Ever since the history of bands began, you’d almost always see guitarists or vocalists as the leaders of their respective groups. From Axl Rose to Brian Johnson to Steven Tyler to Freddie Mercury, these leaders even became just as famous as the bands they represent.
One common denominator among these musicians is that they’re all lead singers. Do you know who their drummers are? It might require you a few seconds to search for them on Google, right?
Why is it uncommon for drummers to be band leaders? If you’re a drummer who wishes to start a band, can you be the leader as well? Are there other groups or bands where the drummer is the leader? We’ll try to answer these questions for you in this article.
Why is it Uncommon for Drummers to be Band Leaders?
There’s a multitude of reasons why we don’t often see drummers as band leaders. However, most of them can be generally explained under these four major roles.
There’s no rule that says the person who writes the songs should be the band’s leader. In fact, there are lots of popular songs out there that weren’t even written by the artist or band that performs them. However, it’s still quite common for songwriters to become leaders.
That’s because the band’s songs and lyrics become the band’s identity. Ergo, what the songwriter produces dictates the band’s character as a whole. Because of how huge this impact is, they often become the band’s leader as well.
The next question we must ask ourselves is this, “why is it uncommon for drummers to write songs?” The explanation for this is rather simple. Songs are often written and composed while playing the guitar or keyboards. This means that people who play the guitar or keyboard (who also happen to be the lead singers) are more frequently inspired to write songs than people who play drums.
Another reason why drummers don’t often become band leaders is stage presence. In live performances such as concerts and gigs, crowd interaction or that specific connection with the audience is essential. You might have seen how powerful a performance can be if that connection is established when Freddie Mercury made 80,000 people sing in unison.
Forming that kind of connection sets the tone for the band’s entire performance. So, it’s only befitting that the person who can do that regularly or as much as possible becomes the band’s leader. The question now is, “why can’t drummers do that?”
Well, the thing is, a drum kit is played while sitting down. This means they can’t move around and devour the stage while interacting with the crowd. They’re often seated at the rear of the stage, so, location-wise, they get the least number of opportunities to hype the audience and make that connection.
Aside from the lyrics, another area that dictates the greatness of a song is its melody, which is made up of chord progression, riffs, and the likes. This means that the person who directs his bandmates on how he/she wants a specific instrument to sound like will also dictate the overall outcome of the song.
Because of this, the musical director of the band also tends to be the leader. So, if the lead singer has a specific direction of where he/she wants their songs to go, he/she also often is the band leader.
Now, why do drummers don’t usually become part of this conversation? Don’t get us wrong. We’re not looking down on drummers, but the problem is, guitars, keyboards, and vocalists talk about notes and chords while drummers talk about rhythm and tempo.
Since drums don’t involve chords or notes, drummers don’t often instruct keyboardists, singers, or guitarists on what the note or chord should be to make the song sound better.
Rapport and Public Relations
The last reason why drummers don’t usually become band leaders is rapport or public relations and appearances. I think we can all agree that the one who often appears in television shows, interviews, or videos also often becomes the band’s leader. That’s because of the fans and followers who admire that person not just as a musician but also on a personal level.
It just so happens that the lead singer is often the one who appears on videos. If a TV show can only invite one person from the band, they would, of course, invite the lead singer. That’s because the lead singer can perform the band’s songs with just a guitar or a keyboard and promote the band.
How often, if ever, do you see drummers promoting the band and performing its songs with nothing but drums? Because of this, lead singers are more likely to become band leaders compared to drummers.
Nonetheless, Can Drummers Be Leaders?
Despite all of the things we’ve listed above, can drummers still be band leaders? Of course! In fact, in some sense, drummers are leaders on the stage. The audience just doesn’t often see or realize this.
For a band’s live performance to be good, the guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, and vocalist need to be synchronized. For that to happen, they need to follow a specific measurement or tempo. The member that provides this is the drummer.
First, the drummer counts the rest of the band off with either a “1, 2, 3, and—” or by smashing the drumsticks together. The drummer then proceeds to play the right tempo of the song through the kit, which becomes the spine of the rest of the band or the foundation that all of them need to follow.
Nonetheless, any band can have a drummer as the leader as long as he/she possesses the qualities that will move the band forward.
Bands with Drummers as Leaders
Aside from being leaders on stage or during performances, there are also bands who are represented by their drummers.
For instance, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac is considered as the band’s leader most of the time. While the lead singer is Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks, no one can deny that Mick is an integral pillar in the band, having formed it with John McVie.
Aside from Mick Fleetwood, there are also lots of bands, especially in the jazz genre, where the drummer is the leader. That’s probably because knowledge of the drums is a vital part of producing jazz songs.
Art Blakey from Art Blakey and the Messengers, Candido Camero of The Conga Kings, Gene Krupa from the Benny Goodman Orchestra, are just prime examples.
On the other hand, there are also other famous musicians who started out as drummers and later made a name for themselves. Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl was first Kurt Cobain’s drummer in Nirvana. Additionally, Chris Cornell from Audioslave started out as Soundgarden’s drummer.
While there’s a lot of debate whether The Beatles’ frontman is Paul McCartney or John Lennon, it’s worth mentioning that Ringo Starr also carried the band at some point. He wrote songs such as “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden.”
In addition to this, Ringo also sang lead vocals in all-time hits such as “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Yellow Submarine.”
It’s not every day that we see bands that are led and represented by their drummers. However, it’s also not impossible. What matters most is that the person has the qualities of a leader to move the band forward. The instrument he/she plays is irrelevant.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.