Are you a member in a band? Have you ever done session work? What happens if your band breaks up, stops touring or needing a drummer? What if the band takes an indefinite hiatus, or even a temporary once? When the cash stops coming in and the river runs dry, do you find yourself with a skill that can’t be applied to much other than the one band you’ve spent your time practicing with,? Or do you have the chops, versatility and relationships to go out and land other gigs?
This is exactly where Chris found himself when his band needed to take some time off, but he didn’t. With an itch to play and a desire to expand on his chops (while paying rent) Chris landed a gig with Senses Fail, filling in for various other acts behind the kit along the way and keeping him occupied when his primary project isn’t out playing shows or making any dough.
Drummer for Poison The Well, Senses Fail, Big Black Delta, The Black Queen, Trash Talk, Sleigh Bells and more shares on his experiences as a drummer of both his own band and as a drummer for hire.
There is a divide between being the member of a band and being a session drummer. Often this is referred to as being a “Hired Gun”. The difference is, a hired gun doesn’t take on the risk of playing in a band that is generating little to no income by having a guarantee of pay. Being in a band puts you in the hot seat to help grow your business (yes, every band should think of itself like a business) and risk making less money for a more promising future.
When you’re in a band you own a portion of the bands overall revenue at shows and through the bands royalties. You are a Brand owner when you’re a band owner. That’s the equivalent of owning a portion of a company. The risk is, if the company isn’t doing well, you have to deal with the consequences.
When you’re a hired gun, or session musician, you should have a guaranteed wage (most commonly a per show guarantee of money with a per diem if you’re traveling) that shouldn’t be taken away when the show is less profitable than the band expected. If the band you’re working for fails, sure, you’re without a job, but you also don’t have to close the business and deal with potential debt.
There are pros and cons to both situations. Being a hired gun puts a cap on just how much money you can make. Session players make anything from a starting level of $100/gig to $1,500/gig in the big leagues (if you’re lucky). Some make more per gig being hired, albeit rare, and a lot of drummers take no wage to simply be out playing. Band members live in an entirely different world of possibilities. As a drummer in a band you can make no money (you can actually be negative if you and your band make poor financial investments), or you have the potential to scrape by and make a living… or be a millionaire if your band breaks and you have a strong partnership agreement validating your ownership in the business.
Which position is better to be in isn’t really a matter of opinion, but opportunity. If you’re happy seeking out a job as session player, you’re likely under a ceiling of what you can generate as income (depending on how creative you are). There is no certainty in being a band member or a hired gun, both are hard and challenging paths with little promise of large financial reward. There is a degree of lottery within the music industry for bands and even session drummers alike. Positioning yourself to be in the right place at the right time is a good way to help increase the luck you experience.
Starting a band is something you should have a clear vision for. The vision of any band changes and is shaped and moulded over time but starting off with a purpose and ideal destination is only going to help you. Being a session musician is something that requires a competitive degree of skill and can be less forgiving than working with the same band you always have.
What you should do is hone your skills as much as possible. Prepare for both. Either Or. This way, whether you end up in a band, being a freelance drummer for hire, or both doing sessions and being in a band – you can have the option and freedom to go either way as you please, knowing you have the skill to back you up along the way.
Chris has done a great job at having a project he’s passionate about and has personally invested in, while also having other projects he fills in on to keep himself busy and further develop his skills. Your best bet is always to educate yourself and sharpen your skill so that you’re prepared for whatever opportunity life might throw at you.
Drums: Q Drum Co.
9 x 13 Mahogany Poplar rack tom in vintage white marine wrap
16 x 16 Mahogany Poplar floor tom in vintage white marine wrap
16 x 18 Mahogany Poplar floor tom in vintage white marine wrap
14 x 24 Mahogany Poplar bass drum in vintage white marine wrap
7 x 14 Brass plate snare
7 x 14 Gentlmans copper snare
16″ K Light Hi Hats
16″/14″ K/Oriental “trash stack” combo
18″ A Thin Crash
20″ A Thin Crash
23″ A Sweet Ride
Hardware: Drum Workshop
DW 9000 hardware
DW 5000 & 9000 pedals
Promark Forward Balance .595 5B Wood Tip
Coated G2 batter snare drum head
Clear 300 snare resonate head
Clear or coated G2 better tom heads
Clear G1 resonate tom heads
Coated G1 bass drum head
– Puresound Snare wires
– Tru Tuner
Traditional Mexican, Sushi, and Japanese noodle bowls.
Co-founder of @180Drums and @SundaySeat. A lover of all things drums. I have toured and recorded with various artists, constantly refining my craft. I spend my time working on 180Drums.com, Sunday Seat and various other projects, inspiring and raising up other drummers and young entrepreneurs when time permits. A good book and cup of coffee is always near by.
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