how often a drummer works has less to do with his or her
musical abilities than with how those abilities are applied.
The following tips will help the young drummer get a
perspective on what it takes to be a professional working
drummer. They can also be helpful to the older, more experienced
drummer-because we can all lose our perspective at times.
I am sure everyone will find something on this list he or
she has been guilty of neglecting, and will welcome the
Warm up before the gig. This is one of the best pieces
of advice I can give. Naturally, if you have practiced during
the day you should still be loose enough by evening. But
if you did not practice (or if it is a morning or early
afternoon gig), a short ten-or twenty-minute warm-up will
definitely give your playing an edge.
Some musicians feel that warming up is unnecessary -even
amateurish-but that is totally wrong. In the first place,
musical instruments (especially drums) are very physical,
and a certain looseness and flexibility are required to
perform on them at optimum efficiency. Why have to wait
until the second set to be totally in command of your instrument?
Besides, you never know who might be in the audience listening
to just the first set-a reviewer, a record producer, other
musicians-and that will be all they might have to judge
your playing capabilities by. In addition, it's really a
great feeling to play smoothly and relaxed during that first
set. Sometimes you can save a train wreck up there, and
you can be sure it will be noticed by all involved.
Keep good time. This is the most important thing a drummer
can do. Most musicians and singers rely on their drummers
to keep time for them, but even when performing with players
who have great time themselves, the drummer's time needs
to be excellent so as not to break the groove.
Be on time for the gig. Set up the drums earlier in
the day if possible. It is always better to walk in on the
gig with just your sticks and cymbals in hand than to have
to lug equipment in, set up, adjust positions, tune, etc,
--and then play the job (and even more so if you have to
war a tuxedo).
Be a good sideman. This includes all the previous rules
up to this point. Play what the leader asks, and don't complain
about times, tempos, styles, or anything that might give
the leader any additional problems. The leader has to book
the job, hire the musicians, negotiate money, please the
club owner (or whoever hires him), satisfy the public, call
Good side musicians are really noticed and
appreciated because they help make the job go smoothly.
Become a leader one time, and I guarantee you will improve
your attitude as a sideman.
Play in context. Play a dance job like a dance job and
a rock gig like a rock gig. Trying to play avant-garde jazz
licks on a wedding job won't make it-and won't get you rehired.
Also, keep in mind the abilities of the other musicians.
You may be light-years ahead of them in experience, knowledge,
and technique, but if your playing becomes too complex for
them to comprehend, you will just lose them-and the gig.
Always try to make the band as a whole sound good while
playing to the highest level possible in context with the
music and the other musicians.
Control your ego. At times this can be the most difficult
rule to follow. Ego is definitely healthy and necessary,
but it must be kept under control.
Sometimes we can take it personally when asked to do things
like turn the volume down or keep the tempo steady. But
the problem could be someone other than you. Maybe the guitar
is too loud or the bass player is dragging and you are simply
being asked to keep them in check. Very seldom will a drummer
be called for a gig to do solos under a spotlight. You are
hired to do a job, so just do it and don't let your ego
get in the way.
Act professionally at all time. If you act professionally,
chances are you will be treated in a professional manner.
Treat your job like a job-not a big party. Dress cleanly
and properly. Stay sober, and be reserved, not loud and
boisterous, on the breaks. This is not to say you can't
enjoy yourself on the gig. If we didn't enjoy our work,
why have music for a career? However, keep things in perspective,
and take care of business first. You will find that the
better you do your job, the more you will enjoy your work-and
the more respect you will garner.
Have the right equipment for the gig. It just does not
make sense to bring a bebop set on a rock or funk gig, and
vice-versa. The sound of your drums definitely affects the
way you play-as wee as the sound of the band. Also, bring
a good assortment of sticks, brushes, mallets, and the like
to be prepared for any occasion. And be sure your equipment
is in good shape. Equipment breakdowns in the middle of
a set are unnecessary and can ruin a great groove.
Practice at home, not on the job. This gig is not the
place to try out some new sticking or technique. Besides,
the tendency, when trying something new, is to force it
into a spot where it doesn't necessarily fit. After a technique
has been perfected at home, then by all means bring it on
the gig. Just be sure to use it in context.
Play as if your reputation depends on it. It just might.
As stated earlier, you never know who could be in the audience.
Just play the gig in context and as perfectly as possible,
and everyone will be more than satisfied-the leader and
other side musicians, the customers, the club owner or concert
promoter, and you.
Play yourself. Add something special to the music. This
is what makes you different from other drummers: your own
personal approach to music and drumming.
Play music! This is the ultimate goal. Whenever you
sit down to practice or play, think musically. Relate everything-from
your warm-up exercises and rudiments to advanced sticking
and rhythms-to music. I have heard drummers with less technique
than others sound better because they were playing musically.
Study music and musical form, including some melody and
harmony. Spend time reading different drum books and charts.
It will definitely improve your playing.
by Mat Marucci