The second part of my (purely personal) good gigging guide comes under the heading musicality (click here for Part 1 - Preparedness). Some of these things may seem obvious, some may seem like I’m having a dig at people, but I’m not - they are just my take on the matter.
Take what serves you, leave what doesn't!
I've been gigging for more years than I care to mention (over 20) and it's so easy to forget to serve the music, either through bad choices or the wilful pursuit of other goals.
Time to break stuff down into manageable chunks!
1. Tuning! If a guitarist turned up to the gig with their guitar out of tune, and with no idea how to correct the situation, they’d quickly find themself out of the band!!! Now I will admit the plank spankers have it a bit easier as you can go out and buy a little box that basically gives you a nice little green light when you’ve got it right, and drums are a bit more complicated than that. But when it comes down to it, the tuning makes or breaks your sound.
Take some time, watch some videos - be brave and try some stuff, but you need to be able to tune!
As a secondary point, bear in mind that there is no one answer to tuning, What works on one drum might not work on another, even on the same kit!
I’ve had snare wires that have killed one snare dead but sounded like the greatest set of wires in the world on another drum.
2. Gear Selection Bring the right gear for the gig!
I recently saw some footage of a great drummer from a great band playing with his brand new set of very expensive, very on-trend Meinl extra dry extra dark crashes - great sounding cymbals but not for a band playing classic 90’s indie pop rock.
More expensive won’t necessarily mean better. Again, experimentation is the key. Find the gear that lets you create the sounds you want.
3. Listen to live recordings of your band Sometimes we are just to close too hear what is wrong with our own kits.
A friend of mine is a huge Police fan, and was over the moon when he managed to get hold of the Stuart Copeland Signature blue bell ride.
It was only when he heard a recording that he realised that as soon as he hit the thing it completely dominated the entire band, a lovely cymbal but just way too loud for the band he was in!
Which brings us on to...
4. Volume A lot of players seem to have a quest for volume - bell brass snares, 24” bass drums, huge china cymbals, rides as crashes - all seemingly to be the loudest they can be.
Now, I will admit I’m not a quiet player, but compared to some I’m practically a mouse. Volume can work, but it has to be in the right circumstances.
For example, quite a few years back I worked for DrumWright, and at the time the store had launched a limited edition Ian Paice signature kit, an absolute beast of a kit and the full cymbal rig, stands, the works. When the first kit arrived it was like Christmas, sooo many boxes!!! And let's face it, for a drum geek like myself, there is nothing quite like unboxing and setting up an iconic kit.
Of course first thing you have to do when presented with all this lovely new gear is give it a bit of a tap in store (just to see what they were like, you understand!) Even working in a drum store it’s not every day you get to try a 24” Paiste 2002 crash!!!
So, up it goes on a stand, give it a hit and…massive let down, worst crash ever, just horrible!!! Or so I thought, until a few weeks later at the official launch, in a church hall, played by the man himself it sounded awesome...
But that cymbal needs lots and lots of air, and a big firm hit. Perfect for a stadium artist, not so good down the Dog and Duck. I’d imagine even a Deep Purple tribute act would probably do better looking at a 20” or even an 18” version of the same crash.
Most of the cymbals I gig with are chosen to be full sounding but lower volume models. I have a lot of darker, thinner cymbals and a lot of “fast” models that get out of the way quickly. I have a similar tactic on the drums, which tend to be smaller than you would expect for a mainly “rock” player.
This means I can play without having to hold back as much (a lot more fun) and if I need to be louder, then I just add mics.
5. Make Sure You Can Hear!
I use IEM’s and would recommend to anyone, but as a sub-point I also give myself some live drum sound by mixing an overhead SM57 into my monitor feed (I just use a small mixer behind my kit to combine the feeds and the click feed from my keyboard player during some songs).
All I’m aiming to do is hear enough of what I need on a gig to be able to play dynamically and tastefully without hurting my ears.
Perhaps a bit of a rambling blog, but in summary - experiment and have fun, but be cautious - you only get one set of ears!