Friday, July 24, 2015

My affiliation with drummers

I always stood and said nothing when other people recited which instrument was most important in their point of view.  Engineers, musicians and listeners alike (funny how the "listener" is a class of its own huh?)

"Drums! its the foundation of music!"

"NO NO you idiot, Guitar! Its the melody"

"You guys have no idea what you're talking about! Bass is the groooooove"

"Common, everybody knows that the human voice is the most important element."

" (whispering) Maybe keys is just as important, no?"

"(everybody) OH SHUT UP KEVIN!!!"

I truly could never decide, which is to blame in part on why i never pursued a musical career.

I always loved the importance of drums, the timeless effect the instrument had on productions, the way it excited the room, the wow factor in live gigs, the nerdy approach to the instrument a good player exhibited, focusing on its minutiae just as much as engineers did on theirs.

I could really connect with the role of the bass player, arguably the most important role in a band yet so away from the lights of popular acclaim. Always the fifth wheel, somehow overlooked by all except the more savvy musicians that could get the importance of a good bass player. Very funny how one of the biggest reasons for the instruments' unpopularity is the frequency range. It's difficult to distinguish by human ears, especially in dense orchestration, therefore not as popular.

The importance of the guitar was self evident, one that could not be argued with. Rock music in general was identified by the sound of the guitar. Being an electric instrument, it was instantly appealing to me. I could mess with knobs, i could GET it. It was easy for me to become a guitar sound aficionado.

Finally the vocals... Ah yes. Self centered idiots if you ask me, and i am one that does not need vocals to enjoy the music, far from it. Some times i find that the vocal distracts me from the music, especially if the vocalist just used the music as a canvas to recite whatever he/she/it wanted to communicate at the time. That self importance is not entirely unjustified, unfortunately. Singers actually do use the instrument that most people in the world can identify with. It is a human voice. Everybody has a voice (sorry mutes), so they get it. They grab a toothbrush and sing along. Granted, they could also play air guitar or air drums ( no air bass, see?)  but that is the undisputed minority. Ignoring the power of the vocal is plain stupid, especially if one would want to maximize the effect of music on people.

disclaimer: I know there are many more instruments, ranging from bass clarinet to celeste to handpan to didgeridoo, and most are just as important. These four though have risen to stardom, creating a cult-like following. Combined, they embody the components that create music. Rhythm, melody and groove. A classical orchestra is the same but uses clusters of instruments that have a single role.

I like all instruments. I can't choose. I get what each brings to the table and favor none.

That said, I have been lucky enough to meet and work with some great drummers. All of them have their unique personalities, playing styles, things they deem important, approach to the instrument itself. Just as engineers, i feel that they are an endangered species. Technology has hit the instrument harder than anything else. Quantizing, sample replacement, programming and amazing sounding libraries deem the player obsolete and unnecessary to some. Of course what most musicians fail to understand is that while the end result is the only thing that matters to all but the most discerning of listeners (indeed, they can enjoy the music on a whole new level by knowing the insides of the creative process) the journey itself  is what actually educates and makes a musician better at the craft. The knowledge of recording your music and collaborating with other humans is indispensable. Using technology as a crutch might very well create something great, but the musicians will never advance. Technology has no perspective (yet), therefore it cannot do something unexpected at just the right moment that might create beautiful  music.  Good drummers know that. They advertize their ability to bring something to the table. It seems to me that they instinctively form alliances with sound engineers. Engineers will attest to the superiority of a good drum take over programmed drums.
Some other factors include:

  • It is a huge acoustic instrument. Perfect for an engineer to mess up. 
  • It reaps the benefits of positioning and acoustic signatures the  most. 
  • Look at all those mics surrounding it! He'd better not fuck this up.
  • Traditionally, the acoustic drum sound has been sculpted over decades to suit aesthetic choices and visions. The natural sound is nowhere near what people EXPECT it to sound like. That is the responsibility of the engineer/producer, and no amount of tinkering with the drumset alone can achieve that. We are looking at a highly processed form of  drum sound.
All in all, good drummers know that. Engineers are their wingmen, they collaborate together in order to achieve greatness and bring shivers down the spines of 18 year old girls (ha!). Back and forth communication with my drummer is my favorite pastime. ( yep, for that brief moment in time during the session or a live gig, they are MY drummer, the Warmachine to my Ironman).
I have come to the point that during soundchecks i kick everybody of stage except my drummer. those 20 precious minutes are the culmination of our combined knowledge and goals. Everything matters. Tuning, mics, positions,  heads, damping, overheads,  effects, beater type. We go back and forth while the guitar players could care less, oblivious to the fact that this is the defining moment that will seal that timeless night. The interplay of the drum sound over the droning hum of the other instruments. And the reason for the popularity of the drum solo. The eagerness of the human ear to hear that instrument by itself in all its glory.