Recently I went to see some of NYC’s finest musicians playing some fusion in a downtown club. The show was amazing and I was inspired. It’s one of the great things about living in a city like New York; you can go out on any night of the week and see some of the world’s best musicians playing live.
After the show I had a brief chat with the drummer, who is world-famous—-definitely one of the most recognized drummers on the planet. I am not going to mention his name. Why? Because I don’t want to be a name dropper and I don’t want to be the guy who nobody will talk to because a casual conversation might wind up on the internet. It’s why people avoid TMZ.
The important thing is not who he is, but what he said. We’re acquaintances. He asked me what I was up to; the last time we had spoken I was working for a large corporation. I explained that I was a full-time drummer now and that I had a drum school named BANG.
He just smiled and knowingly said, “that’s great. It’s good to do what you like.”
Now that may not seem like such a significant statement to you at first. But to me it was a very important thing to hear–especially from someone with the level of stature in the drumming world that this person has.
Quite simply, doing what one likes is one of the most important things that successful people do. This simple notion, coupled with guidance and hard work, and a bit of luck, has led to a great many people’s successful careers.
So, just consider these words from a world-famous drummer: “It’s good to do what you like.”
I wish more people considered this notion–there would be more happy people walking around this planet.
The available literature on self help and success is so voluminous that one must take a breath before adding to the fray. My doctor and I were talking about our businesses and he told me about the three A’s.
I thought about it for a few days and I realized that the notion is absolutely worth sharing with you.
It’s pithy, easy to remember, and useful. The context here is the world of drumming, but it can be applied to any business.
The 3 A’s are as follows:
This means you’re skilled….you can get the job done. As a drummer, you need technique, groove, and musical taste. Have you put in your practice time? Are you ready to play the gig? If you think you are, either you’re skilled as a drummer or you’re delusional.
This means you’re a good guy; easy to get along with; you have charisma and social skills. Understand that you spend more time off the stage and traveling with other musicians than you will spend actually performing.
If you are a downer, full of drama or just a pain in the ass, it won’t matter if you’re “Accurate,” because no one will want to be around you.
Can you say “gig-killer?”
The above two A’s don’t matter if you don’t return calls or emails, are hard to get in touch with or always busy. If you want the gig, you have to make yourself available.
How are things going for you? Do you have the 3 A’s working in your favor?
I recently had a revelation about my playing career.
For the past several years, I’ve been practicing Jazz, working with one of the best teachers in the world, transcribing and learning solos, absorbing Jazz vocabulary, working on ride cymbal technique, independence, and trying to play the music with as many great players as possible.
It’s been great for my playing and technique. It’s really helped deepen my rock playing too.
Simultaneously, I’ve continued to play rock and pop music with as many great musicians as I can.
From a career perspective, I’ve made good progress on the rock and pop side, but not so much on the jazz side. In fact, if your career arc were to be measured on a scale of one to ten, I’d rate my progress on the jazz side as zero, while the rock side would rate a 5 or maybe 6.
The rock stuff comes easy. I wind up in really good bands. I grew up playing the music. One gig leads to another. People recommend me. I’ve been getting hired to play on more recordings….one producer in particular has been asking me to play on his sessions more and more.
So, I decided the other day that I needed to stop spending time in pursuit of jazz gigs, and zero-in like a laser on rock and pop. All my success has been in this genre so far anyway. And I’ve spent many hours in pursuit of the jazz thing.
It was a tough decision to make. I love jazz. And I’ve dreamed about being a jazz drummer all my life. But I love rock too. I always have. And the good news? The rock world is getting me somewhere….slowly but surely. The decision makes sense! I should put my eggs in this basket.
The point? Focus leads to success. Equally important, but less often discussed? Flexibility—having the foresight to change direction if necessary—leads to success too. If I steadfastly pursued jazz, I would be taking time away from the music (practice and playing) and the business of the music that is most likely to give me bigger success.
It was a tough pill to swallow. Because I want to do it all. But I believe in efficiency. And part of efficiency comes from focus. I needed to be flexible to see that this change would help me.
Just the act of making this decision has changed my thinking in important ways. I’m full of new ideas on how to make my groove and rock playing better. I’m bursting with energy about it. I’ve got a long list of things to do on the business end to further pursue my career as a rock and pop drummer.
