Hostile Worlds – a new podcast from Matthew McLean

Hostile Worlds

My Scottish audio drama friend Matthew McLean from ThePodcastHost.com has launched his new podcast series “Hostile Worlds” today. It’s a documentary/audio drama hybrid with, in my opinion, hints of “Cosmos,” “Planet Earth,” and plenty of creativity to make the trip enjoyable along the way. If you are looking for a new podcast to make your commute or downtime a bit more enjoyable, check it out.

“Join us on a journey to some of the most inhospitable, humbling, and frighteningly beautiful places in the known universe. Hostile Worlds is podcast that helps you explore alien landscapes all from the comfort of your headphones.

From the freezing hydrocarbon oceans of Titan, to the scorched, suffocating wastes of Venus – we’ll take you on an immersive audio tour to all the places you’d die to see… and places you’d die if you saw.

You’ll join the crew of The Tardigrade, an all-purpose vehicle that can float, fly, dive, and dig through any environment in the universe. There, you’ll learn all the facts you’ll ever need to act as THE space exploration authority down your local pub on a Friday night.”

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Audio Drama Production Podcast Ep. #49-Composing Music For Audio Drama

Audio Drama Production Podcast Interview: Ep. #49-Composing Music For Audio Drama

It was in the 70s when I first heard audio drama. I remember sitting in the car with my dad, parked in the driveway, sitting on the edge of the seat, while listening to the remaining moments of an episode of CBS Radio Mystery Theater. For those already familiar with the show, you will already know it is hard to forget the sound of the creaking door, the creepy music, and the unforgettable voice of E.G. Marshall.  Fortunately for me, my father didn’t mind me enjoying scary stories at such a young age. One of my fondest memories with him is going to see “The Shining” together. While the film may have scarred me for life, it became my favorite film of all-time and instilled in me a love for horror films, and more significantly, fostered my love for film music (particularly anything scary and/or retro electronic). These two things merged together over time into composing music for audio drama. Speaking of…

I was recently interviewed by the Audio Drama Production Podcast, an informative and entertaining podcast created by Matthew McLean and Robert Cudmore, that discusses subjects related to all things related with the production of audio drama. Both gentlemen have a great sense of humor and it was a pleasure to be on the show. We discuss composing for audio drama, how I got started, gear, influences, tips for new composers, and more. The episode also includes an interview with the ubiquitous, highly prolific, and talented Kevin MacLeod from Incompetech.com. You can hear both interviews at the link below.

http://audiodramaproduction.com/2015/06/composing-music-for-audio-drama/

For those interested in hearing my latest work in audio drama composition, check out the entertaining and horrific Campfire Radio Theater series.





Kevin Hartnell, composing music for audio drama
Photo courtesy of MJ Hartnell

 

2

Drumming Tips: Recording With A Click Track

Drumming Tips: Recording With A Click Track

*for the best reading experience, press play and read on*

Design by Ian Leino

I will begin with a definition and some history. What is a click track? It is essentially a MetroGnome. Sorry, that isn’t entirely accurate. A metronome is a tool that makes audible sounds (or visual cues) at intervals. Musicians use them to practice interval timing, memorize tempos, and play music along to the rhythm. To set the story straight, allow me to mention a brief piece of the history behind the abomination that has been the nightmare of many a musician.

History is fascinating and never fails to reveal entertaining (or bizarre) stories from the past. This is no exception. The mechanical version of the metronome was patented by a kooky inventor named Johann Mälzel who invented the Panharmonicon in 1805. What the hell is that? It is an automatic playing machine that looks like this.

The Mangler
The Panharmoninekronomiconicusablooey

That’s right, before there was a drum machine, there was an entire orchestra machine! It could apparently simulate instruments and sound effects like weapons (guns & cannons) as popularized by composers like Tchaikovsky, Sarti, and Beethoven.  It is possibly the precursor to a modern-day sampler workstation, only bigger. Much bigger. Did I mention that Mälzel managed to bend the fingers of Beethoven far enough to convince him to write a little novelty number titled “Wellington’s Victory” for this beast? While critics busted his balls over writing it, Beethoven retorted “What I shit is better than anything you could ever think up!” This wasn’t the only music Beethoven wrote for musical automatons while working with Mälzel. And, just like so many other “bands” throughout time, they had a falling out. Beethoven later described Mälzel as “a rude, churlish man, entirely devoid of education or cultivation.”

Yes, the colorful experiences of being in a band…but I digress.

Here is the problem. Mälzel nicked the idea for the metronome from Dietrich Winkel, who was also the inventor of the Componium, built in 1821.  What the hell is that? It is an automatic playing machine that looks like this. Humble beginnings, right?


The Componiumanizeratorus

It makes you wonder where the monkey is supposed to sit.

Now, thanks to Galileo’s research and discovery regarding pendulums as well as other technological advancements, there is now a wide range of metronomes/clicks currently available. For those firmly entrenched in previous centuries and older traditions, you can still purchase an “analog” mechanical metronome as well as portable digital electronic metronomes or the classic option of banging two rocks together. For those who prefer something closer to a 21st century experience, you can find many online metronomes or apps for your “smart” phones, tablets, etc.

