Reaching the international stage as a drummer, or as a professional musician in general, is extremely difficult, and an insane amount of work. Often times, even after putting in all of the required work to become an international superstar, there can be little to show for it. That’s because there is more to it than just hard work. You are also at the mercy of all of the other people working in the music industry. Label executives, managers, booking agencies, PR companies, and other musicians often are the ones who make decisions about who gets to work on the international stage.
BUT, there’s hope! Maybe you’ve heard the old saying “Everybody gets a shot”? Well I believe this is true, and so if you follow some or all of the points below you can prepare yourself for that day when your chance arrives. Whether it happens to you or not, at the end of the day you’ll be proud of yourself for putting everything you had into a dream. And if you are one of the lucky people to be choosing to perform in a top notch band and tour the world, well then, have fun!
International touring can be an incredibly exciting experience that allows you to travel the world playing high quality music, meeting new people, and getting paid!
Be The Best
This one should be obvious, but a lot of people overlook the talent-thing when working to get onto the international scene. You need to be good enough, that’s first off. If you aren’t then get professional help. Find the very best teacher you can find and work your butt off. No excuses, hard work every single day.
Invest in your future, take lessons from the best teachers in your area. Find quality instruction over quantity of lessons. If the lessons are too expensive then take them every other week, or once a month, whatever you can afford. But quality instruction is key at early and middle stages.
Practice every single day, whether it’s 3 minutes, or 6 hours; just practice. Love what you do and be completely dedicated to the art of drumming. If you don’t have your heart in it then it will show when you play.
Record yourself and compare yourself to your favourite drummers. Figure out why they sound great and let it dictate to you what you need to work on.
Here my top recommended books for someone wanting to master the drums:
The New Breed
The Art of Bop Drumming
Modern Rudimental Swing Solos for the Advanced Drummer
Best Drummer In Your Style In Your Country
Once you choose the style of music you will master then you will need to learn everything about it, and that means deeply analysing the genre and also learning the genres that surround that specific genre. For example, if you want to become a top funk drummer then you must understand that those grooves and rhythms came from Blues, Jazz, Motown, R n’ B, and even world rhythms from different Latin countries. Immerse yourself and master the genre.
Develop A Style And A Sound
Work hard at not only mastering a certain genre of music, but also at having your own style and sound. Stay true to yourself, be creative, and you can go far. If you don’t know what your sound is then do some soul searching.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What is it that makes you want to play the drums?
- Who are your favourite drummers?
- What sort of drum sound do you prefer?
- Do you prefer practicing technical exercises or grooves?
Just thinking about and answering these questions can help get you in the right direction.
Figure out where the great players hang out and go there to meet them. Check out what’s going on in the scene. Be proactive and don’t just wait for people to call you, call them! It worked for me on a number of occasions when I was called by excellent musicians who I had previously hired.
Get to know people, sell yourself. Have a business card and hand them out when someone seems interested. But be cool and don’t try to force yourself into the scene. It doesn’t work that way.
In the beginnings when you’re trying to get your career going play every gig you’re offered at first. Even if the pay is low, or zero, just get yourself out there. Smile and show enthusiasm and it will pay-off. Don’t ever give attitude to someone, you never know who they are or who they know. In the end, people will call people they know, their friends, people they’ve worked with and trust. So you need to show them that you can be part of the crew, be cool and professional at all times.
If you want to make it big then you need to go to where the big wigs go. Don’t be shy! Go to the jam sessions, networking events, bars, wherever you need to go to meet the successful people you’d like to work with.
You also need to have, or develop, strong social skills. Learn how to engage with people with charisma, genuinity, and intelligence in order for them to remember you.
Be cool and people will talk about you, nobody wants to work with a jerk. Do not let your ego get in the way of building strong relationships with people. Even at the highest levels a lot of gigs are gotten strictly through word of mouth and so don't think that just because you're talented you're going to get called for a gig. There are plenty of talented individuals in the music industry and therefore most of the time the ones who are great players but also great people will be the ones to get called for the gigs.
Have thick skin and be able to take criticism in stride. If you are being hired for a tour then you aren’t calling the shots and are at the mercy of the bandleader, managers and other group members. Play the best you can and always be ready to morph your playing to what the situation needs.
