This month we introduce a new member of the team. Tom ‘Woody’ Wood is a drum tech who is going to write a monthly column about his life on the road. Rather than say anything more, I’ll let him tell you instead.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Woody…
‘Let’s take it from the top…’
Hey, my name is Woody and I’m a freelance drum tech from London currently on a world tour with The 1975. My previous clients include the likes of Craig David, Liam Payne, a-ha, The Amazons and ISLAND.
First of all let me start off by saying a big thanks to Mike for letting me be a part of this monthly feature. I’ve known Mike for a few years now and have followed his website for some time before that so I’m really happy to be involved!
So, for this first feature I thought I’d take it right from the top and explain how I got into touring and became a freelance drum technician. I first got into the world of drums when I was around 14. I remember I had a music lesson on drums at school where we would simply tap our foot for the bass drum and hit the back of two chairs with pencils for the snare and hi hats. I just seemed to get it, I was told at an early age I had some sort of rhythm so I decided I wanted to take lessons at school. Plus what’s better than hitting loud things with sticks?!!
After a few shared lessons and some time playing Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Pepper covers with friends during lunch break, one of my first bands was formed. I was in and out of a few different bands, including the school soul band at one point, but that’s what you do when you’re progressing as a player and working out your own musical style and identity. Around the age of 17/18 whist studying at Drumtech, Tech Music Schools – which some of you might now know as BIMM my first ‘proper band’ was formed.
In the 6 or 7 years that band was active we went on to achieve some really cool things such as signing a record deal, national radio play, major UK and European festival appearances and tour the UK a few times over with some great bands. During that time of trying to “make it” I juggled multiple jobs in retail and bar work just to be able to afford rehearsal time, food or petrol to a show. I remember on one occasion having to ask for time off from a bar shift to go and play Reading & Leeds festival – luckily they were very understanding! All I ever wanted to do was be a drummer in a rock band and make a living for myself from my instrument. Unfortunately sometimes things don’t always work out the way you want it to, we were broken and exhausted plus with the constant highs and lows of the record industry and dealing with the people within it, it was time to call it a day.
As I said before, I knew from an early age I always wanted to have a career in music so when it came time to put down the sticks and get a full time job and make some money for a change it had to incorporate music or my instrument in one way or another there was just no other option. I took a full-time job at well known London drum store, hire company and rehearsal studios Bell Music in Acton.
Looking back now Bell was pivotal in building my career as a drum tech. Whilst working there I learnt a lot about drum product and tuning. But it also gave me great contacts (one of the most important things that I will take from my time there), as well as meeting people who I now call my friends. I cannot stress enough how important product knowledge is when it comes to my job, knowing what type of heads will work for that particular kit or what cymbals will work best in that particular studio, on that particular song etc. If the drummer you’re looking after is looking for something specific, you need to be able to know exactly what it is they need and how to source it. I go by the saying “You need to be thinking of the answer before they have even said anything”. So my advice would be to go and get a part-time job in your local store, or find a job in the industry one way or another and just learn.
I would say my first big break was the Craig David gig, I owe a lot to those guys for getting me in especially when i was so inexperienced – but they didn’t know that! (Shhh..!). That came about like I said previously, one day when I was working at Bell Music and they were rehearsing there, I was being my usual self trying to network, very chatty, helpful (and slightly nosey..) once I’d said hello a few times I thought I’d just give it a go and ask the production manager, what’s the worse that could happen? “Hey, do you ever need a drum tech? Would you mind taking down my number or email just in case anything ever comes up?”. They had someone at the time but in this industry a lot can change in a short period. Most tech’s are freelance and will follow where the work is or have commitments to certain artists which means opportunities are always there for the taking. A few months after the first meet I got an email out of the blue from one of the production managers on CD checking my availability for 6 or so dates over the course of the next month. In usual fashion I had to juggle the full-time job which was paying the bills with the dream job, the one i always wanted. I threw myself in and went above and beyond to make it work and I’m so glad I did, without that opportunity I would not be where I am today. From the get go I gave it my all, so much so they kept me on for over a year until I could no longer make it work due to other gig commitments.
Now when it comes to my career as a drum tech I officially quit my full-time job with Bell Music and went freelance In January 2018. Some people will say that I got to where I am now fairly quickly which I guess you could argue is partly true, but like any success most people don’t see the hard work behind the scenes. Before my first gigs with Craig David I spent a year or two networking online, face to face with customers at Bell or getting in touch with old mates my band used to play with. Out of the 100 people I would contact maybe I’d be lucky and hear something promising back from one person, and if it would lead to any work I would go out and work for free or next to nothing! Experience is key like in any job so once I had done a couple of small gigs I could call myself a drum tech, right?! And I did!
I had some gigs under my belt with Craig and there was a sign of more coming up as well as possible work with other artists so I decided I wanted to make a proper go of this. I left my job because I felt trapped and unfulfilled, I had just had enough of doing the 9-5, the same routine day in day out. When I handed in my notice I didn’t have one single bit of work booked in the calendar and just about enough savings to get me through to the next month – I took a massive risk which luckily paid off. I just had a feeling something would come in and everything would be fine.
After the shows and with the experience I gained on the Craig David gig I started to reach out to more production or tour managers, even anyone who was out touring at that time – it could’ve been the bus driver for all I cared – “Hey, I’m the drum tech with Craig David, just looking for some work” etc. When you get a name like that on your CV it puts you in to a different category. I remember my mate from college and brilliant drum tech (with the likes of George Ezra and Harry Styles) called Kodi Bramble saying “This is it now dude, you got your break!” and it really felt like it and something had just clicked. I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity I had been waiting for.
More gigs came through off the back of that. I’m of the mentality that work breeds work and the busier you are the more you’ll have to start turning down. One-off UK theatre shows and festivals with Craig David led to international shows and visas with Liam Payne and Liam Payne led to a month long bus tour and flights around Europe with a-ha. Most importantly whilst on tour with a-ha it made me realise how much I loved touring as a drum tech. We had a great production manager, the best tour buses and great hotel rooms, and I was getting paid which was a bonus!
My first year freelance seemed like somewhat of a success. I had had a fairly busy year including a short European run with Island, festivals with The Amazons, shows in the States and Indonesia with Liam Payne, and a European tour with some 80’s pop stars! Around September 2018 I thought that was me done for the year as everything suddenly got quiet as it does after festival season so I started to reach out again to contacts I knew or didn’t. After putting the word out, little did I know that from a friend I made on the a-ha tour I would then be asked for my availability for the next two years for The 1975. We’re now six months into a full album campaign with another album to follow shortly, but I’ll touch more on that next time.
All I ever wanted to do was tour the world and get paid doing it. That was all I wanted… well, that and go on a tour bus. Obviously I wanted to do that with my own band but sometimes you have to adapt and when one door closes another one opens. I saw an opportunity to do what I love doing – see the world and finally be my own boss.
See you on the road,