DAWS

Since this post is specifically about RECORDING drums with a click track, I should mention that it is common for the modern DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to have a built-in metronome to generate click tracks. For those that do not already know, the typical reason you record with a click track is to attempt to perform at accurate tempos with solid timing as well as for having a reference for various tempo and meter changes. An example might be that you want to record a vacuous great rock song in common time (4/4) at 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute). Recording along with the click track can provide you with a reference (the click) to help you keep your timing steady.

Where does it all start? PRACTICE.

Did you see the episode of Sesame Street where Bert and Ernie show off their drumming chops?


Bert’s got the beat and Ernie’s got the gurney.

With much practice, perhaps you will get to Carnegie Hall achieve the same level of timing mastery as Marco Minnemann. Here he is in one of my favorite drumming videos breaking down the timing of various audio samples and playing along with them. Notice how he also stylizes the phrasing to really tighten everything up. Yes, it IS impressive.


Did he say “Bite my shiny metal ass?”

If you are new to working with a click track/metronome, you may find it challenging. One of the most common mistakes at the beginning is to wait until you hear the click before actuating your note/sound. By then, it is already too late and you are behind the metronome. If you are practicing quarter notes in 4/4 at 120bpm with a matching click track and you don’t hear the click, you are either playing so loud that you cannot hear the click or you may very well be playing in time with the click. Make sure you practice at a low enough volume at first to get used to the process and can hear when you are in or out of sync with the click. The sound of the metronome should essentially “disappear” (or at least be difficult to hear if it isn’t too loud) when you are spot on.

I will NOT suggest cranking up the click track to keep up with any drum poundage as that will cause hearing damage.

Allow me to digress just a bit on the subject of loudness. The January 2007 issue of Modern Drummer had the following to say about the volume of various drums and cymbals. On second thought, let’s just skip it. I can summarize and just tell you that all of the decibel readings were between 102 – 125 dB. How loud is that?

The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa that was apparently heard some 3,000 miles away was also allegedly measured to be 180dB. Sure, that’s a big difference, but you were wondering why your neighbors hate you. Say, I wonder if anyone has tracked drums in a volcano?

If you will be recording with a click, I highly recommend that you rehearse with a click long before you enter the studio so that you are accustomed to performing with one. If you need to, seek out an instructor. A good teacher can make a huge difference in working through the stumbling blocks of learning.


Drum teacher

Practicing with a metronome can help, but knowing how to practice with the metronome is also important.

Something that can help is to subdivide in your head. If you are trying to catch quarter notes at a slow tempo like 50 BPM, it may be helpful to subdivide into 8th or 16th notes inside your head.

You can play the metronome game where you listen to quarter notes at a chosen tempo, lock in your timing, then temporarily mute the metronome as you continue.  Turn the metronome back on after a bar or two and see how close you are. This is easier to set up in a DAW where you can automate your click track. With this exercise, you are building the clock inside your head (so to speak).

Consider recording your metronome practice and take note of any consistent problems. For example, do you generally speed up, slow down, rush leads/fills at the end of a phrase? Do you find that you anticipate the next beat to the point of jumping the gun?  Or, perhaps you get lost “in the zone” and fall out of time?

Finding out what your weaknesses are will help you to pinpoint them so you can improve.

I should also mention that there are other reasons to record to a click track as well.

  • You may be tracking drums that will be mailed/emailed/shipped/flown in to someone else. By tracking your drums at specific tempos, the person who will be working with your tracks can easily punch in the tempo(s). This can be helpful in the case of working with MIDI sequencing, arpeggiators, and any other scenario that may rely upon more precise timing intervals.
  • If your work is going to be incorporated into remixes, mash-ups, or similar applications, having music tracked at specific tempos can be beneficial.
  • You may need a click to keep track of complicated compositions.

Here is a list of tips that may help once you are in the studio and ready to record with the click.

