What does it take to succeed as a working drummer? Commitment. Commitment is the word for the first letter in an acronym I created, CRASH, to illustrate concepts people can use to attract success to their lives. (The remaining concepts, which we’ll explore in the next few articles, are relationships, attitude, skill, and hunger.)
Commitment can be defined as a pledge or undertaking, or being dedicated to something. Any musician who’s had staying power will tell you that the music business is tough as nails, and it requires a massive amount of dedication to be successful. This dedication can be applied to both your drumming skills and to the business associated with cultivating a fulfilling career.
GIVE IT YOUR ALL
In my travels, I get to see performances by drummers of all ages and all ability levels. One thing I’ve noticed is that many drummers lack commitment in their musical approach. How many times have you seen drummers play with a lifeless style? Their playing lacks energy, drive, and that special “it” factor. It’s as if they’re staring at their watch and waiting for the gig to be over, so they can rush home to warm up some ramen noodles and settle in with Three’s Company reruns. From the clicking of the sticks for the first countoff to the very last downbeat, there needs to be commitment.
Commitment means giving yourself over to the music-making process. You want to be inside the music. But don’t confuse a drummer who displays a lack of commitment with a committed drummer playing softly. Loud drumming can also lack energy and be missing that committed quality, and you can achieve incredible intensity and intention when playing quietly. Commit to playing loud, soft, fast, slow, and everything in between with conviction. Make intentional choices to drive and lift the music. More than anything, a performance starts in the mind. Are you focused on the music, or are you thinking about the stresses of life (bills, domestic issues, schedules)? Let the music take you away to a special place. When you make that commitment, your performance will become more rewarding and meaningful.
I’m constantly thinking in the following terms: Am I balancing the dynamics among my limbs? Am I using proper tone and articulation? Am I playing great time and making things groove and feel great? Is my time even and relaxed? Am I using all of the colors available on the drumset? Am I listening to all of the musicians, especially the lead vocal? Am I playing in a way that makes it easy for the whole band to play together? These are very important questions to ask.
Also, I highly recommend making audio and video recordings of your gigs. A handheld digital recorder is an excellent investment for self-improvement. You’ll be able to see and hear your level of commitment instantly.
SEIZE THE DAY
When Late Show host David Letterman asked the late singer-songwriter Warren Zevon if he had any advice for viewers as he was approaching his final days, Zevon said, “Enjoy every sandwich.” Those words resonated with me. We have only so much time on earth, and our life experience can be taken away at any moment. Combine that with the thought that if you’re playing music professionally or semiprofessionally, you’re in rare company. I told myself very early on in my career that I would always play at a hundred percent. I would always serve the music, listen, lift up the other players, and make it a fun experience for everyone. In short, I was going to always “play my ass off.” I feel very strongly that if you subscribe to this positive and committed approach, the phone will keep ringing.
Being committed to your craft also means being prepared for any opportunity that comes your way. After college, I was determined to make a name for myself in the music business. I reached out to everyone I knew, to find out about auditions in major markets. A friend turned me on to a gatekeeper for a major artist. I got my audition tape to them, and they liked what they heard. I was then invited to a cattle-call audition, but I had to cover the costs of my flight, transportation, lodging, and food. I knew I’d be taking a pricey risk, but I was committed, and I wanted the gig. I was asked to learn five songs. I did that, plus I charted out the remaining fifty in the artist’s catalog. That way, if any other songs were called, I would be prepared and could set myself apart from the rest of the pack.
I didn’t get that gig, but some of the people I met that day ended up turning me on to other auditions. I didn’t get those jobs either, but I learned something very valuable—that all of the winning drummers lived in Nashville. This was a light-bulb moment, and I knew I had to make the move. I reminded myself of my commitment, so I gave my band two weeks’ notice, packed up what little I owned, and moved to Nashville. I knew very few people, and I had no gigs booked and very little money saved. I was armed only with my abilities, my confidence, and my commitment to reach my goal.
You need to have goals. A life without goals will leave you wandering aimlessly with no direction. When I arrived in Nashville, my goal was to become a top-call touring and session drummer. Fifteen years later I’m still working on that goal, and it’s neverending. I’ve survived hard times when I had to supplement my drumming by waiting tables, doing construction, and working as a substitute teacher. I could’ve packed up my bags and moved back home many times, but I didn’t. Doors were slammed in my face over and over again, but I always had two things: a dream and a commitment to see it through.
When I made the decision to move to Nashville, the first thing I did was press up 500 copies of my demo tape, Rich Redmond: Drums and Percussion. It contained excerpts that highlighted my musicianship in a variety of settings: big band, small group, fusion, Latin, metal, pop, Motown, classical, and so on. Every musician, songwriter, club owner, and waitress in Nashville was handed one of these tapes. I crashed parties, shook hands, and let people know I existed. I realized that I needed to be persistent. No one was going to hand me my dream on a silver platter; I was going to have to earn it.
Did I take every single gig that came along, from weddings to bar mitzvahs, corporate parties to dance halls, strip clubs, and supermarket grand openings? The answer is yes. I even kicked jokes for magicians. At the end of each of those gigs, I would ask my bandmates how things were feeling and see if they had any suggestions for how I could improve my playing. Constructive feedback is great fuel for your commitment.
STICK TO IT
Commitment to drumming as a career requires you to believe that failure is not an option. Thoughts of failure can never enter your mind. And most likely you’re going to have to seriously consider moving to a place like Nashville, New York City, or Los Angeles to even get the opportunity to find a major gig. The chances of landing a gig and then relocating are slim to none. You have to be where the gigs are. Period. This is a chance that ninety-nine percent of people are unwilling to take. It’s great to want to do something, but if you have to do it, then you’ll make that commitment and follow through. In navigating my career for the last twenty years, I’ve never stopped moving forward. Never stop! I’ve always understood the importance of practicing constantly, taking lessons, recording myself, listening to tons of music, and improving consistently.
Playing drums and making music defines me as a human being. It’s truly how I express myself. Knowing that I’m fortunate to play drums every day is what gets me out of bed with a huge smile on my face. Most successful people will offer the same advice. Make a commitment; fuel it with conviction, passion, and persistence; and watch your dreams become a reality. Conceive, believe, and receive.
Rich Redmond is a Nashville-based touring/recording drummer with the multiplatinum country rocker Jason Aldean. He has also worked with Kelly Clarkson, Bryan Adams, Jewel, Ludacris, Lit, Joe Perry, Miranda Lambert, Steel Magnolia, Thompson Square, Rushlow, and others. For more info, visit richredmond.com.