Monday, 24 February 2014

Herding Cats!

Or ... how to organise a band.

I wonder if anyone has ever actually tried to herd cats?  Its seems unlikely.  But you can imagine what it would be like.  Cats are not pack animals.  They are fiercely independent, self-focussed, random and un-tameable.  They do what they want, when they want to, and never ever do what you want them to, when you want them to do to it.  Plus, those teeth and claws.  Ouch.

Yes, I imagine herding cats is impossible, but attempting to herd them .... well that would be a sight to behold.

That's how I feel trying to organise a band is like.  Notice I say organise, not manage.  Managing a band is relatively easy.  You arrange stuff, you make sure the band know about it.  Sure there's a little more to it than that, but that's the basis of band management.  Organising a band though, that's as impossible as the cat thing.

I reckon, like the cat analogy, the difficulty rises exponentially every time you add another member to the equation.  Organising a duo?  No gift  I would imagine (never having been in one), but certainly not impossible.  Organising a trio?  Surely that's more than twice the difficulty of organising a duo.  Just trying to reliably get three people in the same place at the same time ... that's some serious shizzle.  Add a fourth member to that and I can see that graph tilting up toward the vertical.  That's an exponential curve.  Much more than twice as hard as the trio.  Getting four people sorted is verging on the impossible.

an example exponential curve
And we arrive at five members.  I'm not sure if that's the norm for a rock back, but more than that is unusual and sonically - a lot of people believe that five members is spot-on.
And impossible to organise.
Seriously, impossible.  Or something approximating it.
If it were a mineral, it would be impossibilium.
Five people, who all have day jobs, social lives, other halfs, vacations, even kids.  Trying to get them organised is a herculean task.  Even if you try it, if you attempt to navigate the calendars (if you're lucky), the personal preferences, the school runs and the standing instructions (never two gigs in a row, never more than two things in a week, average of two gigs per month, never on a school night, nowhere you can't park, never a place that has stairs etc) you will be branded a control freak just for attempting the impossible.  And you still won't make it happen.

I've been in a band for four years, and for four years we've been trying to organise a photo shoot.  We've changed two band members three times over those four years ... and most of those line-ups can't have existed, because there's no photographic record of it ever happening.

I totally get why some people swear by three-piece bands.  That's still hard to organise and harder still to fill that sound out with only the three of you.  But surely even given that, it's got to be better than herding cats?!

Herding Cats

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Music Matters?

I'm not so sure, in the UK at least ...

There's something wrong with the music scene here.  I know that, despite what the politicians say, we still in a global depression.  In the last 5 years I've had a significant pay cut every year in my day job - party because the 'cost of living increase' hasn't even tried to keep pace with inflation, but also due to cuts made to market premium in my trade (IT).  However, the statisticians would have us believe that in times of economic depression we actually spend MORE on leisure activities.  Then why isn't this borne out in the music scene.  Definitely not the local one, and from what I can see not even in the National scene.

I've been lucky enough to visit quite a few other countries in my life so far.  Without exception, all of them seem to value music much more than we do in the UK.  

A street performer in Stockholm will attract a small crowd of interested, normally smiling faces.  The same in the UK not only gets universally ignored, but I see people crossing the street to put as much distance between them as humanly possible.  

An open air gig in Australia will see the whole local area turn-out to support it, families with picnics and barbies, the young and the old craning necks to get a better few of (whoever) is on-stage at the time.  In the UK you won't even get local businesses to support the endeavour, and if you do it will be the last time they do - because no-one will show up to spectate.

Streets with a dozen bars in San Francisco will have 3 bands a night each and all will have queues of people waiting to get into them.  Pubs in the UK can barely pay local bands expenses, and you will be playing to the bar staff and a visually impaired labrador.

I'm exaggerating the point, but not as much as you might think.  Live music in the UK seems to be a thing to be endured, not enjoyed.

