If you’re at the stage in your musical career when you’re seriously considering giving up the day job, you’re probably wondering if it’s financially viable. Professional musicians can make a good wedge of money each month, and the more famous and popular they are, the more they can make.
So what about drummers? How much can a professional drummer make? Well, I’ve been playing drums almost my whole life, and I had a good stint on the cruise circuit and made a good living doing something I loved!
In this article, I’ll talk about average salaries, and how much you can expect to make at different levels of skill, fame, and popularity.
Table of Contents
- Average Professional Drummer Salary
- The Life of a Working Drummer
- Pro Drummer Career Paths and Salaries
- Session Drummer – $40,000 – $70,000 per year
- House Drummer – $24,000 – $120,000 per year
- Touring Drummer – $0 – $250,000 per show
- Drum Teacher – $28,000 – $60,000 per year
- Final Thoughts
Average Professional Drummer Salary
How much a drummer makes depends largely on the type of drumming they do, and most importantly, who they do it for.
According to online data analysts, the average yearly salary for a drummer (any kind of drummer) is between $29,000 and $58,500, with the median yearly income sitting at around $33,000.
Of course, if you’re at the top of your game on tour with a global artist you can be earning a lot more than that. Likewise, if you’re doing bi-monthly gigs with an underground punk band in a small town, you could be earning a lot (like, a lot) less than that.
Realistically, many of us budding drummers will start way below that $29k ‘starting’ salary, and unfortunately, most of us will stay there. But, if you do get the chance to step up and earn in any other drumming career, here’s what you can expect to make.
Not all drumming gigs are created equal, though, and there are many different routes you can take if you want to make drumming your livelihood.
The Life of a Working Drummer
Before we get into the numbers, It’s worth mentioning that the working habits of a professional drummer are not going to be like any regular day job.
The nature of the job itself dictates that your working hours will not be consistent, as practice sessions, recording sessions, live shows, and tours (of all kinds) don’t exactly fit into a 9 – 5 Monday to Friday schedule.
This is especially true if you’re just starting out, and you’re trying to make a name for yourself in the world of session drumming, or touring with an unsigned band.
The biggest takeaway from this facet of the job should be that your income will vary from gig to gig, week to week, month to month, and year to year.
Pro Drummer Career Paths and Salaries
Now let’s take a look at how you can use drumming to pay the bills, because there are many different ways to go about it, and some may be more appealing than others.
Not all gigs are created equal, and it’s important to consider what is most important to you when you consider your life as a working drummer. Is it the money, the schedule, or purely the love of drumming?
Consider the options below and remember, this is a competitive industry, and the better you drum, the more you’ll get paid!
Session Drummer – $40,000 – $70,000 per year
A session musician is a kind of freelancer who works at a studio, playing with any band, group, or ensemble that needs their services. Sometimes, the studio will hire you as a session drummer, but more commonly, band management will hire you directly to play with certain groups.
For a lot of drummers, this kind of work is ideal, and it pays well too. But it is highly competitive, and you need to be proficient, versatile, and highly skilled, as you’ll have to be able to play in different genres and styles to suit whichever group you’re working with. And I mean, you may have literally 10 – 15 minutes to skim the sheet music and warm up before they hit that record button!
This also means that it’s unlikely you’ll be getting paid to play the kind of music you love. If you’re a fan of hard rock or metal, you may have to be satisfied with playing jazz in the morning, pop in the afternoon, and country the following day!
But, if you make a name for yourself, you’re more likely to get picked up by managers of bands you know, like, or even love, and work with them in the studio. And the bigger the name, the bigger the paycheck. A session drummer can easily earn a 6-figure salary if they’re recording a massive album for a massive band!
It’s also worth mentioning that the salary for a session drummer will be higher where there’s more demand. If you live in a small farming town with one studio that records two albums a year, you’re probably out of luck.
If you live in Nashville, LA, or New York, you can command much higher rates (and probably work with bigger names!).
House Drummer – $24,000 – $120,000 per year
A session drummer is one thing – getting paid to play whatever is needed, whenever it’s needed, for whoever needs it. That’s a high-demand job, even for the best drummers.
A house drummer, while similar in that you would be playing for someone else, and it’s unlikely you’ll have a say in the writing or recording process, differs yet again from how you might imagine a professional drummer’s job. For one thing, it’s probably the only drumming career where you can expect a set schedule (and a set salary).
And you’ve probably noticed, that salary can get very high!
Cruise Ship Drummer – $24,000 – $60,000 per year
Now there’s the cruise ship drummer. This is what I did – only a couple of cruises, around three months each time – but I loved it. It can get tiresome, playing the same stuff night after night, but, if you’re lucky, you’ll have great bandmates and crew around you to make your working life feel less like work.
The money can be pretty good if you get in with a high-end exclusive cruise company, and obviously, the longer the tour, the more you’ll get paid. It’s also great because for those months you’re out on the cruise, your expenses are much less.
Your room and board is paid for, as you live on the ship. Most of the time, meals will be included too – you’ll only have to shell out for alcohol and any extras.
