I first met Dave during our time on the road together in 2015 for Dustin Tebbutts and The Kite String Tangles ‘Illuminate’ tour. His experience as a successful freelance musician was obvious to me from the get-go, which included his strong people skills. Whether it was his generosity to reach out to his peers to help me with my career, or simply share his honest feedback on my approaches to our live show at the time, Dave’s patience and earnest hard work both inspired me at then and continues to now.
If you’re looking to get into freelance drumming or juggling both freelance drumming and directing your own solo project, this interview is for you.
Can you please clearly outline all your current musical projects and professions which make up your life as a professional musician?
Not a Boys Name – solo project, writer/singer/musician
BOOM TISH – producer, writer, musician Vera Blue – drummer, music director
Wafia – drummer, music director
Dustin Tebbutt – drummer
I also write and produce with many different artists as I can manage..when I can manage it.
How long have you been playing drums?
Over 20 years. I started when I was 8.
How long have you been making a living as a drummer?
About 10 years.
Have you always played multiple instruments?
I started drums when I was 8, and gradually picked up other skills along the way. Guitar in my teens. Keys and vocal after that.
Have you ever performed gigs as a freelance musician outside of being a drummer
I have toured as a guitarist/keys player for Nicole Millar.Guitar and Bass for Lisa Mitchell and as a bass player for Andy Bull on his Keep on Running tour.
Did this happen by accident or were you planning to cross-pollinate your musical skills as a performer?
Iʼm fairly competent on most of the instruments I play so it just seemed like a natural extension of what I was already doing.
Did you ever have formal training on any of the instruments you now regularly play?
My father taught me drums as a kid, which was fairly formal. He made sure I knew my rudiments and proper sticking before I sat on a drumkit. I had a few guitar lessons as a teen and did a term at the Conservatorium for piano. Iʼve always found that I prefer to do my own thing once Iʼve established the basic techniques. Music theory doesnʼt really interest me.
Can you please share how you went from being a drummer to working full- time as a freelance sideman drummer?
It all happened rather organically..but it wasnʼt an immediate process. I had my own band that was on the cusp of signing a deal.. it somehow imploded and I was left with no band and a lot of spare time. After the dust settled I decided I just wanted to play music and not worry about inner band politics and juggling egos. I started attending shows and meeting songwriters out and about. A lot of the early sessions and touring I did was unpaid or barely paid. All the while I was working a day job and funnelling that cash back into my gear and living expenses.
Given the music industry has no set rules with regards to income or working hours etc, how did you manage calculating your rates and any long-term commitments with artists who may or may not have experience hiring musicians?
Rates and fees can be a difficult thing to negotiate. Being a session musician is like any creative industry in that your level of experience and your rate of pay go hand in hand. The more you work, the better you get, the more you are worth. The only time Iʼve run into trouble in the past is if the lines of communication are blurred. If both parties are open and honest with each other before the work has commenced, then you wonʼt get in to trouble.
What advice would you give to young drummers looking to take on the role as a freelance drummer in the coming years?
Work hard and donʼt be a jerk. If you are playing someone elseʼs music you need to be aware that it means everything to them and they may get offended if you play it wrong or donʼt take it seriously. Also, show up early..to everything!
Is it common for contracts to be used when touring with artists with regards to finances and other project commitments you may be involved in?
I would say that it is uncommon. Thatʼs not to say I havenʼt done it before..but normally itʼs more of a handshake deal when it comes to touring or recording. Plus most negotiations are done over email so there is always a paper trail.
Have you ever misread contracts or bitten off more than you can chew with regards to commitments with other projects and/or artists?
Iʼm always biting off more than I can chew. Itʼs part of what we do. If you commit to something be prepared to OVER commit to it.
What are the key skills you need to succeed as a freelance drummer (eg: sight reading, playing to a click, communication etc..)
Playing to a click is very necessary these days. I would also say that it pays to be tech savvy (playback rigs, recording, spd) and to know the basics of the other instruments that you are working with. Be able to talk keys and guitar language has always helped me to communicate with other band members.
What would you suggest to a drummer new to freelance work and unsure whether they are getting paid the right amount for their services? Eg: rehearsals, travel expenses, performing etc.
Just ask someone more experienced than you. New session players hit me up all the time to ask advice. I am happy to give it.
What made you decide to focus on your solo project more than being a freelance drummer?
I love drumming and working with other musicians, but more than that I love the art of creation. I love to write music and lyrics. The idea that I can make something that has never existed before really excites me.
Has your experience as a sideman transl2ted to how you approach being the leader of your project?
Absolutely. I have worked with some of the greatest singers and songwriters in the world. Iʼm always watching and taking notes.
Are you still working as a drummer outside of your solo project?
Can you please specify when and how you go about hiring musicians for your solo project?
I hire people that are great musicians and nice people. Both of those qualities are equally as important in my mind.
Has any new insight been gained on your past experiences as a sideman given your new role hiring musicians for your own project?
All the musicians I work with in my project are people I have worked with in the past under different contexts. They are easy to get along with, punctual, and great players. However, these qualities never need to be discussed or negotiated. It comes easy to them, and thatʼs why they are successful and why I want to work with them.
What would you say is the biggest challenge of being a solo artist?
Do you approach writing music the same way you approach the drums?
I will never really understand the songwriting process. It stems from a different part of the brain than anything I do as a session drummer.
Are you recording and mixing the material for your solo project?
What are the key differences between touring as a freelance musician and as the band leader?
When Iʼm freelancing Iʼm usually working in a musical directors role as well so the leadership side of being in a band comes quite easily. Iʼm used to be the one answering all the questions and finding the best cafes.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from being in the music industry?
Donʼt be a jerk!
If you could only practice three things what would they be?
I know I shouldnʼt admit this but I actually donʼt practice. Iʼm so busy working and writing music that I never get a chance to sit down and work on anything these days.
If you could pivot to another occupation what would it be?
Probably working in film. Iʼve always loved it.
Where can bands go to get the best coffee when on the road in Australia?
We are spoilt for choice in this country. Youʼre never short of good coffee. Just use Yelp.
If you could be in any band who’s would it be?
David Byrneʼs band. I saw them the other night and I was like “Damn”.
Any extra comments or insights you wish to share?
Third timeʼs a charm – Donʼt be a jerk! Itʼs so easy to be a nice person. Just be considerate to everyone you come across.. and wear deodorant.
If you want to find out more about Dave head to: http://www.davejenkinsjr.net