I used to blame the bizarre licensing laws in the UK.  Pubs would close the moment you got thirsty, were only allowed to open a set number of hours per week, and would have bars specific to age and gender.  Added to this, any venue would have to apply for a music license and jobsworth Council employees armed with sound meters would make everyone's life a misery.  Many of these things have gone now, and more are on the way out, but even so it only explains why live music in Pubs was so irksome.  Different rules and regs applied to Working Men's Clubs (yeah, don't get me started on those) in the 70's and 80's - which have become Sports & Social Clubs these days

No, none of this is why the shopper ignores the street performer, or the family don't make it to the free summer open air event, or the couple choose the Harvester restaurant because of the "noise" in their local bar.  For some reason the general population of the UK don't want or need live music.  I don't know why this is, or how to change it :-/

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Drum Riser

A DIY Project ...

As a few people already know, I made my own drum riser a couple of years back.  

I decided a wanted a drum riser to bring me up to something like the same height as the rest of the band. I would be using it  mainly for small venues (on the assumption that larger venues would have one anyway), so I didn't want to be too tall, too big (the same size as a standard drum mat), too heavy (I'm going to be carrying it myself) or too hard to pack up (it needs to fit in the Mystery Machine).

There are a few out there to buy, generally from staging companies, and none of them came close to my specification above.  The only option - make one!

Now, I'm not going to go through boring details about what wood to use, how to cut it, what sizes they are etc.  If you're thinking about making one yourself I'm sure you can work all that shizzle out.  What follows is just a few pictures to show you how I decided to do it.

The Riser is made from four identical sections, this is the frame required for one section.

Each section is a plywood top, the frame is screwed/glued to the plywood piece-by-piece.

Close up of a frame corner (all corners are the same)

Each of the four sections has two sets of 'legs'.  They push-fit into the frame.

The 'legs' (painted black here) will also stow away on the underside of the frame for transit.

This is one of the four sections standing on its end (being painted stage black).

One of the four sections, standing on it's end, with legs fitted.

The sections are held together with luggage clips.

To prove they it is exactly the same size as a standard drum mat!

I actually stuck the mat down, and then cut along the joins.

 I can do a bit of DIY, but I'm by no means a carpenter.  So if I can do this - anyone can!  :-)

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The art of being nice ...

Or 'How NOT to be Ginger Baker' ...

Yeah, Ginger doesn't need me to launch into a character assassination of him, he can do that perfectly adequately without help from me or anyone else, so I won't go there except to cite him has an example.

Growing-up in England in the 70's, most of us were taught a few important rules by our parents.  I don't know if they are still taught (sometimes I wonder), but I know they should be: -

  • If you can think of nothing nice to say, say nothing.
  • Say 'please' and 'thank you', don't pick your nose, wear clean underwear.
  • Good manners cost nothing.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated yourself.

Ginger has done pretty well for himself, despite having some pretty significant personality flaws.  Perhaps it's because he's inherently nasty (or at least acts that way) and so attracts much more media interest  than he otherwise would deserve.  But I can't help thinking he would have done much better, and definitely been much more loved, had he been able to follow at least some of the four mantras above.

Aside from being able to actually play drums, surely being 'nice' (yeah I hate the word too) must be the key to being employable in a band or musician capacity?  Even if we haven't experienced it directly ourselves, we've ALL heard anecdotally from friends, colleagues and read in interviews about how being a good person to work with gets you invited back ... and that being a nasty piece of work just doesn't make your phone ring!

You can extend the whole 'nice guy' thing of course: -

Always be on time (or early).  
I hate being late for anything, even being the last one to turn up (assuming everyone else is early) leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  I never want to be the person that people remember as late.

Be prepared.
Do your homework, learn those songs, have your kit fully tuned with new heads and shiny cymbals!

Expect the Unexpected.
This could mean anything, but I think it's about the right mindset.
Recently I was able to impress in a studio session where I was laying down backing vocals.  I'm definitely no singer, but I was (unexpectedly) asked to completely change what I was doing and the way I was doing it on the fly.  Very hard for me to do, vocally, but having an open mind and adapting quickly to the changes suggested earned me kudos.

Be Positive
I've been in sessions where one of the musicians is asked to do something.  They moan and pout and eventually end-up doing it anyway - but no one feels particularly good about it.  Surely everyone would think better of you if you just smiled and said "Sure, no problem" and got on with it?  Even if you think it's an awful idea you could counter with a friendly "yeah I can that, but I think this way might turn out better?".

