Martin Atkins — Tour:Smart

Martin Atkins : Modern DrummerHello, this is my first blog for Modern Drummer. Before I start with the “bloggage,” one of the things I always tell everyone is to consider the source of any information given to you. So maybe I should tell you something about what I’ve been doing.

I started drumming at age nine, backed strippers in clubs in the northeast of England at the age of eleven, joined Johnny Rotten’s post–Sex Pistols band PiL in 1979 and spent five years there. (I might be the longest endorser of Pearl drums—the owners of the company gave me a deal in 1983, I think!) Then I worked with Killing Joke, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and my own bands Pigface, the Damage Manual, and Murder Inc.

That’s just the drumming stuff. I own my own label, Invisible, as well as my own studio, and I made a documentary while in China producing bands and making an album with Tibetan singers, percussionists, and scratch DJs. I started teaching six or seven years ago. There was no book for the business of touring that I knew of, so I wrote one called Tour:Smart, and here we are. In the last three years I have traveled all over the world speaking, consulting, making more mistakes, and happily broadcasting them so that, hopefully, more people don’t keep on making them. Along the way, here and there, I come up with silly stuff, ridiculous stuff, and some things that might be helpful…and I started a school! Advertisement

So, let’s see how some of my business ideas might translate into helpful drumming ideas.

Aim low, get high: This is differently expressed as: Keep working slowly towards your goal, incrementally, step by step, and you will get there.

My music business lecture version of this would be, Q: How do we put 20,000 people in a stadium? A: I don’t have a clue. I did see U2 perform in a London basement club to seventeen people, so there obviously is a path between there and superstardom. But, paradoxically, if we are focused on trying to get 20,000 people in a stadium, we will never do it.

You can ignore the two people sitting over there on the couch. You have bigger fish to fry, and these guys don’t even qualify as bait…. But wait, make friends with those two people, have a conversation, find a shared interest—other than how amazing you are—then it gets really simple, my friends. All you will need to do is exactly what you just did 19,998 more times, and—bingo—there’s your 20,000 people to put in a stadium! Overnight sensation in three to five easy years of work, work, work.

That’s the music business touring version. The global, spiritual-coffee-mug-inspirational-poster version would be the Great Wall of China. On the one hand it’s an unattainable huge–ness, one of the seven wonders of the world. On the other, it’s just a pile of bricks. You can stand off to a distance with your hands on your hips, scratching your head, or you can roll up your sleeves and start your own great wall of China #2-the sequel-the Squeeekwell! Advertisement

Okay, drumming version. Danny Carey is the Great Wall of China. When I see him perform I first think, “Wow, I gotta roll up my sleeves and play my drums when I get home from this amazing concert.” Then a few minutes later I have to be restrained from despairingly putting my arms into the business end of a lawnmower. You can’t try to be Danny, but you can mess around for another hour later today, and tomorrow, and eventually you might get in the ballpark. (Now I hope I’m not mixing you up with ballparks and stadiums.) Be as good as you can be today, and a little bit better tomorrow, and incrementally, slowly, step by step, brick by brick, you can build the great wall of Carey.

Now, type in “amazing child prodigy drummer” on YouTube, and you will be crying in seconds! No matter how good you are (or think you are), some kid in China is already better than you could ever be. Granted, they look jaded, don’t have any other skills, and will probably end up setting fire to their drums as a protest for all the tortuous hours they were made to practice. (Actually, that’s a great idea!) But if just being good at one thing is your goal, then you are kind of screwed. Go ahead, type in “anything child prodigy.” Somebody is already there doing it. Some thirteen-year-old just climbed Everest. How deflating is that for all of the fifty-year-olds who have been working towards this goal all their lives? But what is elusive, rare, and very special is being okay at your instrument but bringing some other really useful skills to the table: Vehicle repair. (Are you kidding me—you just got the job!) Home recording. Video editing. Screen printing, Bookkeeping. It’s a combination of skills that is going to help you rise to the top and, weirdly, create the time for you to gain experience and get better at your instrument.

Aim low, get high!

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