MY FIRST SOLO CLINIC
You've been playing for years, you've practiced thousands of hours, you've learned to play many different styles, you've played with a zillion different bands over the years, traveled thousands of miles on the road and teach as many students as you can when you're not gigging.
Now you're looking for something "next level" to further your skill set.
This is/was me. I was looking for another avenue to share my knowledge as I felt I had amassed a good enough reputation with enough experience in bands, studios, live, and teaching, to do something bigger, where I could bring together a bunch of area drummers in one room and..host a "solo" clinic.
HOW IT STARTED
I'm part of a group of 35-40 drummers in the Northern Colorado area who came together in 2016 (spearheaded and founded by local drummer, Tim Elliot) and call ourselves, "Drumming Up Hope". We raise money for charity by solo drumming accomplishments (sometimes days or weekends long) as well as through events with our respective bands, and recently, through clinic scenarios.
A local music store (Music Go Round) in Ft. Collins recently expanded their store size in order to accommodate a larger drum and percussion area. When the Grand Re-Opening day was decided, Tim worked with the store's owner (Brandon Barrios) to plan a day of clinics put on by accomplished local drummers. Each of us got an hour to do whatever we wanted. From playing with bass players, playing and mastering the different kinds of shuffles, power rock solo drumming, playing with click tracks..These are just a few of the topics covered, discussed and on display that day.
The event was such a success for the store that Brandon decided he HAD to do it every month.
After my slot, I was asked if I'd be interested in leading off the first of many solo clinics to be held. Of course I said, "Yes", as in my head, I'd been planning what a clinic of mine would look like for many years.
Little did I know what I was getting myself into. Turns out, putting on a clinic is a lot more work than I'd previously imagined and actually drumming was only a small part of it. In this article I'll try to dissect and describe the steps I took to put on a successful clinic.
Ok, the date was set, I had a month to prepare, and I was given a window of 3 hours for my clinic; a REALLY long time to be up on a stage by yourself playing, soloing, playing to tracks (impressive enough for a crowd of discriminating peers), and being interesting enough to entertain a crowd for that amount of time.
The first thing I had to do was put together a game plan, an outline of how much playing and demonstrating I wanted to do, and what talking points I wanted to cover, so I grabbed my iPad and started putting ideas down (in an order that made sense to me after attending many pro clinics over the years). It looked something like this:
Introduction with Thank You to Store, Staff, Sponsors, and Attendees (2 mins)
Open Solo (5-7 mins)
Practice Pad Warm-Ups and Excercises (10 mins)
What You Get Paid For!-A Demonstration of Styles (20 mins)
Playing with a Click/Sequences (5-10 mins)
Performance: Looking Glass by Allan Holdsworth (10 mins w/discussion)
Single Bass Pedal Development (5 mins)
Double Bass Development (5 mins)
Hand/Foot Combinations (10 minutes)
Odd Times Examples in 7/4 and 5/4 (10 mins)
Building Solos w/a Vamp and Open Solos (15 mins)
Performance: Stratus by Billy Cobham (7 mins)
Professionalism (20-30 mins)
FINALE: Letters of Marque by Allan Holdsworth (10 mins)
All together (without factoring in questions from the crowd), I was well over the 2 hour mark. However, over the course of the month I kept my iPad close by in case I thought of another idea/topic I wanted to discuss. I knew that I couldn't cover everything due to time constraints AND for fear of overloading my audience with TOO MUCH INFORMATION, but on the other hand, I figured I could never have too many ideas and/or enough to talk about and demonstrate.
This is a very important consideration and step. How do you get the word out? How do you let people and players in your area know this is happening? I started with having lunch with Brandon to discuss the best plan to let our area players know the when and where of the big event. Thankfully, Brandon already had it in mind to print 100 posters and flyers to distribute starting 2 weeks prior to the event. After our lunch I went home and emailed some performance pics of myself along with a short bio. Ok, that part was done.