I'm probably not well equipped to be a career coach, but all of the above seems like common sense to me, and is representative of the stuff I have read, heard and discovered for myself first hand.  However, you can take all this on board, change it, add to it ... but I earnestly believe that there is much more to being a good drummer than just being good at playing drums ;-)

Rolling Stone Reader's Picks (warning:  not all are nice guys!)

The best thing to happen to music ...

 ... since drummers :-)

I used to buy albums, a lot of them.  Really.  I almost had to have a separate room just to store them all.

Then, I won a CD player (new, exiting!) in a Pepsi competition at work.  There weren't a lot of CD's out at the time, but I started buying them and within a few months I had stopped buying vinyl.  CD's were just too convenient and it was clear which way the market was going.

They did me fine for a long long time. I still have all the vinyl, although I no longer have a turntable.  I keep meaning to get a digital one and convert them to MP3's, but the truth is I will probably sell them all to a collector.  It's not even about the investment now, it's about the space.  However, this is also forcing me to think about that wardrobe crammed with CD's.  You see, I've stopped buying those too.  Thing is, I never decided to stop buying them, I realised when HMV went into receivership that I didn't miss it.  I'd already stopped buying CD's without noticing.

It wasn't Amazon Music or Google Play Music that had snuck it's way into my life (although I have uploaded my personal MP3 collection to the latter) because both of those services pretty much rely on the old paradigm of buying an album/cd/whatever at a time.  No, what had wormed it's way into my audio routine was Spotify.

Many of you will already be familiar with it, but for those still baffled - here's a summary.

You can download the Spotify app to your PC, Smartphone, Tablet and many audio devices now have it built-in.  You need to have an account, but that is free.  The free account lets you listen to whatever music Spotify has in it's library (which is almost everything today) and create your own playlists.  There are restrictions and you do get to listen to adverts every now and again.

If you pay for the Premium subscription (£10 a month or thereabouts), there are no restrictions or adverts, and you can 'download' your playlists.  This means you can still listen to them without having to 'stream' them in real time over an Internet connection.

Now, you can 'buy' music from Spotify within the app, just like you can with the Amazon or Google app - but why would you?  I've found that I don't need the security blanket of owning a physical CD or MP3 of the songs I listen to.  My playlists sync across all my devices, so if I add a track to a playlist on my phone, it updates on my tablet and PC.  If that happens to be an 'offline' playlist, the new track simply downloads (in Spotify's proprietary file format) when that device next has an Internet collection.

I find I'm listening to even more music, and more varied music, because I don't have to place an order with or visit a store to hunt down a song I've heard about.  I just search for it on my of my devices and straightaway can listen to it as many times as I want for as long as I want -all the time I pay my tenner a month.

I know you'll be thinking "so how do you play it in the car?".  Well, it's no different to an iPod or MP3 player.  In my case, when I get in my car I slam my phone (Nexus 4) into the cradle when I get in.  The cradle charges the phone wirelessly and the audio (via the Spotify client) plays over Bluetooth to the car stereo.  Same deal at home, all of my audio systems are bluetooth, so I play music from my phone or tablet using the Spotify client wirelessly.

Any monthly subscription should be carefully considered, especially with drummers or other musicians who would rather buy the next shiny piece of kit to augment their set-up, but this one saves me literally hundreds of pounds and gives me limitless flexibility.

Spotify, damned clever those Swedes ;-)

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

What's wrong with Drummer's cases!

And what are the alternatives?

I think I've used pretty much every major make and type of drum case over the years.  
Way back when, pretty much all you could get were flimsy style cases that were basically made from cardboard.  These days they've improved significantly, but I still remember how they would literally dissolve when they got wet, and I would have to wait for them to dry again before I could fix the seams with a pop-rivet gun.
Like the Mogwai, never get it wet, don't feed it after midnight.

