Becoming a Value-Added Drummer

If you’re a drummer and you are looking to increase your chances at getting the gig, then this post might help you. In fact, some of this will be helpful for other musicians in general.

These are details that come into consideration when you’re auditioning for a gig, and the others who auditioned are also solid drummers. There has to be something that separates you from the crowd.

Late 2009: Drumming as a hired gun at The Whisky A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip.

Like everything else, these details will not guarantee anything. I’ve done all of these things, and sometimes wouldn’t get the gig due to other factors, such as age, looks, height, weight. Yes, those in the industry can be hyper-picky about these strangest of things.

Now that I’m old, I don’t care about those other concerns. What I do care about is being able to perform to the best of my ability. Having these value-added attributes in my arsenal make me a worthy contender, if nothing else.

Before I get into these value-added details, I will give you a brief overview of my background.

I had lots of formal training, even though it was determined that I had a significant level of natural ability. I studied for a few years with John W. McMahan, author of “Readin’, Ritin’, and Rudiments.” I would later study with Richard Paul during my high school years, and my studying with him would continue when I went to college as a Percussion Arts major.

While I was taking drum lessons in grade school, I was playing trumpet in the grade school band. I would switch to drums and play drums in the high school band, the marching band, pep band, and theater orchestra. I also played lead guitar in the jazz band. Get involved with as many things as you can during your early years.

In college, as a Percussion Arts major, I would obviously study drums and percussion, but would also be playing piano, marimba, and string bass. Also required were classes in Music Theory, Ear Training, and Advanced Composition. Yes, a drummer should have these things under their belt.

1987: Playing keyboard for The Robin Baxter Band at Club 88 in Santa Monica, CA

Later, when I was in LA drumming and playing other instruments with a variety of bands, I would do some one-off lessons with other drummers, such as my friend Nick Menza. I took a one-off lesson with Chad Wackerman to learn the foundations of The Spivack Method. There is ALWAYS something to learn from someone else.

During my 33 years in Los Angeles, I would play drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards in a variety of different bands in different genres.

From mid-2017 to mid-2018, I took guitar lessons from a classical player named Rogerio Peixoto, as well as Bill Harkleroad, aka Zoot Horn Rollo of Captain Beefheart.

This is my musical foundation. Some of this gave me some value-added attributes as a drummer, which I will detail.

In this list, I am going to assume that the reader is a drummer who only plays drums in a band setting, and nothing more. Again, as noted earlier, some of these tips will work for ANY pop/rock musician, regardless of instrument.

late 1985: Playing guitar in The Switch, at our rehearsal space in Spiceland, Indiana

Playing to a metronome/click: Practicing with a metronome is essential, so that you can be even in your division of beats. Later, when you find yourself in a studio, you will more than likely be asked to perform your drum tracks to a click track.

A click track is just that, a track that goes click click click click. This helps keep the tempo solid for the duration of the song.

The weird thing about drumming to a click happens when you get really good at it, and the click disappears, blending in with everything else.

Beyond recording, some bands perform with a click. This is especially true if they have backing tracks. So when you go see a band like Steel Panther, and you hear a synth [they don’t have a synth player], you’ll know that it’s on a backing track, and that the drummer is performing live with a click.

I know how these backing tracks are made, which will be its own entry later on.

2009: Playing fretless bass with guitarist Logan Grusso in the band Black Hole Bindhi at Club Good Hurt, Venice, CA.

Learn to play at least one other instrument: Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez, drummer for Oingo Boingo, said it best when he noted that, “Drummers who don’t play a second instrument are boring.”

What he is speaking about is in reference to the drummer’s ability to “play for the song.” A drummer who knows how to play other instruments has a solid understanding of how those instruments interact with each other.

You don’t have to become hyper-proficient with your secondary or tertiary instruments. Just get good enough to play a few easy songs. Once you do this, it leads you to the next item.

Learn to play for the song: Some drummers will want to show off and fill every available spot with some kind of impressive drum licks. This is not a good habit for a drummer.

I liken it to one of the first times I went to a club in LA. It was a Gazzarri’s, and there was this band on stage. The problem was they didn’t sound like a band. What they sounded like was FOUR individuals fighting over who was going to get the spotlight.