Be Gig Ready
Prepare for touring by getting your setup and teardown to a science. Be quick and efficient so that you’ll be a smooth touring partner, thus increasing your likeability-factor by 10!
Be mentally prepared to play other drumsets. This can happen when on tour so be ready for it. Unless you are a megastar, you will need to play backline kits on most (or all) of your gigs. Believe it or not, playing other drums than your own will make you a more versatile drummer.
Play In Different Countries
This literally makes you an international drummer and can help your credibility back at home.
Venturing into nearby countries will allow you to expand your network, and even though it may not feel like you're playing on the international scene, playing in a different country by definition is playing on the international scene. You don't need to play in 50 countries to become an international level drummer.
In Canada I am lucky enough to live one hour from the U.S. border, and have many many cities within an eight hour drive. So I can book small tours with my band whenever I like.
Since the popularization of Youtube, the way people market themselves has evolved.
There are many drummers out there who are making it on the internet scene and using it to boost their careers.
It's the perfect place to place to put a well-made demo reel highlighting your drumming, which can then be sent out to bands who are auditioning for new members.
Don't forget to post a video of yourself doing a mean drum solo. Oftentimes international drummers are required to perform drum solos during their concerts, and because you are an international level player, you should have treating mean concept to blow the minds thousands or potentially millions of fans.
If you don't know a lot about how to build a drum solo, then study it!
You don't need professional equipment to make good or even great YouTube content. All you need is a newer smartphone, such as an iPhone 8, or a Samsung Galaxy 8, and a decent quality condenser mic. Record the video onto your phone and the sound into the computer and then use some free video editing software that comes with most computers to make a basic demo video.
Don't forget to comb your hair and to put on a clean shirt.
Cruise Ship Gigs
This also technically is an international touring drummer, but probably not the one you are thinking about. There are plenty of perks to being a cruise ship drummer, including: Performing with professional musicians, improving upon reading skills and improving on social skills; all of which are necessary to reach the top level. There’s also plenty of down time during the day to practice. Depending on where you're going for your cruise ship gig, you might even be able to talk to venue owners on your shore days about booking gigs with them in the future. Bring a CD and make sure to give it to them but also take their email and send them an online application as well.
Get A Team
Aside from complete discipline and consistent practice, you also need to have a great team to work with. Most of the well known international-level drummers have management and a publicist that they work with. Some do the bookings themselves, but that stuff can be tedious when you're coordinating international tours. You end up spending incredible amounts of time at the computer, when you should really be practicing and preparing for your international performances.
Putting a team together is not easy though, you need to show the people who are going to work with you that they can trust that you are going to do everything you can to make yourself and your team successful. Be prepared to shell out some money to a manager or a publicist. True professionals never work for free and unless you are making enough money to give them a percentage of your income, they will generally ask for a monthly retainer. Publicists can be very expensive but if you have a product to sell that you are confident about then this is the number one way to get your product out to the media and to increase the popularity of the project. A publicist can also work with you as an individual, securing spots in drum magazines or even publishing educational articles about drumming topics that you specialize in. But before hiring people to your team make sure you have a concept that you can sell and that you not only feel confident about, but that you are also realistic. Managers, record labels and publicists are not magicians and if you don't have a quality presentation they will not be able to help you. I have heard so many stories from industry professionals about how musicians will often blame them for their lack of success, refusing to accept the fact that they have not worked hard enough on their musical product to give them something of quality. Be realistic and don't blame others, accept responsibility.
Study World Music
This can depend on the genre of music you want to play in, but learning from all of the types of music around the world will make you more well-rounded, and can give you a unique sound.
Africa, Asia, India, South America, North America, Europe all these places have really cool instruments and grooves to learn and then incorporate into your own style.
Whether being in the recording studio, or triggering drums on a festival stage, an understanding of the electronics used by drummers is essential.
Learn how to use triggers, in-ear monitors, and the basics of recording programs to keep current on the scene.
Also, as the studio-scene becomes more and more scarce, more and more professionals are beginning to make studios at home. So check out and consider building an in-home studio. You can do so much from home, including professional recording sessions. This increases your sell-ability.
