I’m often asked how to improve drum circle hosting and facilitating skills with little or no money.
I started with pretty much whatever I could get to come my way. I made up a press pack with some photos, resume, and a generic “what a drum circle is like, the benefits of one, etc.” flier, and I approached the senior centers, special needs facilities, city groups, schools, small businesses, arts centers, cafés pubs, comedy clubs, even at small events. Pretty much anything I could think of. I carried copies of them around in my car, so when I saw something with potential, I would stop and talk with them, leave my press pack, and follow up in a week.
Many of them didn't pay very much, if at all, but they led to other gigs when people could see how worthwhile the activity it was, and what a profound impact it had on the participants. Once people see a drum circle in action, they want to hire you.
Working with children can be brutally honest. They don't pull any punches and can see right through your confidence if it isn’t there. I would say working with kids is probably the best experience, because they have shorter attention spans. They will tell you right away what they think, so you know if something works or not very quickly. Looking ahead, my goal was to be the most well rounded working with all ages and skill levels so I could be prepared for anything at the drop of a hat. That's the goal of most musicians, is to be able to play any song in any genre after hearing a few measures. The ability to work and make adjustments on the fly was what kept people wanting more.
Many are adamantly against the idea of mixing alcohol and drum circles, but the opportunity presented itself at wedding receptions, and steady weekly gigs at night clubs, so I tried it. Obviously it was challenging because you have people drinking, and things can get out of control very easily. But the experience was invaluable. If you can host a drum circle and keep things running smoothly under those circumstances, I think you can work with just about any group, and in any situation. That’s a real training ground.
Looking back, I think working with church groups helped a lot also, because it is more casual and I could try more rhythm ideas out. After years of experimentation, I still say that allowing any group you work with to just make music is the most satisfying for them and for me. I just start them out with different rhythms, step back, participate, and let the group go. A drum circle is more about the people than the actual music. But the better it sounds, the more fun they have. After 5 or10 minutes depending on the groove, if it doesn’t end on it’s own, I will end it usually through the music, and move onto another rhythm. An hour goes by like it’s 10 minutes.
Observing and participating in local open drum circles was also a very good training ground. I could really see what worked and what didn't. Taking lessons or training is useful, especially if you are a new to this, but in my opinion you learn more just by doing. Just get out there and work for whoever you can regardless of the pay. You will have to make lots of on the spot choices and decisions. Some will be right, some will be wrong and flop. Learn to laugh at your mistakes, and everyone else will laugh with you. But your confidence will grow, you will learn from it, and add more things to your mixed bag of rhythms and ideas for future gigs. This is a constant learning process.
I think bringing your own life experiences into your style of hosting or facilitating drum circles is a key also. You are unique just like your fingerprints. I worked for years as a musician, and also as an actor. I couldn’t afford acting classes early on because it was too expensive. It was either that, or pay the rent. To build up my confidence I started trying out at open mic’s at comedy clubs. I would write up a different routine each week, and perform live usually in front of other comedians who were not in the mood to laugh. Sure I bombed at first…A Lot. Then I started getting better. For me, it was like free acting classes. My timing improved very quickly. I didn’t want to go on tour as a comic anyway, I had a family. But after performing in front of hostile audiences, going to an audition for a national commercial in front of a bunch of ad execs, directors, and clients, seemed like nothing compared to that. As a result, my confidence was there, I could improvise, and I worked a lot. It also helped my drum circle skills as well. I hope some of this helps you.