When I started out, I didn’t know if there were lots of jobs for drummers but I knew I wanted to play drums anyway. If you’ve got that same passion, are you ready to get paid for it?
Well, I want to share with you 5 solid things I do successfully that can also help you make money playing drums.
How to become a professional drummer
Aside from taking drum lessons and studying music in college, I didn’t have any idea how I would end up being a professional drummer. It was all pretty vague how I was going to connect the dots to actually get those jobs for drummers.
By the way, I’ve got another 3-article series about how to become a professional working drummer. Check out How These 5 Things Can Make You A Professional Drummer.
I wasn’t born into a well-connected music family. I say this because I know a lot of you out there are like me. So, I knew I was going to have to create my career myself.
In music school, I think they should also teach us how to sell our drumming ability. How to meet big-time musicians and connect with them in genuine ways to start opening new doors of opportunity. There are of course auditions for various playing gigs but usually, it’s who you know that gets you the opportunities.
Who we know helps us find those jobs for drummers
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 music 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.
Connecting with 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 used this approach when I moved to Japan. Drummers were always my first connection and they helped me so much to get those jobs for drummers.
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 to me when I relocated to Japan.
I have also had the same philosophy in my teaching. My goal in teaching is that eventually, my students will take my gigs. This already happened with two of my Hawaii students, Ian Wacksman and Taylor Katase. Both have become very accomplished drummers in their own right.
Taylor is already making her living playing and teaching drums. Ian has a budding career in New York City and already plays professionally all over Honolulu when he is home.
Giving back jobs for drummers
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.
Our individual sound, groove and feel are like our musical fingerprint. To think of drumming as a competition diminishes the fun and expression that we can contribute to our music community.
Improve your music skills
In addition to drumming, 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.
The 5 Good-Paying Jobs For Drummers
1 – Write music
In any music career today, diversifying your musical abilities will help you create new income streams. For example, I also really 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 in college. Even so, I have composed music for various genres and music publishers. I have also produced commercial CD’s.
The Future Jazz Quartet a group I was in, also released a CD. I wrote two of the songs on that album as well. In 2020, I started producing top notch backing tracks for drums. These have been popular and are helping drummers all over the World to improve their drumming.
Getting music royalty distributions in the thousands of dollars each year from ASCAP, selling commercial music commercial and my drumless tracks are all nice bits of extra cash.
You might also be interested in my article 23 Superb Jazz Backing Tracks For Drums. It features one of my drumless tracks collections and will give you an idea of how I produced my tracks.
2 – Be the singer on the gig
Singing while playing drums is another thing I have done for several years now. In the beginning though, I didn’t know I would enjoy it so much.
For most of my music 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 fun in music and pays some extra bills too.
About 85% of all my drumming gigs has a singer. The reason for this is simple. Listeners connect easily with singers because they are singing words.
If you can be the singer and the drummer on a gig, it will greatly increase the number of gigs you get and your income. I usually get about $100-150 per gig as a singer/drummer.
3 – Play percussion
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 often 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. I usually get about $100 every time I play percussion for a live performance or recording session.
4 – Teach drums
Teaching is a lucrative way I earn money drumming. 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 pandemics that disrupt 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 bring in good money whether it’s through online courses like my jazzdrumschool.com or teaching privately.
I also teach Zoom private drum lessons. This has worked out well and enabled me to teach people in other parts of the World.
A video platform I use is YouTube. My drumming YouTube channel drives traffic to my drumming courses, drumless tracks, private instruction and this blog.
This then results in sales and more income. I generally earn tens of thousands of dollars from teaching each year.
5 – Play drummer gigs
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 and sometimes as little as 30%.
Performing at live music venues usually pays about $100-200 US. Private gigs make more, anywhere from $200 +. These include things like weddings, company parties, and other private events. Recording sessions pay the best. Usually about $200 + per song.
So if I could sum everything up, I would recommend that you stay open to opportunities. Look for opportunities to improve your drumming and music skills and also increase your music contacts.
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.
Get out there and meet drummers in your community. Become friends in rhythm and help each other to be successful. We’re all in this musical journey together.
It’s also likely that you will need a few streams of income to make a living playing drums but I am proof that it can be done. The jobs for drummers are out there and you can even create your own.
Always wishing you drumming success. KEEP ON DRUMMIN’!
What are some of the things you do to make money playing drums?
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