Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to tune a drum on the fly...

I’ve seen plenty of info on how to tune a drum. There are books out on the subject…what order the lugs should go in, top head higher or bottom head higher, how to properly seed the head onto the rim, so forth and so on…and all of this is important, and informational, and educational, and whatever. Here’s the problem…sometimes I don’t have time to calibrate each lug to be the exact tension of every other lug on the drum or to tune the toms a major third apart. The reality is that in a live setting you often will not have time to get your “perfect” drum sound, but you do need to know the steps for getting an acceptable drum sound. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but at least it won’t sound like you’re hitting a three inch thick piece of cardboard. Let me set the stage for you…

You arrive late to the outside festival the artist your backing is booked to play. There are 6,431 bands that have to play in an eight hour span of time on the same stage. Ya’ll will be group # 2,346. The backline has been provided (i.e. there’s a drumset already there, you just need to bring your sticks, snare, and cymbals.) and you’ve been given 15 minutes to shove the other band off of the stage, make adjustments to the kit, and count the band off. Only problem is, the kit sounds like a bad dream….no, worse than a bad dream…the toms sound so bad that the guitar player is puking in the corner…ok, maybe not that bad, but they’re bad. To confound the issue, they’ve got Beyonce blaring in the system to entertain the masses while the band switch is taking place so you can’t hear a thing. This is a daunting situation. Even if the drumset sounded pristine, it would still be a stressful set change.

In this situation you don’t need to guess at getting a good sound out of the toms…you need a step-by-step guide for getting an acceptable sound out of them…and I’m gonna do my best to provide you with just that. This has saved me countless times…

Step 1: Take the tom off of the tom mount and place it with one head resting on the seat of the drum throne or on your knee, as in picture #1.

Step 2: You need to have a general sonic range that you want the tom to be in (if you’re playing a jazz set you may want the toms high with great attack…a rock set, you may want them lower and boomy, etc.). We’ll now choose a primary lug…this will be the sound that all of the other lugs will need to match. Pick the lug closest to you, place your ear about two inches away from it, and tap that lug about half an inch away from the rim while simultaneously muffling the bottom head with the throne or your knee so that you get only the sound from one head (picture #2). Do this quickly with several of the lugs until you find one that is close to where you’d like the tom to sound…if there isn’t one that’s acceptable, quickly tighten or untighten one to the general range you’re looking for. Presto, you have your primary sound. Begin to hum that pitch to yourself and…

Step 3: …Go to the lug directly across the drum from that primary lug and tap (Picture #3). Tighten or untighten until it sounds similar to the primary. This should take about 5-10 seconds. We’re not trying for studio quality here…MOVE IT!!!

Step 4: Next, go clockwise or counter clockwise…picture #4…(we don’t have time to worry about directions…just pick one!) and repeat steps 2 and 3. Once you’ve chosen a direction, stick with it until you’ve tuned all of the lugs to the sound of the primary lug.

Step 5: Hum the tone of your primary lug to yourself while you flip the drum over and set the other head on the throne or your knee for muffling. Repeat steps 1-4 and then move onto the next drum.

The goal is to get all of the lugs sounding within the same sonic range on one head. If all of the lugs are tightened to a similar sound, you’ll end up with an acceptable sounding drum…it won’t be your ideal sound, but it will at least sound like a drum…a tuned drum.

This works even with loud music blaring, just get your ear super close to the drum and hum loudly. I’ve tuned a drum in less than a minute using this method. Would I use this to prepare my drums for a studio session…absolutely not!!! But under the circumstances you need to sound professional, and this is a sure fire way to do that.

Now hurry up and count the band off, times up…

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Role of the Drummer In a Rehearsal

Gone are the days where you simply show up for a rehearsal…at least they need to be.

A rehearsal is not the time for you to learn the music, that should have happened before the rehearsal, in your own practice time. A rehearsal is geared towards ironing out all of the small details…the bridge section that may be a little tricky, how you’ll start the tunes, tempo adjustments for live performance, and so forth. If you come to the rehearsal with the music halfway learned, you’ve broken the golden rule. I know, I know, everyone else doesn’t know the tunes…that’s not the point. You’re not everyone else, you’re wanting to actually get a call back. Nothing will impress a bandleader more than them knowing that they don’t need to babysit you.

So what do you need to be prepared for?

Here’s a simple checklist that I mentally check off every time I go to a rehearsal…especially if it’s with a new artist or bandleader…

-Know the tunes…we just went over that, but it bears repeating. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve secured a gig just from that simple thing alone.

-Have the charts that have been provided with you or make charts of your own…If you’re given charts ahead of time you should have already gone through the chart with the recording and made notes. If there was no recording given, you still need to peruse the chart itself and mark any sections that may need special attention…i.e. tempo changes, unison hits, styles, codas. If you were just given a recording and no chart, make your own…yes, that’s right, make your own. It doesn’t have to be a “legit” chart, but at least a roadmap that you understand. Even if you’ve memorized the tunes you still need to bring the charts for marking any rehearsal changes.

