An eye-opening look into the business of sessions drumming. Learn how to grow your career as a session drummer with popular, sought-after session artist, Travis Marc.
OLD: When did you begin drumming, and what drew you to the drums over other instruments?
TRAVIS: I started drumming when I was sixteen years old, which I realise was actually quite late when I read about a lot of my favourite drummers etc. I’m not sure what it was that initially attracted me to the instrument, I just know that I had always wanted to take up drumming as a kid. My dad has his own printing company and a lot of his machines work to a mechanical/sequenced type of timing. He says that I used to sit in his factory and hit things and make beats in time to his machines, kind of like we do when playing with a metronome. Anyway, when I turned sixteen I was lucky enough to win some money from a local radio station. That same week a music instrument store had also opened down the road from my house, they had three beginner drum kits for sale and I begged my parents to let me spend the money on one. My mom went and stood in line for me on the stores opening day and when I got home from school I had a kit. The rest is history I guess.
OLD: You are an accomplished session drummer. Many of our site’s members have interests in pursuing this field. How did you get started?
TRAVIS: It seems like quite a hard field to get into now days as a lot of the time you’ll only get work because you know someone who can ensure you get recommended. I was lucky enough to get a lot of referrals because of the amount of touring and high profile gigs I was doing, and the work basically kept coming. That was in South Africa though, now that I’ve moved I’ve had to almost start from the bottom of the ladder and work my way up again, but it’ll get there. A very important lesson which I have been lucky enough to learn over the years is that it’s not always about how well you play (this is obviously very important) but how reliable and friendly you are too. You need to be able to get on with the people you meet and the people who you’re going to be performing or recording with, the rest will pretty much fall into place.
OLD: If you could only choose 3 pieces of advice relating to pursuing a session drumming career, what would those 3 things be?
TRAVIS: Always be punctual. Showing up late for a session can almost guarantee that you won’t get hired again.
Ensure that you have all your gear and that you have enough gear to give you clients some different gear options. Try and do this for both live, and studio situations. Most of the time the client for whom you’ll be performing for won’t know the difference between sat a fast crash cymbal or a crash ride cymbal, but they will still appreciate the gesture and will possibly hire you again because of it.
Have a positive attitude, towards the artist and their material. Remember the person who hires you believes in their material and that is why you’ve been hired, so the more positive you are about the material, the more comfortable they will feel.
OLD: As for interpersonal relationships, how important are communication and personal skills to a session drummer?
TRAVIS: It’s super important. You need to ensure that you’re at a level that you can do whatever might be expected of you. Often, at least in my experience you land up working with people who approach you because they like how you do things, or because they’re heard good things about your playing through people that they trust. Networking is just so important, it is without a doubt of of the most needed tools in a musicians toolbox. You could be the best drummer/musician in the world, but if all you’re doing is practising in the comfort of your own home all day, how is anyone ever going to know that you’re the best. You need to get out there, you need to network and you need to build up relationships.
OLD: What types of things does a session drummer do?
TRAVIS: All my job as a session drummers entails is to back the artist who has hired me to the best of my ability. I guess it would be fair to say that the job title changes depending on the artist you’re working with. For example, if I get hired for a tour with band that like to party, then for that tour I will generally party. If I get hired for a quiet, songwriter type who only wants me to play a four on the floor groove for every song on the record and then go home, then that’s all I’d do for that situation. It’s all about making people feel comfortable so that they might use your services again, while being independent and comfortable enough with yourself to adapt to numerous situations, kind of like a chameleon.
OLD: Can someone pursuing a career in session drumming expect to make a decent living by solely working sessions or should they expect to do other things in the field as well, such as teaching?
TRAVIS: It’s fair to say that many musicians make more than enough money as session musicians now days, depending on who you’re working with. This can often mean that you’re working as studio and live musicians though, but it’s definately do able, as long as you have a diary and are competent enough not to mix up important dates etc. At this point in time, I am doing both. I’ve always enjoyed teaching drums (or music for that matter) and I feel that it’s a great way to keep you on your toes and stay up to date with some of the music that a lot youth seem to be listening to. What people need to remember is that everything is alyways relevant, everything in life is done for a reason and even if whatever you may be doing doesn’t quite work out at the end of the day, you should never regret it. Rather try and learn a positive lesson from it and keep moving forward.
OLD: Session drumming requires skills to play a lot of different styles. What’s your favorite style to play?
TRAVIS: Rock and Pop are definitely my strong points and so I’m asked to play these particular genres quite often, but I really enjoy playing/practising Latin and Jazz too. I don’t think I would necessarily take on a Jazz gig, but it’s a really rewarding style to play. When doing session work it’s important to be honest with yourself about whether or not you’re the best person for a particular job, if you feel that you’re not then it’s probably better if you let someone else do it. Not to say you need to constantly put down your own ability, I don’t mean that at all, I’m simply advising that if you don’t think you play a certain genre as confidently as another it might be better for you to tell the client up front, rather that getting into the session and possibly wasting their time and money.
OLD: Can you give us advice on how to become proficient in other styles that we may not be as interested in?
TRAVIS: I guess the easiest way to become interested in different styles is to open your mind and start listening to music that you wouldn’t usually listen to. Once you realise that all music genres/styles are relevant, you’ll start to realise how beneficial knowing how to play numerous styles of music can be towards your career. I just love music, I love the way it makes me feel, and how the same song can get a completely different reaction from two different people. Plus, at the end of the day, even if Metal is your favourite genre, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be allowed to break the mould and listen to some Electro Pop. The more you listen to, the more you’ll know, you’re just filling your drumming bag with a few more tricks if you want to look at it like that.
OLD: If you could only choose 1, what is your proudest accomplishment in drumming?
TRAVIS: Mmmm, that’s a tough one. I’ve had so many great moments. Receiving my Zildjian endorsement felt like one of my proudest moments because it kind of means that a corporation like Zildjian are watching you and you’re obviously doing something right. In addition, at the time when I received it there were really only a handful of South Africans who had Zildjian endorsements, so I felt as though I’d been invited to join this private little club ha ha. On a playing level performing at the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup opening ceremony in Jamaica was a big accomplishment for me. There have been so many. Winning the best drummer award at the GBOB event in London in 2006, they’re all great. I feel very lucky that I figured out at a very early age that drumming/music is what I wanted to do with my life. I have an extremely supportive family and my own project called Munkinpure, with which I am able to explore my songwriting side. It’s been a great run thus far and I’m very grateful.
OLD: Any other advice?
TRAVIS: Yeah man, just keep doing what you’re doing. Follow your heart and pursue your dreams, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed. Good luck ! Please check the following websites as well as the products I use, thank you.
Travis Marc proudly uses and represents the following products at all of his shows -
BASKEY HARDWARE and ACCESSORIES -
CYMPAD FOAM CYMBAL FELTS -
KICKPORT INTERNATIONAL -
JOBEKY ELECTRO ACOUSTIC DRUMS -
WHARFEDALE PRO MICS and ACCESSORIES -
ZILDJIAN CYMBALS -
VATER DRUMSTICKS -