Posted on April 22, 2014
I've realized the job of being a sideman (performing on stage not as the featured artist but rather in support of an artist) is easier when I've been playing for that musical act on a more-consistent basis. It's easier because in that situation I am very familiar with the songs, and because I know the flow of the set--and the "set" is more than just the order of songs. During a concert, after we finish a song, I need to know whether I should go right into the next song or wait for some cue like an introduction. Knowing at what point to start a song prevents moments of awkward silence, so having an intimate knowledge of the songs and set is very advantageous.
But then there are those times when I am called to temporarily fill in for another drummer. I am expected to come in and perfectly perform a set of songs, sometimes with no rehearsal. Whether or not I get the luxury of a rehearsal, the fact is: preparation is critical in preventing a show from crashing. I will not only listen to the original album mixes, but I'll listen to recordings from a recent live concert if they're available. If I have any questions about the songs or transitions then I'll ask for clarification from the drummer for whom I'm subbing or from the band's musical director. After I make some notes, I'll start practicing the set list on my own from behind the drum kit.
This Spring I was called to fill in on drums playing for Chris Young (pictured). Although we had a long sound check, we had no time for a formal rehearsal. The show went very well, and the other players in Chris' band were really pleased with me. Chris told me I played "like I owned the gig", and how it was so great to have someone filling in who really cared about playing the show well.
If you were to look at my show pay and divide it by the number of minutes I performed on stage, then it looks like I am paid rather well. However, if you divide my pay by the time on stage plus all of the hours I've spent in preparation for that show, then my hourly rate appears much more humble. Sure it's much more work and pressure for me to be a fill-in, and all of this preparation might be for only one show with no guarantee the artist may ever need me again, but I'm thankful I got called. I was met with a challenge, and I played with excellence. I'm proud to say I aced it.