So You Wanna Be a Drummer… Really?

So there you are, in a crowd of screaming music fans enjoying your favorite band. The sound is incredible and you’re simply awestruck by what you’re witnessing. Your eyes rapidly scan the stage as you watch musicians play their instruments with what appears to be relative ease. The guitarists’ fingers fly around like crazed cylinders in a ’60s muscle car while the lead vocalist belts out notes unreachable by mere mortals. As your gaze falls to the rear of the stage, your eyes finally find what they’ve been looking forâÂ?¦ the drummer.

A show unto itself, a talented drummer is truly a sight to behold. Part circus act, part inhuman rhythm machine, the beats they produce are quite an intoxicating sonic mixture. All attempts to remain motionless while listening are futile as your body writhes and sways in time with that hypnotic sound.

But as you stand with your fellow rockers a few feet back from the stage soaking up the sights and sounds, your mind wanders momentarily and you wonder, “What’s a drummer’s life really like? Is it as glorious and worthy of the pedestal I have placed it upon? Is a drummer’s life encompassed by adoring fans, enormous wealth, and backstage benefits?”

Well my friend, consider this your invitation to come sit behind the drum kit and live the life of a drummer for a moment. And you may soon realize that most rock shows should come with a disclaimer that states, “The lives you’re about to view onstage may not always be as envious as they appear.”

As we begin, you may ask yourself what credentials I possess that allows me to speak so candidly about the subject at hand. Well, I have been a drummer for the better part of twenty years. The last ten of those found me backing various independent rock bands based in Southwest Ohio. My current band Northmont has toured the Midwest for the past few years and we’ve recently had our music featured on MTV.

So allow me to state for the record before I begin whining like an eight-year-old girl that I do truly love drumming and I have enormous respect for the art form. Playing drums is a great form of release, be it emotional or stress related, as well as a great form of exercise for both your body and mind.

That being said, allow me to give you a short list of some of the disadvantages of choosing drums as your vehicle toward rock stardom:

Let’s start with the obvious, decibel levels produced while playing a drum kit. When compared with most other acoustic instruments the drums are by far the loudest. The sheer volume of the instrument poses quite a few problems when playing live or merely trying to practice your chosen art form. Your fellow band mates will complain that the drums are too loud, thus preventing a guitar solo from being heard properly or the lead singer from scoring the phone number of the hot blonde in the front row. While the act of merely practicing your drums will also warrant complaints from various sources. Your parents or roommates will complain that they can’t watch TV or even hear themselves think, a sentiment often echoed by your neighbors. They frequently will not share your love for the drums and most likely will call the police who will kindly persuade you into being quiet by using the patented “Nightstick to the head” technique.

Another disadvantage is size and accessories required to use the instrument properly. I’m sure most of you have seen the enormous drum kits that most heavy metal drummers are fond of as well as the most famous monster kit played by Neil Peart of the band Rush. These kits require dozens and dozens of individual pieces, ample time to set up, and someone who actually knows what to do with all the parts. In the big leagues these are known as drum techs, a luxury not often attainable by smaller independent bands. Which basically means the drummer is responsible for bringing all their gear to the show, hopefully in cases if they can afford them, and setting them up in a short amount of time. While performing at the independent level stage sizes are generally small which leaves little room for the drums. So the drum kit ends up crammed in the back corner of the stage surrounded by the band’s amplifiers and guitars because most guitarists and vocalists generally demand enough room to properly “Rock”.

With so many parts and accessories needed to actually complete a drum kit, naturally many dollars are needed to actually purchase a drum kit. Thousands of dollars will be required to get yourself equipped with quality drums and accessories such as cymbals, drum stands, bass drum pedals, hi-hat pedals, drum heads, drum sticks, a drum throne, and drum cases. Overall cost can escalate quite rapidly when you take into account that just an 18″x 22″ bass drum from Drum Workshop, one of the premier drum manufacturers in the world, will cost you just under $2000. Coincidentally, that’s the going rate on eBay for a human kidney. So if you don’t mind losing a bit of excess “weight,” that bass drum is only a mouse click away.

There are ways of course to cut corners and save money when it comes to drumming equipment. But with reduced cost also comes reduced quality. The saying, “You get what you pay for” holds very true when it comes to equipment of any sort, especially musical instruments. In my experience, it’s always better to spend a little more up front and get the quality you’re after, than suffer buyers’ remorse and regret purchasing the cheap stuff. Because the cheap stuff always finds a way to break down at the most inopportune time, like when your $100 bass drum pedal decides to take a coffee break during minute one of a five minute song.

Now let’s take a look at post-show activities such as stage break down, meeting fans, and loading gear out of the venue. In most instances drummers can combine the first two elements into a single act. It’s been my experience that with so much gear to break down and put away, the prime moments of meeting your fans, especially the attractive ones, will be consumed with the task at hand. If you manage to time it just right, you can put away your last piece of equipment just in time to catch a glimpse of your band walking outside with what appears to be the modern day equivalent of the Swedish Bikini Team. Or maybe that’s just an illusion created by the dim lighting and cigarette smoke combined with an internal cocktail of envy, exhaustion, and anger. Upon seeing this, thoughts of impaling your band mates with your drumsticks may briefly dance through your brain, but you should hopefully decide that a cold beer suits you better than a cold jail cell, and head for the bar to await the return of your band.

When the band finally makes its return back inside the venue, the fun of loading out can begin. This is the time when adoring fans become an even greater asset. With a bit of sweet coercion you can make them honorary band members for the evening and have them assist you with load out. If no fans are around, you’ll have the full enjoyment of lugging the mountain equipment out the back door of the club all to yourself. You can anticipate internal cursing and self questioning of why exactly you chose drums as the aforementioned vehicle toward your rock stardom. As you wearily load the last drum case into the band’s trailer you may begin to think that your “vehicle” is beginning to look less like a fiery sports car and more like a tired and bloated SUV.

As we conclude, I hope some of your questions have been answered and your thirst for drumming insight has been quenched. If after reading this you still decide that a drummer’s life suits you well, take pride in the fact that your seat on stage is indeed called a throne which basically means you’re Rock-n-Roll Royalty… and to that I say, “Long live the King!”

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