If you were rich, or Hercules, or had a roadcrew - you would probably use Full or Semi Flight Cases.  However, most people I know who do use them for drums also put the drums in some kind of individual cases first.  Flight Cases can be incredibly strong, but without great padding inside they are not particularly kind to their contents!
Thon Cymbal Semi Flight Case

Although there were other choices, these were the two main ones for the first decade or so when I started gigging.  But all this changed in the early 90's when Protection Racket hit the scene!  By now I'm sure every drummer is aware of them and probably owns some of their cases.  It's good stuff and was revolutionary at the time.  Tough, waterproof, affordable (don't get me wrong, they are not cheap and never have been!) and virtually indestructible.  I'm still using two of the hardware bags today that I bought back in the mid 90's and although they will need replacing sometime soon, you can't argue that I haven't had my money's worth out of them.

Protection Racket Tom Case

Today lots of people make soft cases and although Protection Racket are still right up there, I think there are better choices for my money.  The Ahead cases, for example, have really pushed forward in terms of their intelligent design and there are other companies out there who are at least as good, but by now it's just variations on a theme.

The other main choice today is the hard plastic ones.  Again, there are a few manufacturers out there, but the best known is probably Hardcase.  As they name suggests they are hard plastic outer shell (now in a variety of colours) with some minimal foam padding on the inside.  Again, lots of variations  out there, although most hard plastic cases seem to be for cymbals (we'll come to that in a minute!).
Hardcase Tom Case

I have (different) issues with all of these cases, and I'll tell you why.

Soft cases protect against scrapes, but that's about all.  If you drop a drum (in a soft case) from a pretty low height it might be ok, depending how heavy it is.  But if your heavy snare drum rolls out of your panel van when you open the door and makes it's way to the tarmac waiting below .... let's just say you'll probably be shopping for a new snare drum! They also offer almost nothing in the way of crush protection.

Hardcases do a little better on the impact & crush protection, and also protect from scrapes and scratches.  However, they are not so user-friendly (think about the interior of your family car after a year of loading hardcases in and out of it) and they can be pretty damned brittle.  I've had a (cymbal) Hardcase gently fall out the back of my estate car and land on the pavement - maybe a half metre drop.  The case was smashed where it hit the pavement and the centre bolt was so bent that I had trouble getting the cymbals out of the case again.  I know you could say the case did it's job and protected the cymbals, but these are not cheap cases to replace for such a minor (and probably fairly common) interaction.

Flight Cases, even semi-flight, are really really heavy compared to the above options.  They suffer even worse in the user-friendly stakes (try clipping your ankle with one of these bad boys when negotiating a staircase) and only offer really good protection to the contents if there is ample padding inside.  With that though, they are bomb proof.  I've seen pictures of trucks driving over Flight Cases with barely a mark on the case afterwards (although the truck may have had some minor damage!).

So what's the answer?

Well, if money, time, weight and size were not issues - I would have all of my shinies fitted with Ahead cases and then snuggled safely inside full Flight Cases.  However, that isn't practical for all except the top 1% of people in our profession.

What I seem to be settling with, is mixing and matching depending on what I'm protecting and why I'm protecting it.  I'm slowly replacing my (ageing) Protection Racket cases with Ahead cases as and when they fail, or I see them come-up cheap in the various retail channels.  For my buck, the Ahead offer slightly better protection and feature a little more innovation in terms of design and materials.  For the 'high value' or more delicate items I'm plumping for semi Flight Cases - even though this means adding considerably to the weight and reducing the skin on my shinbones.  So far this is equating to cymbals, the more expensive of the snare drums (DW Edge) and all the microphones and electronics.

For any case designers out there, please take on-board that there is still no perfect solution for the majority of drummers, and I eagerly await your new line of 'Unobtainium' drum cases in the not-too-distant future :-)

Monday, 17 February 2014

Finding the next job ..

How to find a Band/Gig/Session?

First of all, the why ...

I'm what many would consider middle-aged (apart from those who've met me, who agree I'm a child), I have no kids or wife to worry about, and I like to play as much as possible.  I'm a full time member of one band, and take-on sub-work occasionally - but I tend to be pretty picky about that (probably too picky if truth be known).  I (sadly) still have to maintain a day-job to pay the bills ... and if I'm honest to fund my drum addiction.  

However, I'm just not busy enough.  

