The internet has changed how drummers make income.
Tom Tom explores the many options for raking it in on the web.
By Nicholas Zurko
Art by Marisa Kurk
When it comes to being a professional drummer, it’s easy to think that it’s all gigs and recording and, well, the fun stuff. Only a road-tested player really knows just how hard, time-consuming, and exhausting it is to “make it” as a drummer. And of course, there are so many different levels and types of success, from touring with Beyoncé to doing the DIY circuit. Which brings us to the question every drummer asks herself: How do I make a living from playing music? The answer to that question is more complicated and different than it was even 10 years ago, due to one major force: the Internet.
The Internet has changed how drummers can and do make money. There is no one “right” way or time-tested formula for making money online. And there are so many options for procuring income on the Internet, like streaming services, online lessons, and YouTube channels. The Internet is evolving daily, so what holds true today might not be so in a couple of years, let alone a couple of months.
But for now, there are plenty of drummers making money on the web in particular ways that are worth exploring. Tom Tom spoke with drummers actively pursuing financial success on the Internet, ranging from ambitious millennials using social media to grow their brands, to seasoned Gen Xers who have witnessed the effects of the digital revolution first-hand and transitioned successfully. From these evolving and ambitious minds, we uncovered the most popular and proven means for making money online as a drummer today.
A New World
Although the Internet has been around for a couple of decades, musicians only began looking at it as a source of income in the past decade. But the Internet is also just one channel through which they can rake in dough. In conversations across the board, each drummer noted the need to keep a number of different plates spinning at once to feel financially secure. While each plate, or channel, likely won’t generate enough for them to live off of by themselves, once these musicians started setting up multiple channels, stable income from the drumming profession started to become more realistic.
But there is no denying that the Internet offers more opportunities for drummers to earn an income from the comforts of their homes or studios and will continue to do so in many ways we can’t yet imagine. Tom Tom examined these different avenues for making cash online and broke down the main methods and the pros and cons of each.
As former 4 Non Blondes drummer and professional Dawn Richardson says, “We know the Internet is not going to stop, it’s going to just keep getting more complex. Don’t get bogged down in technology and have it serve you in what you want to do.”
We are here to help you follow her lead.
Indirect vs. Direct Income: Direct Sources
It’s important to recognize that using the Internet to help grow your drumming career tends to take two major forms: direct and indirect. Direct is any other form of online activity that directly results in you making money (such as online lessons and session work). Indirect covers the entirety of social media, which you can utilize to solidify and build your fan base. Other activities like blogging, podcasting, and generally anything that serves to promote your brand might not put any cash in your bank today, but does indirectly serve to help build your career and can one day translate into actual money.
Let’s survey the primary “direct” options available to drummers of all ages, types, and genders.
Streaming and Licensing
Ah, revenue from streaming services, the unicorn of the music industry. There has been plenty of grumbling about the amount services pay musicians for each time a track of theirs plays, because it is microscopic. As an artist gets paid per stream through services like Spotify, Apple, and iTunes, that amount actually lowers the more streams an artist receives. And if you’re in a band, that money is getting split amongst whomever has a writing credit. So as most professional drummers have learned, making a salary off of streaming is something unlikely to happen soon.
Still, drummers like Richardson, who scored several hits in the 90s with 4 Non Blondes, receive monthly royalty checks from streaming services. And while she’s certainly not buying a boat off of streaming money, she’s also quick to note that it’s just a piece of the overall pie that makes up a drummer’s sources of income.
As more musicians are able to reach students anywhere with a decent Internet connection and Skype, there has been major growth in companies and drummers offering online lessons in the past few years. Back in 2012, The New York Times reported on this growing phenomenon and found that many music instructors were setting up online sessions, even those who had previously resisted the practice. In 2016, it is impossible to quantify the number of lessons that occur online, but it’s clear that the numbers are growing. It allows students to study under teachers that might otherwise be out of reach geographically. It is also becoming more common for drummers to incorporate video in self-promotion. Educational drum videos are a great way to advertise your abilities as a teacher and player.
You can choose to reach out to an established company like Rockfactory.us in Newtown, Pennsylvania, or Artistworks.com. Another option, you can start offering online lessons via your website or social media. Start with posting on Facebook and other networks where you have a decent following, and let your audience know you are available for lessons.
