Auditions. Always use your own gear. Always.

I’ve worked in a lot of bands through the years. At least half of them I’ve joined without an audition. The others are what this story is all about, and what the circumstances were.

I have always owned my own equipment, aside from my first year as a serious, performing musician. I was a kid and dollars were tight. I had to buy my kit from the vocalist who had decided to give up playing drums to sing in the band I joined. My first ‘band.’ I had played music in church previous to that.

He called me and asked me to play for him. My first ever gig without an audition first. His family was the organizer of the church I was attending and he had seen me play drums in the church many times. So he called me. He asked me if I wanted to buy the kit. I agreed. I paid him over a period of time. I ended up playing them for years.

1972 Ludwig Vistalite Blue

Ludwig Vistalite Blue introduced in 1972.

Since then, of course, I have been involved in many, many successful and long-lasting projects. I have entered auditions thinking, “I’ve got this in the bag,” only to show up and find a kit I had to audition on that I would never throw away because I would never own it in the first place. Equipment that had been neglected for years, but for some reason the guys who owned it thought it was worth keeping.

Of course as you age, you get better at what you do, so you actually look for upper scale musicians to work with. Funny thing is, although you may find them, for some reason some still have a dump kit to audition on. They sell themselves short. Honestly, if you are going to hang on to a kit for drummer to audition on, make sure it is at the level of presentation that you would want to see the drummer you hire bring to the gigs you will be accepting. Really, do yourself and other musicians a bit of justice. If you want the drummer to be at his best, and who doesn’t, (drummers are just cool and so are drums) provide something they can be their best on, if you are going to provide a kit at all.

Think about this guitarists, bassists, keyboardists. Let’s say you were looking for a gig (band to play with) and you had equipment that you had been using for years. Tuned exactly the way you need it to be, setup exactly right, etc. Before you even accept the audition, you know you would be asking questions. “I’d like to use my own equipment. Is that acceptable to you guys?” Now, if you are speaking to a guitarist who has never played a keyboard, you already can guess that he isn’t going to know anything about the keyboard they have in the studio. It may look good, but the power cord may have been tripped over a million times and has to be propped up or taped in to work. If you are a drummer and you want to know about a kit, you are hard pressed to find out if the pedals work, whether the cymbals are cracked, etc.

Here’s a story.

Once, a few years ago, I was asked to help a couple of guys play a gig out at the Lunchbox above Nickajack Lake in Tennessee. Nice little place, popular hangout. I got to the guitarists house, helped him load the kit he had into his van, got to the bar and there already was a kit to play. BTW, the wage was $50. I thought nothing about going over to the house kit and checking it out. I just figured it would work and sound good.

It got time to play. I sat down on the kit. It had a pneumatic throne. The throne was leaky. The air would escape from the cylinder and had to be adjusted after every song was played. The high-hat did exactly the same thing although it was mechanical. The clamp that held the extension just a foot below the pair of cymbals slipped constantly so the bottom cymbal moved further lower while the top cymbal remains in place. This was the worst kit in a public environment that I had ever seen. I did my best, but way below what I could have done, to perform adequately. It was a disaster. The gig went well, but the effort that went into appearing to be able to handle things well was way beyond the $50 pay-off. Just imagine adjusting your kit at least 20 times in one set, many times more than a few times in every tune.

So, the point is this, if you are going to offer the person you want to audition the spot in your band, at least offer them something you expect that they can do their best on. No tin cans, no buckets, no brooms strung with fishing line. To those seeking auditions, don’t accept anything other than playing on your own equipment. When making the phone call and setting up the audition, if you are asked to play the kit that is already setup in the studio, insist on going to the location to look at it before you play it. If that is not acceptable, don’t accept the offer for the audition.

In my life, I have played many auditions where I didn’t get the gig because I couldn’t adjust the throne to make the kit accessible. Many where the bass pedal was on its last audition. Kits that had heads on them and the screws that go into the lugs holding the heads had bottomed out in the lugs and the skins were still too loose. Cymbals that were cracked and had small holes drilled in the end of the crack to keep them from spreading.

If you are a guitarist and you wouldn’t audition on someone else’s crap, don’t expect those you audition to do so on your crap. If all you have is crap to audition on, you’re not ready to go pro. Deal with it. Change your way of thinking or walk away from this post pissed off.

2006 MAPEX Fusion 6 MBirch

2006 MAPEX Fusion 6 MBirch

If you call me, or I call you, and we set up an audition for me to come to your studio, this is what I’m bringing. Don’t ask me to leave anything behind or to play your kit if it doesn’t measure up to this. There will be no exception to this simple rule. If that isn’t practical to you, then the deal is off. I’ve been at this for a long time, and I expect to be treated like a musician, not a friend that will ‘accept you as you are.’ I didn’t acknowledge my ability and develop my percussion talent because I was lonely or had no friends. I did it because I couldn’t fight the need to be heard. If I make friends along the way, I’m a happier guy, but that won’t take the place of wanting to be the best musician I can be. Mix professionalism with friends, don’t mix friends with professionalism. You’ll always end up making harmful compromises to yourself and your friends if you tie the lower road.

Thanks for looking and never stop playing,
Kelly J.


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