Missing a beat: There aren’t drummers to go around in Miami’s music scene

Drummer Javier Nin was scheduled to play with local band Folktale San Pedro at what would be the very last show hosted at Las Rosas, an Allapattah bar and live music venue that closed in 2022. 

But Nin’s other band, Frogs Show Mercy, had its very first performance in Orlando booked on the same night.

“They say man plans and god laughs,” said Nin with a chuckle. “In that moment I had to think ‘Where is it that I’m needed the most?’” 

Torn between these options, Nin decided his heart was closer to Frogs Show Mercy. The prospect of spreading that band’s reach to Orlando was too important to pass up. 

This conundrum is often seen in Miami, with bands constantly cycling through drummers who often play alongside different bands every day of the week. 

The drought of drummers in the scene can be chalked up to a variety of reasons: the expense of buying a complete drum set, the loudness that comes with practicing, and the low profile of drummers, who often take the backseat to the frontmen.

Drummers must be energetic and able to lay down a groove consistently, but also be malleable enough to play alongside sonically different ensembles. 

“If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it,” said Nin. “It’s a blessing to be able to play with groups who do completely different things and still be able to give them infrastructure to continue to work on their sound.”

Musician Gian Gavidia was originally a guitarist before shifting his focus to drums.

“The reason why I play drums is because of the drummer shortage we have right now,” said Gavidia.

He was approached by Oppositions Dolls, who were in need of a new drummer at the time. Gavidia admitted to the band that he was not the most knowledgeable when it came to percussion but took on the task of filling the missing role in the band. 

Still Opposition Doll’s core drummer, he’s established himself as a more than capable musician. He now plays with local bands Glumdays! and Pansy Prep while also subbing for other bands who need drummers for scheduled gigs. 

“It’s not the easiest instrument to keep at home. It’s really loud, it’s a lot of gear you have to lug around, and storage space can be a problem,” said Gavidia when asked what he thinks some of the causes are for the lack of drummers.

These issues are echoed by musicians who, when searching for drummers for their bands, often specify that they are looking for someone who owns their own drum set.

Local musician Sebastian Crow is one of these. His father may have planted a seed for his love of music by the first song he would ever hear would be “With a Little Help From My Friends” by the Beatles, He played it on the way home from the hospital after baby Sebastian was born. 

Crow recalls immediately gravitating to the rhythm section in music when listening to obscure genres like Viking Metal with his older brother. He did not begin officially learning to play drums until his sophomore year of high school, but recalls making beats by banging on whatever was around him. 

“It made sense for me to choose drumming because all my life I was doing it without realizing,” said Crow, who is the drummer of three bands –- Shiiva, Buko Boys, and Devil Castle. Both Crow and Nin graduated from Christopher Columbus High School and were involved with the music program that was and is currently run by New York-born musician Kieth Cooper.

Nin remembers rushing to the music room after school where Cooper would often jam with students.

“With him as our teacher, all of us drummers definitely had the right platform and environment where we could fully express ourselves,” said Nin.

Cooper moved to Miami after high school to study music education and jazz performance for saxophone at the University of Miami. With plans to move to San Diego after graduation, he was invited to for an interview to teach at Columbus’s music program. 

After being offered the job within an hour of the interview, Cooper only intended to stay with the school for a year but ended up spending 20 years there while also becoming part of local music collective, The Push, He has also worked with notable artists including lil Wayne, Meek Mill and John Legend.

“One thing I tell my students is that the best drummer you can have is one that no one really says anything about because if you’re doing a good job on the drums, it means you’re just laying it down and no one is complaining about you doing too many fills,” said Cooper. 

He believes it can be hard for young musicians to grasp that if they are the drummer in a band, most of the audience is going to be paying attention to the vocalists and guitarists. It can take a while for some to understand this role in live performance. 
Despite these gripes, Cooper has seen a steady flow of young drummers come through his program thanks to institutions like School of Rock Miami, where teachers are nurturing passionate artists who want to continue to hone their skills on the instrument.

This story was produced in conjunction with Florida International University’s Lee Caplin School of Journalism

Hennessy Sepulveda is an FIU student who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree
in Digital Journalism. She obtained an associates in arts in Mass Communications/Journalism
from Miami Dade College. She has also worked as a contributing writer for PantherNow.