The Bar Band Drummer
Chances are I am like many of you out there who play music: I don’t do this to earn a living but I am a serious hobbyist. I have a good day job and family so I’m pretty busy to begin with but I make the time to play music.
My name is Joe Elliott (no I am not the lead singer of Def Leppard). I live in New York City (Brooklyn, to be exact) where I do a fair amount of gigging with the bands I play in. I currently play in three bands: The Amanda White Group (Indie Rock), The Baghdaddios (Classic Punk) and a community orchestra known as the Tri Battery Pops (everything from John Phillip Sousa to Glen Miller to the Beatles). In the past, I’ve played in Classic Rock, Country and Indie bands and I have played in a lot of small bars and clubs playing both original music and cover material. I’m 46 years old and I take drum lessons. I am always looking to improve my playing. The process is slow since my practice time is at a premium between work and family, but I make the most of the time I do have.
Anyway, enough about me. What I want to do is offer a practical guide for a drummer playing in bars and small clubs. This is all based on my experience playing in the New York City bar and club scene and what I have come across. There are three basic areas I want to discuss: Equipment, playing to the room and etiquette.
For all intents and purposes as a drummer you will have two basic situations when you have a gig: you will either bring all of your own gear or you will have to play a house kit and bring some of your gear. Before you even think about what you want to bring to a gig either check out the venue’s web site, if they have one, or call and ﬁnd out what they have for a backline. This way you don’t walk in cold and ﬁnd you don’t have the gear you need. Never assume!
Speaking for myself when I go to a gig, I much prefer to play my own kit. However, that does not mean I am bringing a double bass drum kit with a rack system with cymbals and pedals galore. Space will be at a premium and you and your fellow band mates will be negotiating for every available square inch so it is important to bring only what you absolutely need. Regardless of the style of music you play, you should be able to play your parts on a standard four-piece drum kit (Snare, bass, one mounted tom and a ﬂoor tom with a hi-hat, ride and two crashes). Now, don’t get me wrong, I love playing a big kit but the reality is that unless you are playing a very large club that can accommodate hundreds of people with a large stage, which are not that common in NYC, you will have to ﬁt your drum set in a roughly 5’ by 5’ space. I’m 6’2” and that is a very tight space for me and my drum set but I do my best to make myself comfortable.
Things start to get tricky when you have to play a house kit. Once again, check with the venue and ﬁnd out what you are going to need. Every venue has its own requirements for what drummers a required to bring to the gig. Many bars and clubs harsh but just remember that the club has a schedule to keep and in many cases has to stop playing loud music by a certain time, either because of a local ordinance or by a lease agreement with the building’s owner. So, if you want your band to be asked back to the club again make sure you all cooperate.
The most important thing when on a gig is to be prepared. Know the material, have the right gear with you and act professionally. It doesn’t matter if you are being paid or playing for tips and/or beers. When your band plays and behaves as professionals, even if you are all hobbyists, chances are you will be asked to come back by that bar or club. It is your responsibility as the drummer to be the professional at all times regardless of how others act.