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L.A. Beat

Drum Beat #20— The drummer’s business, part 2 — be professional

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I will pick up where I left off from the previous column and explore the sixth through the tenth things to be cautious of in relationship to the business of being a drummer.

#6— Venue owners:  Beware of the music venue owner who is already wary of you even though they have not met you yet.
I have only met a couple of venue owners who were not complete jerks. They are two guys in Lethbridge, Alberta and despite all of the bull they endure they actually to this day still care about being fair to the musician and are tireless workers. Most people who run music venues have the music so they can sell alcohol. Face it, it is the truth.

They could care less about the music as long as you bring a crowd to whom they can sell drinks. From their point of view it is understandable. They have a multitude of problems and issues to deal with in order to run their business and make a profit. They become disgruntled due to dealing with unprofessional musicians. Basically your peers have laid the playing field by past discretion's and unprofessional acts.

The venue owners have to deal with business costs, law enforcement, huge egos, drunk patrons, a lack of respect from employees, fines, dirty bathrooms, vomit, pee, rudeness and so on. It is easy to see why they become burnt out and start to take a join them instead of fight them attitude. This attitude then directly affects you when trying to book a gig, get paid, promote and foster a music career. You must at all times keep your ego in check and display a professional attitude in order to ease the hassle of the venue owner resulting in a good working relationship. This helps to secure a good reputation among venue owners.

This will not only go a long way in getting a repeat gig, it will help in getting other gigs. You can use them for references for other venue owners which can help greatly in getting you out of town gigs thus expanding your fan base. Here is a true example of what one club owner had to endure in just one day. Scenes like this are common. A local band thought they were on the road to huge success. The drummer was a huge egomaniac who thought since his band had thousands of fans on MySpace, had spent thousands of dollars of their own money on a record and had a local following of 100 loyal fans could treat the venue owner with disrespect and disdain. He walked into the gig late for the sound check drunk and stoned and carrying a beer. He started to berate the owner saying the gig was lame and there was not going to be anybody in the audience.

When the owner asked him to please calm down and take his beer outside he became unruly. To make a long story short, the owner told him calmly if he did not calm down he would be asked to leave. Eventually when he was asked to leave he  refused. The owner had to physically remove him. The drummer then got into his van and drove home drunk. His friend took a picture of the owner physically removing him from the club. The drummer waited until he was sober and then called the police and pressed assault charges against the owner. The police looked at the picture and then went to talk to the owner.

Once the police heard the story they agreed with the venue owner that he had no choice and acted as he should have. So, the venue owner gave a band a place to play and what he received was a bad attitude, a visit from the police and people showing up to see a band that has left. The owner dealt with a boat load of drama in order to lose money. Again, be thankful for a gig but realize due to several factors created both by musicians and disgruntled venue owners that you must be aware of the pitfalls that are lurking around every corner when it comes playing music at venues. It is a business not a party.

#7 — Recoupable Expenses: If and when you sign a record contract, understand what a recoupable expense is. Recoupable means you have to pay it back. That means every penny a record company spends on you they are going to want that money back. That includes everything they do including such small expenses as long distance phone calls to you. These recoupable expenses can add up very quickly. They vary depending on the language in the contract you sign.

Make sure to get an advance when you sign a contract and put that money in the bank. Recoupable expenses are only paid back from the monies your band generates and  generally do not have to be paid back if you do not make enough monies over the life of the band to pay them back. In other words they are not a personal liability. So again, get as much money as you can upfront and save it. Any cash you see while being in the band hang onto it. For the most part 99 per cent of signed bands do not make back their recoupable expenses during the lifetime of the band. Get your money and keep it.

Make sure you keep tabs on what money is being spent on your behalf if possible. Record companies can and will invent many ways to spend money that they think will help them create revenue.
They do this generally with good intentions for the most part but there are several examples of foolish spending. This can lead to you getting dropped as an artist when the bean counters do the books and show the record company principals how much money you are losing. If you are aware of where money is being spent and limit your recoupable expenses to responsible spending you can greatly increase your chances of getting resigned and prolonging your career as a signed recording artist.

#8 — Get an education:  Get an education in something else other than music unless you plan on teaching music at a school: oh wait the governments are cutting all music budgets so I am not sure music school jobs still exist. To make things safe,  just go to college and get a degree in something like science. A music career is a giant leap of faith. There are way too many factors effecting the outcome of your career that you cannot control. So while you are young.  get a degree in something tangible. Learn computer programming or engineering. Not only will you have something to fall back on in case your music pursuits do not work, you can get a high paying job and save a ton of cash to live on while you are making little to no money building your career as a musician. Although living with your parents or off of your significant other can be fine it is certainly not ideal.

#9 — Keep clean: Stay away from drugs and partying, especially after the age of 25. If the musicians you are working with are still  chemically partying their brains out after the age of 25 then something surely is going to go wrong. Once your career becomes a business there is no room for hard drugs. Would you have a job at a corporation and show up on LSD or wreaking of alcohol?

If you did you would not be working there for very long. Would you want to work with someone who was whacked out of their mind all of the time? The answer is no. Having a clouded, screwed up mind will lead to bad decisions, erratic behavior and will lay the groundwork for something to go drastically wrong. I was in a band at one time that had a huge following. The bass player set up a showcase gig where there was several representatives from record companies in the audience. The place was sold out. The hype was in place and the scene was set up for a slam dunk. The guitar player and keyboard player both took a bunch of pills and were unable to execute during the performance. The result was two chemical drug heads cost the rest of us a chance at getting signed.

I am sure the record company representatives said to themselves the band shows a ton of promise but who wants to put up with the apparent drug problems. That might have flown in the 60's and 70's but that was 30 to 40 years ago. So get yourself clean and increase your chances of making music for a living.

#10— Learn to play another instrument:
Learn to play the guitar or piano so when you finally get tired of working with other players you can start your own band and control every aspect of your career. Being a drummer you have to rely on other musicians to get and play gigs.

Let's face it, how many solo drum gigs are there? If you do not know the ins and outs of all the instruments you have to put up with what the other players play and how they act.

If you do know how to play all of the instruments you are then free to write your own songs and seek out the additional players you need that fit what you want to do. The more aspects of the band that your are in control of can greatly increase your chance for success.

Musicians, although are usually great, kind and caring individuals, they are notoriously, for the most part, the single most unreliable, unprofessional, whacked out individuals on the earth. They do things with their heart and have a hard time taking advantage of others, which is the general principle of capitalism and business. The best way to combat this fact is to be able to control as much of  the process of playing music as you can. Music is a business whether you want to believe it or not.

Of course everything I write has some story where people persevered through all of the bologna of being a musician and came out on the other side successful. Ask yourself if I was going to start a business other than music would I not demand complete control? So stay off the drugs, act professional, know the working of the finances and so on to assure success.
Then why not do it with your music career? Enjoy 2011.

— Stanley Jackson, Special to L.A. Beat
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