Being A Session Drummer
Matt’s five point plan
Becoming a session drummer is an increasingly popular route to take for a drummer’s career, but it’s not necessarily the easy option. With advances in technology and the ability to recreate sounds the need for the live, real feel and sound makes it more difficult to achieve success in such a career. However, together with a sensible, positive attitude, some planning and a lot of hard work it is possible, and in this article Matt explains the approach he has used and his philosophy on being a session drummer.
As with any business it is essential to have an idea on the direction you want it to go. A good business plan defines your business, what you want to achieve and how you intend to achieve it including setting goals with timescales and how they can be measured. Remember this is just a plan with targets, and needs reviewing on a regular basis as circumstances change. It gives you something to aim for and work with.
Be on top of, and in control of your finances, and if this is not your specialty use someone for whom it is. Have an idea on your rates of pay, and the minimum you are prepared to work for. However, if for example, you have just taken a job that is well paid do not necessarily turn down the next lower paid job if it is something you would really like to do. Try to work something out, as the next big earner could be on the back of that low earner!
It is essential that you have Public Liability insurance in place for all your drumming activities, so that if your cymbal stand falls and injures someone who decides to sue for injury and/or damages you have the backing of insurance. The good news is that this forms part of the membership of the Musicians Union, which helps you in a host of other ways providing sound advice and support. Matt is a member of the MU and strongly recommends any professional musician joins for all the benefits obtained.
Depending on where your work takes you having a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check in place will help as it can save the prospective customer the time and money in obtaining one for you. Certainly if your work will take you into contact with children for example, it will be a requirement to have a clean enhanced DBS check. As Matt teaches in schools he pays extra to have his DBS kept up to date, thus saving the need to re-apply, whilst allowing potential clients the ability to check immediately.
Produce business cards, be active on your preferred social media platform and build a secure, strong website which makes it clear what you are about, as these are all effective ways to get your name out there.
When it comes to marketing there is The Marketing Rule of 7 which says that a prospective customer needs to hear or see the advertiser’s message at least 7 times before they’ll take action to buy the product or the service. Advertising your drumming business is no different. So someone may see you perform at a gig, have your business card, hear your name mentioned in a conversion, stumble across your website, watch a video in which you are playing, meet you at a drum clinic or see your name in an albums credits. The person will not necessarily act on any one of these but psychology is a complex process, and each time they see or hear of you increases the chances of them considering you for a job.
Networking is a part of marketing and requires you to mix with many people building relationships and maintaining them should something come up in the future. It’s a fine balance between being too ‘in their face’ and being persistent, but the more you get to know the market place you are looking to work in the better your understanding will be. You need to promote yourself, but not annoy, planting as many seeds as possible in as many places as possible. Go to studios, speak to sound engineers, producers and promoters so that you are on their radar. Word of mouth is your greatest marketing tool as it is carried by others when you are not even there! The seeds and your reputation will grow if you are good at your job, and your chance will come!
Be confident in your own skill set and ability, and identify what sets you apart from the other good drummers out there. It might be your particular sound, style or look and it goes without saying that ‘practice makes perfect’. Sell your features and the benefit it will offer to your enquirer. For example, if you can sight read music that will be a massive advantage over another drummer who can’t. It could save an artist who is going into a studio a vast amount of time and money in not having arrange for extensive rehearsals. Note .. if you can’t sight read, learn to do so NOW! Matt teaches his students of all ages to read music from their very first drum lesson with him.
Matt always tries to make sure he is ready for that phone call or email. Of course, he won’t know when it will come and what will be required for that particular job so he may have to rehearse for it, but he needs to be ready and able to play that type of drumming. It is then a straightforward job in adapting what he knows, and can do, to perform for the job rather than having to learn a totally new skill set.
Try not to categorise yourself too much into a particular style of drumming as this may limit your opportunities. Of course, it is likely that you will prefer and be better playing a certain genre of music, but when starting out ensure you practice and learn a selection of styles to maximise the number of doors which can open for you. Have lessons in your weaker style as well as those working in your preferred genre of music – lessons need to be fun and enjoyable, but challenging too! If he is ever asked “Are you a rock drummer?“ or “Do you just play jazz music?” Matt replies “I am a drummer, what style do you want me to play?”
Don’t forget that your ability is not limited to what you can do whilst sitting at a drum kit. Good listening skills and a sociable personality will make life easier for you and the artist allowing you to work closely with them to make them happy, producing the music they are looking for in the least stressful way possible.
The drum kit and associated equipment are your tools of the trade. Make sure it looks smart and sounds as good as it can be by way of tuning the heads, replacing them as needed, so that it is always ready. Have a go-to kit available which you are comfortable with which produces your sound. This is your comfy blanket, there should be no surprises on the sound any one cymbal makes for example. By taking this kit to any gig you will know how well it will work, it is your best friend and will allow you to concentrate on your drumming rather than having concerns about the drums and how they are performing.
Have you got all the kit you need to do the job? You won’t find a painter and decorator turn up without a paint brush, so when an artist hires you as a session drummer be sure you have, or at least have access to, all necessary equipment which is in full working order. Everything from in ear monitors and cowbells to a selection of suitable drum sticks, including mallets and brushes etc. Be prepared.
A good reputation can take a long while to build and develop, but can be lost overnight following a silly mistake or oversight, so make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
You’ve worked hard to get the gig, so seize the opportunity and use it to build further by doing the best possible job you can. Matt will always listen to what is required, paying attention to fine detail and being thorough giving them what they want. They are hiring you to do a job and if it takes several days of research and practice to create that exact sound they are looking for then so be it. Those days could be the most important (unpaid) days you ever work as you will be recommended to many others as someone who can do a professional job in exactly the way they are looking.
If you like Matt’s approach and style then he could be the session drummer you need.