Drummers don’t just sit at the back of the stage because that’s where our drum riser happens to be. We tend to get shoved back there figuratively as well as literally. If you need evidence, do a web search for the phrase “drummer jokes,” and watch as the stereotypes pile one atop the other. Not convinced that they reveal a hidden prejudice against your drumming brethren? Okay. Try replacing the word drummer in any one of those jokes with an ethnic slur and see what happens the next time you repeat it in a crowded room. Better bring your boxing gloves.
If we only occasionally had to endure being the brunt of a joke, there really wouldn’t be any problem. But some musicians still feel that drummers are somehow less musical because we play rhythms and beats instead of chords and melodies. And nothing riles me more than a lead singer who likes to blame the drummer for everything – real and imagined – that goes wrong onstage while onstage.
I’ve seen this one far too many times. The lead singer counts off a song. You’ve got the tempo locked into your internal metronome a couple clicks before the first downbeat. The band comes in at precisely the tempo the singer specified, but by the eighth measure he or she demonstrably turns to you and yells, “Will you pick it up?” with a scowl – as if it was somehow your fault that the singer counted off the song too slowly.
So you bite your tongue and pick up the tempo. And for a verse – or even worse, half the song – the groove wobbles backward and forward while the band tries to guess the proper bpm and find a pocket to lock into. I’ve seen this throw off a band so badly that it can render an otherwise jumping dance number to an embarrassing train wreck.
The drummer did nothing wrong, but the singer definitely blew it. Counting off a song at the wrong tempo is like starting to play a solo before you tune up your instrument. Actually, in my opinion, if a song happens to start off a tad slower or faster than usual, professional musicians – and professional singers – should be able to make it work, especially without having an onstage hissy fit.
Here’s another great one that I recently saw. You’re in the middle of a song, and without turning around, the singer puts one hand down and makes some kind of circular motion toward the drummer, as if someone was running in front of you and wanted you to catch up. What exactly is the meaning of this inexplicable signal? Well, my first instinct tells me that the singer wants the song to speed up.
But it might also mean, “give me more.” But more of what? More volume? More ghost notes? More fills? It’s hard to say, so you know what I do? I give them more of everything while slightly picking up the tempo. I don’t do it to be malicious. I’m simply trying to fulfill the wishes of a singer whose mind I am unable to read.
Yet more reasons why we drummers must stick together.