I don't need to be doing music stuff every single day (although that would be nice!) but my current level of activity just isn't enough for me.  I've decided I need at least another project, but finding the right one ... that's the tricky bit isn't it.

Now I'm (obviously!) a fan of the Interweb.  That's not just because my day-job is in IT, but we all use Internet Services in our daily lives these days and love it.  My personal life would be very difficult to manage if I lost my smartphone & tablets and many of us have come to expect to stream digital media to whatever device happens to be in front of us at the time.  The thing is, I have a bit of a problem with the various musician/band placing sites we currently have out there.

They all feel a bit too much like Internet dating for my liking.

I know, I know.  Plenty of people have found wonderful partners and even marriages on Internet dating websites, but although I've dabbled a little in the past, I've never been able to get past the fact it feels like a supermarket meat counter to me.  You line-up all the criteria and BINGO you have a match, in fact you have hundreds of them!  Never mind the fact that everyone (allegedly) lies their ass off when filling-out profiles.  But how, on earth, can a basic algorithm to match one profile against another, replace a big chunk of the wonderful courtship paradigm that us humans have come-up with over the centuries?

I have to balance this with the fact that I have successfully found a band via the Interweb, and only months later we found a replacement guitarist for that same band.  I still think this is the exception.  In the months and years before and since I've never had a single profile, advert, email or private message from any of the sites (and I think I'm on them all) that has piqued my interest.  Are they just doing it wrong?  Or am I the one doing it wrong?

Maybe the answer is the same as it is for the dating industry.  IF you can network personally with a high enough number of people, they will get to know you and you will do likewise.  The likelihood of you finding the 'right' match sooner or later is pretty high.  But like the dating sites, if you can't or won't actually get out there and meet a lot of people ... doing it on the web might be a distant second-best, but it's still better than not doing it at all.



Sunday, 9 February 2014

Buy Cheap, Buy Twice!

Buy Cheap, Buy Twice: A False Economy

I've been playing drums a long time.  A very long time.  Subsequently, I often get younger people (friends, relatives, fans, whatever) asking me what gear they should buy.  I always reply, "buy the best you can afford".  This is normally followed by the counter-question "So what is the best?".

No way to answer that really.  Well, there is.  But it's too subjective (or is that objective?) to call ;-)

I've had most makes of drum gear over the years.  From the very old, to the very new, the top-of-the-range, to bottom of the bargain bucket.  There are brands which I think represent absolutely fantastic value for money, but that doesn't make them the best of course!  For example, I've had a full set of the Stagg Chinese cymbals.  They sounded beautiful, recorded well, cost pennies, and ... broke-up like a bar of chocolate straight from the fridge dropped on a concrete floor.  Amazing value, but poor quality.

Similar tales could be told of snare drums, drum kits, pedals, hardware ... very few of it these days is rubbish value for money. Manufacturing standards have advanced to the stage that even the cheapest mass produced drum kit is (technically at lest) built to a higher standard that the top of the range kit from the 60's or 70's.  

However, whenever I've played cheap stuff - even when excellent value for money, I find myself making excuses for it.  Either in my playing, or the sound I'm managing to get (more likely the sound I'm not managing to get!).  I'm at the stage in my life now where I no longer have to raid the bargain buckets for 'barely playable' kit.  I still need to shop smart, of course.  But these days that means snagging stuff that comes up in the sale, or comes up 'as new' on eBay.

And this tends to be the advice I give to people when they ask.  If you lust after that £1300 snare drum and nothing else will quite measure-up to it ... think about how you can make that affordable.  My favourite snare is a £1300 DW Edge.  I didn't pay £1300 for it.  I don't think I could, even if I had the money.  I picked mine up second hand, not even from eBay but from a reputable second-hand dealer.  Almost 2/3 off the cost and believe me, you'd think it was brand new when I collected it.

Due to the recession, the rapid growth of the retail Interweb and people shopping a lot smarter - the second hand instrument market is booming.  That hasn't mean that prices have crept up to regular retail values either.  It's just developed to the extend that almost anything you can think of, even relatively new and otherwise hard-to-get items can now be found second-hand at a fraction of their original retail cost.

