There are a great many aspiring young musicians that have asked me this same question over the years:
"How do I get to the point where I can do music for a living?"
Unfortunately, there's no quick answer to this question, no secret formula, no guaranteed remedy, no 'step-by-step' process... All I can do is look at what some of my friends and I have done (and are probably still busy with) and try to identify a few core concepts and principles from our personal experiences. But right at the beginning, I need to state that every person is unique in terms of their collection of passions and skills, and just as importantly, every person's circumstances are unique as well. These two factors have a very big influence on the specific shape that each person's career could possibly take and also completely dissipates the idea of having one answer that works for everyone.
The first thing to do is to make sure you have a realistic and holistic picture of what a music career will entail for you personally. There are many pros and cons that are not so obvious at the beginning, so here are some of the factors I can think of that you may need to consider:
= Start-Up Costs: What equipment and facilities do you need before you can effectively pursue a career in music?
= Financial Goals: Do you have a specific financial target in mind when you think about how much you would like to earn on a month-to-month basis? And will you be able to achieve it with the career you want to pursue?
= Relationships: Do you currently have (or will you have in the very near future) people in your family or household who are dependent upon you earning enough money to support them?
= Social Sacrifices: Are things like social gatherings and connecting with friends very important to you? Will your music career interfere with the times where people typically have social gatherings (like over weekends)? And will you be okay with it?
= Emotional costs: Making music is a very emotional process, and sometimes not all the emotions involved are good ones. Will you be able to deal with your own negative emotions as well as other people's emotions? How much of your emotional well-being will suffer as a result of your interactions with others in the process of pursuing your music career?
= Stability: How well do you cope with "the unknown"? Can you cope with never really knowing what each month will look like in your calendar and/or your bank account?
= Passion: When you make the transition from playing music as an enjoyable hobby to a place where you have to earn money with it then your relationship with the instrument inevitably changes. Will this be a positive change or a negative change for you? How will it influence your passion for music?
Most of what I learned about sustaining a music career has been from personal experience. So before we get to all the "do's and don'ts" in 'Part 2' and 'Part 3' of this blog series about 'How to "Make It" in the Music Industry', let's spend the first part looking at my own personal story as a case study.
I started drumming at the very tender age of five. It started one Sunday morning while I was sitting in the front row pews of our church where my dad was employed as a minister and worship leader at that time. I found myself staring at the drummer throughout the church band's worship set and after the service (once most of the people had left the building) I hopped onto the drum throne and tried to replicate what I saw the drummer doing during the service. That same drummer noticed me behind the drum set and decided to show me a basic beat or two, which eventually lead to me having a regular jam session after church services while I waited for my dad to finish up with his Sunday responsibilities.
About a year later, someone in our church decided to donate a drum set to our family. It was a very basic, entry-level set, but I didn't care... I had my very own drum set! And so I probably drove my parents crazy for a few more years until, finally at age 9, they decided to sign me up for drum lessons. My first drum teacher was a guy called Bruce who was, at that time, busy studying to get his degree in music. I spent probably about 5 or 6 years taking lessons from him and during this time he gradually became a fairly well known and in-demand drummer in our local music scene.
So during primary school, I mostly played the drums at my home (with the exception of a Sunday school concert), but it wasn't until I reached my teenage years that I got to play drums in an actual band: our church's youth band. At the time it was merely a matter of enjoying the experience of making music together with other friends and musicians, but without realising it I was already establishing meaningful connections that would serve me well later on in my career. During my time there we had a few band leaders who came and went, but I developed quite a close friendship with one of the leaders called André who came to work as youth pastor at our church after having toured a few years with a group called 'C-Kruis' back in the day.
We had many adventures as a youth band under André's leadership. During that time all the band members were actually home-schoolers, which gave us the freedom to do things like performing at various high-schools in the mornings. We played youth camps together, had a few jams in my parents' garage, wrote some songs, played one or two 'Battle of the Band' competitions... all the stuff that forms part of an idealistic band picture.
