Five Things You Need To Know About Playing Drums On A Broadway Show

If you are at all interested in finding work as a musician playing drums on a Broadway musical, I can certainly give a few tips. I’ve been fortunate to have played in several over the past 17 years and I’ve learned a  little from each one I’ve been in.

Each of the shows I’ve done have been different, but there are a few things that are similar with all of them. Here are a few things I’ve learned and would love to share:

1) Keep Your Eyes On The Conductor

It might be tough to have to read music, play the drums as well as watch the conductor, but it can be done. In fact, it must be done if you want to get a job and keep one in this business.

Whether you are subbing or if the gig is yours, you want to make the conductor happy. If you are a sub, the conductor wants to feel like not much has changed between you coming in and the regular drummer being out. No two drummers sound the same but if you do your homework, you will sound as close to the regular drummer as possible. On top of that, if you are constantly watching the conductor, they know that you are paying attention to them and in tune with every move they make. It makes them feel more at ease and will make the show better for everyone involved.

2) Be AbleTo Play With A Click Track

Almost every show today has a click track. Not only does it help to keep the choreographer happy by maintaining consistent tempos, it keeps the pace and timing of the show precise. It also eliminates the questioning of the music department when people feel things are too slow or too fast. The click never lies.

With that in mind you must not make the click a liar. You have to be in tune with the steady tempo and, as people say, bury it. Basically, you have to make sure no one hears the click because your playing right in alignment with it. It takes a while to get used to, but after you play with clicks, it can be great for your internal clock as years pass.

3) You Are The Driving Force In The Show

The drummer is the heartbeat of any musical. You are the engine. You are truly in the driver’s seat. Whoever is sitting on that throne must take command…but take all direction from the conductor.

While the drummer may be driving the train, the conductor is giving the directions. Remember, follow the conductor.

The dancers also rely on your drumming for the accents they need for dance moves, and certain cues for beginnings and endings of songs. The drums make a huge impact.

It can be a high pressure position to be the drummer on a Broadway show because there is little room for error. If you don’t play a certain drum fill correctly, it could cause dancers to not enter properly, light cues to not be triggered at the right time, and the main characters could be thrown off. You matter.

4) Be Consistent

Everyone involved in the business of musicals wants one thing; consistency. People travel from all over the world to see Broadway shows and they expect a certain product once they have shelled out their hard earned money. When you sit behind that drum kit, everyone around you expects high quality musicianship. When you play the first note, it should be the same first note that was played the previous night. It should remain consistent for the rest of the run as well. All of the notes must be played the same way every night because it is an entirely new set of audience members seeing the show.

What does that mean to you? Even though it is the same music you played yesterday and the day before or even the same music for the past three years, you have to give it your all and stay focused. It’s not easy to do because over time, people can get bored or burned out. The challenge of playing shows is to know how to channel your focused energy into that three hours you are at the theater.

5) It Is One Of The Best Gigs To Have In New York

The music business has changed over the years and is constantly in flux. Gigs seem to be paying the same as they did 25 years ago, there are fewer places to perform and certain opportunities for drummers no longer exist, or at least, there are fewer of them. The one thing I’ve noticed during my tenure in this business is that more and more musicians are doing whatever it takes to get a long running broadway show.

There are, on average, about 20-25 musicals running at any point on Broadway. If you are the drummer in one of these shows, that means out of the thousands of musicians who come to New York every year to be in the music business, you are one of about 20 drummers to be fortunate enough to have a steady gig. This is a gig that pays pretty well, but also provides health insurance and a pension on top. Plus, if you want to take off to play other gigs, you can take off up to 50% of the shows.

You can be in New York and not have to drag drums around to your gigs. The shows start on time every day and end on time as well. All you have to do is show up….and do 1-4 above…as well as many other things. It ain’t easy. It’s even harder to land one of these gigs.

When you do get the call to play a show, and if you follow these rules, you are on a track to be working pretty steadily.

If you have any other questions, shoot me an email: or send me a tweet @claytoncraddock

Clayton Craddock is a stay-at-home father of two children in New York City. He has a B.B.A from Howard University’s School of Business and is also a 25 year veteran of the fast paced New York City music scene. He has played drums in a number of hit Broadway musicals including “tick…tick…BOOM, Memphis the Musical and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill with Audra McDonald. He has worked on other musicals; Footloose, Motown, The Color Purple, Bare, Rent, Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Cats, and Avenue Q and is currently the drummer in a new Broadway bound musical titled Ain’t Too Proud.
Clayton has written for A Voice For Men, The Good Men Project and is writing a memoir about fatherhood.


Rock Band

I spoke with my son yesterday on the phone and asked him how his after school program is going.  Unfortunately, I’ve been out of town so I haven’t been able to see his transition into his new school this fall. Usually, he doesn’t tell me much but he sure was eager to let me know of a new activity.

