Being in a band can be one of the hardest things you do as a musician…which is why some musicians decide to become “hired guns” also known as “sidemen.” One of those cats is Zoro, who has drummed for some of the biggest R&B acts on the planet, including Lenny Kravitz, Bobby Brown, New Edition, and Philip Bailey. In this series, Zoro talks about why he became a sideman, and the art of playing with great artists…

Like most musicians who started out during my era, I spent a lot of time in cover bands playing the top hit songs of the day. I also spent plenty of time playing “casuals.” a West Coast term for weddings, parties and corporate gigs.


Like most other musicians who dreamed of making it big, I put forth significant effort into playing in original bands—nobody has ever made it big playing cover tunes or doing casuals. I assumed that being a member of some kind of original band would be my ticket to fame and fortune. All the musicians in those bands had high hopes for success; we spent hours talking about what it would be like when we made it big.


Unfortunately, I learned early on that I had very little control over the destinies of the other people in a band, and that I was only one voice in the decision-making process. Being in a band can be very frustrating. You invest all your time, energy and money in the group and then all of a sudden someone less ambitious decides to up and quit and you find yourself having to start all over again with another musician. It happens so frequently that you soon find yourself standing on shaky ground and your dream of making it big goes up in flames.


There are a zillion and one reasons why bands break up before they ever get off the ground, most of which are completely out of your hands. Things like band morale, camaraderie and chemistry, record label support and politics, radio airplay, tour support, management, public appeal, marketing savvy, originality, talent, and a plethora of other critical concerns determine if you “make it.” After years of hard work, many groups break up just when they finally start to experience a little taste of success—all because of greed, ego and jealousy. Being in a band can be like one big soap opera. Before you know it, years of your life have gone right out the window.


Eventually, the drama of being in a band became way too much for me, and I realized I was wasting my time with groups that clearly didn’t have what it took to make it. I learned that the only thing I could control was how hard I was willing to work for my own success, and I decided to put my efforts into becoming a freelance musician. I knew that changing my direction required a focused and deliberate course of action, and I was willing to take the next step.


With so many critical success factors to content with, making it in a band seemed to be the equivalent of hitting the Lotto. Not that making it as an independent musician was any easier, but at least there were far fewer variables completely out of my hands. If i didn’t make it, there could be no finger pointing on my part—I would only have myself to blame and i could live with that. Besides, I figured I could always be in a band again if the right situation presented itself.


Part two, coming soon: Zoro on the pros and cons of being a sideman…

In the meantime, check out more about Zoro on his website.

Originally posted 2012-09-18 03:33:45.