  1. Consider the monitoring source that you will be using. Typically this will be headphones. There are circumaural, supraaural, earbud, and in-ear styles of headphones (aka “cans”). You can read more about them here, but here is a quick list. IEM (In-Ear Monitors): If you choose this option, you might want to read the following article on some pros and cons of IEMs for some insight. They can be expensive, you have good isolation, and they can be custom-fitted. Ear Buds: They can get the job done, but as with any headphones, pay attention to the volume level. Open/Closed/Semi-Open: This is a more common option in my experience. You may want to use something at least partially open so that you can hear a blend of the mix and your drums. It will all come down to your personal preference.
  2. Consider the headphone mix. In general, you should have the option to adjust levels of the various instruments in your session. Depending upon the song and particular section of that song, you may need to focus on a particular instrument or instruments. You can adjust the levels or you can also solo them or mute other tracks. Unless you really need to hear a particular instrument, it’s better to bring it down or mute it in your mix. Too much clutter can make it harder to focus which will allow you to achieve a tighter performance.
  3. Some people like to place the click in one ear with the mix in the other. That may help you, but also comes down to personal preferences.
  4. There are different schools of thought regarding the use of click tracks during recording. Some musicians argue that a click track can distract the performer from the music itself and compromise the take. If you concentrate so hard on the click track, you may very well compromise your performance. Once again, it comes down to practice. If you practice with the click long enough, you will eventually be able to acknowledge it without letting it pull you out of delivering a natural performance.
  5. Speaking of natural performances, if you want to remain fairly close to a set tempo, but you don’t want too much influence from a click, change your click settings from 16th or 8th notes down to quarter, half, or hole note markers. This also takes practice, but as your inner clock improves, you can make it work. It may allow you more “breathing room” while still keeping you in the ball park of the set tempo.
  6. As far as the click itself goes, you should have options on which sounds to use. Some common sounds are the clave, drum stick, cowbell, and a simple ticking sound. This, as with many other things, will come down to personal preference. You may want to tailor your click to a particular song so that it is either more, or less obtrusive. If you want something subtle so that it isn’t quite as invasive to the mix, yet still there, you may want a simple ticking sound. Conversely, you may want something hard or very intrusive like a cowbell or clave. Don’t be afraid to slap an EQ on your click track to get rid of any particular frequencies that you don’t need or that are hurting your ears.
  7. Some clicks allow count-ins, different tones for different beats of the measure, visual guides, and so on. With some practice, you will eventually find what works best for you. This can help you achieve the performance you are aiming for.
  8. If you are the first to track, which isn’t that uncommon for a drummer to do, you may want to record a scratch track with the click, then turn off the click and re-track along with your scratch track performance to get a more natural take. This may require you to push the scratch track into one ear or carve the EQ a bit, or reduce the volume.
  9. Invest in some great headphones that you can bring along with you to use in the studio. They may have something better, but in case they don’t, you will have something you are familiar with and know works for you.
  10. Pay attention to the volume and take a break once in awhile to give your ears a chance to recover. Nobody wants hearing loss or tinnitus. Not convinced? The ringing in my right ear never stops. Ever. When it is really quiet around me, the ringing seems even louder. Much louder. You really don’t want that.

You may find that a click isn’t always necessary or appropriate, but when you do find yourself in need, I hope that this information is helpful in some way and that your recordings benefit as well.

Keep drumming, take care of your health, and enjoy the music!

107

The Tama “Catalyst”: a tale of practical functionality & creative fulfillment

The Tama “Catalyst”

Many years ago, my beautiful 1974 Slingerland kit (similar to this) disappeared from storage. I replaced it with a poorly made Ludwig Rocker II Power-Plus 9-piece kit (1986). I wanted a large kit, and at the time, that was an affordable option. After years of abuse, it began falling apart (couldn’t afford the big kit AND cases…lesson learned) and I gave most of it away to a friend for his daughter to play.

I took a break from the kit to study various world percussion instruments which lasted over fifteen years and turned into a career. After awhile, I began to miss having a kit to play. I visited a friend at a local music store one day and found this cheap, used Tama Swingstar kit and bought it for $600 (cymbals & hardware were included). Since I wasn’t sure how much I would be playing or what application it would serve (aside from sporadic practice in the basement), this was a very practical and functional purchase at a price that I could easily justify without making a major investment.

I salvaged the 8″ tom (cracked wrap, missing tension rods, rust, mangled heads) from the destroyed remains of the old Ludwig kit and held on to my 1980 Slingerland Magnum snare (with the annoying and expensive to replace slapshot L-shaped strainer) to assemble a Frankenkit. I also added a few cymbals and a very nice Roc-n-Soc throne. I didn’t play it much as I was still on the road quite a bit (playing percussion).

Not long after that, I became frustrated with bands/travel, was very tired and suffering from burnout, and had already begun to start a family, so I retired from the road. My daughter likes to play the kit once in awhile and now I have a son on the way. :)

I have always been fascinated with recording studios and used to do session work a long time ago. I really enjoyed it (and the pay was good). After buying a house, I decided to start buying gear to set up a simple/small home studio in the basement. I already had been gifted an old AudioMedia III sound card and a copy of Pro Tools (v5.x, I believe) that came with it. Over time I assembled enough bits and pieces to begin the learning process.  In my “top-notch” studio, I had home-made mic stands (broken camera tripods, pvc, etc.), a collection of 30+ year-old microphones pulled out of storage (a few SM58s and some really terrible junk), mics draped over plumbing, plenty of duct & hockey tape, no studio monitors, no room treatment, and only two inputs with a cheap/broken Samson mixer to work with. It didn’t deter me in the least and home-recording and writing music became my obsession.

I began working with a handful of friends on songs (albeit not all living in the same cities or countries) as well as my own solo material. There have been equipment upgrades made along the way – new mics, recording hardware, various drum heads, a drum dial, a Pearl snare, DW double-kick pedal, piles of drum sticks/brushes/mallets, two sets of monitors, hundreds of instructional videos and books absorbed, some room treatment, and now I am using Pro Tools 10.3.9. In that time, only one cymbal has broken. Sticks? Well, quite a few more than that… Was I inspired? Over the course of the last four years I have worked on easily over 700 songs, created thousands of mixes, and had to vacuum many piles of wood chips from the carpet around the kit. So, the answer is YES!

