The Foremost Lesson I Learned as a Pro Drummer Was Not Behind the Kit
We love what we do. Playing drums (or any instrument for that matter) fuels everything we do, even if we need to hold down the proverbial “day job” to keep our real passions burning. From being a session drummer to being in a weekend warrior in a garage band, we can’t get enough. Inevitably, however, we find ourselves in group situations and, whether heading for the big time or not, have to get along with others. This activity can be summed up in one word: Professionalism.
It is from this platform that I write this because of the observations I have made in professional settings as a musician these 40 years and counting that I have been playing at this writing. And, whether getting paid or not, professional rules do apply, unbeknownst to many.
While it is not rampant by any stretch, I have seen some of the most talented players stunt their career aspirations, often never getting off the ground, all for attitude, personality quirks or just plain inconsideration of others. Rather than remain frustrated at the very thought of it, however, I decided to learn from it what I could. So, in turning a negative into a positive, net gain, I wish to share 5 lessons, not in rudimental drumming, but in professionalism that can shape an amazing career for any level of player. Truly, these are of senior importance to even talent.
Lesson #1: Excellent Public Relations
What is “Public Relations”? While we can consult umteen dictionaries and argue the exact anatomy, suffice to say that Public Relations [PR] entail creating a relationship with the public or, for our purposes, those outside of ourselves with whom we associate. Overall, professionally, PR means how we are perceived by others as a result of how we communicate with them.
Whether it is through performance, how we present ourselves, how we look and speak, it is a culmination of all connections and communications, direct or indirect, and how they are received.
The foremost lesson I have learned is that giving respect, interest and attention to others is key, to both audiences as well as fellow professionals who may, themselves, be amateurs. Far beyond mere “ego”, a blatant disregard for others, or worse, contempt for others goes far to destroy one’s reputation. And, while it may seem such people seem to make it, if unfairly, they seldom do for the long haul and it becomes their undoing late in their careers or before it even begins. Good PR is a fundamental building block of a career and supersedes talent.
Lesson #2: Respect for Other Professionals, Not Competition
Although I touched on this on the PR subject, it warrants a more focused observation. When I say respect, I would better say “interest” in others is the keynote of respect. I marvel at the petty competitiveness or outright disdain for other musicians and, yes, even audiences out of some self-important, misguided insecurity that one can only be on top if others are below them.
Mocking the talents or efforts of another may make one feel better at the moment, but it soon spreads a dark cloud of resentment from the receivers. Audiences who are looked down upon for their “lack of musical taste” or other musicans perceived as terrible, untalented or the like all hold in contempt those who have targeted them aas such and though “turn the other cheek” never seem to want to turn back. In other words, these relationships are the building blocks of a successful career.
Getting gigs or attention from audiences alike involve interest, but more interest in them on your part than their interest in you. Your interest in them actually creates and fosters interest in them. I always find takeaways in watching others perform or even listening to feedback from some audience member. Even if I see an amateur perform, who hasn’t particularly mastered their craft, I always take something away, a lesson for myself, and have made some positive changes in my own performance as a result. Yes, you can learn from anyone and, expressing that goes a long way in building relationships with professionals and audiences alike.
Lesson #3: A Set Code of Professional Conduct
There are many “Golden Rules” out there and all seem to point in the same direction. How you act and treat others affects how you are perceived. I have always found that it is best to listen to others’ performances and comment upon them, carefully searching out and finding something, anything you like about it or can admire and pointing it out.
This could be simply taking 30 seconds out of your busy day and dropping a dollar in the case of a subway or street performer. After all, isn’t this how you would like to be treated? What if it were you performing? Wouldn’t you want some attention or applause from others? This rule is so simple and easy, I can’t figure out why so many do it the hard way. It takes way more effort to resent others than it does to appreciate them. Think about it.
Lesson #4: Build and Fortify and Bridges, Don’t Burn Them
Burning bridges has become so cliche I feel it receives undue ignorance lately. As you may have already figured out, these rules I live by are very closely related and seem to flow, one to the other, in a sequence of actions. Building up great releationships means to maintain them, for better or worse, not cut off all ties at the least of disagreements.
Marriages all start with a promise “for better or worse” but, once underway, always seem to ignore that rule. And, while there are many situations, marital, professional or otherwise, in which a parting of ways is necessary, they are fewer and farther between than you may have suspected.
Momentary lapses of patience are just that: momentary. Stepping back and taking a look, having a mindset of resolution and remembering all of the good things is the best approach I know to maintain those bridges. In fact, you may find, as have I, the prior rules above, kept, actually prevent you from burning any bridge you may have created and even catapult you forward during turbulent times.
Lesson #5: Discourage Unseemly Conduct
Perhaps my favorite and most useful lesson I have learned is that, even the best of people, who apply these very lessons, fall short of succeeding because of one thing: they only apply them to themselves.
Turning a blind eye to poor conduct seems to have become a watchword in today’s society, the arts no different. Inevitably, when you are trying to be the best version of yourself and build a professional drumming career, you will come across others who may be manifesting the worst.
I insist that other people apply these rules too. The tricky part, however, is that you must keep in these rules while insisting on them in others. It is all too easy to find yourself in an argument or all-out debate or war over this, condescending to and upbraiding others, thereby violating these very guidelines. Keeping them in mind, however, you will find amazing ways of getting others to use them, if only by your own exemplary conduct. This is easier than it seems.
How to Be a Rockstar and Loved By Millions
Want to be loved by millions? Follow one rule: LOVE those millions – ALL OF THEM! And do so no matter what.
Maintain excellent PR by showing respect to your audience and colleagues, have a set code of ideal conduct, build and maintain strong bridges and encourage this in others. It really is simple when you look at it.
In fact, you may find that when you looked at these five lessons, before learning them, that they looked cumbersome or complicated and far-fetched. How do they seem to you now? It is my hope you will use them, as have I, to improve your career and do and attain what you have always wanted.
Try this and see if it doesn’t work for you. I’ll bet it does!