Last year I lost two very important (to me, at least) recording gigs to another local drummer. It wasn't underhanded or dirty, just an ease-of-use type decision in each case. He's a great player, and it wasn't the end of the world for me, but it really got me thinking.
How do I become 'the guy?' What can I do to get those calls and more of them?
Coincidentally, I had the opportunity to meet and hang with Tim Fagan at a Soundcheck Series event a couple of months later, and I asked him what he thought. Honestly, I was expecting, "Sorry, man. That's really too bad." I couldn't have been more wrong.
I'm paraphrasing here, but it went roughly like this:
Tim: "How many guys are there that are trying to get studio drummer work around here?"
Me: "I dunno, twenty, maybe?"
Tim: "And how many studio engineers and producers are there that hire drummers?"
Me: "At least twenty."
Tim: "And how many of those guys do you know personally?"
Me: *Gulp* "Three or four."
Tim: "Okay, so what are you doing to let the other guys know that you exist and that you're qualified to play in their studios?"
Me: *Double gulp* "I'm not really doing anything. I guess I'm just sitting around waiting for my reputation to generate phone calls."
He had made his point, and went on to tell me that in LA (where he lives and works) there are literally hundreds of studios and drummers, and that the guys who get calls are involved in the music ecosystem, are around a lot, and have reputations for being professional and reliable.
The best thing this discussion with Mr. Fagan did for me was get me to stop feeling sorry for myself. Beyond that, it's gotten me working on ways I can expand my reach and "visibility" in the music ecosystem in my area.
Here's my short list of ideas:
- First and foremost: BE A SOLID PLAYER. Anytime you do have a gig, absolutely nail it. Consider that every time you play, you're "auditioning" for somebody who is hearing you. I've played literally hundreds of gigs for a band that saw me play with another band when I was having a particularly good night.
- BE A PRO. Develop a reputation for being on time, easygoing, professional and having decent gear. Let your behavior speak for itself, and let it tell people that you know what you're doing, and they're going to be happy they worked with you. I've heard it said that it's 20% how you play, and 80% how you act.
- BE AVAILABLE. I'm not saying you should just sit by the phone every night, but when the right opportunity comes up, make sure you can take it. That being said....
- KNOW THE LANDSCAPE. You should have a pretty good idea of the major players, bands, producers, engineers, etc. so that when you do get a call, you'll know if it's a good opportunity or not.
- KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. Even if it's a great (or well-paying) gig, it may not be the next step for you. For example, if you want to be a studio player and a touring band calls, you may need to decline. Being on the road for the next nine months won't exactly leave you available for sessions.
- REACH OUT. Be extremely careful and thoughtful in this area, because nothing is worse than the 'music stalker.' But there are appropriate ways to make connections in person and online that can lead to playing and development opportunities. If you're doing all of the stuff above, it won't take long before the right people start to hear your name and your work. Get out and listen to other players and bands, go to workshops or clinics, volunteer (you heard me!) and be willing to make a sacrifice here and there to make a legitimate connection turn into a friendship. More than once I've gained opportunities by "saving" a project for cheap or free.
- BE PERSISTENT. In a lot of ways, too. Keep development your craft and refining your gear. Keep being involved. Keep playing. Keep up on music and technology trends. Keep yourself in good shape by eating right, sleeping enough and exercising. (Sounds weird, I know, but it's a critical piece.)
At the end of the day, we all want to make music. And we want to do it a lot, with great people and have it be profitable. Most importantly, we want music to be an honest expression of ourselves.
So, what did I leave off my list? Help us all out by leaving a comment below.
As always, happy drumming!