The best shopping advice I could ever give is shop smart, shop used, buy the 'best' you can - and you will never regret it!

Top Links: -

Friday, 7 February 2014

In Ear Monitors (IEM)

In your ears, not outside them!

Most of us, by now, have noticed people using In Ear Monitors (IEM).  Whether it's a newscaster or presenter on TV, your favourite singer at a gig, or maybe even an audiophile who wants to shut the World out.  The price of IEM has, and is, dropping which means you're going to see it more and more.

IEM earbuds are quite different to the regular earbuds you get with your iPod or similar device.  Those things generally deliver the sound to the outside of the ear canal.  You can usually still hear the outside World (how well will depend on how loud you're playing music!) and the quality of the speaker driver varies from low to medium (with a few exceptions from people like Bose).

An IEM earbud will normally need to be pushed right down inside the ear canal.  This can feel a little odd at first, as not only is the sound being directed right onto the eardrum, but all external sound is (deliberately) blocked out.  A lot of people talk about the weird feeling of isolation you get when first using them, but that fades after a few hours.  If you can get through this (not everyone can) you will be delighted at the quality of sound you get with IEM.

That's the general theory of the thing you stick in your ear, and there are now thousand of IEM earbuds at every price point.  Like anything, you get what you pay for.  However, there is much more to IEM than just posh earbuds.

The idea of IEM for live music comes from a need to lower the on-stage sound levels both to improve the quality of the sound (for audience as well as performers) as well as protecting the performers hearing.  Generally speaking, just a (rock) drummer playing on his own will generate enough sound to permanently damage his own hearing as well as anyone else's standing in close proximity.  Add into that your bass player, guitarist, keyboards, vocals and heaven forbid micing-up instruments to reinforce the sound ... even a stage in a modest-sized bar has enough sound on it to cause deafness over the course of a few years.

There are other reasons too.  I used to have at least one 'wedge' monitor pointing at my head when I played drums live.  This was an attempt to hear vocals and keyboards over the sound of drums, bass and guitar.  The problem is, I sing as well, so I'm wearing a headset microphone.  Any 'noise' around me is also being picked up by my mic - which is also going through my monitor (as well as the front-of-house speakers) so you end up in an escalation zone.  Desperately turning up the monitor louder and louder so I can hear the rest of the band, but all that 'mush' is going through my microphone and being thrown back at me at ever increasing volumes.

Switch to IEMs, and with a little electronic magic you can have the perfect mix in your ears which no-one else can hear, and no extra sound pollution on stage or out front to try and deal with.

That's the theory, the practise takes a little more thought (and money).

Firstly, you're wearing excellent earbuds and that's great, but where are you getting the sound from?  Most people will take a feed from the main mixing desk and put it into a headphone amp.  That's groovy, when all the instruments are going through the mixing desk, but at smaller venues they are probably not.  Additionally, if everyone in the band is using IEM, they will probably all want a slightly different mix.  For example, the bass player will want to hear his bass guitar and his backing vocals prominently in the mix.  However, the vocalist might not want to hear the bass guitar or the bass player's vocals at all.  Personally, I don't need to hear drums in my mix (I'm surrounded by the damn things), but I do need to hear all the other instruments a bit and my own backing vocals a lot.  Unless you have a mixing desk with an awful lot of busses which can handle providing a separate mix for each musician as well as a master mix for the audience, you're going to have to compromise a bit.

For pubs, clubs and bars, I get around this by using my own headphone amp which has an option to control the volume of my own vocal microphone.  I blend that with a feed I'm getting from the main mixer, which pretty much just vocals and keyboards.  In order to hear the other instruments on stage you will need to have an ambient microphone there to add to the mix.  This will pick-up a lot of the 'mush' I mentioned earlier.  Fine for a monitor mix where you just want to hear the other instruments a bit, but you really don't want that shizzle being sent out to your audience at a thousand watts - so may sure you only use it in the monitors and not the outfront mix.

Finally, being tethered by a bunch of cables gets really old, really fast.  Again the prices of wireless monitors are coming down a lot and you can easily add one to your set-up.  However, multi-channel systems (which you will need if the whole band want to go wireless) can be expensive and complex - so that's something to consider.

