Many seasons ago, when my brother and I were in music college, Mat’s drum teacher kept telling him to play quieter, to sit up straight and to focus on playing in time, without fancy fills. Mat, ever the rocker, branded the advice as idiotic. After all, rock drummers hit hard, they slouch, looking cool with their arms straining to reach cymbals that are out of reach – because it looks flashy – and their bombastic fills make the songs sound more interesting. Right?
Hmm.. perhaps, but if you want to make a living as a drummer, said the teacher, you will be playing Top 40 material in restaurants, corporate events and weddings where you can’t be loud. If you are you won’t get hired. If you slouch you will get back problems that will ruin your career. A drum part is not a drum solo. You’re there to keep time.
The majority of musicians don’t make a living from rocking out to their own songs in front of thousands.
At a recent music business networking event I was approached by two guitarists who had just graduated from BIMM. They were keen to get into session work. It’s irresponsible to tell a kid who’s forking out £9k a year for his degree that “hey, being in a band is not the only cool way to make living… try to get into fun session work”.
I asked the guy what kind of stuff he plays. The blues, he replied. Really into old school, authentic blues. I hope, for his sake, that the blues makes a welcome return to popularity and that, for some strange reason, future blues artists won’t want to play on their own records. That’s about his only hope in a world where the demand for session guitarists is virtually nonexistent.
As for making a living in rock band, read this article about “huge” bands who still have day jobs. Being this kind of “huge” isn’t the same as being popular, mind. Popular artists make money. Unpopular ones don’t.
When a guy in a band tells me that he isn’t interested in money and getting rich, that he just wants to make living from making music, he says it, I suppose, because he thinks it makes him look realistic and grounded. Considering that the chances of just making a living are only slightly bigger than getting rich, it really isn’t much of a concession. People who find success in music are a statistical error.
Here’s something else to put in your pipe. We listen to a lot of Spotify in the office. Playlists of currently popular artists’ hits. The level of songwriting on the playlists is far superior to anything that comes into our inbox from new bands looking for help. It goes without saying that the level of production on hits is worlds apart from new bands’ demos.
I would also say that the level of production and writing even on most signed bands’ records is nowhere near as good as what it is on hit records. That’s why they’re having to do day jobs to make ends meet.