As any professional writer will tell you, it takes a lot of work to make money off of writing articles, especially on topics in which you might actually be interested. You can be sure that there are 100 other writers jostling to pen these for an esteemed publication. That said, for drummers who are as adept behind the kit as they are on the computer keyboard, you have a couple of things working in your favor.
As a professional drummer, you are an expert in your craft and thus you have a specialized knowledge. This makes you stand out from other writers. Whether you are interested in writing reviews on gear, interviewing other drummers, or writing about a tour experience, every drummer has stories that outlets like Tom Tom and many other music sites will be interested in publishing. For more experienced drummers, like Richardson, more complicated options are available. “I have written drum method books and now more recently have been doing eBooks and also a full-length book for Online Drummer.” She shares, “So that’s a bit more of an equitable situation.”
Fresh content like articles, blogs, and videos are also a popular marketing tool. There are frankly more opportunities for writers and creatives to find platforms to publish, though it might not be in a well-known outlet. There are plenty of drumming and music sites that are interested in publishing a guest piece by someone with a unique perspective. This practice, known as “guest blogging,” is an excellent way to find additional writing gigs. You can also ask the webmaster of the site to let you include a link to your website at the bottom of your article for some solid self-promotion as well.
Online Session Drumming
You might know the drumming of Matt Laug, if you’ve ever air-drummed along to Alanis Morissette’s classic “You Oughta Know.” What you likely don’t know is that Laug is one of a growing number of online session drummers who are taking to the Internet to supplement the decreasing number of studio gigs. As advertised on his site, Matt is an “online remote recording studio session drummer.” What that means is that Matt receives inquiries from around the world
to lend his decades of drumming talent to their tracks. “It’s fun, gratifying to work with someone halfway around the world,” Laug says.
Just a quick Google search of “online session drummer” brings up pages of both individual and group services that use the power of file transferring to play with musicians who can’t find the right local drummer. Clients simply send the drummer the original track and, using either a professional or home studio, she then lays down her parts and sends them back. Of course, there are considerable costs in investing in setting up a home studio or paying an engineer to record you in a professional studio, so think about how you can deliver professional quality drum tracks that can be used in everything from commercials to an Italian prog rock band’s digital album.
After speaking to a wide variety of drummers at different stages in their career, there was one thing they all agreed about when it comes to making money online: Marketing is essential. While there are more and more ways to directly make money online, much of it is contingent on drummers already having an online presence and an online brand. Social media, personal websites, and content marketing are all crucial marketing elements in establishing your professional credibility. YouTube in particular has become one of the premier platforms for achieving a degree of online celebrity that a drummer can then parlay into online session work, paid writing, and video gigs. Here are some of the best ways to plant the seeds for online financial success.
After videos of cats doing endlessly cute things, music performance videos have become a seriously popular section of YouTube’s content. Artists and bands even get signed to major labels based on their cover videos. Making videos of cover songs is arguably the most popular form of performance videos on the web. Clara Townsend of Brighton, U.K., and Klaudia Czerwinska of the Netherlands, are two young drummers in their early twenties who have both used YouTube to get into drums and then start their own channels.
Townsend is 20 years old and has been a drummer for eight years and uploading videos onto YouTube for seven years. She cites Anika Nilles, a popular YouTube drummer who now leads drum clinics all over the world, as a big inspiration when she first saw her online five years ago. While she used to just upload covers as a fun way for her friends and family to see what she was doing, she’s since begun to use the service for audition videos and getting, she says, “people to know I exist in the drumming community!” Her most successful video to date earned her over 6,000 views and she’s since been getting gigs with her band Veni Vidi Vici and other offers as her audience continues to grow.
Like Townsend, Czerwinska has been uploading drum videos almost as long as she’s been playing. And before her drum videos, she made gaming videos as, she relates, “creating YouTube videos has always been a hobby of mine.” After seeing a drum video by South African Cobus Potgieter, she was inspired to start posting her own videos of drum covers. At first, they were getting a few hundred views on average. To expand their reach, she and her boyfriend Kevin decided to channel their shared love for cinematography and narratives to create what she calls “Drum Film Covers.”
