I was just reading an article in Drumhead magazine (my favorite drum magazine–yes there’s more than one ;). It was an interview with Ash Soan, a UK drummer who’s played with Adele and Ceelo Green among others.
The cool thing about the article is that he seems to have a very similar aesthetic approach to music as I do–play for the song, get your phrasing off of the vocal, keep it simple, etc. I’m like, “hey–that’s me too!”
And it was validating in a way–not so much that he was a song drummer (most all of the great studio drummers are song drummers) but that the details of his approach so closely resemble mine. Things like listening primarily to vocal–this is what I do naturally, but I feel guilty sometimes not listening more to the bass or rhythm guitar.
What defines both of our approaches is that we play what the song needs, not what we as drummers need. That’s the bottom line. Another way of saying this is that we both focus on what recording producers focus on, not what drummers focus on. This is a big difference from my approach when I was younger.
And it’s just a mental approach–just a rearranging of my priorities from when I was younger (I was definitely playing for my drumming needs as a teen and young adult). It’s also a way of being and acting as a musician that has nothing to do with technique or virtuosity or anything like that. Or rather, it’s a whole different type of virtuosity that most in our culture usually doesn’t recognize as such.
It’s probably better to have you listen to examples as opposed to try and describe. I’ll list some below for you to look at.
For me, it’s characterized by the drum part being vital to the song, but not really drawing attention to itself. The drumming serves the song…NOT the other way around. By definition, this means that the song is in the foreground, and the drum part is more in the background in a supportive role.
And that is my aesthetic approach to drumming and music: do everything you can to make the song come across, make the song come alive. Seems like a simple thing (most truths are like that–they seem simple once you figure them out), but this simple thing has made all the difference in my music. And since teaching and playing music is the ‘thing I was put here to do’, it has also made all the difference in my life.
I feel strongly that I stake out my territory–both musically and aesthetically speaking –and proclaim to the world who I am and what I am about. This means that some folks won’t like my approach and won’t hire me or listen to me. That is not only OK, I think it’s required. I cannot possibly appeal to every music listener. My goal in my life is to be as much myself as I can possibly be. That self won’t appeal to everyone, but the ones that do care, the ones that ‘get’ this will be all the more drawn to me. They’ll be drawn to what it is I do because I’m out there staking out my territory and leaving no doubt as to what I’m about. And the others? Well, I can’t worry about them–that’s someone else’s audience.
I didn’t have the courage of my convictions in this regard when I left music for corporate jobs, when I was in my mid-20’s. This is the primary difference between me then and me now. And this has made all the difference. It is the it thing. Figure out what you’re all about, and then loudly proclaim it to the world in everything you do. Not everyone will like it (some will hate it), but at least it will ‘shake off the whiners’ and at best it will draw those who share your conviction that much closer to you.
Here’s some listening for you–great song drumming:
P.S. It’s interesting to note that a lot of ‘drum signature’ parts come from song drummers. (A drum signature part is one where you can hear the drum part by itself–with no other instruments or voices–and you immediately know what song it is.)
You might think that drum signature parts would mostly come from drummers who are focused on what the drumming needs, but I don’t find that to be the case. These parts mostly seem to come from drummers who are serving the needs of the song and a signature part came to mind during that process.