-Have all tempos marked…I didn’t run into this so much until I moved to Nashville and began doing artist dates. They recorded that song at a certain tempo for a reason. If they want to change it for the live performance, that’s their prerogative. Your job is to know the original tempo. 99% of the time they will be expecting you to count off all of the tunes also…you are the drummer after all.

-Bring a metronome…My Dr. Beat has saved my butt so many times it’s not even funny. Some bandleaders and artists will want you to play to a click the whole show. You’ll definitely need it to at least have a starting point to count everyone off with. This helps with consistency night after night and prevents the guitar player from turning around and telling you “You’re playing it faster than last night!”. Simply point to the metronome and they should get the point…

-Bring a pen…Do I really need to mention this? You can’t make notes without a writing utensil…pricking your finger and writing in blood can work, but it’s messy…

-Bring a good attitude…If they want to change the tempo, who cares. If they want to change it from an up-tempo swing to a bossa nova, who cares. If they want you to stand on your head and play a train beat, who cares. You’re there to serve the person who hired you and the music. Check your ego at the door. Nothing will get you fired quicker than a bad attitude. I would rather have a competent player with a great attitude working with me than a phenomenal player with a chip on his shoulder.

The point is to go into this rehearsal like its Madison Square Garden. Many times the only chance you’ll have to impress them will be in that first rehearsal…and if you don’t, well, don’t worry…there won’t be a second rehearsal, they’ll just find someone else. The pay I get is for the preparation, the gig is the fun part. I’ve got an upcoming date with a well known country artist…and there won’t be a rehearsal. If I go in knowing that show halfway and with no tempo markings, I’m dead in the water…it doesn’t matter how good of a player I am. Do all of these things and you’ll look more polished, professional, and reliable…and I promise, you’ll get a call back.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Do You Make This Thing Happen?

That’s really the only question you need to worry about.

Careers make lousy people builders, but people build great careers.

Before a builder ever breaks the first bit of ground, he has his blueprints. For a large building, a company may spend two to three years planning the exact details…Why? Because if you spit out some blueprints and don’t take into account the ground type, how high the building will go, size of foundation, etc, the building won’t be standing long. The plans have to be there first.

Do you have your blueprints for what you’d like your music career to look like?

If not, it’s time to pull out a pen and start planning. First, you need to decide the field you want to be in…I’m guessing music. Second, you need to decide what your idea of success is in that field. And third, you need to figure out all of the potential avenues that may take you to that spot. This is the place that most get lost…

Playing isn’t your only option…and neither is teaching…there are TONS of different avenues to glean income from in the field of music, you just have to define them. I’ll post some more on this later…

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What does "making it" mean to you?

Have you ever really sat down, turned the TV off, and asked yourself that simple question? What is “making it”?

What does it mean?

What does it look like?

What does it smell like?

How will you know when you’ve “made” it?

What is “it”?

You see, you can never make it anywhere unless you have a clear idea of your destination.

When you plan a trip, what’s the first thing you decide? Where you’re going, of course. The next step is to figure out the quickest, most efficient route for arriving at that destination. After that, you begin to plan what you’ll do once you get there, how much fun you’ll have doing those things, etc.

Why is it any different when we’re planning our careers?

I used to use this term freely…”One day I’m gonna make it in music!” This sentence makes no sense and its na├»ve… silly even…that’s right, I just called myself silly for talking like that. I had no clue what my career would look like, what activities with music that I would like to be involved in, or what quality of life “making it” would afford my family and I. Of course, in my mind, making it afforded me oodles of money, loads of notoriety, and the chance to have free time when I wanted it. But you see, I skipped step two…how would I get there?

If you skip step two when you’re planning a vacation, you’ll never end up having the vacation you wanted. You’ll end up lost, frustrated because you’re wasting your precious vacation time, and you’ll wind up settling for whatever city you happen to stumble upon. Settling is sad…

You absolutely have to come up with your definition of “making it”. And you can’t steal someone else’s definition, that’s cheating.

Do you want to teach full time? In a school or privately? Do you want to be a session drummer? Do you want to play on the weekends and hold down a great paying day job, completely unrelated to music? Would you like to start a high-end corporate party band? A bar band? Do you want to play with a noted jazz artist? Pop artist? Country? Do you want to make your own original music? All of these are simple questions, but far too many of us never even come close to approaching them or giving them the undivided attention they need.

Here’s the thing that usually happens…Learn instrument, move to a town with a good “scene”, begin to network, take anything that comes your way for the sake of networking and being heard, compromise your convictions about who you are as a player, take anything that comes your way just to pay rent, compromising the gig conditions you’ll accept, resenting that you have to take anything that comes your way just to pay rent, get married, take EVERYTHING that is even CLOSE to coming your way, get a part time job…and so on, and so on, and so forth…until you’re sick of playing in subpar situations, with subpar musicians, for subpar pay…so you quit and go work for someone else in a completely unrelated field, miserable because you never “made it”. Problem is, even if you’d made it, you wouldn’t have known it because you never defined what that would be like. Sounds miserable, huh? IT IS!!!

