Drummers, like other musicians, can make it big financially. Others, many others, can simply go broke. Coming up with an average salary for a drummer is not practically possible only because there are so many ways to earn money by drumming. Within each career option for a drummer, there is much diversity in terms of compensation. It is possible, however, to come up with a rough estimate of how much different styles of drummer can, do or may make under different circumstances.
Studio drummers, such as Steve Gadd and Vinnie Colaiuta, are usually the most versatile. A session musician -- one who mostly works in the studio -- is not a member of a band but rather is a drummer hired by the band's management for recording music. According to the website “Musician Wages,” the average salary of such a drummer, under average circumstances, is around $50,000. Big names in high demand like Gadd make considerably more than this.
Many drummers, such as Gary Chaffee, Dom Famularo and the recently deceased drumming legend Joe Morello (of The Dave Brubeck Quartet), have had careers as teachers. Chaffee is currently a professor of music at the New England Conservatory and so is in the same pay bracket as the average full professor, usually in the low six figures. Big names like Dom Famularo, teaching privately out of Long Island, charge about $90 per hour. In his case, since he attracts students from around the globe, his average lesson is usually an all-day affair -- meaning, in general, that Famularo will make about $800 daily. Drummers who are less well known usually charge between $20 and 40 per hour.
A minority of drummers are employed by bands -- groups that both record and tour. In general, it is easy to find out how much a band makes per concert and then to divide that figure into how many musicians are in the band, subtracting a certain amount for the road crew and drivers. KISS, for example, makes about $500,000 per concert. There are four members of the band, meaning that the drummer would make approximately $125,000 per show, minus whatever the crew makes. If an average, well-known band might make between $50,000 and $100,000 per show, the drummer will average about $15,000. If the band does 100 concerts a year, that comes to well over $1,000,000. Since drummers are not the best known of the musicians in the band, it might be that the drummer will, in a four-piece band, get only a fifth of the proceeds or less. If the band is really based around a single person, like David Bowie or Bruce Springsteen, most of the income will go to that individual, with the backup band getting a fixed salary.
Drumming, like all other areas of music, is highly competitive. Most might make a living, but a fairly poor one. Drums and especially cymbals -- not to mention all the electronics like amplification -- run drummers roughly between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on the size and brand of the set. Mid-level bands, those who might have a local or underground following, find it hard to make a decent living since touring and recording expenses can wipe out the small amount of money such bands are paid. Minor bands are often paid roughly $300 to $500 per show, which leaves very little cash after expenses.