All of that time in the woodshed has been the most rewarding creative experience in my almost 40 years of playing music. I have released various projects (thanks, Bandcamp!), made some new friends, made a few music fans, written well over 100 songs of my own, learned quite a bit (with so much more to learn) about audio engineering, mixing, mastering, songwriting, and I have never been happier as a musician in my life.

…and thanks to this cheap, used, dusty old Tama drum kit I call “The Catalyst” that helped start it all.

3

Drum Injuries: Drumming Is Dangerous!

TakingThePlunge

Drum Injuries: Drumming Is Dangerous!

I’ll start from the beginning…from birth, but first, a disclaimer.

[This long-winded blog is not intended for personal use or to be taken internally, nor is it to be used as instructional material. Some of the information contained therein is purely conjecture, wildly inaccurate, highly improbable, and  even possibly a lie. Some of the stories are based on actual events. Names have been changed to protect the guilty innocent. If you have a drum solo that lasts longer than four hours, seek immediate medical attention.]

The oldest joke about raising children may be that they are never born with an instruction manual (silver spoon, maybe). While that may be true, there will more than likely be someone who feels you need help and will offer you a book(s). When I discovered that I was going to become a father, my friends and family buried me under a mountain of books on the subject of how to take care of babies/toddlers. It was subtle (like a brick), but effective.  As I read through each technical tome of tutoring, I found out many things about babies and children that I was unaware of.

The following is a brief list of popular topics you will commonly find in books written on the subject of taking care of babies/toddlers. (these same topics are interchangeable with drummers)

  • Bowel Movements (frequency, volume, color, consistency, shape, foreign objects)
  • Urination (see list above for common concerns)
  • Crying (won’t stop)
  • Puking/projectile vomiting (see list above for common concerns – in the case of “possession,” test for presence of split pea soup)
  • How do I remove poop/pee/vomit from (anything you can think of)?
  • What’s wrong with my baby? (see “possession”)
  • My baby is a genius. How do I plan accordingly to maximize expected monetary value? (not applicable)
  • My baby swallowed a (anything you can think of), what do I do?

One thing I found missing from the mountain of manuals I received was just how dangerous babies/toddlers can be. They don’t tell you that your baby has a skull made out of steel and how they can instantly locate pressure points, or that they strike with the speed and force of Bruce Lee when you least expect it! They don’t mention that babies will inadvertently perform the eye gouge so well that you could swear they were related to Moe, Larry, Curly, or Shemp. They also neglect to inform you that babies will attempt to hoist themselves up onto your lap by grabbing anything in reach (hair, ears, nose, or much worse)!  …and we haven’t even touched on the subject of the teeth! Oh, the horror!

Speaking of dangerous…some people may be unaware of just how dangerous drumming can be. Even less people may be aware of just how hazardous it can be when you combine babies AND drumming. Despite my better judgment (if I had a dollar for every time…), I decided to teach my daughter (who was not quite 1 at the time) how to play the drums. Instead of handing over my Limited Edition Sequoia 5B Specials, I handed her a pair of Rute 505s.  I carefully stood behind her to help her balance on the throne, when all of a sudden she decides to stab me right in the damn eye! Later, at the doctor’s office,  the optometrist gave me “The Look” when I told him what had happened. “The Look,” in this case, was part “Say what?” with a healthy dose of “You so stoopid!”

When I first started learning to play drums, I was terribly excited to get my hands on a pair of sticks and start hacking away on a drum kit like a psychotic lumberjack wielding dueling chainsaws. But noooooooooooooooo! My uncle, the band teacher at the little local school I attended, handed me some sticks and a practice pad. I’m not talking about a modern, hip, new-fangled “Porto Practice Pad” either!  I mean one of those ancient relics made out of petrified dinosaur bones, painted blood red, bleached bone white, and emblazoned with a rubberized Ludwig logo on top!

Antique Practice Pad

Antique Chopping Block of Doom

Porto Practice Pad

“Hi-Tech” Porto Practice Pad

 

I know some of my fellow drummers out there are cringing at the mere sight of these vile instruments of torture, but we have to be able to talk about these things in order to get past them. Anyway…where was I? Oh yeah…

That was the beginning of the end. There was no drum kit anywhere in site! All I could see was this damned tool of the devil sitting on the desk with a book next to it that was covered with a bunch of scribbles on it that vaguely resembled sheet music! But…obviously, it had been “adapted” into some sort of cryptographic nightmare that only an expert on the VIC cipher could understand! This wasn’t rock star training 101, this was HELL, and I had no idea of the pain that would be inflicted upon me!

Bring On The Pain!

Oops!

After months and months of smacking that “practice pad” like it owed me money (Dolemite Style), I finally had the opportunity to play on a real snare! It was heavenly.  …and by “heavenly,” I mean LOUD! It sounded like shooting nail-filled steel buckets with a shotgun loaded with deer slugs! Perfect! I never wanted to hit another practice pad as long as I lived after that experience.  But nooooooooo!  Apparently, when you sign up for drums, they fail to show you the fine print you signed in blood stating some shit about “in perpetuity” in regards to being tethered to the Chopping Block of Doom! Oh well, as long as I could also unleash my fff poundage on the real thing like a jackhammer destroying a street, I could try to learn to live with the stupid practice pad.

