Making It In Music, At Any Age

Have you ever taken any substantial time off from drumming? If you have, you're not alone. I constantly receive requests from ex-drummers asking for advice on how to return to drumming after a 10, 20, or even 30-year layoff. Some of these ex-players are well into their sixties. Is it possible to get back into it after such a long time away? Read on.

The First Step
The first thing to do is to get started! Thomas Edison once said, "If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." Truer words have never been spoken. I totally believe that you can talk yourself into or out of the ability to do anything. So, think positively.

Next, take stock of your chops. Providing, for example, you had decent hand and foot speed when you left drumming, the only thing a long layoff would affect would be your endurance. And endurance is easy to get back.

If you never had such hot chops to begin with, now is the time to hit the woodshed. Start by checking out my "Free Lessons Index" (see the sidebar). Use these lesson articles to develop skills in areas where your chops are lacking: Reading skills, hand technique, foot technique, four-way coordination, or whatever. If you feel you need a few lessons to get up to speed, find yourself a good drum instructor (see Great Drum Set Instructors Are Rare in the sidebar).

Start By Listening
If you haven't totally stopped listening to music when you stopped drumming, consider yourself ahead of the game. You're already familiar with the current music scene (for whatever that's worth). If not, then you'll need to tune in some of the top pop radio stations in your area and listen to what's going on nowadays. (This won't take long. Every song sounds about the same anyhow. I wish I could say I'm only joking!)

The type of music you should listen to usually depends on the type of gig you're after. However, if you're trying to get back into music after a long layoff, I would suggest that you become familiar with ALL of the latest stuff. This will only increase your chances of getting hired.

Experience Counts
You may find that you're already an asset to a band. For example, there's a current resurgence in music from the '70s. If that used to be your particular era, then find yourself a cover band that specializes in '70s music and you're set to go. Don't feel that you're stuck in the same old bag, however. If your experience has been confined to '70s pop music but you hate it, now is the time to break out of the old mold and learn to play something you like.

An experienced drummer can learn any musical style; it's simply a matter of practice. And practice begins with listening. Emerge yourself in the music of your choice. Listen to it whenever you can. Sit down at your drumset and play along with it. Each musical style has a particular "feel" to it and once you get that "feel" down, you'll be able to play any song in that genre. And don't feel you have to limit yourself to one bag. Many of the greatest studio drummers can cut any musical style.

Build It and They Will Come
Once you've fine tuned your chops and have chosen the musical style or styles you wish to play, find yourself a gig. How? Simple.

Let everybody know you're BACK. Get yourself a Web page, with all the free ones around there's no excuse not to have one. And most of the free ones offer easy to create Web software so your site can be up and running in minutes.

Here's what you should include on your site:

In addition to the Web site, you'll need a business card. Look up "printers" in your local phone book and order 500 of them. Or if you have a computer with a decent printer, you can purchase business card blanks that have preprinted graphics that let you fill in the text info. Whichever way you decide to go, business cards are very inexpensive and very necessary. Don't forget to include your name, phone number, instrument(s) played, and Web site address on your card. Tip: You may also want to include a line that says something to the effect that you supply bands for all occasions. (More on this later.)

Getting a Gig
Now, using your local papers and the Web, search for "Open Mic" sessions in your area. Open Mic sessions are jam sessions where the general public is invited to sit in and play. They are usually held in bars and can be found all over the country.

At a typical Open Mic, you may find yourself playing with members of the host band or other musicians who are sitting in. Providing you're a good player, Open Mics can really help you build a rep. Make sure you pass out your business card to everyone you play with and include anyone in the audience, whether or not they are a musician. They might give your card to a friend who may be looking for a drummer, or (if you included the line about "bands for all occasions," they could call to hire you for a birthday party or other gig. If this happens, you can use your contacts from the Open Mic sessions to put together a band and play the gig. Once you get the taste of being a leader (translation: You'll more money than a sideman), you may want to start booking your own band regularly.

If you're having trouble finding good musicians to work with, in addition to Open Mics, write up a flyer advertising what you're looking for and make some copies at your local Staples store or it's equivalent. You can post your flyers in the local library, colleges, music stores, grocery stores, Laundromats, and anywhere people frequent. You'll be surprised at the number of good musicians you can find who, like you, are trying to get back into music after some down time.

The Race is Not Always to the Swift
Although this article is a good place to start, it only touches the surface. If you take the time to think about it, you'll find many ways to work your way back into music.

Talk to a dozen drummers and you'll get a dozen different stories of how they became successful. But there are a few things that most all successful musicians (and successful people in general) have in common:

  1. Positive attitude
  2. Perseverance
  3. Pure love for what they're doing

With those three ingredients, you will be able to make it in music or any other business – eventually. It's all just a matter of time and tenacity.

Until next time: Stay loose.



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