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L.A. Beat

The Drum Beat

Drum Beat #21— Ask yourself 15 quick questions

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In the next two columns I am going to ask 30 questions on drumming and give a short answer. I will ask 15 questions per column.
The point of this is for you to answer these questions yourself. It may seem a useless exercise but it can be thought provoking as well as teach you a little about yourself and your drumming. My answers are not the correct answers as there are no correct answers. The conclusions you draw from the answers will help you with your drumming. If you are not a drummer, try asking yourself 30 questions regarding your vocation or about who you are.
The answers can be scary. Have fun.

1. Do you ever practice in front of a mirror?

Practicing in front of a mirror can be very helpful. Do not use it to see how cool you are or practicing posing. Posing is  for guitar players. Look at yourself to work on your technique and playing position. Notice if your strokes are uniform and both hands are at the same height. Look to see if you are playing with good posture as well as if your sitting height is correct. Make sure to see if your feet are positioned correctly on your pedals.

2. Do you fake styles or are you confident in your ability to play all styles?

We all have faked a style of drumming that we were not familiar with. The fact is if you are faking a style, most people can tell.
You might think you are fooling people but you are not. The best way to combat this problem is take the time to be versed in every style of drumming. Be well rounded in your genre. Most drummers find a style they are naturally great at and  those type of gigs seem to come their way. If you learn and become proficient in all styles it shows in all aspects of your drumming. Different styles teach you different coordination and open your mind to ideas that otherwise would not be  apparent if you did not learn certain styles. Not only is it beneficial to learn different styles, it is fun and opens you up
to several different gigs you might otherwise not be considered for.

3. Do you set up your drums in the same way every time?

Lets hope that you do set them up the same way every time. It amazes me how many drummers do not. If you have practiced with your drums at certain heights and your cymbals at certain levels why would you change it the next time you have to set them up.
Inconsistency with heights and lengths away from you will result in poor execution. Take the time to develop a system of marking your drums so that your drums will be set up the same every time. Use a permanent marker to mark heights on your stands.
Learn what the best way to have your drums set that benefits you and keep it that way.

4. Are you disciplined in your practicing?

Being disciplined in your practicing is very important. Sure it is fun to practice random beats or play to records. This can be  beneficial but it does not maximize your time. Create a practice routine that encompasses all aspects of drumming. Create a chart and keep track of what you are practicing. Set goals for yourself and stick to it.
When your regimented practice becomes boring or mundane then play to some records or play something random. Practice of course is not always fun but the results from a disciplined practice routine are invaluable. It helps you become a great drummer which leads to great gigs.  Great gigs are a ton of fun.

5. Do you play for yourself or for the music?

I have discussed this before but I thought I would bring it up again. Please play for the music. Playing for yourself is absolutely the wrong way to go about being a drummer. Drums in a band situation are there to provide the backbone.
If you are playing for yourself you are not supporting anything. All you are doing is ruining the music which is what you are trying to create. If your ego needs to be on display or you have to show how cool you are, then become a guitar player. Then you can hang out with all of the other musical egomaniacs that exist. For you guitar players I say that tongue in cheek, so relax.

6. Do you practice your feet as much as your hands?

Most drummers practice their hands quite a bit more than their feet. I think with the advent and popularity of double bass drum pedals this has decreased over the last couple of decades. Make sure you practice your feet at least 30 per cent of  your practice time. Do the same patterns you practice with your hands with your feet. Make sure to develop your feet muscles as you would your arm muscles. Train your mind so that your feet are as flexible as your hands.
If you are old school and double bass drumming seems a bit over the top, get over it. There are many uses for double bass drumming that can be  utilized tastefully if you just work on it and do not overplay. Double bass drumming is not just for metal anymore.


Drum Beat #20— The drummer’s business, part 2 — be professional

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I will pick up where I left off from the previous column and explore the sixth through the tenth things to be cautious of in relationship to the business of being a drummer.

#6— Venue owners:  Beware of the music venue owner who is already wary of you even though they have not met you yet.
I have only met a couple of venue owners who were not complete jerks. They are two guys in Lethbridge, Alberta and despite all of the bull they endure they actually to this day still care about being fair to the musician and are tireless workers. Most people who run music venues have the music so they can sell alcohol. Face it, it is the truth.

They could care less about the music as long as you bring a crowd to whom they can sell drinks. From their point of view it is understandable. They have a multitude of problems and issues to deal with in order to run their business and make a profit. They become disgruntled due to dealing with unprofessional musicians. Basically your peers have laid the playing field by past discretion's and unprofessional acts.

The venue owners have to deal with business costs, law enforcement, huge egos, drunk patrons, a lack of respect from employees, fines, dirty bathrooms, vomit, pee, rudeness and so on. It is easy to see why they become burnt out and start to take a join them instead of fight them attitude. This attitude then directly affects you when trying to book a gig, get paid, promote and foster a music career. You must at all times keep your ego in check and display a professional attitude in order to ease the hassle of the venue owner resulting in a good working relationship. This helps to secure a good reputation among venue owners.

