I recently attended a masterclass given by percussionist Damon Grant. I didn’t know Damon before the clinic, but was so impressed after meeting him that I made it a point to reach out and ask if I could share his honest, real world advice via Zildjian’s blog. As a busy, NYC based percussionist who has worked with everyone from Madonna to Stefon Harris (even performing at the Summer Olympic Games twice), here’s what Damon learned after he graduated from college and started working as a professional …in other words, those lessons that can only be taught by living it on a daily basis. If your New Year's resolution is to get more work as a drummer, we hope these tips will help to start 2017 moving in the right direction for you.
"Fifteen Tips I Learned After Music School"
by Damon Grant and previously published by Modern Drummer.
This list is in no particular order, and they all should be number one because they are all important.
1. Have fun and smile! People will hire you more if they like to be around you.
2. Remember people’s names, because everyone is important. This falls under the category of networking and building relationships. Also, look them in the eye when you talk to them. People shouldn’t be considered more "valuable" because they can help you move forward in your career. Everyone should be treated with equal respect. You also don’t know if someone from one situation can recommend you for something else.
3. Keep relationships and keep them intact. Out of sight is out of mind. I still work with people from college and high school; believe it or not, a couple from middle school, too!
4. Rehearsing is a luxury. If that luxury is afforded to you, take full advantage of it. When you are in school you are rehearsing all the time (a lot of it is required) and then when you get out into the real world, you hardly rehearse at all. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, just that it happens a lot less.
5. Don’t fear failure. With everything being so instant, don’t let yourself get discouraged easily. A good amount of successful individuals may not be the most talented ones to touch the instrument, but you better believe they were the most determined. And if they made mistakes, they figured things out really quickly.
6. Take care of your body, which is also your instrument. Get health insurance and go to the doctor for checkups.
7. Have a basic knowledge of using recording software. This can range from Pro Tools, Logic, or even Garage Band.
8. Learn to sing. Being able to sing basic harmonies, or even “oooos” and “ahhhs” while you play your instrument, will get you hired more—especially if it’s between you or another great player who doesn’t sing at all.
9. Save all, save often. This goes for paperwork like contracts, music (charts), textbooks, etc. It also goes for when you’re on the computer using programs like Finale or Sibelius, or even a Word document. I like to take it a step further with spare parts for my instruments.
10. Social media is a doorway between you and the rest of the world. Make sure you have a lock on that door and are in control of what may be going through that portal.
11. No gig lasts forever. All gigs come to an end because of one circumstance or another. A venue closes, a tour ends, someone quits, the band breaks up, someone dies, you get bored playing the same thing, you start a family, other performance options arise, etc. No matter how good or bad things may be in a performance situation, it will end.
12. Off the stage is just as important (sometimes more) as being on it. If you are a great performer who knows all the notes and can play every inversion of every chord invented with blazing speed, that’s great. However, that can be all derailed if you don’t have things in order off the stage.
13. Show up on time (early), learn your music before the gig, regularly groom and clean yourself, dress with the proper attire for the gig, and treat everyone with courtesy and respect. Your playing doesn’t supersede being a great human being.
14. Get a great accountant for your taxes, and have a lawyer you trust available to review contracts and other important documents. You can always ask for less money, but you can’t necessarily ask for more.
15. Learn the business of music. Music is an art form, but it is also a medium in which business is conducted. You should learn how basic businesses work. This can include contracts, marketing and promotion, building websites/social media pages, giving people enough time to react to the information given, doing taxes, etc. There are also specific aspects to the music industry like royalties, unions, song rights, publishing, and licensing, among others.
There you have it, some words of wisdom from a busy professional. If you’re looking to take your playing to the next level this year, we hope you’ve found these tips helpful. And if you would like to read more from Damon you can follow his blog here, and check out his website here.
Damon Grant, a professional independent artist, recently recorded and released an album called Prevailing Melodies, produced by David Ryan Harris. The album features Harris, along with other world renown artists like: Morgan James, Marc Broussard, Zane Carney, Stephen Kellogg, J.J. Johnson, and many more. He also worked with Madonna on her 2012 Super Bowl halftime show, her MDNA tour, and DVD premiere in NYC. As a professional sideman, Damon has worked with world-class musicians including Eric Hutchinson, Javier Colon, Richie Flores, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Robby Ameen, The Original Parliament Funkadelic, Fred Wesley, George Porter JR., Stefon Harris and several others. His group, The Damon Grant Project, was featured in Modern Drummer and Latin Beat magazines and performed at the gala event for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in London. He was a member of the 10 time DCI World Champion Cadets drum corps and with them performed at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Damon was also a member of the group The Bomb Squad which was featured in People magazine and won an American Music Award. He was an original London cast member of the show Blast! which won both an Emmy and a Tony award. Damon was fortunate enough to have studied with musical legend Yusef Lateef and master percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo. Damon currently teaches at University of Massachusetts at Amherst with Thom Hannum. He just started a podcast called Discussions in Percussion with another fellow percussionist (Marcos Torres), which stays away from drumset players and focuses more on other areas of percussion playing. Damon uses Latin Percussion instruments, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, Remo Drumheads and Samson Technologies audio equipment exclusively.
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