In this article, I will go through the list of things you need to become a professional drummer.
Before we dive deeper let’s define the term professional drummer:
A professional drummer is a skilled musician who plays drums as their main profession, excelling in various styles and settings, from live performances to studio sessions, and combines technical mastery with creativity and musical understanding.
So, now let’s see what it takes to become one.
A common inquiry I encounter is, “How much should I practice to become a professional drummer?”
Indeed, practicing for 8 hours is more beneficial than 3, but the quality of your practice is the most crucial aspect. Of course, talent also plays a significant role.
I recently came across an exceptional book by drum maestro Benny Greb titled “Effective Practicing for Musicians.” This book offers fantastic tips and strategies for practicing the drums efficiently.
On average, the journey involves:
- 1 year to establish a solid foundation,
- 2-5 years to reach a robust “intermediate” level,
- and 5 or more years to ascend to professional drummer status.
2. The Skillset
To put it in perspective, consider this: according to Wikipedia, “half of the world’s net wealth belongs to the top 1%.”
A similar principle applies to drummers: 1% of them record 50% of the music.
These drummers possess a very specific set of skills, honed over a long career—definitely not a quote borrowed from the movie Taken.
All joking aside, these skills include:
- Impeccable timing
- Advanced hand and foot techniques
- The ability to avoid overplaying
- Dynamic playing
- Smooth flow
- The capacity to listen to others and leave space
3. A Diverse Repertoire
Being a professional drummer means having an extensive repertoire and the ability to play across various genres. It’s a rare privilege to spend your entire career with a single band without the need to learn hundreds of songs.
More often than not, drummers are required to pick up new songs and sometimes entirely new genres. For drummers like Vinnie Colaiuta, mastering multiple genres is essentially what defines their careers.
As in any field, talent and hard work alone aren’t enough; a bit of luck in meeting the right people can make all the difference.
Take, for example, the industry story of Ash Soan, whose career took off after he accidentally became neighbors with bassist Pino Palladino.
Networking, forging connections, and establishing a reputation are critical in every industry, and music is no exception.
This is where your personality really comes into play. Do you believe the best drummer always lands the gig? Not necessarily. Often, it’s the drummer the band knows and deems “good enough” to join them.
You’ve likely heard of a Hollywood actor or two getting blacklisted, not for lack of talent but due to their personality.
Musicians often spend considerable time on the road, making an easygoing nature a crucial trait. The same goes for the studio environment; producers and sound engineers prefer working with individuals who are easy to get along with.
Is it hard to be a professional drummer?
Yes, it is very hard. It takes more than 10 years to truly master some of the drumming skills needed for the job.
However, being a “professional” drummer can be on various levels. If your goal is to do this for a living, it is not that hard, and you can achieve that in a couple of years.
But, the level of Vinnie, Weckl, Gadd… that’s far from just “doing it for a living.”
For that kind of “pro” level you are going to need talent and experience except hard work.
Are drummers in demand?
Not as in the past. Advanced plugins and drum libraries decreased demand for drummers.
To reduce costs, producers rather program drums or use pre-programmed or even pre-recorded grooves and fills rather than hiring a professional drummer.
However, since musicians earn most of their income through touring, demand for a great touring drummer is always there.
Here are a few ways to make money as a drummer:
- Giving Lessons
- Holding Clinics
- Selling drum video lessons/courses
Professional drummer salary
This varies by country and by type of gig/artist. For instance, if you play weddings, you can earn $150+ for a 5-8 hours gig.
If you play clubs it’s around $50+, but if you play clubs with some artist who is a big name, it can go above $500.
For big arenas, gigs tend to be no longer than 2 hours but don’t necessary means you will earn more than if you play a wedding.
Here the pay is $200 or more again, depending on the artist, the country you live in, etc.