My favorite part of performing…

…is recording. I was reminded of this while driving with my daughter, listening to the iPod on shuffle, and a tune I had recorded came up…but I didn’t recognize it was me.

I love recording because of the creative process involved…it’s like writing a drum song (actually it IS that). It’s also an opportunity to get creative with tones and timbres on the instrument. Me being one of those tone merchant guys, well…that’s just too much fun (as the Joker would say 😉

I was telling one of my teachers about one of my tone pursuits (in this case, the perfect rimshot backbeat for any occasion). He started laughing when I told him I have six different rim shots I can do on the snare drum (actually nine if I use my wallet). This is a guy who’s a pro drummer in LA, plays on the big network TV shows, and he tells me, “Dude, I have, like, one–you’re insane”.

(Before I take too much credit for being fabulous, I should note that I got the idea from Ringo. Nine times out of 10, anything I think up and do on drums, Ringo was there first 😉

So, I’m gonna focus on a couple of tunes I recorded in Portland. The first one I want to focus on is Shoebox Letters “Another Summer Day”, written by Dennis Winslow

This was one of tunes where we were listening to the iPod on shuffle in the car, the tune came up, and I didn’t recognize it was me at first. The reason for that was that we learned it at the recording session; got it in two, three takes tops…then that was it–we were done.

It’s also a tune that we rarely played live. (Yes, Dennis has so many tunes in his portfolio that a great tune like this just gets lost in the shuffle and dropped from the set list after a couple of gigs…makes ya sick don’t it?) So, the recording version is one of the less than 5-6 times this tune was ever played.

It’s easy to forget that some of the songs you love and grew up with don’t ever get played live and the recording may be the only time it was performed, ever. Most any tune recorded from Sgt. Pepper forward never got played live by the Beatles live (the exception being the  rooftop concert).

The next song I want to talk about is Shoebox Letters “First to Hurt”, another one written by Dennis. In this case, this was a song we did live all the time. However, the arrangement on the recording is so different compared to the live version that I also didn’t recognize it at first when it came up on shuffle that day. (Plus the recording has that great mandolin hook that we never did live.) When we played this live, it was almost like a U2 tune; building, driving, getting louder all the way through the tune–it was a great set closing tune. And it was nothing like the recorded version.

This is not to say that recording is  without its challenges, or that it’s just a fun stroll in the park. No, no. Most importantly, the drummer can’t punch in and fix parts that weren’t initially played correctly, so the drummer is under a lot of pressure to put the drum track down right, and quickly (recording studio time is very expensive–unless you’re recording at home, and even then, folks want you to work quickly).

Also, working in the studio is sort of like a verbal IQ test (verbal in that if you play Rock, Pop, Country and R&B, you’re almost never working from a chart, although sometimes I make my own). Here’s an example from an R&B recording session I did this past week: I was tracking with the rhythm guitarist, who also happened to be the songwriter, and he asked me this. “Have the snare lay out on 1st half of first verse, and then lay out on first quarter of second verse.” Now, I had no charts, therefore I had no numbers available to me count measures, so I had to use my musical sensibility to figure out when I was halfway, or a quarter of the way through each of those respective verses. And quickly, because the next thing out of his mouth was “Make sense? Count it in” 😉

Also, session leaders will often times have you working on two to three things at the same time. At one time during the session I mentioned above, the songwriter asked before a take that “this time play the whole thing more ‘on’ the beat” (vs. behind the beat in this case) and “take the bass drum out of the intro”. So here we go again–it’s like a verbal IQ test!

But I truly do love it–despite the challenges. Or rather, maybe because of the challenges (if it was easy, anyone could do it, right? 😉 It’s also gratifying to realize that, in many cases, you are helping to create the definitive recorded artifact of that particular tune.

And don’t get me wrong–I truly love playing live as well. It’s just that, in genres like Rock, Pop, Country and R&B, there’s less creative work done live onstage (as compared to Jazz, for example).

So that’s it. And, for my drummer friends out there, remember to have fun…when you drum!

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