Just when you come to terms with all of the time you will inevitably have to spend in the woodshed improving your rudiments on a practice pad, they unleash the unholiest of tools that will become the source of nightmares for the rest of your life! The Pear of Anguish is a walk in the park compared to the incessant “tick, tick, tick” of a bloody metronome!

Tick, tock, mother fucker!

Admit it, you can hear it in your head.

At this point, I would like to share something the late E.A. Poe* wrote about this particular devious device.

“…but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed, I raved, I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder…louder…louder! Anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear this noise no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! …and now, again! Hark! Louder! Louder! LOUDER! LOUDER! “Villain!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! Tear up the planks! Here, here! It is the beating of this hideous metronome!”

*Eugene Alabaster Poe, from his story “The Tell Tale Tick-Tock”
*this bastardization of “The Tell Tale Heart” is all in jest…apologies to the late, great Mr. Poe.

Okay…back to the damage and how all of this pertains to you, dear reader.

The first thing you will learn as a new drummer is how to hold the sticks. We’re not talking German, French, American, Traditional, or Matched grip yet. You will first be instructed to remove the sticks from any orifice you had deemed humorous at the time. Once the sticks are cleaned, you are then taught one of the common grips. Most people start right out of the gate with The Death Grip™.  After a gentle reminder to relax, you settle into the wrong grip which you will have to unlearn years later. The Death Grip™ can aid in the acceleration of repetitive motion sickness injury disorder…or something, so stock up on Drumamine. Learning to relax just enough to keep the sticks in your hands, but not loose enough to launch one into your mother’s Ming Vase or your favorite dog’s ocular socket, is just right.

One of the biggest problems with The Death Grip™ is that it encourages you to swing harder because you are already tensed up.  While that’s acceptable when you hit the drum, it is not so good when you miss. Just like a toddler learning to walk, it takes time for a drummer to develop muscular control and coordination. Doing so will equate into better accuracy over time. Some of the most common accuracy-related incidents while practicing rudiments on the “Chopping Block of Doom” (aka “the practice pad”) are:

  • hitting sticks together (accidentally, of course)
  • hitting your own hand or fingers
  • hitting the instructor (sticks optional)
  • ear/nose clipping
  • catching glasses with tip of stick and sending them into the nearest hard surface, landing with just enough force to break them
  • “accidentally” destroying a 1st printing of “Stick Control: For the Snare Drummer” because it sounds better playing on the book
  • Unintentional activation of the Rube Goldberg Massacre wherein you attempt a ffff quarter note down stroke at 50 BPM, missing the pad, shattering the stick, launching one piece into your eye, one piece into your opposite forearm, one piece into your boot, and embedding the hilt of the remains into your palm.

Typical Drummer

Finally, after years of a seemingly eternal rudiment damnation regimen under the oppressive ticking of the metronome, you are finally allowed to sit down at a drum kit. You have visualized this moment a million times! You have air-drummed along with all of your favorite John Bonham/John “Stumpy” Pepys/Travis Barker mash-up videos countless times! You. Are. Ready! At first, you are a bit uneasy on the decrepit throne. Your hands are already sweating…you are getting anxious…after waiting so long, you can no longer contain yourself.

You raise a hand into the air, engage The Death Grip™, swing down with enough force to kill an elephant, and accidentally slam the stick down into your groin!  After tears are shed and pride is buried in a shallow grave next to any remaining dignity you may have had, you adjust the height of the snare and throne as a preventative measure in hopes of avoiding any potential sterility as a result of repeated injury to the previously aforementioned area.

Pain Chart

On a scale of 0-5, select your level of pain.

You prepare to take a second swing. This time you re-calibrate your force, ease up on The Death Grip™, and take a smooth swing at the nearest cymbal. *CLANG!* Ah yes!  The sweet sound of the finest cymbals that money can buy (made with 65% nickel, 25% sheet metal, and 10% recycled dental fillings). You are so excited that you close your eyes in bliss and repeat the process with more vigor, only to drive your knuckles into the edge of the cymbal and introduce yourself to the joys of Radial Arterial Spray! Now THIS is rock and roll, baby!!! Once a blood sacrifice is made to the drum kit, the deal with the devil has been signed!

This is your calling! You know what you must do! You immediately throw the practice pad out the window, burn the books, inundate the instructor with your finest colorful expletives, quit school, and join a rock band! You are going to be rich and smothered in the adoration of hoards of attractive fans!

Drumming Is Sexy!

U jelly?

