Taking bronze on this list, because we all have to eat, (drum roll please.......) BUSINESS! All drummers should be producers; not only producers but founders of original projects with committed musicians and friends. I believe they call these groups of people “bands"? A band is a business. Being in a band is the best calling card one can have.
A couple of years back, Adam Deitch tweeted a list of forbes 30 richest living drummers: http://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2012/08/who-are-the-worlds-richest-drummers.html
Guess what? No Steve Gadd. No Dennis Chambers. No Steve Jordan. Not to disrespect a few of the most recorded drummers of all time, but ZERO “Studio Musicians” made the list.
All 30 names were drummers from successful bands that have been committed over the years. Some drummers bounce around here and there and do some session work. Sometimes we don’t even get the gig until the first drummer quits or even worse, dies in a freak gardening accident that authorities deem better left unsolved, or decides to become a doctor, or go to law school, or even takes up the guitar and tries to be a frontman/woman. Excluding death, all of these reasons stem from why we are talking about this in the first place, BUSINESS.
If you take a second and look at the list, it doesn’t take long to realize why the top 4 drummers are who they are:
#4 - DON HENLEY
Number four is Don Henley. Don Henley is/was the drummer for the Eagles. I know, “ Anything but the Eagles man,” but still. Five number one hits is not bad. Also, if you know how the business works, when you write a song you own more of the royalties. If you sing that song then you get even more. If you play drums on a TV show, you get less money in royalties than if your voice was to be heard over a broadcast. I know it’s not fair but that’s how it works. Let’s just say The Eagles could sing, all of them, but Don Henley, the drummer, was also sometimes the lead singer as well. So his songwriting within the Eagles led to him gaining more monetary returns from the royalties paid for performing and distributing their music.
Ok, so 5 number one hits with your band and you are good to go? Sorry but no. Not only did Don Henley contribute to more than just the groove of the Eagles music, he also released 5 records on his own as a frontman, all of which peaked in the top 50 of the U.S. Charts.
So here is our model: A founding creative member of an uber successful band followed by a successful solo career. Let’s think about who the remaining drummers are in the first three slots. Got it yet? Yes, you are correct.
#3 - DAVE GROHL
Number three is Dave Grohl, the drummer from Nirvana. Dave did not sing lead in Nirvana the way that Don Henley did for the Eagles, but Nirvana did also achieve 5 number one hits. It’s what Dave did after Nirvana that kept him in the running and put him as the number three most valuable living drummer. The Foo Fighters, founded by Dave after the death of Kurt Cobain, featured the drummer stepping out from behind the kit picking up a guitar and singing. Since then, the band has sold 9,450,000 copies of 8 full-length albums. Once again, drummer from an uber successful band takes to the front of the stage with their own band and BOOM! Good Business.
#2 - PHIL COLLINS
The second most valuable drummer still walking the earth is, you guessed it, Phil Collins. Phil’s band Genesis broke ground as a progressive fusion of rock, jazz and popular music of the 1970’s. Like Henley, Phil shared the vocal responsibilities with his bandmates in Genesis, who achieved 6 number one records in the U.K., and most importantly developed a cult following of musicians and listeners that sought out their more complex approach to composition.
This following, as it did for the aforementioned “drum-miliionares” allowed him to launch a long and successful solo career where he achieved number one status for 3 of his songs and “In The Air Tonight” isn’t even one of them! Proving yet again that writing songs is the key to a long and successful career. Any ideas on the number one most valuable drummer in the world? One hint. He was in the most popular band of all time.
#1 - RINGO STARR
Ringo Starr was the drummer for The Beatles. Need I say more?
With The Beatles, Ringo had songs where he was featured as the lead vocalist and received writing credit. “Yellow Submarine” even went to number one . We have already talked about how singing and songwriting can contribute to the success of a musician. Since Ringo is a Beatle, his writing contributed to his enormous success as a musician. As a side note, Ringo also took on fictional roles as himself and other characters in T.V. and Film (A model now sought after by many musicians). His band, “Ringo and his All Starr Band,” still tours and sells out venues all over the world. Proof that even if you aren’t the frontman or woman, writing songs and creating music on your own leads to a more fruitful career (in Ringo’s case, roughly $300 million worth of “fruit.”).
Clearly, business is boosted when you have more of a stake in what is going into the music. Continuing on to the Second most beneficial trait picked up by drummers who also write songs, lets talk about what you learn about the writing process from writing music of your own.