationship brings to the endorser – after all, retailers no longer charge a significant mark-up, and may also offer benefits such as warranties or write-off options. As far as I see it, the biggest advantage for endorsers is the chance to build a personal relationship with the manufacturer and “work up” from C-level to A-level status – if they have the drive and are prepared to invest the necessary energy.

The type of deal you receive will depend not only on the company (or companies) with whom you are under contract, but also on the relationship you have with the respective A&R manager. Many endorsements are preceded by a good personal relationship, so be sure not to neglect this aspect of the business. In addition, before you seek an endorsement, think about what benefits you can bring to the company. Endorsement relationships are not a one-way street: the success of the manufacturer is your success too, and vice versa.

Are endorsers allowed to use equipment from other manufacturers?

If you officially endorse a manufacturer, you are firmly bound to use their equipment – it has a counterproductive effect if you are seen using other manufacturers’ gear in public, at concerts or in studio sessions. That said, there will sometimes be situations where it is difficult to use your partner’s equipment – and this also applies for renowned drummers playing with internationally recognised artists. Often, the problem is of a logistical nature. Imagine that you’re giving one concert in Milan. What would be the cheaper solution – to haul all your equipment there, or rent a drum set from a local backline provider? I don’t need to tell you the answer!

Equipment is usually paid for by the local concert promoter, which, of course, wants to keep its expenses as low as possible in order to maximise its profits. They do not care which items of your endorsement partner’s equipment you normally use. Nevertheless, you should try – wherever possible – to insist on your preferences and stay loyal to your partner. You owe that to them. Why should you use the equipment of a company whose products you cannot 100% stand behind?

Endorsements: have confidence in yourself – and be a professional partner

When it comes to endorsements, my main advice is to avoid making excessive demands from the outset. Start small and climb the ladder of success gradually: anything else would be unprofessional, and won’t help you in the long term. An endorsement deal can open doors for you in many ways and make life on the road much easier. At the same time, you should never take your partner’s support for granted. Always make sure you fulfil your side of the bargain, too!

What about you? Are you interested in becoming an endorser, or is it more important to you to remain independent? What experiences have you had with your endorsement partners? What stories do you have to share? Let me know in the comments!

Sideman and studio drummer: How to survive as a freelance musician

All the musicians I know began their careers in cover bands. During my studies, I, too, spent a lot of time in wedding and event ensembles. I also invested a lot of time in my own projects, because I had a hunch that I wouldn’t be able to achieve the kind of success I wanted through cover music alone. Only with my own band, I thought, would I find a route to the big arenas and gain access to the major labels. Like me, all of my fellow musicians were waiting for their big break. We often spent hours talking about the “big time” over beer and fast food – and still, it didn’t materialise.

Starting your own band: Risks and things to consider

Unfortunately, I was forced to acknowledge early on that the interests of various band members are often as conflicting as their personalities. In addition, I had no influence over the eventual destiny of my fellow musicians, or their actual passion for the goal of a “musical career”. Ultimately, I was only a small part of the big picture. Because of all this, being a band member can sometimes be a frustrating experience. At any time, a fellow member can leave without warning, forcing you to start from scratch with new musicians. This is not only annoying because of the time, energy and money you have already invested in the project – it also means that the band does not progress as it should. Your dreams can dissolve before you’ve even had chance to put them into action.

7 reasons why bands split up

There are many reasons why bands split up – and many of them are things that are out of your control. In my experience, the following are the most common:

  • Changing priorities of band members
  • A lack of discipline and punctuality
  • Band members are not team players (the majority of the work is done by one or two people)
  • Change of record label
  • No booking agency and/or no tour support
  • Lack of marketing
  • Worries about the effects of success when things “gets serious”

All these factors can play a role in whether or not your band is successful. I hear time and again of cases where, after years of hard work, bands split when once they’ve finally started making a name for themselves. If you’ve had this experience four or five times over, there can be no escaping the fact that you’ve invested a lot of time without getting any closer to your goal.

Being successful and getting paid as a freelance musician

Fortunately, it took me only three failed bands until I realised that my parents’ favourite saying – “Every man is the architect of his own fortune” – is more appropriate in this business than anywhere else. At this point, I decided to begin working as a freelance musician and producer. I knew that this decision would turn all aspects of my life on their head – and yet it was a very attractive option, knowing that success or failure would now be directly related to my own work and discipline. I wouldn’t be able to blame anyone but myself.

What was attractive about working as a freelance musician? Well, first of all, there was the independence that such a job entails. In contrast to a fully-fledged band member, sidemen or session musicians are paid as service providers. As a result, they are also not entitled to royalties, shares of merchandising sales or shares of concert revenues. Example of well-known freelance drummers are Karl Brazil (who tours with Robbie Williams, James Blunt and Joss Stone) or Oneida James (who tours with Joe Cocker). On the other hand, Will Champion (Coldplay) and Eddie Fisher (OneRepublic) are permanent band members who, like their bandmates, receive a share of the sales they achieve.

