When recording in the studio, drummers (and especially engineers) have a tendency to muffle and cover the drums with all sorts of things. Gaffer’s tape, towels, wallets, t-shirts. Sometimes this is done to achieve a certain effect (for example, the “Ringo” sound), while other times it’s just an attempt to control the natural overtones of the drums. For a good example of a heavily muffled drum sound, just listen to any album recorded by The Eagles.
There’s also the opposite approach to recording drums. No muffling. Little or no gating. Just crank up the overhead mics and capture the real sound of the kit. Sometimes it’s refreshing to hear the wide range of frequencies bouncing around drums as you play a groove. It can bring life to a track and provide a certain essence that heavily produced or programmed drums tend to lack.
For today’s loop, my drums are totally naked. No t-shirts or duct tape, however, I was wearing pants. You can even hear the sympathetic resonance coming off of the cymbals and toms. It’s a straight forward, pop/rock feel with another hat tip to Chris Frantz (floor tom on the “&” of four).
One of my good friends, a fellow drummer and former classmate, offered me the chance to ‘babysit’ his cymbals this week. He was going down to New Orleans for Jazz Fest and, knowing that I was busy recording a series of loop packs, was kind of enough to loan me his vast array of cymbals.
When I set up to record today, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I had two cases FULL of various cymbals to choose from. Everything from Sabian HH crashes to Zildjian A Custom hi hats to Bosphorus rides. I love my own collection of cymbals, but it’s always exciting and inspiring to play with a completely fresh set up. It’s amazing how the inherent tonalities of a new instrument can completely change your approach to performing.
I set up two of the Boshporus ride cymbals and immediately found myself immersed in up-tempo bebop and way-out-there fusion for the next hour. I recorded everything and saved it on the external drive. I then realized I needed to crank out a loop for the blog….
I’ll admit, this loop sounds like I’m banging my right hand on a trash can lid… but it’s actually one of the nicest sounding ride cymbals I’ve ever played. You’ll get to hear its true sound soon. There are several gigabytes of grooves which I’ll be editing, mixing, rex’ing etc over the next week. For now, I give you the low-fi, filtered, dirty, bad babysitter version.
I still remember my first Modern Drummer magazine. It was the August, 1989 issue and Chris Frantz of The Talking Heads graced the cover. I was twelve years old and had finally convinced my parents to buy me a drumset (an old red sparkle, 4 piece “Apollo” kit). While we were at the music store purchasing some cymbals to go with the drums (Zildjian Bronze Scimitars), I grabbed a few pairs of sticks and my first copy of “MD”.
For the next month, when I wasn’t in my bedroom playing along to INXS’“Kick” album, I was reading my first issue of Modern Drummer. I was mesmerized by everything inside. The product reviews of the new Pearl Exports. The Yamaha Recording Custom ads featuring Dave Weckl and his perfectly coifed mullet. This was drummer-porn to the fullest. I was hooked.
It was my first chance to get inside the minds of the drummers I heard on the radio and watched on MTV. I found the interview with Chris Frantz to be particularly interesting. I learned about the history of The Talking Heads and what it was like to play at CBGB’s in NYC (a club I would end up frequently playing 13 years later). Their art school approach to music making made me think about drumming in a different light. It was the first time I heard someone talk about the importance of “music” over “chops”. It was my first step in the right direction.
Today’s loop was inspired by Chris’ drumming with The Talking Heads, particularly their hit “Once in a Lifetime”. Instead of incorporating the tom on the “&” of 4, I play it directly on the 1. This groove is actually an outtake from one of the loop packs I’ll be publishing. More details to come soon…
To be perfectly honest, I had no clue about what I was going to write today so I decided to attempt another death-defying round of the “car game”. For those of you just tuning in, the “car game” is when I get in my car (typically after my wife has driven it), start the engine, and then base my loop on whatever happens to be playing on the radio. Anything goes. Brooks and Dunn. Daughtry. Michael Bolton. You name it… I’ll make a loop that sounds like it.
Fortunately, I was spared once again. With a turn of the key, I heard a very familiar voice, some jangly yet driving guitar and some tasteful drumming. It was a new track from Death Cab for Cutie’s latest album. I’ve been a fan of the band since their early Barsuk years and have enjoyed Jason McGerr’s drumming since he joined in 2003. And coincidentially enough, McGerr is no stranger to the world of drum loops. He recently released a ReFill pack of loops for Propellerhead.
To help set the Death Cab “vibe” for tonight’s loop, I scrolled through the various guitar loops in Logic’s library until I found something that closely fit the bill and tuned the drums for a nice, open sound. I made the loop eight bars long in order to allow the crash cymbal to decay naturally and threw in a little Stewart Copeland hi hat lick to mix things up.
After repeatedly listening to the Marvin Gaye drum track I posted last night, I decided to run it through The Echo Nest BPM Explorer and actually “see” what it looks like (at least tempo-wise). I know Marvin (or whoever the mystery drummer is) didn’t record to a click track, but the geek inside of me wanted to see some technical data. What does something that feels so amazingly perfect actually look like when graphed out by a computer a program?
Here’s the result (click to enlarge):
From the graph, you can see that the song slowly creeps up in tempo as the track progresses. However, I wouldn’t refer to this as “rushing” or “speeding up”. I call it human. And I can’t imagine this song any other way.
Def Leppard‘s, Rick Allen, gives us a tour of his unique setup and discusses the importance of using “smell” to get in the zone. Personally, I need to smell some bacon to keep things in the pocket. I usually set up a couple of frying pans around my kit. One next to my hi hat and the other by the floor tom. I like to mic these up with 57’s and pan them (pun intended) hard left and right.