Well, I’ve been super amped about my “new” snare, and I had an interesting conversation about it (and gear in general) with one of my students last week. He was asking why I wanted the drum, and I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer, other than to say that old Ludwig Black Beauty snare drums have a reputation for sounding great. The interesting thing is that I probably want that reputation more than I want the drum itself. I mean, the drum does sound great, but I already have a bunch of great sounding snares. And it I guess it looks pretty cool and vintage-ish, but again, I already own some pretty cool-looking drums (arguably even cooler-looking).

Then why am I so excited about acquiring this snare? I confess: when it comes down to it, I’m pumped to just name drop and say that I have it.

So, I’m displaying some textbook American materialism then.  Yes, I suppose that’s true.  I’m both aware of and happy that I’m now able to associate myself with the history, status, and reputation of such an instrument… and I don’t even need to use the drum. All I need to do is say that I have it, and my “cool points” go up. This is, in my opinion, a crappy and superficial aspect of the music world. It’s the same old I’m-better-that-you-because-I-have-more-cool-points system that the rest of Western society operates on.  But it’s a reality nonetheless.

My point here is to revisit the notion that there are lots of things that get you hired as a musician, and your ability on the instrument is only one of those things. I posted briefly about this once before, so here’s a more thorough list of factors involved in getting gigs, in my observation:

1. Be a good guy. The majority of the time I spend on a gig is social time – sitting around between load-in, soundcheck, the gig itself, and load-out. I probably average 3 hours of hanging out with the people I play music with for every hour I spend actually playing music with them. Nobody likes hanging with a d-bag, so if you’re a d-bag then you’re probably not going to get the gig.

2. Be on time. Musicians are notorious for being late all the time, but that’s not an excuse. Professional level gigs operate the same as professional level anything. If you’re constantly late then everyone will get annoyed with you and stop hiring you.

3. Be easy to work with. Band leaders want what they want, and they’re not interested in hiring a guy who will always argue with them. That’s not to say a hired-gun musician can’t sometimes suggest an alternative idea for how to arrange or play a part of the gig.  But for the most part, the musician with the most gigs is the guy who has the best attitude and knows how to roll with whatever the boss wants.

4. Have good gear. This is the whole Black Beauty snare drum cool points thing. Your equipment says a lot about who you are as a player and what you know, and having quality gear is therefore part of the whole package. But beyond that, other musicians who have never worked with you before and may not even know you at all will remember you if you have memorable gear. Lots of cool points = standing out compared to other drummers = more gigs. (I will be totally candid here: this issue is definitely part of why the glow drums exist)

5. Be sharp on the mental side of things. Playing drums is equal parts physical and mental, and nobody will care about your physical prowess if your brain is mushy. I’m talking about things like memory, creativity, and just general attentiveness.  Bring your head to the gig.

6. Look the part. This means dress well, dress appropriately, carry yourself appropriately, and behave the way the environment would suggest. The “hang out time” I mentioned before is very different during a club gig than it is during a wedding gig… and you need to know the difference.

Now, it’s worth mentioning as often as possible that the above advice assume that you’ve put in the work to be a great player. That is, after all, the MAIN issue. A professional drummer who shows up on time, is great to hang with, has great gear and great clothes, but SUCKS at the drums will probably not get hired again.

If everything I just said sounds like foolishness to you because you’re the kind of guy who believes “the music is the only thing that matters,” well, then the freelance professional musician career is probably not for you. Like I said before, I think the good gear cool points thing is total BS, but I really don’t help myself by pretending that it doesn’t exist.  Instead I just play the game whenever I have to, but I try to not let it consume me.  What I mean is this: I’m the guy that thinks the music is the only thing that matters.  But that doesn’t mean the music is the only thing I pay attention to or put any effort toward.