Virtually every young drummer dreams of being a star at one time or another. We would all like to see ourselves on stage whipping out a dazzling drum solo for thousands of adoring and screaming fans. We can imagine what it would be like to be on tour playing concerts all over the world. We can almost feel what it must be like to sign autographs, to be recognized on the street, and to be known for being one of the very best.
These dreams of success inspire many of us to practice, study, rehearse, and do all that we can to develop our talents. Often, the dreams precede the actual success. Most successful drummers have had all of these thoughts and feelings to one degree or another. However, at some point, many of us realize that there is room for only so many top stars. Not everyone who loves to play will make it to the top of our profession. To love the drums and to love music is not always enough to become a superstar.
I am not suggesting that anyone should give up drumming just because the odds of “making it” are slim. However, at some point in our striving for success, reality will make itself felt. People are not the same. We do not all have the same amount of talent. Some people have talent but lack the desire to succeed; others have the desire but not the talent. Some are lazy and simply won’t practice. Some young drummers are lucky enough to play in a top band or group at an early age, thus giving them invaluable experience. Other drummers just never seem to get the “big” break.
However, take heart! There are many aspects to this business of drumming. There are many related careers that are satisfying, creative, fulfilling, and interesting. Let’s examine some of those careers.
Many professional players often teach to augment their incomes, and many discover that they enjoy teaching. They also discover that teaching is also a great way to learn. When you analyze something in order to explain it to a student, it often makes it clearer to you as well.
Some percussionists go to school and get their degree in order to teach in high school or college. John Beck is the percussion teacher at Eastman, and he also plays timpani in the Rochester Philharmonic. John plays the drumset as well, and performs quite regularly as a soloist and accompanist. He has combined performing and teaching in a very satisfying and artistic way.
Dom Famularo is becoming a well known clinician and educator. For several years, he did clinics at schools for free to gain experience. He now has several books and an educational video on the market.
Several friends of mine work as sales representatives for major drum companies. I feel that they are informed and professional reps because they are drummers. They understand drummers and their needs. These same friends still play regularly, often on weekends. Since they have an income other than playing, they are able to take only the jobs that are fun. They do not have to play if the band or the situation is not appealing to them.
If you are quite young and in a band that is rehearsing but not working much, you need some income just to buy equipment. A friend of mine, Lee Viner, is from my home state of Kansas. Lee worked in a retail music store to gain experience. Last year, he moved to the West Coast and is now in charge of the drum department at Guitar Center’s new Hollywood store. He still plays, but he is enjoying his career in sales.
I have several friends around the country, such as John Becker. He started his own drum shop in Florida. His first store was really small. Today, Resurrection Drums is a thoroughly modern and up-to-date drum shop. John loves what he is doing, and because he is a drummer, he feels that he can help his customers make the right choices regarding equipment.
Danny McCaniel, in El Paso, Texas, had a store called the Music Box that was so small only eight or nine people could be in it at one time. The first clinic I did for him was on a flatbed truck in the parking lot. Today, he owns one of the largest full-line music stores in the Southwest. Danny was a working drummer who saved his money to realize his dream.
Jerry Ricci, a working drummer in Long Island, New York, started with one tiny store. He now runs the Long Island Drum Center chain, in addition to a publishing company. Publishing is a big field, and music is always changing. There is always a need for material that is well thought-out and up to date. It is a creative and interesting part of the drum business.
Joe Calato was a working drummer in Niagara Falls, New York. He invented the nylon-tip drumstick in his basement. Now Regal Tip is one of the largest drumstick manufacturers in the drum business. He also had a dream, and he also has realized it.
If you are really dedicated, you could start your own drum company. That’s what Don Lombardi did. He owns Drum Workshop, and manufactures the DW pedals and drumsets. He started on his own, and has survived the competition from larger companies and corporations. Don is a drummer running a company that is making products for drummers.
Steve Gadd became famous as a session drummer. Years ago, sidemen were never listed on an album. Now, the fine studio players get the notoriety and credit they deserve. This is a highly competitive area of the business. Players such as Harvey Mason prefer studio work to being on the road constantly. Although both of these players do tour occasionally, most of their playing is done in the studio.
In my own case, I started playing the drums in Kansas. Today, I own Aquarian Accessories, as well as a publishing company (with Joey Farris). I also write articles for Modern Drummer. That’s a long way from Kansas. What I’ve learned is that there are many careers in drumming. They can be interesting, satisfying, creative, and rewarding. I still love to play, but I’m interested in other activities as well.
So, if at some point in your career, you begin to suspect that you may not be star material, don’t despair. If you decide that you don’t want to live out of a suitcase, that’s okay. If a lifetime of touring just doesn’t appeal to you, it’s alright. You might just want to write drum books, teach, start a drum company or a drum magazine, get your degree, go into sales, open your own drum shop, play weekends, etc. The opportunities are there. Never be afraid to change directions or embark on a new career. If you try, you just might find out that you can be a star in your own way.