A few years went by, and then in my final year of school, it just so happened that the management from 'C-Kruis' was looking for a drum teacher to give lessons to their drummers during their training season. Due to André's connections with C-Kruis my name came up as an option and the company approached me to provide drum lessons to their drummers once a week for three months. Other than occasionally showing a fellow drummer something on the kit, this was the first time I actually gave drum lessons and got paid for it. This experience paved the way for me to start building up my own drumming student base at a later stage and give drum lessons on a weekly basis at various schools and institutions, as well as privately.
During that same year, while teaching the 'C-Kruis' drummers, I joined a 'garage band' with two of my youth band buddies together with a female vocalist from outside the church. The vocalist/artist called Mel (short for Melanie) wanted to record demos of her songs with the band so her parents booked a recording studio and engineer for a day and we went in to track the demo songs. This was my very first studio recording experience and, to be honest, I learned a LOT from that day.
Shortly after starting out with Mel and the band I got recruited to actually join 'C-Kruis' as a touring member, so I left behind the garage band and started touring the country with roughly forty young and passionate students while performing shows and making music in a different town every week. During my time in this 'touring ministry' called C-Kruis (aka 13th Floor) I first made contact with Retief Burger, one of the more well-known alumni of the group. Although I was never on stage with him during my time in C-Kruis, he must have heard good reports about me and probably saw me play at some of our Gala Events because a year after I left C-Kruis he asked me to drum for him at a youth camp. This camp turned out to be a big pivot point in my drumming career, which at that stage still consisted of teaching a hand-full of drum students and playing the occasional pub gig for a burger and some change.
It was via Retief that I came into contact with Louis Brittz, who started booking me to tour with him from 2007 onward. I toured with him for a number of years, during which time he also booked me for various album recordings under the record label that he headed up at that stage. This, in turn, connected me with a whole new segment of musicians and producers who would later start booking me for their own gigs and albums. One of the connections I made while touring with Louis was with Wynand & Lindi Delport from the band 'Anders' (although back then they were known as 'Daypoem'.) I have been touring and recording with them for more than a decade now.
Another person I made contact with during my time in C-Kruis was a young lady named Christelle, who entered the Contemporary Christian music scene almost straight out of C-Kruis under the name KrissTel. Straight out of our time in C-Kruis she recorded an album called 'Made To Be Loved', which is also one of the first full-length albums that I drummed for in my career. While touring with KrissTel I got to connect with her guitarist, a guy called Johan Oelofsen, who later asked me to become part of his band called 'North of Winter'.
A few years later Christelle (now known as 'Stella') teamed up with a guy called Hennie Maritz to form a new group called 'Duis:Lig'. Although I'm not the official drummer for the group, I have done a few stand-in gigs for them, which has also connected me with a whole new group of musicians and artists.
In 2007 (two years after I left C-Kruis) I was approached by an artist to start playing shows with him. At first, it looked very promising as this artist seemed to have connections that got us playing some very high-profile shows. As time went by, however, there were more and more excuses and hiccups when it came to our payments. Eventually, most of us in the band realised that we were being taken for a ride, so I made the call to stop playing shows for this artist until he settled all the fees that he owed me up to that point. Needless to say, he stopped booking me, and we went our separate ways.
One of the friends I made during my time in Louis' band, Johan Bouwer, started playing bass for Riana Nel. Riana decided to organise a jamming/songwriting day and Johan invited me to join them for the day. I pulled in for the day, had a fun time, and obviously made an impression because a little while later Riana started booking me for some of her live shows. To date, I have been drumming for Riana Nel more than six years now (since 2012).
From here my entire career has been gradually growing with an ever-expanding web of connections with people involved in all facets and corners of the music industry. Some of these connections seemed insignificant at first, but later they panned out to become a rather major contributor to my career. And, on occasion, I've chased connections that seemed very important to me initially, only to come up empty-handed in the end.