My little man said he was in a thing they called “Rock Band.”   There is one kid who is about his age who plays guitar. He said, “Dad, I heard him play and he is good.” “He played a bunch of notes really fast on his guitar and I was Iike, WHOA!”

I asked him, “well, what are you going to play?” “Well, I’m playing the drums,”  he replied. He went on to say, “they have a bunch of pieces for the drum set but still need more cymbals, I think” “They gave me some sticks and asked me to play something, so I did.”

He let me know that they were impressed with his ability to play a beat or two. I guess he is a natural at the drums? Maybe it’s genetic.

I asked him how many other kids are in the after school activity. He said there was about five kids total. I said, “that is great!” I asked, “who else is in the band?” He said, “the teacher is playing the bass, and that is it , so far”

I told him its a great foundation for a band. He then told me that after he played a little beat, he let everyone know that his father plays drums too.

He said, “yeah, he’s a PROFESSIONAL!”

They were pretty excited to know that this kid has a dad who actually makes a living from playing music. I guess it elevated his status a little.

It might have been cooler if his dad played in an actual rock band, but I guess, two Tony Award winning broadway musicals ain’t too bad.

I think the kids would want to know what a professional musician does. Maybe I’ll come in an start a school of rock at his school in conjunction with the Rock Band class. Who knows, maybe there will be a musical made from this idea…oh wait….Andrew Lloyd Webber already took that idea.

Oh well.

It’s fun to hear how excited my son is to be involved in that activity. We’ll see if he really wants to spend more time learning drums or doing what he really seems to spend most of his time engaged in. That would be the game of soccer. He is as passionate about soccer as I was about drums at his age.

We’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll give him a lesson or two when I get back to town.





Why new Temptations play is NOT a ‘jukebox musical’

“People always say I make musicals for people who hate musicals and there is some truth to that.” – Des McAnuff

True indeed!

I never liked musicals. I think way too many of them are corny. I once saw a musical where a singer was at a train station , waiting on her train to come or something. Then all of a sudden, as soon as she drops her suitcase on the floor, she belts out a tune. I busted out laughing! I looked around and realized I was the only one in the theater laughing. Ooops!

I won’t reveal what name of the show but it won a TONY Award for best musical years ago. Ugh.

To just drop a suitcase in a train station and everyone suddenly starts dancing and singing is silly to me. Yes, I know the best musicals know how to weave the song into the dialogue and move the story forward. I think I finally understand it after 17 years in this business. But man, some producers make musicals that are kinda wack…and run for decades.

Jersey Boys? Now THAT was a musical for someone like me. There was an article in the LA Times about how more men went to see that show than many others on Broadway at the time. I feel it is one of the reasons why it became so successful. To get straight men to cough up money and be the person begging their wife or girlfriend to see a broadway musical is quite a challenge.

Producers have attributed the show’s financial longevity to repeat customers and its appeal to men, which is a rarity on Broadway.

“Men tell other men they have to see the play. When does a guy call another guy about a Broadway show?” asked Joseph Grano, a lead producer of the musical and the founder and chief executive of Centurion Holdings, a New York business consulting firm.

I liked several other musicals. Hamilton I thought was brilliant. I liked The Lion King, Avenue Q, Memphis, Lady Day, Little Shop, Evita (because I subbed on it a lot I guess), The Color Purple, Altar Boyz, Waitress….but there is something about this new show, Ain’t Too Proud, that speaks to me.

I’ve been in and subbed for a few bad shows over the years. I’ve seen others that make me leave scratching my head as to what people see in it. Again, I am not a musical kind of guy, but love to see well made shows. Hopefully you all will see this one. I’d actually pay money to see it if I weren’t in it.

Why new Temptations play is NOT a ‘jukebox musical’

Ain’t too proud to beg? If you just can’t get enough of the legacy of the Temptations, from their velvety smooth sound to their razor-sharp dance moves, better motor on over to Berkeley Rep for the new Broadway musical “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations.”

Steeped in the memories of Otis Williams, the sole surviving band member, this musical spins around a finger-snapping greatest hits catalog that spans generations, from the slick doo-wop harmony of “My Girl” to the pain and rage of “Ball of Confusion” and “Runaway Child, Running Wild.” Coming on the heels of Broadway-bound musicals such as “Roman Holiday,” “Monsoon Wedding” and “Amelie,” the highly-anticipated “Temptations” tuner, which is getting its world premiere through Oct. 8 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, definitely has aspirations to a Broadway run. The musical charts the rise of the iconic Motown group amid the turbulence and chaos of the Civil Rights era.

“For me the Temptations are more than just a band, they are an American institution,” says director Des McAnuff, famed for helming “Jersey Boys” and “Tommy.” “They were at the vanguard, not just musically but also culturally and politically.”

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