Musical Theater Drummer – $24,000 – $120,000 per year
When a big stage show comes to town, the producers will be looking for reliable, competent musicians to make up the house band. If you can get in as the drummer, you could be looking at a very nice pay packet by the time the show is done!
Of course, this all depends on where you live (New York, Los Angeles, and London have much bigger theater scenes), and how big of a production the show is.
If you do get in with a production company, however, and you prove yourself as a talented and reliable drummer, you’ll likely get called back year after year. That’s when you can start making some serious money!
Also bear in mind that when a stage show is a success, it will run for months at a time, possibly even years. That means most nights, you’ll be working. Say goodbye to your social life!
I tried out for theater gigs a couple of times, but never made the cut. The demand for skill is less on a cruise ship than it is in ‘the biz,’ so make sure you’re ready to compete and get your thick skin prepared if you don’t make it. Show Business is cutthroat!
TV Show Drummer – $36,000 – $200,000 per year
TV show drumming work is similar to musical theater but with a much wider pay bracket. Again, to make the cut, you’ll need to be on your A-game all the time. Not only are you going to be heard by millions of TV viewers every night, but seen by them as well.
This adds a ‘fame’ aspect that can divide some musicians – do you want to be recognized as the drummer from the late-night show?
If that’s something you’re comfortable with, and you’re good enough to make the cut, then you could be looking at a very nice payday indeed! The figures above are general averages – if you happen to get a spot behind the skins on a big-name show like Jimmy Fallon, your band could be looking at a combined income of over $1 million per year!
As late-night shows are actually recorded during the day, it means that you’ll work a pretty regular schedule too, which means minor disruption to your daily life, job security, and a fair amount of fun! If you’ve ever paid close attention to the house bands on TV shows, they don’t make it look like work!
Touring Drummer – $0 – $250,000 per show
Now, if that pay scale seems a little broad to you, then let me explain. Technically, anyone who goes on tour with a band is a touring drummer. If you’re with a small unsigned band, you might start off doing shows for free, until you get your rep up.
At the other end of the scale, if you’re on a massive world tour with a huge artist, you could be making a (very healthy) year’s salary every time you get on stage. The space in between those two numbers is occupied by most touring drummers out there.
Everybody Starts Somewhere – $0 – $500 per show
Before we get into the big numbers, I’d like to offer you a small reality check. If you’re just starting out, and have no connections or larger gigs/tours planned, then it’s unlikely you’ll be making anything close to the numbers mentioned in this section.
For standard bar gigs, wedding shows, or cover band shows, you’re looking at around $50 – $500 per gig, and that’s entirely up to the promoter, and how much you can haggle out of them.
This isn’t meant to be demoralizing, and I don’t want to dissuade you from following your dreams. Just remember that if you’re starting from the bottom, and playing in a band is the only way you want to make money off drumming, then it’ll take a while (and usually some luck and/or networking) for the money to improve!
Professional Drummer – $15,000 – $250,000 per show
The salary range for even the best drummers in the world is still a very broad spectrum, and how much you get paid is dictated almost directly by how popular the group you’re playing with is at the time the tour is promoted and tickets are sold.
This makes it pretty difficult to give an accurate number for how much you’re likely to get paid, but it’s safe to say that if you end up with a famous group, it’s a lot. You can easily make six figures a year if you’re playing with the right band!
Drum Teacher – $28,000 – $60,000 per year
Finally we have the most common route for drummers who want to use their musical skills to make money – teaching!
Again, this profession has a very flexible salary, which is one of its major plus points in my opinion. In fact, I like the flexibility of teaching so much that I still do it now!
If you go freelance, you can set your own rates and hours, so it’s really up to you how much you earn. Of course, you have to handle promotion and marketing (if you want to really get your name out there), but that can be outsourced and either way, it will bring in more money at the end of the day.
There are many different ways to earn money teaching drums. A lot of music stores will hire teachers to provide lessons, but these often pay at the low end of the scale, around $15 – $60 per hour.
Alternatively, you can set up on your own, like I did, and work out of your own studio, or hire a space to work from. I was lucky, and my friend has a spare room at his recording studio, so I was able to work out of there. Plus, it was already soundproofed! Working this way, you can increase your rates a little and can expect to earn between $40 and $100 per hour.
Or, if you’d like more stability, the best way to earn consistent money from teaching drums is to get in with a music school or conservatoire. As these can be rather prestigious institutions, depending on the hours you work you can expect to pull in between $1,000 and $5,000 a month.
There are many different ways to make money from drumming, and some of them are often overlooked because they’re deemed to be ‘selling out’ or ‘not real drumming.’
I certainly heard a few comments aimed my way when I decided to go out drumming on the cruise ship. But at the end of the day, it’s really up to you how you choose to pursue your dream. It’s your dream after all!
The thing that matters the most is that you’re happy with what you’re doing. Don’t feel pressured to stick it out with an unsigned band, making no money and with no hope of recognition anywhere in the future just because it’s ‘pure’ and ‘real music.’
But likewise, don’t feel you have to forgo your passions and sell out to be a session drummer because gigging isn’t bringing in as much money as you thought.
Weigh up what’s important to you, do some research on viable career paths, and stay on beat! Good luck!