For freelance musicians, payment is usually issued in the form of a weekly or per-performance fee. Sometimes, a lump sum may be agreed for an entire tour, or you may receive another form of financial compensation, e.g. in the form of a “long-term position”. Whenever you become part of a band but have not signed a contract with the record company, you are working as a session musician or sideman. As a freelancer, you are a sole trader and have to calculate exactly what prices you can afford to work for.

The life of a sideman: No ordinary working life

Today, sidemen make up the majority of musicians who are active in the music business. From recording sessions to live events and television appearances – freelance musicians are used in just about every musical situation imaginable. For me, that’s exactly what makes the job so interesting: I can work for different artists and, at the same time, have a greater range of musical experiences than musicians who are bound to a particular band or genre. Besides, I’m doing exactly what I always wanted to do, and can say with conviction that I love my work. Why spend time doing something I don’t enjoy?

Speaking of time: All in all, my working time on stage is relatively short in comparison to the working time of a “regular” employee. This is because most concerts last a maximum of 2-3 hours. There is, of course, a certain amount of time required for travel and personal preparation – but even despite this, this lifestyle offers me the kind flexibility that I could never have guaranteed with a nine-to-five job.

Working with stars on the stage and in the studio: The matter of ego

Of course, those who talk only about the positive aspects of a sideman’s life are being economical with the truth. Over the years, I’ve realised that a session musician’s life is often misjudged by those who have no experience of the music industry. They expect you to make millions just because you’re touring with one or more major acts or working with them in the studio. Unfortunately, for many session drummers, this assumption is far from reality. There’s no doubt that you can earn a living as a successful freelance musician; however, the “fame” aspect (your own or that of the band you’re playing for) is just an added bonus of your actual work. If it doesn’t help you pay your bills, it’s not much use at all. It massages your ego and might impress a few acquaintances, but not much more.

Because of this, I’d advise you not to confuse fame with financial freedom. These are two very different aspects of your profession. In the worst case scenario, you may even end up in serious trouble trying to maintain a façade of fame and luxury that does not actually exist.

Earning money in music

For many people, it is not clear how money is now distributed in the music industry. There is a big difference between a freelance sideman and a musician who has signed a record contract, earns artist royalties and has other income (merchandise, advertising contracts, presenter work, etc.). In addition, you should be aware that most money is made by the people who own the intellectual property rights, including successful songwriters, publishers and producers. In a broad sense, this group also includes managers, agents and concert promoters. As in any other business, there are employers or clients who are fair and sincere, and others who are egoists, idiots or simply [insert swearword of your choice]. Once you realise this, you can go about pursuing this career without the risk of disappointment.

As I’ve written in other blog posts, there are far more financially profitable professions than that of a sideman – but there are also many jobs that are far less personally rewarding. Ultimately, you need to ask yourself what you want to do with your life and how you want to earn your money.

The secret to success as a freelance musician: Be good – and be reliable

As a sideman, you won’t have regular working hours – and as much as that can be beneficial to creative professionals, it also has its disadvantages. With most jobs, you can simply call in sick if you’re not feeling well. If you’re on tour as a support act or headliner, things aren’t that easy. Each appearance is based on previously-concluded contracts who the compliance is enforced with legal remedies, without of the consequences. That’s why you, as a session musician, are expected to appear without fail – no matter the circumstances.

I once fell ill unexpectedly during a tour, but had to play a show at K 17 in Berlin anyway. Just the though of sitting at the drums made me want to throw up: I had a fever and felt like my head was going to explode. Every shot on the snare drum was like a blow on my head. I was totally wiped. If there were ever was a moment when I would have wished not to get sick, it was now. Despite this, I had to go ahead and play the show: I had no other choice. The other musicians and the audience expected the performance they were used to. I can tell you now that performing in such circumstances is not easy. Nevertheless, it’s not impossible – and it shows you the tough side this business can sometimes have.

Now, it’s your turn. What do you want to achieve in your life? Is a career as a freelance musician a realistic option for you? Be honest with yourself and follow your heart as soon as you’re sure. What are your impressions of being a freelancer in the music industry? Do you already have experience as a sideman or studio musician? I look forward to your comments!

Don’t panic: Dealing with the mental demands of live concerts as a drummer

The third song sends the pedals splintering into bits, your setlist has sailed away on the breeze, you’re still feeling yesterday night’s party and you didn’t have enough time to practise for the encore. What does your nightmare performance look like? There’s no question that performing on stage requires the right preparation: not only should you make sure your equipment is complete and working, but you also need to be physically and mentally fit. This is what allows you to keep a clear head and deliver a clean performance – even if things don’t run smoothly on the night.

Checklist for drums, cymbals and accessories

When it comes to managing their equipment, no other band member has it harder. Does everything work, with no rattling? Are the skins intact? Are spares present for all the wear parts? A good tip is to print out a checklist for concerts or studio sessions and write down everything you’ll need for a successful performance (sticks, rug, skins, tape, etc.). Then, try to pack them up in plenty of time, not rushing around before your departure. This will allow you chance to get into the right headspace for the gig.

A workout at the drums

As a drummer, you’re required to commit fully to every second on the stage. Sure, there are rock singers or R’n’B artists who give their all from beginning to end – dancing, running and jumping across the space – but most of the time, it’s the drummers who are expected to consistently perform at their best and give their full physical effort.