Next, I created a "Page" for myself on Facebook. Not a personal page, a Don Stahl Drummer page. Anything that had to do with me, my gigs, product interests, links to drummers and performances that inspire(d) me..it was there. I invited all of my friends in FB land to "like" it and then in my first post alluded to a big event I was working on, to create some curiosity and "buzz".
After the posters were finalized and posted by Music Go Round on their website and FB, I got serious about Instagram and Twitter. I've had a Twitter account for a long time but never spent serious time utilizing it. Same with Instagram. I can say now that after putting the time in on both that I feel like those two apps are an invaluable way to promote you, your brand, talent, and your upcoming events. Between Facebook, Twitter, and Instragram I was constantly promoting the upcoming clinic. I did have a moment or two where I thought I may be over saturating my market, but my next thought was, "If I don't do it, who will?" Seriously. The beauty of all this free technology is that we don't have to wait anymore to be discovered. We can literally create a buzz about ourselves with all of these different digital tools, apps and what I call " Social Digital Billboards". With a little time spent with these three sites/apps, you'll find out it's truly an exciting time to be a drummer having endless ways to self promote your event and "Brand".
Ok, you're promoting the hell out of yourself and your clinic, you've got your list of topics and a general outline. Now what? For me, I decided that I needed to put together a handout. If you've been to drum clinics in the past, you'll usually find a handout with exercises and/or topics that will be demonstrated by the drummer/clinic host. I decided to put together an "Essential Listening Guide" of some of my favorite recordings, featuring drummers that have inspired me. My hope was that attendees of the clinic would hear me play, be impressed by my drumming vocabulary, have in their hands a list of recordings and artists that inspire me, search these recordings out and have experiences of their own, thus furthering their own vocabulary by listening to music and drumming that was over their heads and/or outside of their comfort zone. I started off the list with ANYTHING featuring Vinnie Colaiuta, moved on to Chick Corea's catalog, ALL of Allan Holdsworth's catalog, Vital Tech Tones two recordings with Steve Smith, Jojo Mayer with NERVE, among others. At the end of my rather extensive list, I listed many bands and other drummers that I listen to, artists from the Dead Kennedy's, to Bonnie Raitt. Billy Ward, the Indigo Girls, Alvino Bennett, Joe Jackson..and the list goes on. I also attached a page with the Drumming Up Hope logo in hopes that people would search out the organization and become involved and/or interested.
Ok, I assumed people would have a good time, learn a bunch, and carry home the memory of having attended a great clinic along with the previously mentioned handout. What else could they take home with them?
I decided to put together a CD featuring two songs from my previous group The Symbols (www.thesymbols.net), one from a live record I recorded with blues great, Damon Fowler, one composed and performed entirely by me (utilizing my own recording studio along with Apple Logic loops and samples), and two by my great old friend, Rils Bontempi, a great keyboard player and someone I've been collaborating with for 20 years.
It's important to point out that all of the songs on the CD were composed and written in five very different styles. I didn't want to distribute a CD of music that was based in any one style as one of the main talents I've cultivated over the years (as well as a topic that I had penciled in to cover 20 mins of my clinic) was going to focus heavily on being "well rounded" and being able to cover any style, depending on the gig.
Side note-Whether or not you want to sell your CD is up to you. I personally decided to sell mine for $5 apiece as a way to recoup the money I spent on blank cd's, labels and labeler, sleeves and copies of printouts. It also had to do with time I spent burning those Cd's, printing those labels, and putting them together. Altogether I printed 50 cd's and labels and it took about 3-4 hours to do it.
Along with the CD, I also made sure to have 50 to 100 of my own business cards on hand as well as a printout of upcoming shows with my band. I figured if people liked me and my performance, maybe they'd turn up at a future gig, increasing our audience and "buzz".
I also talked to Tim Elliot from Drumming Up Hope and we agreed that he'd bring T-shirts and stickers to distribute and sell (as well as talk at the end of the clinic about Drumming Up Hope).
(All of the previously mentioned topics and actions taken were enough to fill up the few weeks I had, and admittedly, between my day job (yes, I have one), giving lessons, my gig schedule, and all of the things I did to prepare, the only thing I DIDN'T spend a lot of time on was PLAYING DRUMS..SOLO. I hoped that I'd be able to express myself naturally and that the flow would happen as it so often does, without thought.)
