What is John Ferraro’s philosophy for becoming successful in the
music industry and what would he tell someone just starting out?
A: There’s a misconception among many young players that all
you have to do to be successful is get with a popular band and
you’ll be set for life. Only a very small number of musicians ever
get that big break or earn their living that way. For
the rest of us, it’s about paying the bills and building a career.
You have to build your reputation, and improve your playing each
step along the way.
Be flexible… Years ago, if someone had told me that one week I’d
be playing with Barry Manillow and the next week I’d be playing a
wedding I’d have said they were crazy. But, being a professional
means you have to adapt to many situations. And with
each situation you glean more and more experience. The working
drummer does casuals, sessions, tours, concerts, and maybe some
teaching. With each situation you must be able to
change your “musical vocabulary” to suit the kind of job at
hand. You also form your reputation and expand your networking
circle, which is just as important as booking the gig-- no matter
how big or small.
I approach each job with the same positive attitude. I
wouldn’t play a bar mitzvah the same way I’d play with Eddie Van
Halen at a rock and roll venue. I always try to fit in with the rest
of the people I’m playing with. Part of doing my job the
best is to make the other musicians sound their best and to make the
whole performance enjoyable for all who are listening.
Q: As a professional drummer, does John still need to
A: Freelancing often leaves you with a lot of free time.
When you are not busy you should have a practice routine. It
doesn’t have to be rigorous, and
it can be different each time, but the point is to practice EVERY
Even when I am on the road, I make sure to have some sticks and a
practice pad in my hotel room. Sometimes I work on rudiments,
or reading drum charts, or just run thought the songs I know I’ll
be playing. Practice time is a great time to just relax
and prepare, but most of all practicing forces you to improve.
In this business you have two choices: You can be satisfied
with where you are or you can improve your position. I’m
always shooting to improve my playing and I strive to stay sharp.
Q: How does John go from touring with a band to doing
studio work and back
A: Getting jobs come from knowing other musicians.
Word-of-mouth recommendations are what get me from one job to the
next. Very seldom do drummers get a call from someone they
don’t know, unless it is an audition.
Q: Does John have any advice for going on auditions?
1. Be technically prepared. Make sure you can play different
very slow to very fast. Check your time by taping yourself and
2. Listen to the music of the band you’ll be auditioning for if
3. Have good sounding equipment. There is a big advantage to
using your own
4. Know the rules of the audition. Know what is expected of you.
5. Be relaxed.
6. Put yourself on the level of the person you are auditioning for.
If you go in thinking “Oh this guy is the best in the world!”
You may become intimidated or nervous and won’t play was well as
you normally do.
7. Have a positive attitude, but never be over-confident.
8. Play as strong as you can but be sensitive to the other
players. Make them sound good. Other players want to know how you
play and how you’ll fit in and get along with the rest of the
Q: How does John recommend setting up?
A: Basic set-up might include:
(Note: There is a photo of a drum set-up diagram that can be
inserted with this. I will scan it and send it to you in
another e-mail. Your sister can pull the photo from the
e-mail, I think.)
a 16X22 bass
b1 8X8 rack tom
b2 9X10 rack tom
b3 10X12 rack tom
b4 12X14 rack tom
c1 16X16 floor tom
c2 16X18 floor tom
d 6 1/2 X14 brass
snare OR 8X14 wood snare
E 20” ride
F 18” crash
G 16” crash
H 13” crash
I 14” hihats
Q: How does John tune his drum kits?
A: In the studio I tune all my drums as loose as possible.
For Live playing I tune the toms tighter in situations where I need
to have better response or projection. I try to keep the top
head a little tighter than the bottom on all the tom-toms. For
muffling I use some tape and paper towels, but I make sure to put
the muffling away from the miking area.
I rarely use a double headed bass drum in the studio. For Live
performances I cut an 8” hole off the center and in both cases I
tune fairly loose. For bass drum muffling I prefer a packing
blanket and sand bag to a pillow.
My snare drum heads are also pretty loose. To reduce
sympathetic vibrations from the snares I detune the 4 lugs around
the snare bed even more. I use the same type of muffling on
the snare as I do on my Toms.