When I started out, I didn’t quite know how I was going to earn money drumming. I knew it was my dream but the steps to get there weren’t so clear. Drum lessons seemed like an obvious thing and continuing my music education in college was definitely a good move.
Aside from that, it was pretty vague how I was going to connect the dots to actually earn money playing drums. I was not born into a well-connected music family. I say this because I know a lot of you out there are like me. Like singer John Mayer said once, “I made a lot of stuff happen for myself.”
I think the thing they should also teach in music school is how to sell yourself. How to meet big time players and connect with them in genuine ways to start opening opportunity doors. There are of course auditions but usually, it’s who you know that gets you the opportunities.
Who you know helps you earn money drumming
I didn’t know so many people in the music business early on. For those that I did know, I tried very hard to prepare, practice and perform my best when a gig opportunity came up. This then led me to meeting other musicians on gigs and allowing word-of-mouth to help me get other playing opportunities.
For instance, when I was 19-23 years old, I went to Hawaii every Summer to spend time with family. While there, I connected with local drummers by going to their gigs. The great Hawaii drummer Noel Okimoto used to let me sit in at his Jazz gigs and we also hung out a lot together.
Through Noel, I met other great Jazz musicians in the Hawaii scene. That primed the pump for me. So, when I moved to Hawaii in 2000, I already knew many heavy cats in the scene and they connected me to other musicians. I was on track to make my living playing drums.
From there, I was able to grow my career and become one of the top 3 Jazz drummers in the state. Noel Okimoto was of course one of the three and it was a real joy to be in that elite group with him.
Reaching out to drummers is the approach I have used in every city I have lived. I did the same thing in Seattle in the early 90’s to become one of the top Brazilian drummers in the Pacific Northwest. I also did the same thing when I moved to Japan. Drummers were always my first connection and they helped me so much to get established.
Other drummers are not the enemy
The attitude I see in many young players is that they are in competition with other drummers. “Who’s the BEST drummer in town?” “Who’s got the most gigs?” “Who’s got the best chops?” I even felt that way too when I was young.
As you get older, you realize that drumming is not a competition. We need each other. We know each other better than we know any other instrumentalist and can help each other the most. Two other great drummers, Larry Ransome and Tomohide Kinugasa opened their arms and their gigs for me when I relocated to Japan.
I have also had the same philosophy in my teaching. My goal in teaching is that my students take my gigs. This already happened with two of my Hawaii students, Ian Wacksman and Taylor Katase. Both have become very accomplished drummers and are moving and grooving!
Taylor is already making her living playing and teaching drums! Ian will be heading off to college in the Fall but already plays professionally all over Honolulu.
Whenever a new drummer moves to my town, I make a special effort to meet them and connect them with the gigs and musicians I know. I guess my philosophy is always, their success is everyone’s success.
This thinking ends up helping me too in the end as those drummers later reciprocate with gig opportunities and other music connections. We all bring something special to the musical table. Each of our sounds, groove and feel are unique. It’s like a fingerprint. To think of drumming as a competition diminishes the real point of playing music in my opinion.
Up your musical skills
If you didn’t already read my blog posts about what you need to be a professional drummer, I suggest you check them out. They are some of the most important things you also need to make money playing drums. The links are below:
It’s also important to educate yourself about chords, key signatures, rhythmic musical notation, song form and how to read drum charts. If you understand these things well, it will also open doors to higher level musicians in your town. This usually leads to better paying gigs too!
How I diversified to earn money drumming
In any music career today, diversifying your musical abilities will help you create new income streams. For example, I also greatly enjoy composing and have written dozens of songs for TV, Film, Video Games and other media projects. I of course, perform or program all of my own drum and percussion tracks too!
I only acquired a rudimentary knowledge of music harmony from college. Even so, I have composed music for various genres and music publishers. I have also produced 3 commercial CD’s and am working on another one now.
Two years ago, a group I was in (The Future Jazz Quartet) released a CD. I wrote two of the songs on the album. One called Autumn in Akita, you can listen to on this page. In 2020, I also started producing top notch drumless tracks for drum practice as well. These have been popular and are helping drummers all over the World.
Getting music royalty distributions in the thousands of dollars from ASCAP, selling CD’s and receiving download payments for my drumless tracks are all nice bits of extra cash!
Singing while playing drums is another thing I have done since 2019. I didn’t know I would enjoy it so much! For most of my career I actually never thought at all about singing. Since discovering that I have a decent voice, new performance and income opportunities have opened up to me. Singing adds to my joy of music and pays some extra bills too!
While at Berklee, I got deep into Brazilian percussion. When I moved to Seattle in the early 90’s I got connected with Show Brazil and singer-songwriter Eduardo Mendonça. During that time, I further honed my Brazilian percussion and drumming skills. This added another skill set to my bag of drumming tricks.
I sometimes get called to play Brazilian percussion for gigs and recording sessions. I also use Brazilian percussion in my VONEA Show performances. This adds even more money to the pot!
Teaching is the final thing I do to earn money drumming. When I’m teaching, I’m playing the drums! Some teachers say to me they don’t have a passion for teaching. They teach to pay the bills.
That’s cool, especially in the lean times like now with COVID-19 severely disrupting our gigging schedules. I think though, we’ve got to have a real enjoyment for teaching to be successful at it. If we show up to a lesson and we are not all in, the student will know. They probably won’t continue long-term either.
Teaching can be lucrative whether it’s online like my drumming4life.com YouTube channel or privately. I also started using Zoom to teach because of COVID-19. This has worked out well and enabled me to teach people in other parts of the World! Cha-Ching! Yet another way to bring home the bacon and earn money drumming!
Live performances, private gigs and recording sessions are the final and obvious ways I make money as a drummer. There are times when it accounts for up to 70% of my income. Times like now during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s at about 30%.
Performing at live music venues usually pays about $100 American. Private gigs make substantially more. Anywhere from $200 +. These include things like weddings, company parties, and events. Recording sessions pay the best. Usually about $200 per song.
Adversity brings Opportunity
I had tons of recording sessions, private gigs and live performances booked in March, April and May. All were cancelled because of COVID-19. This gave me an opportunity to expand my company, Von Baron Music in new and fun ways.
I now have this blog, a web store and a podcast! One thing I do consistently in my business is seek opportunity. If “seeking opportunity” is your mantra as well, you will always find a way to be successful and earn money drumming!
Stay open to possibilities
So if I could sum everything up, it would be like this. Stay open to opportunities and possibilities to improve your drumming, music skills and music contacts. This will help you immensely to make money. It’s likely that you will need a few streams of income to make a living playing drums but I am living proof that it can be done!
If you are interested in learning the system I used to make a living playing drums, check out my e-book Gifted! It details all the steps I used to do exactly what I want to do every day of my life.
So, get out there and meet drummers in your community. Become friends in rhythm. Support each other and create new opportunities for music in your town. We’re all in this together and especially in this difficult time.
Take some online music theory and harmony classes, get a good drum teacher to learn to read and write rhythmic music notation and drum charts. It can all help you to unlock higher levels of income.
I’m always in your corner wishing you the best of success my friend! KEEP ON DRUMMIN’!
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