Check out things such as these Drum Triggers
Here is my favourite recording program It’s easy to use and has great plug-ins
Check out these Drum Mics on Amazon
NOTE: This mic is an “all-included set”, which is perfect for putting together an affordable home studio for demos, Youtube videos etc….. But these are not top-of-the-line microphones. If you want to go that direction then you will need to do extensive research and most likely will spend $1000+ for all of the professional gear you will need to purchase. But the suggested mic kit in the link above contains all of the mics, cables, and stands you will need to get started, thus making it a simple purchase that you will be happy with.
These days a lot of artists use programmed drums. So get in on this. Learn how to sample your drums and program them into interesting beats. Play along to the loops and make yourself a complete package drummer that can work both in the acoustic-drumming & cyber-drumming worlds
Study International Drummers
Want to become an international-level drummer? Then study international-level drummers! Listen to as many as you can, in fact listen to ALL OF THEM. Be a student and will one day be a master. Watch videos of international drummers performing in different situations. How hard do they hit? Do they use an in-ear? A click? Electronics? What type of cymbals do they use? What stick size? Drumheads? How do they tune the drums?
For help on where to get started in your studies, check out my article about the Top Drummers To Study In Each Genre
Become A Bandleader
Although usually seated at the back of the stage, the drummer is a very important member of any project. The drummer also has an objective view of what is going on in the band in terms of arrangement because they are often playing repetitive patterns and can take the time to hear what the rest of the band doing. It can be a lot of work, but being the bandleader allows you freedom to choose what direction you want the project to take.
Just to be clear, this won’t be easy. Organizing rehearsals, recordings, booking tours. You will need to be very organized, and have great communication skills to pull this off. Oh, and composition and arrangement skills.
But if you work hard enough, and do it right, you will have the satisfaction of leading a successful project. Eventually, if you make some money, you will be paid more as a bandleader. If you are the songwriter in the group then you will also collect songwriting royalties.
Out of all the work you will put into your project, make sure that you are constantly nurturing the interpersonal-relationships of the group. A band is a family and needs to be treated as such. Keep your bandmates happy and the music will flow.
Create Your Own Scene
Book your own gigs, hire your own band, bring in your own audience, and build a music scene! This might seem quite daunting, but if you can secure a weekly gig and do bit of social media promotion each week, then you’ve got a chance to build a music scene. Make sure the music is good, the band is tight, and that you’re the right room. Also, don’t give your band false hopes that it will be a sell-out audience every week. That just won’t happen. Make it a hang with the band, make sure the vibe is right, and it’ll turn out alright.
Book regular gigs on slow nights, as to minimize the stress of packing the place every week. If your gig begins to bring a large audience each week then request to move it to a busy night and ask for a guarantee. But don’t jump the gun too early and start making demands, otherwise you’ll lose the gig to a bandleader who is easier to deal with.
Get A Job
This one can hurt the pride, but do what you gotta do to achieve your dreams. Get a part-time job so you don’t starve while working towards your goals. The time you spend at your day job is not wasted time because it can be an opportunity to learn new skills that you can apply to the music industry. It will also make you more focused during your free time. You can even find a part-time job, such as a receptionist job, that allows you to sneak in some of your own admin work while getting paid (I’ve NEVER done that :-) ).
You can also look for jobs directly in the drum-industry, and potentially learn more about it and maybe even expand your network.
Write a drum-method ebook and sell it online, or produce videos for other people.
Look into being a drum-tech for an established act.
If you work a job where you need to socialize with customers then you can slip in the odd sell about your project, maybe even sell a couple of albums, or get invited to perform at a customer’s work function.
Teaching is a great way to make money while also honing your craft. You can practice along with the students, constantly brushing up on your fundamentals, and even learning things from the students from time to time.
Teaching can also be a great income as well as you can charge between $30-100/hr for your time, thus side-stepping the need to find some sort of alternative income.
You will be able to make the schedule as flexible as you’d like, to move with your performance schedule, and you can focus on teaching during slow days such as Mondays or Tuesdays, while maintaining a regular gigging schedule if you like.
No matter how hard you work, the realities of modern times are that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for musicians. There aren’t as many gigs as before, and the pay is lower. But if you work hard and learn the ins & outs of the industry then you will be ready when you get your shot. Learn the craft, study the industry, and go for it!