Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Ideas For Starting Up a Drum Circle

Here's some ideas For Starting Up a Drum Circle

Around the country many night clubs, bars, venues, community centers, and coffee shops are struggling to find working formulas for weeknights. Having a drum circle night quickly builds up a community around it with a loyal following that grows very quickly as well. The cost to do this is minimal, I've been doing this successfully for years at various venues. What's really needed is a kit of hand drums, assorted percussion items, an organizer to help keep things running smoothly, and promote the drum circle. I look for a small base pay, tips, or a percentage of sales like 10%.

Because believe me, there is a lot of work involved. Also, it isn't the drummers, musicians, or dancers that do the majority of buying your products. They will help support the venue and buy one or two, but it's the onlookers who are attracted and who will be buying most of the drinks and/or food. And it takes a few months to really get a drum circle community built up and established. I go into this in much more detail in my blog posts, and Kindle book about drum circles.

I began and hosted this Dunedin Micro Brewery drum circle every Tuesday night for 3 years. My hope was that it would become firmly established and become a fixture and continue on long after I moved out of the area. That happened, It has had a variety of hosts and facilitators since I left, but it lasted over 10 years, and that makes me very happy knowing that I started something positive in our community.

That circle became so popular, that musicians and onlookers came from all around Tampa, St. Pete, and even as far as Orlando, and Sarasota just to check out the scene, and play. It seemed like every week, we had out of town musicians show up, usually while on vacation. Some of the other nearby local clubs got angry, and tried to get it shut down at a city counsel meeting. They made claims that it was all riff-raff in there. Unfortunately for them a few of the board members were regulars at the circle and told them the real truth. It is mostly decent professional working people from all walks of life different backgrounds, and paths with demanding careers that just want to make music with new friends, be part of a fun social scene, drum out some stress and have a good time. It was culturally diverse, and it brought the community together. Who can argue against that? The merchants and other facilitators came after me though.

My hope was that after it got established, that it would be so deeply entrenched that it would be there for years to come. And much to my delight it has had different hosts, but has been going on for over a decade since it began. I wanted it to be a lasting thing, so I turned over the reins to a guy that attended regularly named K. James. He filled in for me as the facilitator a

few times a year, so he was the best suited for the job. I gave him, and the bar manager my two weeks notice, and sadly said goodbye to the brewery. I'm happy it had the staying power.

Here's a little history on the brewery circle, & some general info on drum circles at casual drinking establishments.

While in Florida, I got the idea to start my own drum circle in 2005. I was looking for an indoor venue somewhere that was air conditioned. I liked drumming to the sunset at the beach, but the summers there are very hot, and the sand gets all up in your drums. I tried approaching a few night clubs and bars with the idea, but no success. Everyone I spoke with said it would never work, and many drummers said that trying to facilitate a drum circle at a place that serves alcohol is crazy. It is do-able.

I went to a local craft brewery now and then. I loved the vibe of the place. I noticed that Tuesday was their slowest night of the week. So having a drum circle seemed like a good alternative to the Tuesday chess and techno music night that was going on at the time. I stopped in one afternoon and pitched the idea to the bar manager.

He was reluctant at first, but after persisting with the idea for a few weeks, he agreed to try it out.

He held a grudge, because I came up with a working formula for their slowest night, Tuesdays. I heard he was sacked 6 months after I left. Otherwise, I would probably still be there.

A lot of other jobs came my way because it was a weekly gig, and many people attended. Events, weddings, even Earth Day Festivals.

The condition at the brewery was that I would receive no pay unless they turned a profit in two weeks. It was a risky venture because of the drinking, and possible damage to my drums, but it worked. Within a month, the word had spread around, the place was packed, it was hopping, busy and jamming. (Finally a paycheck)

My formula was similar to that of an open mic night. I invited local drummers, band members, drum makers, teachers, and instructors to come attend. In return for jamming with us, they could promote their items, shows, classes and workshops. I did the same with bellydancing studios. The key to it was making it fun, and accessible to everyone so they would want to come back. Variety was the thing. The rhythms needed to be challenging and interesting for the experienced musicians, but also not so complex that the beginners didn't feel lost.

I was delighted this turned into a scene that was so culturally diverse, attracting people from all different cultures and backgrounds.

An easy way to do that, is playing rhythms from different cultures. Up tempo Latin and African rhythms, as well as slower Native American, Bellydance, R & B Groove, and improvisation. That way, the variety keeps everyone wanting to come back next week. Some drum circles can fall into this pattern of playing the same default beat most of the time. That gets a little boring and frustrating for everybody.

The local drum circle took off right from the start. Like I mentioned, attracting musicians so they would come in and jam, and not charging a fee or cover at the door is what made it work. We just used the honor system to get people in. They wanted to support it and promote it, and it worked.

Most musicians, (including myself) don't like to pay a cover charge or a fee to get in. Especially with drum circles. But they will buy a beer, soda, or food once they are in there, and network to their friends.

It was a bit of a challenge to host an on going drum circle at a casual drinking establishment, but the vibe was always good, people had a blast, and the musicianship was even better.

Three hours would go by like it was just one. I noticed right away that almost all the locals would drink in moderation, so it never really became an issue. Most musicians don't want to get hammered and play. But sometimes, things do get damaged, and that needs to be factored in.

Another venue: Drum Circle at the Comedy Club

Unfortunately, the Coconuts Clearwater drum circle on Gulf To Bay closed. Another casualty of the economy it seems.

Many of us have fond memories playing there. We packed the place every week. We celebrated many holidays and special events, and even beautiful things like the birth of a child Gabriela Gaia by a couple in our group who fell in love at our drum circle and later got married. I think that's kind of romantic.

But sometimes sad things have to be addressed on drum circle night. A musician friend of ours suddenly passed away, so we held a drum circle wake for him at Coconuts to honor his memory. I made a tribute page for him. I hope it is still out there.

There is increasing recognition of the health benefits of music therapy, particularly facilitated hand drumming.

Unfortunately, places where the people who benefit from what I do the most, have very limited budgets.

I've never received any grants, or funding. I don't endorse drum companies, or their offshoots. In fact, they have been mad at me for years because I offer a low cost alternative to their expensive methods, and approach to facilitating drum circles.

Since I was deemed non essential two years ago, things have been tough for an independent musician like myself. if you are able to make a purchase of any amount to help me continue to provide therapeutic music to groups, it would help out a little. 

I'm not a book or video machine. I offer just one book, one video, and some live drum circle jam music. That's it. My 101 Drum Circle Rhythms video is on Amazon. Over 2 hours of them. The full download is $8.

You can read the first few chapters of my book, "A Practical Guide to Hand Drumming and Drum Circles" free at Amazon. To find my Kindle book, or my Downloadable 101 rhythms, just search on the title. 101 Drum Circle Rhythms (The DVD disc is a few bucks more.)

Thanks in advance if you can pitch in a little. My book, and rhythms video are solid if you are facilitating drum circles, or thinking about starting one up for your area, or group. Thanks for reading this far, Happy Drumming!