Are you focused? Are you flexible? Do you have these traits? Good stuff to consider.
My girlfriend posted this video on my Facebook page a few weeks back and I’ve been meaning to share it with all of you ever since.
It is a deeply meaningful 3 minutes and I hope it inspires you.
Let me know what you think.
A few weeks back, I had a gig at a Rock club in NYC–called The Cake Shop—with MANCIE. We arrived early with our gear, loaded in, and then went around the corner to a bar to hang out and kill time until the show.
We had some nachos and I ordered a beer. Then I had a second beer. We went back to the Cake Shop and I was going to have a coffee, but I wound up getting an Irish Coffee instead–the bartender was so persuasive!
By this time, I was buzzed. And when we played our set, I hated how I felt. I was stiff, I was in my own head much of the time, and I played it safe…I didn’t go for things that I could have that might have enhanced the music.
When the set was over, I felt that I had merely gotten through it, rather than crushed it, which is how I like to feel.
The only reason for my feeling this way was the alcohol. So, I resolved…never again! I rarely have imbibed before a gig, and this experience reminded me why.
Drinking hurts your performance. Look at some of the effects that alcohol has on you:
- Decreased attention and alertness
- Slowed reactions
- Impaired coordination
- Reduced muscle strength
- Impairment of balance and movement
“But, it relaxes me.”
That’s the one thing that I’ve consistently heard in defense of drinking prior to a performance.
Aren’t there other ways to relax? I argue that there are.
If you are really serious about being a drummer, consider drinking coffee before your gig instead of a beer. You’ve worked hard to become a good drummer. Why rob yourself of a great performance by drinking before hand? After the gig is a different matter.
At the beginning of the lesson, I asked “What do you want to work on today?”
“I just want to play some fun rock stuff–some Bonham grooves. I was thinking that I hadn’t been playing enough. I miss it. Let’s just have fun.”
So, we structured our get together like that–we worked on grooves that my friend was interested in. We worked on drumming that was exciting and fun for my friend. We were trying to re-kindle the passion.
I asked my friend why he hadn’t been playing that much recently.
He told me that it had stopped being fun. He had started to get caught up in how to make a living as a drummer;, it was a major challenge. The making a living part was not fun. He had been playing musical theater and he was good at it. His reading skills are strong. He did a bunch of musical theater work, but he couldn’t make enough money.
That made the whole thing a downer. Then he decided he didn’t like the music in theater that much anyway. And that realization made the whole thing kind of pointless.
Imagine–you work really hard to become highly skilled at an instrument, but the music you’re playing is lame and you can’t make a living.
Of course, that’s depressing! And that’s how you lose the joy. That’s how the passion leaves you.
So, here are my answers to keeping the joy alive in your music:
1) Only play music you like
2) Practice and keep getting better –experience the joy of being great at your instrument.
3) Find a way to make a living that doesn’t require you to be whore on your instrument. Get a side job/freelance job, or better yet, start your own business.
Some examples? I have another friend who plays guitar with an internationally known artist. But for years, he was a proof reader in a law office until he got that gig. But he rarely played music he didn’t like. It is documented that Elvin Jones had a manual labor job while he was trying to get his career going. Philly Joe Jones drove a trolley. But they always pursued music they enjoyed.
Don’t let money get in the way of your passion.
Hope this helps.
Tonight I taught our “Drumming for Absolute Beginners” Group Class. One of our students was playing a beat that we were working on and when she was done, she said, “wow, I kind of got lost there for a minute….everything stopped….I was just in my own world when I was playing.”
And I said, “yes, that’s exactly why we’re doing this.”
And that made me happy.
Relax!One of the biggest enemies of good hand technique is physical tension. Relaxation is the key to achieving a loose, bouncing and open stroke on the drum set.
Spaghetti ArmsI frequently use the phrase “spaghetti arms” to describe how relaxed and loose a drummer’s arms should be. Let your arms hang down at your side—like spaghetti. Cooked spaghetti, that is. I got this analogy from a tennis instructor who helped me improve my serve through the relaxation of my arms. The visual of my arms as spaghetti really helped me.
Baby Bird Hands
I’ve noticed that drummers commonly grip their sticks too tightly. In his video on technique, “Speed, Power, Control, Endurance,” Jim Chapin (1919-2009), the author of the classic drum book “Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer,” describes a helpful analogy that can solve this problem. That’s Jim in the photo above left.