Upon leaving school, you realize you don’t own a drum kit, so you find a part time job at the local burger joint and work just enough hours to purchase your first drum kit. It’s a fixer-upper! After replacing the broken spring on the kick pedal with something you found on your lawnmower, pouring a healthy dose of 3-In-One oil all over your Squeak King pedal, removing the bottom heads and hoops due to missing bolt thingies, drilling holes in cracked cymbals, duct taping cymbal stands in place to make up for stripped wing nuts, nailing the kick drum to the floor, securing the two-legged hi-hat stand by strapping it to your leg with a bungee cord, taping old socks to those ringy toms, stuffing every blanket in the house into the kick, and a quick glance at your handiwork, you are ready to rock! You call in to quit your job and begin scouring through craigslist for what is sure to be a life-changing connection with the band of your dreams! \m/

  • Listing #1 – “drumer wantid 4 awsum band to rul thu wrld!!1!1!! must own van, pa, drumz, mics, lite sistem, n hav $$$ for beer!!!! hawt chix welcum!!!!!!!”
  • Listing #2 – “NEEDED: talented drummer between ages 18-25, able to host practice 1-2 nights a week, able to play blast beats at up to 250 BPM, and be open minded to Ursusagalmatophilia lifestyle. No exceptions!”
  • Listing #3 – “YO YO YO YO!!!!! WATTTTTUP?!? NEED FRESH BEATS!!!! DRUMZ-4-$$$$$ MAHFAKKAZ!!! SEND BEATS FIRST THEN GET PAID!!! NO BULLSHITTIN ON FRONT STREET!!! ILL MAKE U RICH!!! WAITIN FOR DEM BEATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CALL NOW!!!!”
  • Listing #4 – “We need a male drummer…desperately. No age limitations. We will provide a drum set, practice space (our sound-proof basement), all the beer you can drink (and other stuff Johnny Law doesn’t approve of), and crash space for long, sweaty rehearsals. You don’t need talent. We can teach you everything you need to know. My bandmates Zed and Maynard are really talented and will show you a good time. Drop by the electronics shop any time! We are very excited to meet you and look forward to making music together! If you arrive early enough, Zed might take you for a ride on his chopper before the fun begins. Call 555-zeds-ded for more information and directions to our space.”
  • Listing #5 – “Professional drummer required for progressive/math-metal-core/neo-classical/ragtime/deathjazz/Musique concrète-inspired project dedicated to performing the most brutal, complicated, modern re-scoring of German Expressionism era silent films made between 1921-1923. Must have high-end gear, ability to tour worldwide, between the ages of 21-26, no progeny or spouse to hold you back, and at least the bare minimum of a DA, MFA, plus the mandatory DM. We take our work seriously and so should you. No poseurs. No addicts. Mild krokodil usage is acceptable on non-performance dates. If interested, please call 555-5150 between the weekday hours of 8-9:15pm, EST, unless it’s during fall harvest of a leap year during syzygy.”

Red Flag Warning

While all of these excellent offers may seem innocuous, most of us should see the obvious RED FLAG.

If you were paying close attention to the five ads listed above, you will undoubtedly have noticed in Listing #1 that the person who placed the craigslist ad spelled the word “welcome” incorrectly.  As much as it may seem like nitpicking, not having the ability to spell something as simple as “welcome” may reveal some deep-seated issues that the person may be struggling with. They are quite possibly secretly torturing small animals and repressing urges to become a serial killer. It’s painful to say this, but the music world is filled with narcissists, hucksters, sociopaths, and people riddled with performance anxiety. Don’t make yourself a victim!

You would do well to read up on Philip “Lucifer Effect” Zimbardo, Wendell “Babysitter” Johnson, and Carney “Rat” Landis before jumping head-first into something you will regret. Let’s face it. Now that you are in the music biz, you will need to develop your analytical mind and channel your highly perceptive inner Sherlock Holmes in order to make good choices when picking musicians to work with (or purchase pharmaceuticals from, if that’s your bag).

After landing the perfect gig, you are attending regular rehearsals which consist of drinking cheap beer, one-handed bong rips between singing backing vocal parts, sharing girlfriends, and the occasional brawl that breaks out when the bass player suggests that the band let him sing one of his songs written about his cat. Being in a rock band requires that you set your volume to talent ratio up to 98% & 2% respectively. You’ve purchased the heaviest sticks you can find and regularly break chunks out of your cymbals. Fortunately, the shrapnel has only injured the guitarist two or three times, max, thus far. Nothing a bit of super glue and duct tape can’t close up, right?

…which reminds me of the time I received quite a nice slice on my arm from a piece of flying cymbal debris. When your cymbal starts to break, do yourself a favor and recycle it or cut it down into a smaller cymbal like a splash if you have enough left to work with. Don’t take a chance on injuring yourself, you cheap bastard. You’ll shoot your eye out!

Introducing the Amazing Drum Key! or “What in hell is that for?”

Drum Key

At a local bar, you have learned from some old drummer in a cover band that you can turn those little bolts (apparently called “tension rods”…whatever the hell that means) around the edge of the drum to make it sound differently. Pfft. Why would you do that?  It’s not like all of the heads are broken yet and they sound fine as long as the sock doesn’t work it’s way out from under the tape.  But…curiosity gets the best of you, so you take the money you swiped from the band beer fund and purchase your very first drum key.

