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: Clayton@claytoncraddock.com 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.