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Diversity is Longevity

Article by Jayson Brinkworth // December 02 2008
Diversity is Longevity

Here I am writing my twentieth article for The Black Page. It seems like only yesterday when Sean Mitchell asked if I might be interested. As I thought about this month’s article, it seemed fitting to write about diversity and how it can help us have a long and rewarding career in the music business.

Where I live (on the Canadian prairies) isn’t the most logical place to be to make a living playing music. I always get people asking what my “day job” is, as it is hard to imagine someone making a living playing drums here in agriculture country. Well, I don’t have a “day job” other than music, even though I do have an education in electronics. Years ago I would get quite defensive about this question, but now I find it kind of amusing and am very secure—and proud—to tell them that I do in fact make a living playing, teaching, recording and writing music.

I feel the reason I have been able to do this—and I am definitely not the only one on the prairies who has—is because of my open-minded approach and diversity. This industry is full of ups and downs, promises and lies, hopes and dreams and on and on, so if we have any aspirations of having a career in the music business, we need to have an open mind. One other important element of this is to be open to the different opportunities that come our way involving music.


Let me begin by saying that, first and foremost, in my career I am a player and an educator. I also want to state that I have realized the more information I know, the more valuable I can become to a situation.

Case in point: I was only 14 years old when I got a chance to work with a band at the place I took lessons. The instructor running the band, Ray Bell (who ironically is my partner in our music school now) had all of the pieces he needed for this band. He had two guitar players, a bass player and a keyboard player, but no singer. Well this wasn’t working as we were doing a lot of songs that required lead vocals. For some strange reason, one that will probably go unanswered forever, I volunteered to be the lead singer in the band! I have never sang in public let alone while playing drums. What was I thinking? Was I thinking? Like I always say, there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity, and I teeter back and forth all of the time.

Well, low and behold, I was able to do it. It didn’t happen without some practice, but perseverance pays off, right? By no means do I put myself in a class with “real” singers, but my pitch isn’t bad, I can hear melody and harmony and I am willing to accept and work on my short comings. I will never be Phil Collins, but I do get a lot of work because I am able to provide vocals where needed.

Example 2: In the 80’s, technology was becoming a huge part of music, so I had to embrace the drum machine era. I had read that this “machine” was taking work away from drummers, and a lot of them had turned their back on learning about the technology. I remember going out and buying an Alesis HR-16 drum machine and sitting for hours programming patterns and sounds. I had also purchased an Alesis D4, Drumkat, and pedals, so I had a whole rig to work with. Having this knowledge led to some sessions and a great gig with a fantastic band in town in the early 90’s. We had no acoustic instruments so volume wasn’t an issue. We also spent a lot of time programming sounds to fit the cover tunes we were playing. We worked every weekend of the year, never traveled more than 30 minutes away, and could setup in 20 minutes and be torn down in 10.

These are just two examples of being open minded, a little crazy, and also expanding my knowledge, but they all involve performing. There are so many opportunities in this industry that can allow us to work within our passion. Before I go into a list of these, I just want to state (and not sound too much like a parent), that having an education is so important. The music industry needs business people, marketing people, accountants, lawyers and many other job-related tasks. Many of the people working in artist relations at big drum companies have degrees in business and marketing, as well as being players themselves. Again, the more information we know, the more valuable we are.


The first logical spot to start is in retail. I have a few students who work at music stores and they love it. Retail is not for everyone, but if you have the right personality and knowledge of equipment and industry trends, this can be a rewarding experience. You always know about the newest products, you are around music all day at work, and the networking in a position like this can be huge—just ask Nickleback’s Daniel Adair.

The second spot is teaching. Now I am the first to defend the art of teaching, and to point out that there is a difference between being a player and being a teacher. When I am teaching, it is a whole different mind set and my focus is the student more than anything. Again, if you have the right attitude and personality, this can be very rewarding and beneficial for your own playing. Teaching requires us to examine the basics of technique, sound, body movement and breathing all of the time. It is also so rewarding when a student reaches their goals and feels a sense of accomplishment. I do keep my eyes open for students who would be good teachers and definitely mentor them in that direction.

Another option might be to do live sound or lighting. I am by no means a sound or lighting tech, but I have filled in for friends and can get by. In my own playing, I am always very curious as to how the different soundmen perceive the mix of the band. I am not afraid to ask why they do something a certain way, or about micing technique, monitoring or anything else that I might be able to use at some point. I have found it has really helped my live sound in getting the most out of my instrument.

Lighting is also a great artistic outlet and can be a lot of fun. Understanding placement, color schemes, fading and the fog machine are key. You will soon realize how well a great lighting technician knows the band and songs he is working with. The cues, shots and imaging can really set the tone for the performance.

You could also explore the possibilities of getting into production and engineering. A friend of mine Kevin Churko is a great example of this. He is a fantastic drummer and singer (well he is actually quite a multi-instrumentalist). Kevin had played for years around Canada, but really got into the program Protools in its early stages. Kevin still plays, but most of his time is consumed with producing, mixing and engineering world class projects. He has worked with Ozzy Osbourne (Black Rain), Shania Twain (last three albums), Britney Spears, and is currently working with Black Sabbath. Not bad for a guy from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. By the way, his brother Cory played with Shania Twain and is currently in Reba McIntire’s and Kelly Clarkson’s bands.

The production side can be very involved, and your knowledge needs to go way beyond just the drums. Drummers do make great producers; check out Steve Jordan, Harry Stinson or James Stroud to find out. Our knowledge of music software, hardware, song structure, frequencies, compression and songwriting are absolutely necessary. We also will need special people skills to get the best performance from an artist or musician every time.

The engineering side can be quite an experience as well. We need to know about different types of microphones and how they function, where instrument might sound best in a certain room, and music software and hardware to keep a session flowing smoothly. Great engineers are responsible for great sounding records. All of the best players love working with the best engineers.

The last option on my list is probably the least explored, but most important (I believe) for drummers: songwriting. It is pretty hard to write songs on an instrument with very limited melodic and harmonic nature. The first thing we will need to do is to learn a bit about piano or guitar, as well as some music theory. The next thing to do is to listen to all kinds of music and get inside the lyrics, melody, and structure of a song. You can start with one that I talked about in a past article, “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. This is as good as it gets. Try writing lyrics. We all have life experiences that we can draw from for this. Songwriting is definitely a craft and the great writers work at it daily, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t give it a shot.


What if you are reading this and are thinking, “I don’t want to do anything but drum“? Most drummers would love to attain this goal as we have spent countless hours working on our craft. Sean Mitchell is a great player, and has diversified his career by starting up this magazine, as well as other opportunities he continues to make for himself. Billy Ward does clinics, writes articles and does production and engineering work. Dave Weckl loves the aspect of recording and engineering his records. Gil Moore of Triumph owns Metal Works studio, which has been successful for years. These are just a few examples, but the more we expand our knowledge, the more opportunities we can create for ourselves. Don’t be afraid to expand. It is one thing to be a great player, but that has to be backed up with desire, passion, hard work and fearlessness at times. We also have to recognize when opportunity knocks and be willing to follow through. You never know where it might lead you in your music career.



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About the Author
Jayson  Brinkworth

Jayson Brinkworth is an accomplished drummer, percussionist, vocalist, educator and writer based out of Canada. He is co-owner of the Saskatchewan music school Music In The House, as well as the founder of both the Regina Drum Festival and The Stickman Drum Experience.

Jayson proudly endorses Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, Evans heads, Impact cases, Kickport, Flix, Future Sonics and Mountain Rhythm. Visit Jayson online at www.jaysonbrinkworth.com.

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