Thursday, May 26, 2011

Being a Pro

So, I'm never going to be a professional full-time musician. First off, I don't think I have the talent...and second, I know that I don't have the drive to self-promote and the tolerance for uncertainty that such a life would entail. Still, I plan to play music as long as I'm physically able and to do it with as many folks as I can. And for those reasons, it is worth listening to advice on how to be professional.

Last week at a rehearsal the lead singer called me "an academic." It was a compliment. All he really meant was that I took notes on songs. I don't really get how it is that people learn new songs without doing this...whether they be cover tunes or originals. For me, having a recording and writing notes is the only way to figure things out and to be able to remember what's going on for the next time. I don't know how people get by without doing this. Obviously they do...but I don't know how.

So I guess I'm glad to read the following nice blog post by a professional drummer.

Filling In Survival Guide
Last weekend I had the great opportunity to work with CCM Artist Big Daddy Weave on a tour date out in Missouri as a fill in for their drummer Jeff Jones. It was an incredible experience for me, and one where I was able to really hone in my skills doing sub-work. I decided after the experience to write a little map about how to fill in for other drummers and how to really nail it.

1) Preparation.

This is really the most important part of the process. You can never be too prepared for a gig. In this case their drummer sent me side view videos of him playing the tunes, and I also got a copy of the audio from the live show from top to bottom. I spent a good bit of time going through each song. I cannot over emphasize the need to listen to the tunes by themselves without charting first. This helps give me an idea of the feel that they are going for, and gives me a great idea about what kind of chops I’ll need to accomplish it. It also puts me in the right mindset style-wise so that I’m doing my best to duplicate the feel of the person that I’m subbing for. Remember, the goal here is not really to just play like crazy, the goal is to make it seem like you’ve played the songs 100 times and like their drummer isn’t away. You can’t do that without listening to the tunes intently.

2) Charting.

Once I’ve listened to the songs, it’s time to start making charts. I always start by finding the general tempo of the tune and writing that on the top of the chart. I also typically will write a style or song association. If it’s very Dave Matthews sounding, I’ll write DMB, or John Mayer or whatever so when I look at the chart I know how fast it is and what tune it reminded me of. That way I can associate quickly on stage if I forget what a song sounds like.

From there I’ll go ahead and listen 1 time through just getting the proper bars and the song form. I write everything in the Nashville number system, but I use all 1′s since I don’t need the changes. So a verse for me that’s 8 bars looks like this ( 1 1 1 1 : 1 1 1 1 :) I use the numbers to show a measure and the “:” is used to tell me a phrase has ended. So that would be an 8 bar verse with two phrases. It can get really complicated when you have odd meters and such, but I have a system for everything these days. Once I have the tune mapped out I’ll take another listen all the way through and I’ll write in the necessary grooves, variations, stops, band hits, etc. Anything that will help remind me of what the song is supposed to sound like. I’ll also write snare drum choices if I’m going to be changing them out in the show.

Charting is the most important part for me. I just played a 14 song show by reading through charts, there was no possible way for me to memorize 14 songs in one week, especially in the middle of doing studio work, so you live, eat, and breathe by the charts you write. So this process is very tedious, but necessary and eventually it even becomes fun. You can create your own language basically.

3) Gig Day.

Finally, you’ve listened, charted, prepared as much as possible. Now it’s time to do the show. The biggest thing for me, especially when we don’t have any rehearsals, is making sure that the tempo is at least close and the feel is right-on. This is much easier if you’re using a click track, but if you aren’t, the best thing is to try to get your own click into your mix so that you can at least start close to the correct tempo. All songs tend to move when you aren’t on the click which is why I am a huge advocate for the click track, but in many cases artists don’t use them, so you have to be prepared for that and be ready for whatever comes your way.

Once you’re on stage reading down your charts, it’s important to stay focused on the form of the songs. Keep your ears open, if you are hearing something different from your charts feel-wise, make adjustments. Your charts are there to guide you but sometimes artists make changes on the fly, you have to be listening as much as reading. If you know what the verse sounds like, and they want to repeat it, just be prepared mentally to keep following along. If you get lost in the chart keep your eyes and ears on the band leader, they will surely give you cues as to what’s coming next. I always try to make sure to make a point of looking out of the charts in the middle of the tune. If the second verse, pre-chorus and chorus are mirrors of the first, I’ll make a mental note, and use that time to interact with the other players. Then I get back into the chart before the bridge so I know what I’m doing. Don’t be so into the chart that you’re not with the artist on stage, but don’t allow yourself to get lost in the moment and forget about the huge stop on the first beat of the bridge :).

Hope this helps some of you guys. I’ve filled in and read charts on the stage for at least 15 different artists in the last few years, this has always worked for me as a survival guide. Peace!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Drummers: Phil Collins

As long as I can remember Phil Collins has been something of a punch line. I can't find a video of it, but I remember Rosie O'donnell once mistaking Sting for Phil Collins and it getting a big joke. And I remember the cheesy pop music of the 80s he produced. More lately, I've read and heard lots of people put him down as a musician and a drummer.

In one of my drumming magazines last night there was a "10 things to like about Phil Collins" article. I guess that, by the time I knew Genesis and Collin's solo career...they were cheesy pop. But long before that, Genesis was prog. And prog in my mind means complicated. And I never would have put Phil Collins and complicated in the same sentence before.

But I learn more and more every day that what I never knew about the history of pop music far out-shadows what I do know. And that's what this blog has always strived to be all educating myself about shit I should have known a long time ago.

So, I had no idea Genesis started in 1967 and Collins joined in 1971...taking over lead vocals in 1976. Follow You Follow Me is the first song I am aware of by Genesis that I am familiar with...and that was 1978.

Here's the kind of weirdness they pulled:

Checking the Billboard charts, I can see now why I didn't know anything about their early days. They didn't hit it big until "Follow You Follow Me".


Collins drums in odd times...Dance on a Volcano in 7/8

Fifth of Fifth

Also Cinema Show, Suppers Ready, Los Endos and Lamb Lies Down on Broadway album