One question I get a lot from drummers is “How do I get noticed? How can I stand out and be heard by the “powerful” people that can get me gigs?
Musicians = Employers.
Honestly, the people that will get you gigs, sessions, T.V. stuff, etc., are other musicians. Very rarely do I get a call from a manager or a talent “head hunter” or an A & R record label person for a gig. If I do, it’s because another musician on the gig is someone who I have played with in the past or has heard me play and liked what he or she heard and gave them my number. Word spreads fast. If you can play, you are a fast learner, reliable, easy to get along with, and have a sense of humor, you will get work.
Don’t Try and Do The Hang.
Matt Chamberlain, one of the top session players nowadays, and saxophonist Skerik, gave me some great advice upon hearing that I was moving to LA from Seattle. They both said “Don’t try and do the hang.” “Just get a regular gig somewhere where people can come hear you.” Which is exactly what I was doing in Seattle but for some reason I thought the business worked differently in Los Angeles. It’s on a grander scale here but it’s still all based on trust.
So do what I did. Start up a regular gig (weekly if possible) at a club, coffee house, theater, art gallery, anywhere, but do something different. Be in your element, comfortable, and confident when people get their first impressions of you. Let yourself be weird, take the filters out. There are many good looking, camera friendly, generic drummers out there playing with the candy, pop acts. Don’t get me wrong, I like a candy bar as much as the next guy but if you want to be doing soul feeding, creatively satisfying fun gigs, be known as an innovator, a risk taker, a freak! No one needs to hear you try and sound like whatever drummer is at the top of the economic food chain right now. Stay away from genre specific themes on your gig. Express yourself. Most of all, have fun! If people see that playing with you looks like a blast, your phone will ring.
There is so much BS in Los Angeles already that people can spot it from a mile away. Unless someone they trust is recommending you or they’ve heard you play, you will come off like an ass kisser and a poser if you try to talk yourself up. There are so many people just trying to look cool, and get “discovered.”
If you end up at a party or a show where it is one of those creepy hangs here everyone is trying to act like they are super busy doing big things, don’t fall in to that trap and feel like you don’t have enough going on. Be honest, be real and be yourself. Don’t fake like you don’t need a gig. Just be a good listener, and don’t try to talk up a storm. The less you try to prove yourself, the more everyone else will wonder what you have going on and why they don’t know you. Introduce people to one another. Ask for someone’s contact info, and chances are they’ll ask for yours in return.
Say yes to any and all gigs at first. Play for free for a while and do it with your full enthusiasm and effort. You never know who may be listening. The only two people in the bar may be the folks that will put you in the studio or out on the road with a great artist. Economically, this may feel like a real punch to the gut, which brings me to the next section.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job (at first).
“I need a gig” might as well be written on your forehead. I walk by a Coffee Bean in Santa Monica almost daily and look at the actors, models and musicians out front trying to look so cool and wanting to be noticed. In reality, the real writers, actors and musicians are probably the ones making the coffee behind the counter to pay their rent, membership dues for a theater group or take an improv class or whatever. Focus on honing your craft. You will eventually have the confidence and the contacts to be able to get real work for yourself and be known as the real deal and someone employers can trust. Get a day job pulling espresso and making good tips while promoting your steady weekly gig or band to everyone that you make coffee for. In Seattle, I worked for years at one of the busiest coffeehouses in the city. I loved that job. It saved my broke ass more times than I can count and helped get me a great reputation with the local music venues. People always wondered how in the heck I got so many people out to my weekly gigs and shows. I always had a great musical concept, a killer band that had fun, good energy, and didn’t expect much money, and I had infinite promotional potential at the cafe. Everyone I made espresso for got a cupful of caffeine, a show flyer, and an earful of, “You’ll dig this show.” The nine to five crowd is always looking for some outlet to blow off steam, have some drinks with friends, or to to get some “culture” in their lives. I always made my gigs weekly residencies on an off-night like a Sunday through Tuesday where expectations were low from the venue and the club owner or booker was more likely to let the night build over time. The attendees were always thanked by me and they always left with the impression that they were privy to a scene that had not “blown up” yet. Don’t expect to get paid for a while. Gradually it will happen without you even asking for it.
Never Stop Practicing.
Always be practicing and working on something you can’t quite pull off. Always be checking out a player you’re really into or a recording that is new to you, or just a new page in a method book you’re working out of. Not only is this just a necessity for becoming the player you dream to be, but other magical things occur as a result. I have noticed whenever I’m excited about something I’m working on in the practice room, people can sense it. My creative energy is on hyper-drive and just makes other people want to be hanging out with me and playing music. Creative energy and enthusiasm is contagious and magnetic. Don’t let yourself get lulled into a slump.
Hope this stuff helps you and inspires you. All the best to you and yours.