As you turn the key, the drum head gets all wrinkly on one section, so you crank on one of the bolt things located next to the wrinkles and it smooths out the previous area. But now there are wrinkles on another section of the head.  Damnit!  After about twenty minutes of twisting away with the drum key mounted in a pair of vice grips, the head is now perfectly smooth and tighter than a modern modern-day indie label recording budget. The drum looks ready to receive the punishment it deserves, so you make like Paul Bunyan and swing. You land a perfectly executed rim shot that causes the head of the tension rod to snap off and fly across the room, reflecting off of the stolen stop sign and slam into the sunglasses you are wearing. BFD. It’s not like you would have lost an eye…and you still have the remaining four rods to hold the stupid head on…AND the drum sounds essentially just like it did before you “tuned” it up. You throw the key out the window which makes a nice *clunk* sound as it lands on the the Chopping Block of Doom.

Your band is really kicking ass now after two months of heavy rehearsals! The guitarist got out of rehab and the singer is no longer under house arrest. Life is good! You call every bar in town to get your first gig. You tell the owner/manager/bartender/soundman/booking agent guy on the phone confidently how you already know almost twenty minutes of music, how your band rules, how you do the most amazing metal version of “Electric Slide” and that you can easily bring in anywhere from between 10 to 12 or at the least 5 of your friends and family to pack the house!

Gratuitous link to awesome drum kit photo.

After one painful rejection after another, you hit on the idea to ask the old drummer guy in the cover band if your group could open up the show for them.  …and you won’t even ask for half of the money from the door. Surprisingly, he agrees, and your first gig is booked! The bass player knows a friend of a friend who makes killer flyers for bands and agrees to design some state-of-the-art work for you at a discounted price of $20 and a bag of weed. BAM! Now you’re a rock star with a gig and a potential drug dealing conviction. This is too easy!

Despite the flyers looking like they were made by a feces-smearing toddler on a formula bender, you get the last one placed thanks to the kindness (and free cellophane) tape of the person working the front desk of the local nursing home. Feeling good about yourself for having completed the job, you realize you still have time to drive to the gig for a few drinks before you have to play.

Your uncle arrives within minutes of your starting time and begins setting up the color light organ, lava lamp, and black light. He assures you that the exposed wires are not dangerous as long as you don’t touch them. He then leaves to work the night shift at the Lion’s Den down the road and reminds you to return his lightning system after the show. You use up the remaining drink tickets and prepare to destroy the audience with your awesome awesomeness! The lights go down, the bartender/soundman for the evening shambles over and flips the switch on to the karaoke mic machine, mumbles something about the headlining band, and sets the mic on top of the black light. The jolt of electricity that hits him from the bare wire instantly wakes him up. A bit of pep is added to his step as he bounds back to the bar to wait on the customer.

Here you are, at another major turning point in your burgeoning career as an illustrious rock star! You climb up the stairs on the side of the stage and manage to carefully balance your way to the back up onto the drum riser without hitting your head on the water sprinkler system. You sit ready at the kit. The guitarist quits trying to tune his guitar, the singer makes one final adjustment to his music stand and opens up the ring binder of lyrics. You make eye contact and smile at the bass player, which is always awkward because you can’t really tell which eye he is looking out of. They may point different directions, but he has a heart of gold and a face only a mother could love. The singer shouts out to the customer at the bar to drink up because he is about to get his ass kicked by the heaviest rock band in town and shouts out the name of the first tune! You raise your sticks, make one last assuring glance at your band mates, click your sticks together four times, and strike the downbeat of your first song! HELL YEAH!  Everyone actually came in at the same time and you are off!

Hell yeah! \m/

Nearing the end of your twenty minute set, you shift your weight slightly forward to stomp on the kick pedal. That’s when it happens.  The pin at the base of the throne seat snaps, sending you plunging backward, over the back of the riser, past the stage, and down onto the filthy concrete floor! As you writhe in agony and try to catch your breath, you notice two things immediately.

  1. The band is still playing.
  2. The floor you are rolling on smells of piss, beer, excrement, and rotten eggs.

The former pleases you while the latter triggers your gag reflex.

The band plays the final ringing chord of “Mustang Sally” and turns back to wait for your drum cue to end the song only to hear the sound of splattering bile on concrete. It’s a hell of a finale and you can’t wait to get up and check the venue to see if anyone showed up to witness your greatness! You leave all of your gear on the stage and run out to ask the bartender/owner what he thought of your set. As he quickly turns to walk away, you hear the headlining band yelling at you to “get your shit off of the stage or we’ll throw it off!” Who the hell do they think they are, anyway?!?  Don’t they know who you are??? No respect! That’s the last gig you play with those assholes! If you ever work with any other bands, you’ll be sure to warn them never to work with these jokers!

Gear is hastily yanked from the stage, then you wait outside for them to complete their set. Once they are done, you enter the venue and ask for your cut of the pay.  They inform you that the bands have to split the cost of the karaoke machine and microphone rental. Since no money was made at the door, they tell you and your band mates to hand over $50 to avoid any trouble. Unfortunately, you have no money, experience isn’t on your side this night, and everyone in the band is broke and served a very generous ass-beating. You drag yourself into the alley behind the club, pile the remains of your equipment into the singer’s van, and head for home.

On the drive back, you and your band mates all agree that it was the greatest night of your lives and you can’t wait to do it again…and again. The van pulls up into the parking lot of your apartment, you hop out, wave goodbye, and they drive off.  The eviction notice on your door doesn’t phase you because you have tasted “the good life.” Your future is set in stone. Nothing will stop you! Your girlfriend says you can stay with her for a couple of weeks until you get a job.