I had a gig scheduled on Friday night with the Clinic being held on Saturday, so I made arrangements to bring one of my kits into the store on Thursday so that I wouldn't have to mess with my "vehicle" at all. I didn't want to have to set up anything other than cymbals on the BIG day. I wanted to be able to relax as much as possible, mingle with early crowd members, warm up on a pad, eat something, recheck my notes, and have as much time as possible to focus on my task at hand.
During that Friday night gig, I made sure I DID NOT drink and that I also packed up as quickly as possible so that I could get a good nights sleep. I wanted to be as fresh and as ready as I could without the hindrance of a hangover and/or lack of sleep. The clinic wasn't to start until 12, and I fully planned on being at the shop at 10 a.m. to get started with last minute details.
THE BIG DAY
I spent the first hour of Saturday at the shop putting handouts on the chairs, tweaking cymbal stands, pedals, playing a bit and getting used to the sound of the room. From 11-12 I pretty much stayed in the back room, playing on a practice pad and talking to the Colorado Zildjian Rep, Mark Allison.
Side note-Brandon had reached out to Mark asking him to partake in the clinic experience by introducing me, handing out Zildjian "swag", and raffling off a Zildjian 16" crash cymbal at the end. I was absolutely stunned and honored to have Mark there representing Zildjian.
Now, I'm gonna' tell you something-There is NOTHING like the feeling you get when your local Zildjian Rep goes in front of the crowd and starts talking about YOU, your TALENT and your ACCOMPLISHMENTS. It's a crazy, nervous, anxious, and fearful feeling mixed with pride and readiness for what you're about to do in front of a crowd of your peers. Maybe that feeling goes away as you get more clinics under your belt. I don't know. But, it's definitely an interesting mix of emotions and feelings.
After my introduction, I made my way up to my drums on the stage and for the most part, stuck to the outline I had prepared. Welcome, Open Solo, Pad Warm Ups, etc. We had a large crowd of about 40 people and due to questions (always a good thing, and WELCOME!), went over in "guess-timated" time frames, and by the time I looked at my watch for the first time, well over an hour had flown by.
I made the executive decision at that time to bounce past a couple of topics that I knew I'd have no way to cover with the time I had left, so I moved along, soloed some more, played another track, spent a good amount of time covering Professionalism and all the facets of being a working musician/drummer, performed the FINALE, and by the time the giveaways were done, I'm happy to say we had successfully clocked in at 2 hours and 45 minutes!
Afterward, lots of people hung around to chat with Brandon, Mark and myself, introducing themselves and saying how much they enjoyed the clinic. Cd's and Drumming Up Hope T-shirts were sold and people were seen leaving with smiles on their faces.
That (to me) was a sure sign that together, after the weeks of emails, texts, lunches and visits in store, we had done our job.
WHAT I LEARNED
Putting a clinic together isn't just putting your drums on a stage and playing. Your drumming talent is a big part of it, sure, but it's really about being able to look back at your years of experience, evaluating your playing skill and your practice routines, breaking those down and putting those into a presentation format that makes sense and flows. It's being confident enough to get up and speak into a microphone in front of a crowd. It's having the talent to back up those words and concepts. It's being serious in your delivery both musically and verbally, but also having the ability to be humorous and fun. It's your chance to rise to the occasion, to be the best that you can be in that moment, to give insight to where you came from, how you got here, and where you're going next. It's your stage, and you've got 2-3 hours to help inspire and guide drummers and musicians of all ages. It's daring to put yourself out there, without a net, with all eyes on you.
So, if you feel like you've got something to say with the reputation and talent to back it up, put together your own clinic event with a road map that makes sense to you, with topics and ideas you'd like to share with your local drumming community, through and in conjunction with your local music store. I guarantee you'll learn a lot about yourself and your playing, which, in turn, will work it's way into every facet of your life and gigs to come.
Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. You too, can do it.