My (personal) set-up: -

ACS T15 Single Driver earbuds

Fischer Amps In Ear Body Pack XL
Fischer Amps In Ear Body Pack XL

Audix HT2
Audix HT2 Headset Microphone

LD Systems WS 100-R B-Stock
LD Systems wireless (for headset microphone)

And soon to be added: -

LD Systems MEI 1000 G2 wireless (for IEM)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Hulk

All drummers (and most other performers) ...

No, no, no.  I already know what you're thinking "Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry" ...  Famous quote from the 70's TV show (I'm not convinced he ever said that, but whatever!)  no, I'm being a bit more subtle than that.

I have a theory that all drummers, and to a certain extent all performers, are the Hulk - and here is why.

Performing is a place.  It's a state of mind.  It's somewhere you can visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.  Lots of people can play drums, probably less than half of them bother to, or are otherwise capable of, actually performing.

Some people call it being in the zone.  I remember reading interviews with Carl Fogarty (4 x World Superbike Champion) and how he described all of his 59 victories.  He was definitely 'in the zone'. When in that place, he won.  Everytime.  And when he wasn't, he would fall off trying to get into the zone.  After sustaining serious injuries at a race in Australia, he found he just couldn't get back into the zone and immediately retired from racing (although he managed a Team for a while).

His story struck a chord with me (no pun intended!).  Although he probably lacked the vocabulary to adequate describe it, he knew 'how' he won races - how he performed.  He was in that 'place' and once there was unbeatable.  When he couldn't fine the place anymore, it was time to do something else instead.

Back to the Hulk then.  Why the Hulk?  Like most comic book (anti) heros, he goes through a transformation.  His is a little more obvious than most, but bear with me.  When he's normal he's just a guy, okay a pretty clever one, but definitely just a man.  But when when something pushes that button ... well, he's a big green smashing machine!  Everything becomes simple to him, all the details of the world just fall away and the only thing he knows is what he does.  Smash.  In the case of the Hulk.  In our (performers) case, hopefully it's all about performing instead.

"When I can't fight it anymore, when it takes over, when I totally lose control... I like it."

That's what I'm talking about.  Letting the performance (drumming) take over, getting into the zone, making what you're doing the only important thing in the world ... and loving it.

That's what makes a great performer ;-)

Eric bana ban

Monday, 3 February 2014

Album post-production


Firstly, let me say I love the whole recording experience.  

From pre-production (song writing/arranging), to getting a sound in the studio, recording, overdubs, mixing, and finally to post-production ... it can be a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs for even the most emotionless band member!

Post-production though, that has all of the work, but none of the 'fun' of the other phases, for me at least.

Take my current project, an album with +Fox Force 5.  Pre-production was done over a number of months, so hard to define exactly what went into that.  It's all covers so there's no writing, but rather than make it easier that tends to make it harder work ... only more fun!  It's 12 songs re-imagined 'our way'.  Terrific fun seeing what you can do with 2012 pop song, or a classic motown number.  Like countless other cover albums done by the famous to the complete unknowns, it's a real challenge to capture the essence of a well-known tune and yet make your own mark on it.

Getting a sound in the studio was a dream.  I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the sound of the kit, the cymbals, what snare drums for which track, how to tune, how to set-up, how to play .. the list goes on.  I did all that, and more, and on arrival at the studio (+Ten21) I handed each drum over to engineer/producer +Sean Kenny to let him tweak before I set the kit up.  Right off the bat the kit sounded tremendous and my selection of DW snare drum all got a showing at one-time or another.

Recording the basic tracks was nay bother.  We are all in separate sound-proofed rooms, but obviously we can hear each other on headphones and even watch each other on the closed-circuit TV screens in every booth.  A little under two days and the basics for 12 tracks was laid down.

Overdubs took a little longer.  All the vocals and backing vocals to re-record, many of the guitars replaced or at least solo's laid down over the top.  One or two keyboard parts to add and there were a few bass parts we wanted replacing.  I wasn't there for all of the sessions but managed to make most of them.  Always fun, and more than once I was a crumpled heap on the vocal booth floor.