As a band member, you don’t want to steal the spotlight. If you have a drum solo in a song or show, then that’s fine. Have at it and tear it up during that piece. But what you want is to be able to play in such a way that you complement the other instruments, making the other players and the song itself sound good.

Playing for the song is a valuable talent.

2015: Laying down a banjo track for Noodle Muffin in Los Angeles, CA

Learn to sing while playing: A singing drummer can bring harmonies, or even lead vocals to the fold. The first singing drummer I had ever seen was Gil Moore while drumming with Triumph.

Learn how to run samplers, sequencers, and multimedia presentations while drumming: Dang, that one took up more than one line! That’s because there’s a lot to take in.

With samplers and sequencers, it is important to learn how the electronics work, how triggers work, and when and where in the music you will be implementing these things. When I was drumming live with Noodle Muffin, I would also be singing backups, triggering samplers, and also triggering sequencers.

My good friend and fellow drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz has been drumming for “Weird” Al Yankovic since the beginning. He provides some backup vocals during performances. He might also have samplers and sequencers, but he does something that I’ve never done, in that he runs the multimedia show that runs on the big screen behind him while he’s playing.

Mid-2019: In Bend, Oregon with Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, drummer for “Weird” Al Yankovic. We spent a good portion of the day running around to pawn shops to look at what drums and cymbals they had.

Learn Music Theory and arranging: Most people do not know that Alex Van Halen has a strong Music Theory background and was in charge of Van Halen song arrangements. Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock, you should be familiar with at least some Van Halen songs. Their quality, as well as their durability, speak for themselves.

Contrary to what you will hear, Music Theory WILL NOT ruin your creativity. It’s mostly about naming things and learning about their relationships with one another.

Early 2020: Playing a few songs I wrote on acoustic guitar at the now-closed coffee shop, Pressed, in Dallas, Oregon.

Writing lyrics: Everyone knows that the late, great Neil Peart wrote the lyrics for the songs in his band, Rush. You can learn this talent through taking writing courses. If you love to write and have a knack for lyrics, then make sure that it’s NOT your best kept secret. Submit some lyrics and see what happens.

Percussion: Learning other percussion elements and implementing them into your arsenal will go a long way, especially in the recording studio. I once saw a drummer in the studio who fell apart when the producer says that he wants a tambourine in a segment of a song. They ended up having me do it, because this guy didn’t know the first thing about how to make the tambourine do what you want it to do.

2016: Tracking lead guitar with Noodle Muffin, Los Angeles, CA

Other talents: There were other things that I did for my bands that were outside of the music itself. Booking gigs and building relationships with promoters. Creating, printing, and distributing fliers for shows. Booking rehearsals and recording sessions. Running the website. There are lots of things to be done for a band that go beyond the realm of writing, recording, and performing music.

The greater your contribution, the greater ownership you can claim. Of course, this is assuming that you’re not a hired gun. If you are a hired gun, then only do what you’re paid to do, and nothing more.

I would drum, sing, and trigger samplers or sequencers, as a hired gun. However, I would NOT go out of my way with things like fliers, unless I was being paid extra for that. And most definitely, NEVER contribute to any rehearsal costs.

Everyone has heard the joke.

What do you call the guy who hangs out with musicians? The drummer.

2008: Drumming with rap artist Casanova Jones at Paladino’s, Los Angeles

This joke falls flat with anyone who has an understanding that the drummer of the band typically does way more than just beat the skins. The same is true of those who have the idea that the drummer should never write music or lyrics. They should, so long as they can do it, and do it well.

In an audition setting, when it comes down to who the band is going to hire, they will look at you more favorably if you have more abilities in your tool box than the other people who are there auditioning.

Remember that there is no such thing as knowing too much, and nobody got hurt by this. If anything, it can hurt your chances if you have major gaps.

The drummer who only plays drums and nothing more truly does have less to offer.

If you like what I write, then please consider sending a one-time donation to me via PayPal. Please use the following link and click SEND to donate, and thank you for reading!

Published by DrumWild

Writing about drums, music, and philosophy.

2 thoughts on “Becoming a Value-Added Drummer

  1. Solid advice, as always 👍
    I can’t recall who actually said this, but as a bass player, my credo is this: “The drummer is king. When he moves, you move. When he breathes; you breathe.”

    Liked by 1 person

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