This will not only go a long way in getting a repeat gig, it will help in getting other gigs. You can use them for references for other venue owners which can help greatly in getting you out of town gigs thus expanding your fan base. Here is a true example of what one club owner had to endure in just one day. Scenes like this are common. A local band thought they were on the road to huge success. The drummer was a huge egomaniac who thought since his band had thousands of fans on MySpace, had spent thousands of dollars of their own money on a record and had a local following of 100 loyal fans could treat the venue owner with disrespect and disdain. He walked into the gig late for the sound check drunk and stoned and carrying a beer. He started to berate the owner saying the gig was lame and there was not going to be anybody in the audience.

When the owner asked him to please calm down and take his beer outside he became unruly. To make a long story short, the owner told him calmly if he did not calm down he would be asked to leave. Eventually when he was asked to leave he  refused. The owner had to physically remove him. The drummer then got into his van and drove home drunk. His friend took a picture of the owner physically removing him from the club. The drummer waited until he was sober and then called the police and pressed assault charges against the owner. The police looked at the picture and then went to talk to the owner.

Once the police heard the story they agreed with the venue owner that he had no choice and acted as he should have. So, the venue owner gave a band a place to play and what he received was a bad attitude, a visit from the police and people showing up to see a band that has left. The owner dealt with a boat load of drama in order to lose money. Again, be thankful for a gig but realize due to several factors created both by musicians and disgruntled venue owners that you must be aware of the pitfalls that are lurking around every corner when it comes playing music at venues. It is a business not a party.

#7 — Recoupable Expenses: If and when you sign a record contract, understand what a recoupable expense is. Recoupable means you have to pay it back. That means every penny a record company spends on you they are going to want that money back. That includes everything they do including such small expenses as long distance phone calls to you. These recoupable expenses can add up very quickly. They vary depending on the language in the contract you sign.

Make sure to get an advance when you sign a contract and put that money in the bank. Recoupable expenses are only paid back from the monies your band generates and  generally do not have to be paid back if you do not make enough monies over the life of the band to pay them back. In other words they are not a personal liability. So again, get as much money as you can upfront and save it. Any cash you see while being in the band hang onto it. For the most part 99 per cent of signed bands do not make back their recoupable expenses during the lifetime of the band. Get your money and keep it.

Make sure you keep tabs on what money is being spent on your behalf if possible. Record companies can and will invent many ways to spend money that they think will help them create revenue.
They do this generally with good intentions for the most part but there are several examples of foolish spending. This can lead to you getting dropped as an artist when the bean counters do the books and show the record company principals how much money you are losing. If you are aware of where money is being spent and limit your recoupable expenses to responsible spending you can greatly increase your chances of getting resigned and prolonging your career as a signed recording artist.


Drum Beat #19 — The business of drumming — Part 1

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In the next two columns I am going to discuss the business of being a drummer. If you are a hobbyist in relation to the drums then this information might be interesting but it will not be pertinent. If you are a professional or striving to be a professional then there are some facts and aspects concerning making a living as a drummer you should be aware of.

Being a drummer is, in my opinion, the most complicated path to take to making a living or getting paid to play music.
Most drummers do not start their own band or write songs. This is the first mistake they make. The people who make all of the money in music are those who own successful record companies and those are few and far between, as well as songwriters and the slimy lawyers who say they represent you.

For the most part these people take all of your money when there is really no money to take. Horace Silver, a renowned jazz piano player once said in a clinic I saw to stop playing music for several years and go get a law degree if you wanted to be successful. The reason for this is the music business is filled with complicated rules governing the payment of monies that were crafted by lawyers and businessmen. This sharply goes against the grain of almost every musician I have ever met.
Artists govern themselves on feelings, therefore opening themselves to self serving ruthless business people who justify their actions as “just business.”

They will manipulate you till you yell “stop it” and then will go a little further just to see the look on your face. I am going to attempt to shed some light on the business side of what being a drummer is so hopefully you can avoid financial mistakes that will land you flipping burgers and kissing the backside of a disgruntled hateful business person so you can play for free at night in a little club.

There are a few things to be cautious of. I am going to discuss the top 10. I will discuss five of them in this column and another five in the next column.
1. First beware of the egotistical, unreliable songwriter or band leader who thinks they are God's gift to the world. There are millions of songwriters who can write a catchy tune. There are only a few who can write a song, teach it to a band, and then get a decent paying gig. Most songwriters believe they are great and are entitled to special treatment. They believe they will sell a million records. (As a side note the notion of selling record anymore is a false notion. For example Eric Clapton only sells a couple hundred of thousand records per release these days) and that is worldwide.

You will not sell records unless you have huge marketing and promotion behind you.  If you do get lucky and sell a million records, the profits are eaten up due to recoupable expenses for the promotion. So pull your head out and get a clue. Selling records is a thing of the past. If the person you are working for has a huge ego, you can tell. Once you realize it, run and run as fast as you can. Their ego will cloud all of their judgments and those judgments are what get you paid. You can spend valuable years wasting your talents on someone who has no clue.