Mixing.  It's awesome when you start to hear the finished track emerging.  I think I managed to make all of the mixing sessions - I just can't get enough of it, regardless of the band.

Post-Production is usually the final tweaks, the tiny details of levelling all the instruments, the perfect amount of echo to a snare drum, the compression and mastering to a stereo mix, and listening to the finished article on a thousand different sound systems so you know how it will sound wherever/whenever it is played.  This probably isn't the longest phase, but sometimes - it feels like it.  Endless back and forth, last chance to get that backing vocal at exactly the same volume.  Does is sound better in the car than the lounge, can we get a balance to work everywhere or just average it so the tracks sound 'ok' on most devices?

In post-production there is very little fist-punching the air with excitement, you don't have the adrenaline of the performance or the fun of churning out that quirky vocal or a belting solo.  It's the last mile of a marathon.  You've already done 25 miles and suffered all the pain there is to feel, but you still can't stop.  You have to pound out that last little bit and make sure you don't stagger or make a mistake when the finish line is in sight. 

It's so close and yet .....

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Day After

The Gigover ...

The day after a gig is always a difficult one for me.  I suppose a biologist our maybe even a chemist would be able to give a much more accurate description than I - but 'gigover' seems to describe it very well.

Acute joint pain, deep muscle fatigue, headache, lethargy and nausea.  I've always had this, to a greater or lesser degree, and although painkillers, Lucasade and improved fitness reduces the symptoms ... nothing eliminated them.  Of course, today I'm also suffering from the tail end of my manflu, so the symptoms are a little more severe and my lungs feel freshly sand papered to boot!

Treatment?  Well, there's bacon.  And coffee.  And when my other half is back from visiting her folks - I'm promised a roast dinner.  That'll do it :-D

Anyway, the show with +Fox Force 5 was good last night, the new lights worked well and I liked the new sticks.  Here's a somewhat arty picture from the front row ;-)

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Drum Sticks

A drummer's tools ...

Dull subject, I know, unless you're a drummer!

Any drummer who's been playing for more than a couple of years will already have worked their way through a whole bunch of different sizes, materials, makes, etc.  I'm no different.  However, at around £12 a pair for 'branded' sticks ... drummers have a tough time of finding that perfect pair.

You know what, I never have.

I used Ahead sticks for about ten years.  It was no coincidence that I was playing electronic drums at the time.  Electronic drum pads of the early 90's were basically plywood with a bit of rubber car mat stuck on top.  You did get predictable  rebound off them, but they were very hard on the hands.  The Ahead sticks, being hollow aircraft-grade aluminium, take a lot of that shock out of your hands.  When I went back to using 'traditional' drums I also went back to using wooden sticks.

When I got a bit fed-up with the £12 or-so a pair, I bought a bulk load of cheap sticks.  I won't name and shame them, but they had an S at the start, a G at the end, and a TAG in the middle :-p  They were really very cheap, I believe I bought two 'bricks' for them for about the same as one pair of famous branded sticks.  They played ok as well, a few of them broke in seconds, but most did not.  They really were wonderful value for money - but considering they were almost free, does that say a lot about the quality?

The big problem is the weight, and I didn't appreciate it at the time.  Through (decades!) of trial and error, I've found I seem to get on with a stick weighing about 60 grams.  The problem with these cheap sticks (5B Oak btw) is that the weight varied between about 30 and 70 grams.  That's a massive difference.  Imagine holding two sticks in your hand instead of one and you'll have an idea for how much difference that makes!

Being a bit geeky and having a bee in my bonnet about this, I put a few pairs of expensive 'branded' sticks on the scales.  Again, I won't tell you the brand, but it began with P, ended with K and had RO-MAR in the middle :-)  These were a lot better, but could still have as much as 15 grams difference between them.  By now, I'm going through old boxes for other sticks and found my old Ahead aluminium ones (5A, btw) - onto the scales with them.  3 pairs and only 1 gram between them!

I've now ordered a new pair of Aheads, a tiny bit heavier than the old 5A's I used to use (I find with light sticks I just swing them harder to achieve the same effect).  With some quality stick wrap on them, I reckon they will be about perfect :-D