To play with the necessary power and speed and maintain your stamina and agility, you should generally make sure to treat yourself to adequate sleep, a balanced diet and enough water – especially during the gig itself. Drumming regularly is a good way to train your physical fitness, and you may also benefit from exercises targeting the relevant muscle groups and joints.

You don’t need to be a professional athlete – but with a certain level of physical fitness, you’ll complete performances more easily, bring more self-confidence and creativity to your playing and even get more enjoyment out of your work. It should be fun, after all …

The fifth element: mental strength

In addition to being in good physical condition, playing in front of an audience requires an authentic stage presence. Ideally, you’ll play with focus and concentration while simultaneously projecting a cool, relaxed image. Aside from the motor skills of strength, endurance, agility and speed, mental strength is very important for a successful live performance. This strength will make it much easier for you to give the performance that is required of you.

As such, as a musician, you can benefit from some basic psychological knowledge and tricks aimed at training this mental strength. You may already have heard about “resilience”: the inner capacity for bouncing back that helps you better handle difficult situations. The more you develop this capacity yourself, the easier it will be for you not to be deterred by setbacks or made nervous by a technical problem at a live show. In short, you’re less likely to get frustrated when things go wrong, and in the best case scenario, you’ll learn how to avoid the same mistakes next time around.

Mental training for musicians

How can we deal with stress or uncertainty before a gig or audition? Christian Obermaier, mental coach and solo timpanist in the Munich Radio Orchestra, advises musicians not to focus on their nervousness, but on their breathing, which will in turn help to curb their nerves. Christoph Schneider, drummer with Rammstein, dedicates time before a gig to focusing his mind and doing physical activity: he withdraws for an hour to perform yoga exercises. He also swears by a pre-gig warm-up, and plays a variety of stickings to relax.

Here are a few other tried-and-tested methods to help drummers (and other performers!) train their mental strength:

  • Don’t think about what could go wrong or what parts were hard to perfect during practice, as this will only be destructive. It sounds like a cliche, but positive thinking works! Visualise how amazing it will be if the groove finds momentum, all the instruments mesh, the audience are responsive and you give a great performance on your own adrenalin rush. All these thoughts have a positive effect on your subconscious mind.
  • If you can recognise your worries and what is causing them, you won’t automatically feel them less, but they will deter you less from your goals.
  • Don’t ask yourself why you’re less relaxed than drummer XY and can’t play as tightly as them on stage. Instead, ask yourself: “What do I have to do to be as relaxed on stage and to play as tightly as him/her?”
  • Learn to stay focused on your goals, even in difficult situations, and to take lessons from setbacks or mistakes.
  • Strength lies in composure. In the modern world, we are exposed to a constant flood of stimuli, which means that we are stressed, less attentive and less focused than before. Give your brain regular breaks of silence to refuel and return with greater focus.
Listening: a great challenge of live performances

For me, concentrated listening is one of the biggest mental challenges involved in live performance. I would even go as far as to say that concentrated listening is an art. Whenever we listen to a piece of music, we assign it structure by picking out familiar elements. Even if we’ve never heard it before, we can usually rely on recognising certain structural and stylistic rules. Like a piece of music, a groove consists of several elements, each of which must be identified through active listening. This is because our brain needs time to understand and digest the various sound patterns to which it is exposed.

For this reason, I find serial listening to be another important exercise for drummers. Serial listening means focusing exclusively on one particular aspect of the groove or music before turning to the next one. This is quite different to parallel listening, where we attempt to take in a piece of music or groove in its entirety. Especially when it comes to performing live, I’ve found that serial listening is very helpful for playing tight with the metronome or drum machine and building a stable, rhythmic foundation with the bassist.

Practising in your head

Another example of how you can use your head to perform better – whether in the studio or on stage – is to practise certain sequences mentally. This allows you to easily work on whole pieces, exercises or particularly difficult parts in your head. Even if you’re suffering from joint pain or tendonitis, you’ll still be able to improve your technique.

Psychologists have found that it doesn’t matter to the brain whether you’re sitting on set or just imagining it. The reason for this is that both activities stimulate and call upon the same areas of the brain. However, this mental training must also be trained until it becomes routine – and again, this comes down to visualisation. You must imagine how a particular fill-in will sound, and then picture how you’re going to master it.

Going your own way as a drummer

What do you want to achieve as a drummer? Do you want to play big tours, participate in cool studio productions or earn a regular income as a professional musician? Set specific goals. If you know where you want to go, it will be easier for you to follow that path.

Of course, you’ll always need to focus on improving your own playing. You’ll watch top drummers live or in online videos, read books and attend workshops. But in my experience, aside from your technical professionalism and passion for music, your mental strength is just as important – not only for success on stage, but for your general career as a drummer and for better dealing with the challenges of everyday life as a professional musician.

Once you learn how to manage the mental demands of live performances, you open up the opportunity to fully utilise or even increase your potential as a player. After all, who doesn’t appreciate going on stage feeling optimally (physically and mentally) prepared?!

How do you deal with the mental demands of live performances? How do you like to prepare? Let me know in the comments!