Whenever I asked this question of colleagues with more experience, I always got the same answer: “Word-of-mouth recommendations.” Right from the off, I realised the difficulty of this approach: there’s nothing you can do but wait. I had no control over when or if a good review would help me on my way to a piece of work. What would happen if I needed a gig straight away in order to be able to pay my bills?
I have a friend who invests an incredible amount of time in networking and manages to find repeated opportunities via the tactic of “hanging out with other musicians”. The motto here is that it’s not only what you can do, but who and how many people you know. I also tried this route, but found it to be a waste of time: it never really helped me in my search for paid gigs.
Playing live and attending concerts
Because of this, I tried another way, which was simply to play as much as possible. I attended jam sessions, went to auditions and played in rehearsals as a substitute musician. I wasn’t picky about the style of the music or the people I was playing with. Thanks to this, I got to know a huge number of musicians, some of whom I still play with today. It’s an approach I can thoroughly recommend – even if, at first glance, it’s not clear exactly how it will lead to more work.
You might, for example, attend a concert by a classically trained pianist. By doing so, you’ll expand your musical horizons and become a better musician almost by virtue of just being there. I’ve also noticed that other musicians are very appreciative when you’re at least a little au fait with “their world”. By showing an interest, I’ve won a huge number of jobs that other drummers would love to have had. The key was simply to engage with other musicians.
Marketing for drummers
Yes – at first pass, it sounds a bit arduous. You might be thinking, “Marketing for drummers? What’s that all about? I just want to play.” But this is exactly the point. To win gigging or concert appearances on a sustainable and regular basis – to actually be able to “just play” – all musicians, including drummers, need to give some thought as to how they market themselves.
Remember to think about how you present yourself. A friendly and courteous manner towards colleagues or event organisers will be remembered by potential musical colleagues or clients, as will a bad temper or arrogance. Show people that you’re fun to work with.
It’s equally as important to have an interesting and sufficiently detailed summary of your experience to hand. Bands, musical colleagues and event organisers should be able to get a good impression of what you can do and what you’ve already done. When you think about what to include, make sure you don’t simply write a paragraph about yourself. Talk about your musical styles, your influences and experiences. Include interesting sound and video clips, talk about your equipment and list past live dates or cool references. You can also summarise the most important information on one side of A4 as a PDF. Add a photo, and you’ve got a “set list” for your work as a professional drummer. Potential clients or colleagues can download it from your website and recognise immediately what sets you apart.
Club, tour or cruise ship?
Never overlook the fact that there are many and varied opportunities for playing live. Concerts in a club, appearances on tours, gigs in musical theatres or bookings for bands on a cruise ship: you’re “allowed” to do whatever you enjoy – or whatever keeps your bank account sufficiently full. Think about how your schedule looks for the upcoming months, when you have free time and at what rates you’re prepared to play one type of gig or another.
If you’re well-connected in the music scene, you’ll regularly hear of opportunities for live work. However, a good reputation has to be earned. Until you become established, it will likely be tricky to rely solely on recommendations and” word-of-mouth propaganda”. Because of this, it’s worth checking out where you can find call-ups or job postings for professional drummers in your area.
For musicals or cruise ships:
At https://de.stagepool.com, you’ll find regular postings from event organisers seeking drummers.
The drummer as an artist and service provider
Is drumming your passion? Mine too. Despite this, I don’t view myself solely as an artist, but also as a service provider. This applies not only for the days when I’m teaching drums or giving workshops, but also for live appearances. Perhaps, yes, you have a certain “red line” – gigs you would really rather not play. These aside, however, there are a huge number of projects, bands and events at which, as a drummer, can contribute your part to a successful result. If you do a good job – not only as an artist with an excellent command of your tool, but also as a professional, friendly service provider – you’ll quickly build up a positive image and can begin to expect further recommendations. And throughout all of this, don’t forget to make sure you’re getting fair pay. 😉
Now, I want to hear about your experiences. What tactics have you tried for finding live opportunities? What will you try in the future to win more gigs? I’m looking forward to reading your comments!