I’d recommend joining a band as soon as you have some basic skills. You’ll probably get involved with other beginning musicians, and the songs might not be that great, but learning how that dynamic works will be crucial for your musical career later on. Just make sure your individual practice time doesn’t suffer.
I’ve found all of my jobs, houses, and bands on craigslist (no girlfriends yet, haha). Often bands in your area will post about a drummer slot they need to fill. Respond with your interest, experience, and links to you playing and wait for a response. Try to get involved with existing projects rather than guitarists wanting to jam, unless you’re an absolute beginner and just want to feel out what it’s like to write parts and play with someone else. If you do get involved with a new band, try to find one with existing songs or a vision for their sound rather than a group of friends who want to jam out. Always try to “trade up” and play with musicians who are better than you. This will be motivating and you’ll be in a great band.
Friends and Contacts
Once you start playing around, you’ll meet other musicians. Nurture these relationships by going to their shows and being generally affable. This will turn into offers to share bills, general support, and potentially hookups with bands that are looking for a drummer. In the music industry in general, personal relationships are as crucial as good songs and skills.
Start Your Own!
As a drummer, it’s a bit more challenging to start your own band than, say, a guitarist, but it’s still possible. Reach out to other musicians with an idea for a band (clear sound, approach, and ideas for instrumentation). It’s worth it to learn piano or guitar as well and try your hand at writing songs. There’s nothing quite like writing a song with your mediocre guitar and vocals and having a pro guitar player and singer turn it into something beautiful.
You’ll probably be asked to audition before an existing band brings you onboard. An audition is stressful for any kind of performative art. Do your homework by playing along to their songs (ask for mp3s/links), and just be confident that you’re as well-prepared as you can be. Try to relax and do your thing. Don’t try to showboat, don’t act like hot shit, and just be generally nice to get along with. They’re picking a new business partner/family member, so low-maintenance and responsibility is as important as chops. If you don’t get the gig, it could be because you didn’t click personally, they found a virtuoso musician to fill the spot, or maybe you just have different musical styles. Just make sure you’ve prepped as much as possible and let it go if they don’t ask you back. The worst thing is not getting it because you were ill-prepared. And if you are well-prepared, know that there’s nothing you could have done differently. Just keep practicing and looking for more bands.
If you’ve got the skills to pay the bills and want to get involved in a serious project with serious career potential, you may have to move. Metropolitan centers have a wealth of musical talent, and you’re more likely to find a motivated and talented band there. Of course there are pockets of musicians in many smaller cities, but New York, San Francisco, Portland, and LA all have hundreds of good bands and thousands of…ok ones.