“When you get experience, you become a problem-solver.”–Kenny Aronoff

This is the best description of a professional I’ve heard:

I was watching this video of Kenny Aronoff, and in it he gives the best explanation I’ve ever heard for why a drummer like him has had the success he’s had.

It’s not about having amazing incredible drumming skills (although he certainly has that), and its certainly not about his haircut or his clothes. It’s also not about the people he knows, although he works with the most talented and amazing folks in the business. It’s about the fact that he solves problems in critical situations.

Kenny tells a story at 34:00 in this video (the whole ‘money’ part of the video, for me, is from 34:00-36:50), It’s about a track that wasn’t working because it felt like the drums were behind the beat. While that might be wonderful thing on certain tracks, on other tracks it could be a bad thing as it was in this case.

I’ll let you watch the video to get the details, but basically he talks about a process where something is not working, and he methodically goes through the steps needed to figure out how to solve it. For example, are the drums lining up with the click track, are the drums lining up with the loop, etc.

Before we go any further, it’s important that I set the scene for you, in case you’re not familiar with the music recording process and the critical role that the drums play in this process.

Being in a recording studio is a lot like being in a hospital–you’re surrounded by lots of very expensive equipment, and all of it is measuring and recording what you are doing to an infinitesimal degree. You’re also surrounded by record producers, or songwriters or engineers, all of whom are relying on you as the drummer to get the perfect drum take so they can get a great recording of the song. No great drum track, no great recording.

This creates an atmosphere that is pretty demanding–all of this expensive equipment, and the engineer or record producer (who are also expensive), in a recording studio (which is expensive) waiting on YOU to give them the perfect drum track for the perfect recording of their wonderful song. No pressure, right? 🙂

And that speaks to the brilliance of what Kenny is talking about in this video. Even with all of that pressure, he’s able to remain calm, and methodically lay out a plan to figure out how to fix the problem that’s going on with the track. He doesn’t treat the problem like it’s someone else’s problem–he owns it, and takes everyone through process of figuring out how to fix it.

Even when he finally DOES figure out the problem (the guitars are playing in front of the beat) he doesn’t lay the blame at the feet of someone else and think that his job is done–no. He has a plan to re-record the drum track to fix things without the rest of the team having to go back and re-record the guitars to fix those tracks. He comes up with a way for HIM as the drummer to fix the guitar tracks–brilliant! And…beautiful.

This is total ownership of the situation, and this is a total pro in action.

The best drummers in the business are not the best drummers in business because other drummers say they are. They are the best because other musicians say they are–record producers, engineers, songwriters, music directors, band directors, etc., etc. And solving problems and fixing bad situations like Kenny talks about in this video is an incredibly effective way to get other musicians to LOVE working with you.

And yes, of course Kenny has to deliver the goods in terms of great drumming that makes the song come alive. But frankly, a lot of drummers in the music business can do that. Not many can solve problems like Kenny describes in this video. That is rare, and that is why he is one of the best.

And this idea of ‘when you get experience, you become a problem-solver’ DEFINITELY applies to other professions, to other fields.

Think of medicine: you’re being rolled into the ER on a gurney after a car accident. Who do you want working on you, someone straight out of med school, with excellent grades and wonderful skills, or someone, perhaps less talented, with decades of experience in the ER (so she can stay calm while she’s working) and is at her best in chaotic situations where nothing is happening as it should be? If it’s me, I want the gal with the experience.

Or in business, let’s say you’re in a start-up, and a supplier from overseas has let you down, and your product won’t be in the stores for the Christmas season. Who do you want by your side in this crisis–someone in their late-20’s who went to the best schools and is amazingly talented, or someone with a more mundane resume, but lots of experience with failures like the one you’re faced with right now?

Or sports…it’s the Super Bowl, you have the ball, but you’re down by one score, and there’s two minutes left in the game. Who do you want at quarterback at this moment–a 2nd or 3rd year player with amazing physical skills, who can run the 40 as quick as a wide receiver, who can throw the ball 80 yards on a rope? Or, do you want a ten-year vet who can’t run well, no longer has a gun for an arm, but has been in this exact situation dozens of times? A guy who knows the playbook inside and out, knows the defense he’s facing inside and out, and is calm under pressure (precisely because he’s been in those situations before) and can keep everyone else in the huddle calm because HE is calm?

The latter examples in each of these situations are the folks that I consider the best at what they do. It’s no different in music. Talent is over-rated, time put in on your craft matters, experience matters.

Can you think of a time where your experience helped you problem-solve a situation that others struggled with? Or, better yet, can you think of a situation where things were going sideways on you, and you WISH that had been the case?

Thanks for reading–cheers!

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