Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Making a living as a musician is hard. It’s really damn hard. Nobody has ever denied that. If you’re a guitarist, you also bartend or work as a luthier, if you’re a bass player you work in software, if you’re a drummer you teach. Everybody teaches. We all teach because that’s where our steady income comes from. It’s Wednesday - teach the kid, get the money. Nothing else is that stable in music. For performers, often the best you get is the steady residency gig once or twice a month. For everybody else it’s waiting for the call, the email, the referral, that grants you another short burst of income, whether it’s from a studio session or a performance gig. The real big guns get calls for clinics and they travel with top bands, but it’s rare for us to find something as steady as a profession in other fields. I’ve heard this one before “If you want to be successful as a musician, marry rich”. (crickets). And that, my friends, is the crux of being a musician. You can’t quite make enough money doing exactly what you love, but you also probably aren’t that good at anything else because we’re all obsessed with this thing. So what do we do? We branch out. We spread ourselves (not too) thin. We learn new skills and we adapt to an ever-changing industry as quickly as we can.
What are all the ways you can make money as a drummer for example? You can perform, you can record, you can teach, you can hold clinics in your area, you can become a YouTube personality, you can sell transcriptions and lessons, you could even become a bucket drummer and rake in a surprising amount of dough just for bugging all the business owners at your local shopping mall. It’s all about coming up with as many skills as you can to make ends meet. If you branch out slightly - let’s say you become Drummer AND Engineer, now you can add Live Sound, Mixing Services, Home Studio Recording, Editing, and a few more things to your skill-set. If you add Composer to your title, now you can write music for film (and ads!), create and license stock music, produce drumless tracks for other drummers and get hired for commissioned pieces. The more skills you can acquire, the closer you get to having a stable income, (and the best part is you don’t have to work a 9-5. How cool is that?). It might not be steady, but maybe the gaps in performance gigs get filled by the occasional Mix for a local band. Maybe the lulls in recording dates get bridged by the income from your new drumless tracks. Here’s the secret: You can do all this stuff. You’re a musician (as much as your band-mates might disagree with that statement) and you know what sounds good. If you have a room and a budget, you can start recording at home. (Billie Eilish won 6 Grammys sitting on her bed) You can start mixing, you can write music. Trust me - nothing is going to sound good when you start. That would be weird. Your snare sound is going to sound like high-velocity pigeon poo on pavement the first time you listen back, but guess what? That gives you room to improve, you can get better, you can study and learn and embark on a new journey towards greatness that isn’t drumming. If we’re being honest a break from your craft will do wonders for you. Hell, go ahead and learn to play Bass while you’re at it. As you improve, you can start charging for what you’re doing. Charge $25 for a song - it’ll make you practice, build your portfolio. Always strive for better, always move UP. After 10 songs, you’ll have learned things that 8 years of school can’t teach you. And I’ll tell you what, if you get stuck, email me. Really. I’ve learned so much from other people, drummers, studio engineers, and I would be more than happy to pay that forward and see other fellow drummers recording at home. And that brings me to my last point: There’s plenty of songs. Stop fighting over them. Do you realize how many singer-songwriters with a guitar there are? I bet you know 50 off the top of your head. Don’t push others down, push them up. Help them and they will help you. We’re all doing the same thing, and we’re all just doing our best to make our passion our career and there’s no reason we can’t make it happen.