As if…

Rock 'n' roll!

To recap potential drumming related injuries, here is an incomplete list  to keep in mind when considering the curse course of a drummer.

  • scrapes and bruises (to self and others)
  • severe lacerations
  • eye gouge
  • broken bones
  • sterility
  • concussion
  • tendonitis
  • calluses
  • blisters
  • strains, sprains, and automobiles
  • hearing loss
  • neuritis
  • finger jams
  • possession
  • repossession
  • carpel tunnel syndrome
  • rug burn
  • puncture wounds
  • epicondylitis
  • neck and back pain
  • starvation
  • kyphosis
  • humiliation
  • impotence
  • inflammation of neurosis
  • liver failure
  • overdose
  • drug charges
  • jail-time/house arrest
  • STDs
  • castration
  • death
  • eternal damnation (not confirmed at the time of this writing)

Returning to that job at the burger joint doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? Think twice, cut once, and always sleep with your back to the wall.

tl;dr Drumming will kill you, or worse.

I’ll leave you with a video from one of my biggest inspirations.

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20 Tips For Drummers To Prepare For A Recording Session

20 Tips For Drummers To Prepare For A Recording Session

I had previously posted this to a music forum and received very positive feedback on it. I thought I would post it here in case it might help someone else along the way. While it is primarily aimed at kit drummers who may have never been in a recording studio before, it may also be helpful for anyone who might want a checklist of things to consider before going into a session.

  1. Before you even get to the studio, take time to tighten up any loose screws, nuts, bolts, or connections, and oil anything that might squeak. While most of this sort of thing may be buried in the mix, you may be surprised to hear what pops out in a mix when you least expect it.
  2. While you are auditing your kit, fix anything that may be broken. I personally do not recommend changing your gear (buying new drums, changing cymbals, using different size sticks, etc.) before recording unless you have time to rehearse with it.
  3. New heads will sound better, so change them a few days before you go in to allow them time to “settle.” Do not forget to clean any debris from the hoops and bearing edge and consider adding lube to the tension rods. If the bearing edge is damaged, have it repaired before recording.
  4. Expect to tune to the room you will be recording in as it can have a big impact on how your drums will sound. Depending on the temperature, the drums may also need a little time to acclimate to the room.
  5. Bring extra sticks, spare kick pedal (or at least replacement parts for anything that might break), and if you can, extra heads.
  6. If you are going to be recording with a click, practice with a click so you will be used to the experience. Some play better with a click than others, but if you are not used to it, it will help to rehearse with one.
  7. If you have not played with mics on your kit, you might consider doing a mock-up and getting used to having something there. While mics are generally placed out of the way, those unfamiliar with mics on the kit may find it obtrusive at first. Having stick control will earn you bonus points with the engineer which may lead them to using better mics since they may trust you will not damage their expensive gear.
  8. Be punctual (if not early). You may have more gear than anyone else and it may take more time to set everything up for your kit. Some studios may let you load in your drums early and possibly even the night before. Ask and see.
  9. Know your songs inside and out. A well-rehearsed band can usually work more efficiently in the studio.
  10. If you are working with a producer, be willing to take any notes they may have to offer as well as any technical suggestions the engineer may offer. Take the notes, but do not be afraid to state your feelings honestly and communicate openly. After all, you are working towards making something everyone can be proud of (or at least enjoy in some capacity).
  11. Pay attention to what is going on and listen as much as you can. Try to learn from the experience while you are there. Take notes, watch the engineer, note the mic placements, and take it all in. It will help you in the end, especially if/when you return to the studio.
  12. Bring duct/hockey tape, band-aids, stay hydrated, be well-rested, stretch, bring something for down time to prevent boredom, and be prepared to work hard and possibly for very long hours. It should go without saying that drumming can be a workout, so conditioning and practice will help you gain the strength and stamina you will need.
  13. Take photos/video to document your experience if you have time, but do not let it interfere with the work process going on. Also, photos of mic placements and similar can help with continuity if you have to tear down and continue at a later date.
  14. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or voice concerns regarding the sounds you are getting, but keep in mind any limitations in place as far as equipment and time available.
  15. Try to enjoy the experience. You may become a session player…or you may never return to another studio. It can be a very rewarding experience, especially when you are prepared.
  16. If possible, do not invite anyone else to the session in order to allow you to maximize your focus and attention span on the job at hand. While it is great to have the support of friends/family, it is more important to stay focused.
  17. Choose your battles wisely when you run into a disagreement or at least know when to discuss things in private. You should make a great effort to keep things in balance. Plenty of bands have imploded from recording sessions. Keep it positive if you can.
  18. On a very personal note, instead of pushing everything on the grid with Beat Detective or other tools of that sort, consider pushing yourself to improve your performances, preferably before you have to enter the studio.
  19. Make a checklist so you don’t forget anything.
  20. Do a dummy check before you leave for the studio.

I am sure there are other things that could be added to this list. Feel free to use the contact page and send in your suggestions.  Have fun and enjoy your session(s)!

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