Mar 9th, 2009 by Chris Morrow

Groovin’ High: Drumming in the Real World


How One Drummer in Chicago Pays the Rent…

The other day while visiting a Sam Ash to replace some gear I ran into an old co-worker of mine Jim. It seems I’m always replacing one thing or another on my drum set. Anyway Jim had hired me to work for Guitar Center when I was 21, just out of college and living on my own for the first time and he was the manager of that particular location. He came up and as usual when meeting old acquaintances, asked where I was working and what I was up to. It was with quite a bit of satisfaction that I told him I was working for myself. I can still hardly believe it every time I say it even though it’s been 4 successful (at least by my way of thinking) years. Don’t get me wrong I worked for that G.C. for just over 2 years and I loved it. I’ll always be grateful that he took a chance on a clueless kid with no sales experience and a music performance degree. Now Jim was working for the rival music store. Anyway the next question Jim asked was as predictable as the first, Jim said “Really, he said so you make enough money to do that? How?” I gave him the only answer I know.

I Live by the Art of Diversity

In all my experiences with other musicians of all types, it never ceases to amaze me how few musicians really understand or apply the advice of becoming diverse. In today’s economic climate musicians should be ready to exploit every possible opportunity. If you want more gigs, then you better be ready to say yes to whatever might come along. In the last three months, I’ve played Jazz, Blues, Rock, Fusion and Punk gigs. And that’s only three months. In the last 2 years, I could add Heavy Metal, Country, Gospel and Latin/World music to that list. I know it’s easy for musicians to focus on a handful of styles they like, everyone does it naturally, but if you consider your professional career, then it pays (literally) to look beyond to find work opportunities.

You Have Better be Ready to do Your Home Work

Of course, if you want to sustain a career playing a lot of different styles then you need to learn them and well. You’d better be ready to put in all the necessary time practicing and studying. Find a good teacher, crack a book or watch an instructional video. All the information is out there, you just need to take the time to find it and absorb it.

So How Does One Become Diversified?

It might be a good idea to start with styles that are close to your heart. Start with different genres that commonly get mixed with the ones you like. For example, if you’re a Rock drummer at heart, then you could get in to Punk, Blues or Country. Those styles have a lot in common from a drummers stand point. On a Country gig, you’ll play Blues tunes naturally because so many Country tunes are built on Blues structures. If you like the heavier side of Rock, then start exploring Metal and its off shoot styles. Blues musicians could make the transition to R&B easily. We know all these styles crossover in pop music all the time, there’s no law against working musicians crossing over either.

Get Your Name Out There Too!!

Blogging and Internet Marketing are great ways to get the word out about who you are and it can make you some money too. You also have to let go of the notion that you should stick to one style and just play no no matter the style. I’d offer it for your consideration that a lot of the great players we admire cross genre lines all the time. I also think a lot of the greatest players like Hendrix, Clapton, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie were great because they ignored genres. Herbie Hancocks Grammy winning album “River: the Joni Letters” is a brilliant mix of Jazz and Folk Rock.

So What Else Can a Chicago Musician do?

Studio sessions have been a steady source of work for me. But the studio scene has changed a lot. Nowadays musicians do a lot of home and internet-based recording. This means that you could set up your own studio through your computer and trade files online. This requires knowledge of DAW’s and studio hardware. If you have knowledge of many styles, then the number of sessions and musicians you can record with multiplies.

Giving Music Lessons is Always Another Answer.

Finally, I do a lot of teaching. This is another area that benefits form being diverse. If you know a lot of styles, then you can teach a wide variety of students. For example, if you know Jazz, then you can get into teaching students in school jazz programs. The best thing I can say to anyone who is going for a career in music is this: don’t say no to anything unless it’s obviously a waste of time. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find, who’ll you’ll meet and what you’ll learn. A lot of this diatribe right now has to do with your skills and your mindset to applying those skills. There are other skills you need to make a living playing an instrument: Good networking skills to get yourself in touch with people that want to hire you, good people skills to interact with those you do gig with so you get called back and an open mind to be ready for anything. Let’s get into that later. Till then, keep groovin’ and I’ll see ya out there.

Written by: Chris Morrow

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