Playing drums for a living is something many of us dreamed of at some point in our drumming journeys. The idea of traveling the world to play in packed stadiums sounds amazing, and it’s entirely possible to achieve that.
However, I realized very early on that there are other ways to succeed as a professional drummer, and they give just as much satisfaction and a sense of purpose as touring with a big artist.
In this guide, I’m going to give you a few different ideas on how to make a living with this epic instrument. I’ll also share tips that I’ve learned to help in every area.
Different Ways to Earn Money From Playing Drums
The unfortunate part of being a drummer and musician is that stable work is always challenging to come by. Some of us get lucky, but others are stuck playing in small bars every week that don’t pay as much as they should.
To have the best possible chance of making it as a pro drummer, you need to have your hand in a few different baskets. The main things are gigging, teaching, and tracking.
Gigging is the main thing that people associate with professional drummers. You play drums in a band and you get paid for all the gigs you play together.
This can come in many forms, with some being a lot more lucrative than others.
If you play in an original band, the goal would be to play in different venues until your band starts to gain a bit of fame.
You’d then tour locally and eventually internationally. This is how bands like Coldplay and Imagine Dragons became famous, and Will Champion and Daniel Platzman have basically set themselves up for life by being the drummers for those bands.
However, that’s probably the hardest way of becoming successful financially as a drummer. It’s a risky move, and I know drummers that have spent years playing in original groups that have just never made it big.
Another way of becoming successful with gigging is to play drums in a cover band. Bands that play in weddings and corporate events make a lot of money when the demand is high.
The aspect of being a professional drummer is tracking drum parts in the studio. This was a huge thing thirty years ago, and every big studio had a list of drummers to call on when they needed drum parts.
However, studio work has become a lot more scarce over the last decade or two, primarily due to it being a lot easier to add drum parts without hiring an actual drummer.
If you want to make it as a pro drummer, I wouldn’t recommend solely focusing on being a studio session musician. There just aren’t as many opportunities out there as with all the other income earning ideas.
Most drummers set up home studios these days, allowing them to do remote session work. That’s the one way that can help make this work a lot better.
The final big common income earner for drummers is to teach drum lessons. While this doesn’t exactly involve playing the drums to make a living, it’s something that every single drummer can do and earn money from.
Also, it’s something that will allow you to make more income in the times where you don’t have gigs to play. Most gigs happen at night, so you can maximize your output by teaching a bit in the day, right?
I also find teaching to be a breath of fresh air, as it’s not as stressful as being in a professional gigging environment. It’s just a great change of pace, which is something we all need at times.
Drummers like Mike Johnston have created massively successful careers around drum education, and you’ll often find that drummers can make more from teaching than gigging if they play their cards right.
A Few More Options
Apart from gigging, teaching, and recording, there are a few unique ways of earning a living from playing drums that have popped up in recent years.
The biggest one is to post drumming content on social media. YouTube drummers make money from Google AdSense and product deals, with the success being relative to the number of viewers they get.
Drummers can also create accounts on streaming websites like Twitch. People watch livestreams where drummers play the drum kit and tip them throughout the process. This one sounds a bit weird, but quite a few drummers are making a full-time living from it!
The last idea I have to mention is sampling. Drummers can create sample packs from grooves and fills they’ve recorded and sell them. I’ve seen how this works well for drummers who have their own home studios.
Tips for Becoming a Professional Drummer
Now that I’ve mentioned several ways of earning money as a drummer, I’m always going to give a few tips on how to be successful.
While all those ideas lead to possible streams of income, I’ve found that it takes a lot more to become a pro drummer that sticks to playing drums for a living.
Here’s how to best set yourself up for success:
Improve Your Drumming Skills
Your primary goal as a drummer should always be to become a better drummer. The more proficient you are as a player, the more opportunities you’ll have to earn income.
It’s true that many drummers who have only played for a few years can become just as successful as drummers who have played for decades, but I’ve found that determination to improve often turns into career drive.
The better you get at the drums, the more you’re going to want to play. That will lead to more opportunities. Don’t be afraid of taking drum lessons, even if you’ve been playing for years.
Be a Versatile Drummer
Versatility is a massive aspect of being successful in the music industry. The more drumming styles you can play, the more likely you are to get hired.
While I love playing rock and metal, I’ve played pop music in countless corporate gigs. I never would have gotten those gigs if I chose to only focus on playing in rock bands.
This also applies to drum education. If you can comfortably teach a wide range of musical styles on the drums, you’ll have a greater pick of students coming your way.
Learn How to Use Electronic Percussion
If you’re going to focus on playing drums in bands to earn the bulk of your income, it’s essential that you learn how to use electronics in your setup.
Hybrid setups have become a staple thing in the modern music world, so you’ll increase your chances of getting hired if you know how to use an electronic drum pad.
A lot of live bands heavily utilize them, and I know plenty of bands that can’t run their live show without the drummer using a Roland SPD-SX or SPD-SX Pro to trigger backing tracks and samples.
Learn About Money and Music Business
You have to be wise with your money if you’re going to play drums for a living. Unlike other jobs, you typically don’t get paid a regular salary with benefits, etc.
Venues will pay you for playing a gig, and students will pay you for teaching a lesson. You need to take that money and put some budget it so that you’re secure in your living.
Remember that you need to pay bills, save for the future, and pay taxes. Paying tax is something that I personally know a lot of drummers have been caught out with, so just be mindful of that!
My biggest recommendation would be to find an older pro drummer to mentor you on how to handle all of that stuff.
Be Fun To Be Around
The more fun you are to be around, the more likely you’ll be recommended to other people looking for drummers.
Always be a decent person. Act professional, but also be light hearted. The coolest thing about playing drums in a band is that you’re making money by having fun doing what you love.
If you’re a horrible person to work with, the people working with you aren’t going to recommend you to others.
I know some drummers that could outplay anyone that comes their way, but their poor attitude is what stops them from making it really big. A mediocre drummer with a great personality is always better than a good drummer with a conflictive personality.
The last thing you need to do is open yourself up to opportunities. Go watch as many bands play as you can. Attend festivals where you can start conversations with managers and other musicians.
Go to open jams and hop onto the drum set as much as you can. Networking is the best way to get into the music industry, and you have to do it to unlock opportunities.
I’d also recommend creating social media pages where you post clips of your drumming. This has become the modern-day version of networking, and it works incredibly well.
Becoming a professional isn’t easy, but it becomes a lot easier when you do multiple things to build up income streams.
You also need to be determined and resilient, as failure and rejection are regular parts of most musicians’ lives.
You may fail an audition, but you need to take that experience and learn from it to become better. You can then use all the ideas I mentioned above to create a solid drumming career!