Chapin describes holding your sticks as you would a baby bird. You want to make sure the bird doesn’t fly away, so you have to wrap your fingers around it. However, you can’t hold too tightly—you must be gentle—or you risk crushing the little bird.
NuggetsI have used both of these analogies with my students, and many have found them helpful. Just a couple of nuggets for a Sunday afternoon…
In the article I wrote a while back about encouragement, “The Thinking Drummer: On Encouragement” I described the power of positive reinforcement from important or influential people in one’s life.
But what I didn’t touch upon, which is also a powerful force, is the negative influences, or “naysayers.” The “naysayers” are the people who tell you that it’s too hard. They tell you that you can’t do it. They tell you that you’re crazy. These people can be every where. They might even be family, or your best friend.
These negative forces can hurt you, particularly when you are walking down a path that is uncharted. I am suggesting that you shut these negative forces down. Eradicate the naysayers!
These negative forces can stop you from moving towards your elusive goal. But they can only stop you if you allow them to stop you. If you don’t listen to them, or don’t factor their negativity into your decision making, you’ll be in the clear.
I try to minimize the negativity in my life. After all, we all have our own inner demons, and they make things harder already. Everyone has some self doubt, so first we have to eradicate our own inner naysayer. Why put up with even more?
On occasion, I have decided not to discuss ideas or plans of mine with people who have demonstrated what I think is small minded thinking. When I repeatedly experience nothing but negativity from someone, I stop dealing with them.
The problem for some people is that they allow the negativity of others to stop them in their tracks. Please don’t let this happen to you. I promise you that any dream you have is possible. But it certainly won’t be possible if you don’t try.
That is what the naysayers can do to you if you let them, they can rob you of your dreams. Now, to be completely honest, if your dream is to be a rock star or a drummer in a huge band, the odds are against you. It is very difficult. It will take lots of hard work. It will take luck. It will take perseverance. It will take time. And then it will take more hard work. And even then it might not happen. There are no guarantees.
But what I do guarantee is this: if you listen to the naysayers and give up, then nothing will happen.
Just because there are no guarantees doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Do you have a dream? Do you love drumming so much that you have no choice but to pursue it? Do you need to make music? If so, you should do so.
The naysayers have other needs. The naysayers need stability and a sure path. Don’t let them bring you to the dark side. Great things are difficult and come with uncertainty and risk.
I get very angry when I hear people tell others they can’t do something.
So, I implore you; if you have a dream, you should pursue it….and eradicate the naysayers!
1) When I worked at Columbia Records as an executive, I eventually wound up earning a lot of money. The financial part of the job was very comfortable for me. But what was not comfortable was the amount of time I was able to spend on my artistic pursuits. So, I quit.
Several of the senior executives (naysayers) at the company told me I was nuts. “You’re making this much money and you’re just going to walk away? Are you out of your mind?!”
But I did it because I had become miserable there. My life was not going to be what I needed it to be if I stayed. I make much less money today, but I am much happier.
2) A very close friend of mine who I will call “Fred,” was asked to audition for a great band as the lead guitarist. The band was playing bigger venues than Fred had ever played in his career. The gig paid better money than Fred had ever made playing in a band. The people in the band were pretty well connected. Everything about it sounded great to me.
The catch was that the guitar parts were difficult. Fred was concerned that he would not be able to play the music as required and was not sure if he would even take the audition.
“You have to this,” I said. “They asked you to audition, and they’ve heard you play before, so that has to mean something. They think you can do it.”
Some of the people in Fred’s inner circle said some very discouraging things; suggesting that the audition could be a disaster.
“Don’t listen to that stuff,” I said. “Learn the songs, and learn the solos to those songs the best you can. Practice a lot….hours and hours.”
So Fred practiced and practiced and then practiced some more. After a few days of this, and with a few days left before the audition, Fred called me up.
“I’m starting to think that I might actually be able to do this,” he said.
The next day, when we spoke again, he said, “I think I might get this gig.”
The next day was the audition, and Fred aced it. He got the gig.
I’m looking forward to going to see his first show with this band, at a big venue that I have not yet had the pleasure of playing myself.
So, imagine, what if he had listened to the few people who discouraged him?
This is why you must eradicate the naysayers.