In the next two columns I am going to discuss the business of being a drummer. If you are a hobbyist in relation to the drums then this information might be interesting but it will not be pertinent. If you are a professional or striving to be a professional then there are some facts and aspects concerning making a living as a drummer you should be aware of.
Being a drummer is, in my opinion, the most complicated path to take to making a living or getting paid to play music.
Most drummers do not start their own band or write songs. This is the first mistake they make. The people who make all of the money in music are those who own successful record companies and those are few and far between, as well as songwriters and the slimy lawyers who say they represent you.
For the most part these people take all of your money when there is really no money to take. Horace Silver, a renowned jazz piano player once said in a clinic I saw to stop playing music for several years and go get a law degree if you wanted to be successful. The reason for this is the music business is filled with complicated rules governing the payment of monies that were crafted by lawyers and businessmen. This sharply goes against the grain of almost every musician I have ever met.
Artists govern themselves on feelings, therefore opening themselves to self serving ruthless business people who justify their actions as “just business.”
They will manipulate you till you yell “stop it” and then will go a little further just to see the look on your face. I am going to attempt to shed some light on the business side of what being a drummer is so hopefully you can avoid financial mistakes that will land you flipping burgers and kissing the backside of a disgruntled hateful business person so you can play for free at night in a little club.
There are a few things to be cautious of. I am going to discuss the top 10. I will discuss five of them in this column and another five in the next column.
1. First beware of the egotistical, unreliable songwriter or band leader who thinks they are God's gift to the world. There are millions of songwriters who can write a catchy tune. There are only a few who can write a song, teach it to a band, and then get a decent paying gig. Most songwriters believe they are great and are entitled to special treatment. They believe they will sell a million records. (As a side note the notion of selling record anymore is a false notion. For example Eric Clapton only sells a couple hundred of thousand records per release these days) and that is worldwide.
You will not sell records unless you have huge marketing and promotion behind you. If you do get lucky and sell a million records, the profits are eaten up due to recoupable expenses for the promotion. So pull your head out and get a clue. Selling records is a thing of the past. If the person you are working for has a huge ego, you can tell. Once you realize it, run and run as fast as you can. Their ego will cloud all of their judgments and those judgments are what get you paid. You can spend valuable years wasting your talents on someone who has no clue.
2. Second do not do anything for free. For example do not rehearse with someone who has started a band unless they have gigs lined up, you know how much you are getting paid and they have made it clear what their business plan is and how they will execute it. (Now if there is a chance to play a gig that will raise funds for a worthy cause such as childhood disabilities or something such as that then please do it but use extreme caution). If you hear the words looking for dedicated people to start band and the money will follow later then be very very cautious. Why should the money follow later?
Would you answer an ad for a job at a grocery store that said looking for dedicated people to work in my store until I start making money and then you will get paid. The answer is NO. So do not do this with your music career. If you are talented, reliable and dedicated it should be no problem to find a musical situation that will pay you fairly for your time.
3. Third, know what mechanicals are and what performance royalties are. Make sure you get a cut of all of these things and most importantly make sure you have a cut of the performance royalties. Unless you write the song, getting performance royalties is near impossible. When a song is made it then becomes what is called a mechanical. ( Music in a tangible form). Your share of the mechanical is what determines how much you get paid every time a record is manufactured. Most record contracts are structured so these mechanicals are paid after recoupable expenses if the song is released by a record company.
The songwriter is entitled to both but the musician is entitled to only the mechanical, not the performance royalty. You would think that since you played on the song that you are entitled to your share. Beware that this is not the case unless you have signed something giving you part of the song. Too many drummers go blindly into the abyss and never make sure they own parts of the songs they perform on.
It is the songwriter who usually holds 100 per cent of these rights. A good idea is to have a contract with a music publisher. Although they are another person taking a cut, they do the dirty work as well as solicit the music to movies, TV, and ad agency's on your behalf. The best scenario is negotiate a mechanical for playing on the song that gets paid to you when you record it. This money is paid to you up front and it goes against the songwriters recoupable expenses.
If you wait until all recoupable expenses are paid you will never see a penny. Then negotiate a percentage of ownership of the song if possible so if there are any performance royalties you will see a cheque.
Most drummers are not told this information , which leaves them sitting around broke while they hear the song on the radio. Remember when it comes to the money side of music, the musician is the one who gets ripped off. Take as much money up front as you can because chances are once you leave the studio you will never see one penny. As a note: these terms might be different and how they are paid differ in every situation. My suggestion is what Horace Silver said. “If you want to be a musician then get a law degree.”
If someone out there reading this has a more defined explanation of this then please leave a comment. I never went to law school so this is from my own experience and what I believe to be true regarding mechanicals and performance royalties.
4. Fourth, do not do anything musically related because it will give you exposure. The only thing exposure ever did for a musician was let them freeze to death. You will be asked several times to play gigs for free that promise you will be in front of people who will then become fans. The only time this makes sense is if you are going to be on American Idol or America's Got Talent. Even in this case it usually does not pan out. Can you name the 10 American Idol winners? See
what I am saying? Again, if you are talented and have a good business mind then exposure is nothing more than a guy flashing you at the mall or getting frostbite.
5. Fifth make sure the other musicians you are working with are as dedicated as you are, do not have some disorder they are taking medication for or a drug problem, have their heads screwed on correctly, have their temper under control, and are realistic about the path they are on. If you are not working with clear headed realistic musicians with a well laid out realistic plan then you are setting yourself up for frustration and failure. Do not go into a project with your heart because in the long run your heart will get stomped on when you are sleeping on the street because you have become homeless.
I will discuss the next five in the next column. Now go somewhere warm and enjoy the winter.