The videos pair dramatic shots of Czerwinska playing the drums intercut with a narrative inspired by the song she’s playing, not unlike a music video. As she puts it, “To stand out, you have to do something different. It doesn’t have to be completely unique, but different enough to make more people curious about your work.” That intuition paid off when one of her videos hit 2.3 million views, establishing Czerwinska as a rising YouTube star. But as she points out, the people watching her videos aren’t who you think they might be. “Our audience is people who enjoy music and also enjoy watching drum covers. Which makes it so much broader than just having a drum audience.”
For both drummers, YouTube is primarily a way to build an interest in themselves as players, which they hope to parlay into professional gigs. But YouTube also offers a way for drummers to monetize their videos by enabling ads to play before their videos. And while there are some, like popular Israeli online drummer Meytal Cohen, who are thriving from their YouTube careers, both Czerwinska and Townsend are quick to stress its promotional aspects, especially for younger drummers.
Social Media and Beyond
YouTube, of course, is not just for drum covers. Musicians and bands use it and other social media platforms in seemingly infinite ways, intent on building up their fan base and using online communities to help them strengthen careers.
Social media is literally how some careers are born, but it takes time and it takes patience to get these growing. As successful podcaster Daniel Angiolini of The Drums Heads Podcast, which boasts 50,000+ listeners, puts it, “Having a social media presence is super important these days, but you would be amazed how many drummers don’t utilize social media and the Internet to promote themselves. Just having a Instagram account or Twitter is not enough. You have to be posting all of time.”
Barbara Duncan, drummer for the pop-rock-jazz fusion group JJX, is a one-woman online marketing team who creates the band’s videos, online content, posts, and all the other things that an active band needs to do to keep its fans excited. “I [also] use the Internet for myself in finding new auditions and/or gigs and [JJX] has used it to find a fill-in bass player,” says Duncan.
As Duncan herself notes, face-to-face communication is a thing of the past and thus the Internet is more and more becoming the means through which musicians break out to independent or even mainstream success. Breaking out is something Duncan and her band are trying very hard to do in Philadelphia’s Black rock scene. She is seemingly on her smart phone 24/7 doing the million tiny things that building up a fan base online takes.
But ultimately, social media is just the delivery system by which you share your music and opinions of the world. Simply put, you need content to put up on social media, which can range from a personal letter to fans, lessons, music videos, or whatever works to your strengths. For instance, Angiolini realized early on that being a touring musician wasn’t for him, but he still wanted to be a prominent member in the drumming community. He started the podcast, he says, “to continue to push myself and the audience to explore different topics and points of views.” And he soon realized that to stand out in the crowded world of music podcasts, he would benefit from deviating from the white males that constitute the majority of guests. “There aren’t a lot of drumming podcasts that feature interviews with female drummers,” he notes.
He adds an important point about the need for drummers to network online as well as promoting themselves, saying, “Never be afraid to reach out to companies, podcasts, and other drummers. You will be amazed that most of them will answer you back.” He and Richardson also point to Instagram as the next platform where a lot of drummers are flocking and flourishing.
In the end, there is one crucial concept in online marketing: seeking out a vacuum. The Internet abhors a vacuum seemingly more than nature, and thus, when you are trying to come up with content ideas to get your fans excited and draw attention from the press to your project, do what no one has done yet or hasn’t done as well as you can.
Just like the Internet represents the full variety of the human experience, it also offers infinite opportunities to the ambitious drummer who wants to take control of her financial destiny. After all, while serving coffee or beers is a time-tested means of employment in between gigs, some people prefer working from home and being on their own schedule. The Internet is quickly increasing the number of options by which to do that, moving at “the speed of light” as Duncan puts it. Richardson notes, “I think everything is just moving towards freelance, independent contractor… Everyone is working from their house.”
Whether drummers will be able to tour less as technology advances or uncover new means of direct and indirect income, it’s certain that the Internet has permanently become a part of how a drummer makes a living in 2016.
To see this piece as it appeared in print: https://issuu.com/tomtommagazine/docs/ttm-issue28-hires
Fantastic article. Insightful. Definitely positive. I’m in the process of creating and pushing YT vids and a podcast on drumming. It’s hard work. This is a job in itself that requires drive and goals to be met. Doing videos and podcasts are thrilling to me as much as drumming. Think I’m on the right path.