So you’ve spent hours in the practice room perfecting your Tony Williams and John Bonham licks, and you just graduated with that brand new music degree. You’re well trained, and now it’s time to get out there and start drumming in a new city.
But with so many options, where do you start, and how do you begin carving out that freelance drumming career?
Pick a City to Live in
This is the first decision any aspiring drummer should make, and unfortunately it is one of the hardest decisions to make. With so many options, it can be quite daunting narrowing down your choice. Things to look for in a city include:
Cities with larger populations tend to have bigger music scenes, which ultimately means more work for you. Remember however, that the more musicians in a city, the more competition you are going to have.
Cities can be more expensive than others. A city like New York, NY will have greater living expenses than a place like Austin, TX. Think about what you can afford, and what you are thinking of paying in terms of rent and other living expenses.
Drumming new city is scary, but it helps if you already know a few people in the area. It can be especially helpful if those people you know are musicians. Your friends will be very key for you in the beginning, and will help plug you into the local scene faster than if you were to go it alone.
Strength of the Music Scene
Each city has it’s preference of music, and it’s own class of musicians. Consider what styles of music you are interested in playing, and find a city that matches. Look for cities that have better players, more opportunities for work, and a group of loyal followers who enjoy watching live music.
I’ve spent some time looking through new cities and gauging their worth for an aspiring freelance drummer. While my interests may not align with yours, here are a few North American cities that you are strongly encouraged to check out:
- Seattle, WA
- Los Angeles, CA
- San Fransisco, CA
- Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX
- Austin, TX
- Nashville, TN
- New Orleans, LA
- Atlanta, GA
- New York City, NY
- Boston, MA
- Toronto, Ontario
- Edmonton, Alberta
- Vancouver, British Columbia
By no means are these the only cities that have successful drummers, rather these are simply cities that are known to have large music scenes that can help support a freelance musician such as yourself.
Save up Some Money
Making a move in order to start drumming in a new city is a huge expense. Consider the initial costs of lugging your gear across the country, buying new furniture, cookware, and paying damage deposits.
These costs can add up, not to mention the amount of money you will be spending daily without any work to pay it all back. It takes time to build up a solid foundation of paying gigs, so saving up a decent amount of money before making a move to a new city will give you a nice buffer for those first few months.
Depending on the costs of a city, it is best to have at least 6 months of expenses ready to be spent, which can range anywhere from $5,000-$12,000. Hopefully you will be making some money quickly, but don’t count on it.
Save up for the worst, and hope for the best.
For some of us musicians, social interactions with others can be a challenge, but the success of any freelance musician relies heavily on connecting with people. No matter how good of a player you are, if you can’t talk to others, you will have a tough time finding work.
Be courteous and complimentary, but also be yourself. If you find yourself in a city where you have no connections at all, begin by making cold calls and sending out emails to the other musicians in the area.
The object is to let every working musician in the city know that you are here and are available to play. Find out who is working a lot in the city and check out their next gig. Introduce yourself to them and buy them a drink. It is important to express that you are new to the city, but are ready to play at any time.
The cold approach is difficult to accomplish, and it will take some time before anyone will be ready to take a chance on you, but it is certainly not impossible. If you do have some connections in your city, work hard to set up jam sessions and to meet as many people as you can through your friends.
Musicians are much more likely to let you play if you have a mutual friend who can refer you, or if they happen to hear you play. The goal is to be seen and remembered so that you’ll be on the top of someones list when they need a drummer.
Keep your Chops up
Practice is important in the early parts of a career. Chances are, most of your initial work will be subbing for another drummer, which means drumming in a new city involves a lot of last minute calls. Make sure that you are practiced up and ready to play any type of gig when you are asked.
Nothing is worse than showing up to a reading band gig without having sight-read a chart in three months. Keep practicing away and be prepared, no matter how much work you have coming up.
Don’t Give up
Drumming in a new city is a bold decision and should not be done without a considerable amount of thought. The most important thing to remember is to never stop trying.
It’s important to note that almost every freelance musician you admire today has been in the same situation at one point or another. Keep meeting others, and always be ready for the call for your next performance.
When times are tough, remember to keep pushing, and If you don’t give up, you will find yourself flush with gigs in no time at all.