Get Good

Hang Chops: The Other Social Media

Your playing skills are the number-one asset in your drumming career. That’s a given. But your ability to “hang” is a not-too-distant number two. Maybe this is a good time to make sure you’re doing it right.

We’ve all heard the old adage “It’s not what you know—it’s who you know.” But you do have to know what to say to that important who when you meet him or her. This is a part of networking called hang chops.

Hang chops are basically social skills. Everyone likes to be around witty, easygoing, engaging people. Someone who is mean, who’s constantly unhappy, and who likes to disagree about everything is probably not going to get invited to dinner much. Somewhere between having nothing to say and too much to say (and not listening to anyone else), you can find the sweet spot of human interaction.

As much as there is a special camaraderie among drummers that’s truly unlike any other, there is still an element of competition. And there has to be for us to survive. Sometimes people will ask me, “How did she get the gig—I can outplay her any day!” Maybe. Or maybe she had the exact amount of ability the band was looking for and she clicked with them personally. Some people are really good at socializing. Like it or not, that is part of what gets you hired for any job. Whether it’s behind a desk, in retail, or on an audition, you can’t walk into the interview with one-word answers and a blank expression on your face.

Employers want to choose someone who can do the job at hand but who is also fun and easy to be with. This is especially true in the case of a working band, where you’re likely to spend a lot of close-proximity time together in a van or bus. In fact, everyone you’re going to need to work with in this industry—lawyers, managers, agents, club owners—feels the same way. And they’re naturally going to be much more enthusiastic about promoting the career of someone they enjoy being around.

Some people make social skills look effortless. I really admire anyone who seems to have exactly the right thing to say in any situation. These communication masters come from a different planet from the one I do. But I guarantee that the first words out of their toddler mouths were not eloquent, well-thought-out sentences. No, just like the rest of us, their first words were Mama or Dada or, in my case, cookie (clearly establishing the priorities for the rest of my life). The point is that we all started with the same lack of communication skills, so we all have the same potential to get better.

It just takes practice. Did you sit down and play flawless double-stroke rolls the first day you picked up the sticks? Unless you’re part alien, I bet you had to dig in and work on it for a while, right? Even Wayne Gretzky didn’t wake up one morning, decide he wanted to be good at hockey, and get drafted into the NHL that afternoon. If you want to be really good at anything—basketball, cooking, networking—you have to practice.

Obviously you can go out to clubs and meet other musicians, and you definitely should. But how about your server at breakfast? You never know—his cousin might be the tour manager you’ve been looking for. Even if a random conversation doesn’t result in a specific connection, it’s good to get outside your comfort zone and exercise anyway. Pull your cart up next to someone in a grocery store and ask, “Hey, I’m attempting to bake a cake for the first time. Does it look like I’m missing anything here”? They might just simply say “Nope” and walk away. They might even look at you like you’re out of your mind. But it doesn’t matter, because you’re practicing. Feel free to fail in the “rehearsal space” that is the world.

Maybe you’re already Mr. or Ms. Social Butterfly. That’s great! If you have a natural ability to make everyone around you feel comfortable and smart and happy, you have hang chops. But it never hurts to hone your skills. Just don’t overdo it. I remember, back in the day, being on a college-sponsored trip to Nashville. The administration had set up group meetings for us at record and publishing companies along Music Row. Before we got off the bus for the first meeting, the advisor said, “You have to make at least one connection this week.” Okay, I thought, that would be great, and overall the experience was fantastic. But I couldn’t help but feel that the method by which they had us socialize was so forced.

A real connection doesn’t just happen. Timing and opportunity are essential, but so is authenticity. People can tell when you’re marketing yourself as opposed to being genuine, and it’s a giant turnoff. Too much self-promotion comes off as fake. You know it when someone is hanging out with you only to get something from you. We can see that person coming a mile away, and we want to run. It’s very tiring to work with people who are constantly selling themselves. And it can be incredibly exhausting for those people to be “on” all the time. It’s a lot of effort for little to no payoff.

People’s responses to you will let you know how you’re doing. Take it all in and continue to learn. Just as we pull out a pad and metronome to keep up our hand chops, sometimes we have to get off the computer and actually go and be social in person. So if your boyfriend gives you a hard time about going out again this week, just tell him, “But I’m practicing my hang chops!”

How to Hang

Don’t fight the concept. Networking doesn’t mean you’re selling out. It means you care about your career.

Look at it like any other skill. Learn it. Practice it. And practice it some more.

Don’t be a hater. Be a learner instead. Can’t understand why that other guy got the gig and you didn’t? Observe how well the band members jibe on a personal level.

Get real. Communicating to people that you’re someone they want to hang out with means you have to be someone they want to hang out with. Sincerity counts.

Juels Thomas is the education and events manager for Drum Workshop.