2. Second do not do anything for free. For example do not rehearse with someone who has started a band unless they have gigs lined up, you know how much you are getting paid and they have made it clear what their business plan is and how they will execute it. (Now if there is a chance to play a gig that will raise funds for a worthy cause such as childhood disabilities or something such as that then please do it but use extreme caution). If you hear the words looking for dedicated people to start band and the money will follow later then be very very cautious. Why should the money follow later?

Would you answer an ad for a job at a grocery store that said looking for dedicated people to work in my store until I start making money and then you will get paid. The answer is NO. So do not do this with your music career. If you are talented,  reliable and dedicated it should be no problem to find a musical situation that will pay you fairly for your time.

3. Third, know what mechanicals are and what performance royalties are. Make sure you get a cut of all of these things and most importantly make sure you have a cut of the performance royalties. Unless you write the song, getting performance royalties is near impossible. When a song is made it then becomes what is called a mechanical. ( Music in a tangible form). Your share of the mechanical is what determines how much you get paid every time a record is manufactured. Most record contracts are structured so these mechanicals are paid after recoupable expenses if the song is released by a record company.


Drum Beat #18— use the right stick for the right job

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In this column we are going to explore the drumstick. There are many implements to hit drums with such as sticks, mallets or brushes. I touched briefly on this information in column 6's lesson but this will be a more comprehensive overview. It seems not every drummer is aware of the different types of sticks and the uses for them. I have seen drummers using thick sticks  to play jazz and skinny sticks to play metal. It seems like common sense a drummer would explore the many different types for different playing situation but that is not always the case.

Here are some basic questions surrounding drumsticks and their answers.

1. What type of band will you be using them in? Rock, pop, jazz?

If you are playing in a metal band you will want to use some sticks that are thick and heavy. In most metal situations the rest of the band is playing very loud. If you use a small, skinny stick you will never create enough volume to be heard. You will not be able to create enough sound or tone to match the rest of the band.

When playing rock I prefer to use a medium size stick. In a rock band you are going to want to use dynamics. A medium stick allows you to get loud as well as be quiet without too much difficulty. You can get the tones you need and use finesse. My favorite stick for rock is the Vic Firth SD4 combo. It seems to never let me down, provides versatility and feels great in the hands. If you are playing jazz use a lighter stick.

I like to use a 7A from any manufacturer. They just seem to work for swing jazz and are very easy and light in the hands allowing you the execution you need to play jazz effectively. I could touch on every genre or style of band but the point is use some common sense. If the band is loud use a thick stick, if it is somewhere in the middle use a medium size stick and so on. Of course the size of stick differs depending on your strength, ability and personal style. Experiment until you find what works for you. Try and not get caught in a trap of using the same stick for everything you play. Remember size does matter.

2. Are they straight? Don't forget to roll drum sticks on a flat counter top.

Make sure they are not warped. A warped stick leads to difficulty in executing your beats. My favorite brand is Vic Firth because they check every pair of sticks they ship to make sure they are straight and not warped as well as they weigh the same. A pair of sticks that does not weigh the same feels weird and does not make for quality playing.

3. Do you want wood tips or nylon tips? How will the cymbals sound?

In my opinion nylon tip sticks should be outlawed. They make cymbals sound bad and create a bad tone on whatever surface you are hitting. Wood tip sticks make tones sound sweet. They provide a better feel and rebound from the surface they are hitting.


Drum Beat #17— The drummer’s body should play like a polished team

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In this column I am going to focus on the "My body is a basketball team when it comes to drumming".

What this means is that every limb of your body, both your arms/hands and legs/feet are each like a separate player all coming together in the fifth man, your torso. All of these parts together make the team, with the team being your mind. I admit this column might take some extreme open-mindedness to not say this guy is full of *&^%. I can understand that. This is how I view drumming.

Obviously drumming on the drum set is a combination of using all of your limbs in a cohesive way to create beats and patterns.
I touched lightly on this in column #7. This is an expansion of this concept.
Getting to this point is the hard part. Your mind already controls the movement of your limbs.

You have to train your limbs from your mind to do the things you need them to do to play the drums.

This requires you train each limb individually in order to put them together to form a beat. This, of course will require training and practicing. The same goes for a basketball team. Without development and practice, they lack the ability to play together as a team.

Commonly people start learning drums by playing simple beats. You start by playing a basic rock beat or swing beat. With the swing beat you play the ride cymbal and put the hi-hat, or also known as the sock cymbal, on the 2 and 4 of the beat.

For the rock beat you play the snare on 2 and 4. This is a great practice and leads to a basic comprehension of a few basic beats allowing you to expand to more complicated beats.

This is the way I started to learn and it served me well to a certain point in my development. In order to progress even further I realized I had to get each of my limbs to be strong on their own and each limb had to have an independence.

I knew if I developed each limb as if they were separate entities that when it came time to learn complicated beats and concepts,  it would be much easier to master these without too much struggle and frustration. I believed this would lead me to play freely and smoothly.

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