That’s what I’m trying to tell you…you don’t have to take that road. I’m all about happening to your career, not your career happening to you.

So what is “making it” to me? Here’s the definition I came up with…

I want to be well respected by my peers. I want to be more than proficient on the drums. I want to make music that people really care about…music that makes them feel something. I want to be respected as an educator. I want to release a solo album. I want to have a happy marriage. I want a great relationship with my kids. I don’t want to be on the road full time. I want to have my own studio. I want to live comfortably, pay for my kids’ college education, build wealth, and own a house. I don’t want to play in cover bands full time…

Ok, you get the drift. I could go on and on for pages….the point is that I got extremely specific with my list of goals and what “making it” will look like to me. I included professional goals along with personal ones and tried to figure out how they would work together. And I was realistic about it. I came to the realization that I wasn’t doing this for the fame, I could care less about that. The only “fame” I wish to have is in my circle of peers…I want the respect of other drummers and musicians. I also want to make a comfortable living. These aren’t unreasonable, they just require some planning…


What is “making it” to you?

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Start...

I’m a drummer…and this blog is my chance of explaining what I feel is wrong with the way we as drummers (and really all musicians for that matter) view ourselves and our careers.

Far too often I’m hearing wonderfully talented players, both drummers and non-drummers, complain about inconsistent work, poor playing conditions, and bad career choices. They let it go on until they get to a point of burnout, of losing their vision, of not caring anymore…and then they become miserable middle management at Macy’s…or Starbuck’s…or whatever. Nothing against those establishments and aspiring to work for those companies…but I don’t believe that’s what they set out to do. They just fell into the hole that so many musicians fall into…they let their career happen to them instead of them happening to their career. There is a HUGE difference. HUGE.

We wait. We wait for the good gig, wait for a call on sessions, wait for new students…wait, wait, wait…and complain. “There’s just no job stability in music”, “I’m just takin’ these gigs to get by until so and so goes on the road again”, and a thousand other excuses of why you’re starving to be a musician. So you eat your ramen noodles and practice and dream of that big break. Let me just drop a little knowledge on you here…If your career plan hinges on getting a “big break” or signing a “deal” with a record company or landing that dream artist gig, you’re playing the lottery and that’s no way to build a stable career. Let me give you some insight on what I’m talking about…

You are marketing
You are sales
You are collections
You are management
You are accounting
You are the planning department
You are promotions
You are booking
You are producer
You are technician
You are bandleader
You are teacher
You are mentor
You are the artist
You are the student

………and you are you’re only chance…..

You just haven’t realized it yet.

My whole world changed, my outlook did a complete 180 degree turn when I understood this. If you succeed it’ll be because you took control of your life and your career and didn’t wait for a phone call, or a deal, or whatever. You’ve gotta put time, blood, sweat, and life into the non-musical side of your career for the playing side to have a chance to shine through.
“Stop using all of those corporate terms”, you may say ”I got into music to get away from the hum drum workforce. I just want to play, I just want to make beautiful music”…….Then rock on Kennedy, ‘cause your careers headed for the grave.

I know, you’re thinking “This is all well and good for some but I have a steady gig, a solid teaching position, a full roster of students…”. But you won’t forever. The only sure thing about life is change and movement. And when that “solid” gig or position runs its course and when those students quit, if you haven’t honed any of the skills necessary for survival outside of a guaranteed position, then you’re up a creek.

I went to school to be a drummer…Worked hard, practiced harder, and got a degree. ‘Nuff said about that. What I want to talk about is what I didn’t learn while attaining my music degree. I want to dive into the topics never mentioned in my lessons, or my music history classes, or my counterpoint studies, etc. I want to help you see a lot sooner than I did that taking a business course, or reading a marketing book, or learning a skill like basic HTML code is an absolute must. I don’t remember the last time I read a book on music….probably college. All of my time is now devoted to acquiring and learning the skills necessary to put food on the table for my family…all of that eventually leads back to the music, but I use the term eventually lightly. It’s a process and it takes time and patience…and planning…and direction…and goal setting…

So I decided to blog about it. To document my discoveries, what I’ve learned, my mistakes (there are LOTS of them), and to get some feedback from you guys. I hope to have some guest interviews (Nashville is full of experienced and seasoned professionals, drummers and non-drummers alike) with musicians that achieved their dreams through very unconventional manners. I’ll speak on some practical issues dealing directly with drumming (injuries, technique, practice, etc), and some on the business side of it (career options, marketing, goals, personal finances). Please don’t hesitate to comment on the posts. If you’ve got experience in the topic, please by all means, chime in. I want this to be a place where discussions are started, problems are solved, and hopes are encouraged with practical and applicable knowledge.

I’ll end with a quote from one of my favorite inspirational speakers, Zig Ziglar…

”If you do the things you have to do when you have to do them, you can do the things you want to do when you want to do them.”

Welcome to Drummer…etc.