DRUM! Staff Blogs
Everyone's A Critic
True story. Around 1976 or so, as my quasi-psychedelic rock band strode offstage at some Northern California love-in, an audience member approached our flute player (this is back when it seemed like a good idea to have a flute player in a rock band), and said, "Hey man, you were bad."
"Thanks a lot," our flute player answered, understandably thinking he’d just received a compliment (this was also back when hipsters used the word "bad" to connote the word "good.")
"No man," the audience member deadpanned. "I mean, you suck." And sadly for our flautist’s rapidly deflating ego, he could find no other possible interpretation: "You suck" could mean nothing other than he sucked.
I did almost the same thing to a pianist the year before while living in Chicago. I’d gone out to hear a friend play with his progressive rock band, and was not only struck by how adventurous the music was, but also how downright terrible the keyboardist was.
Elbowing up to the bar during the band’s first break, my friend asked what I thought. "You guys are incredible," I answered, "but I couldn’t believe how bad your pianist is." And even though my friend’s face slowly turned ashen, I continued. "I mean, seriously, he can barely play! What’s the deal? Does he own the P.A. or something?"
With a wide-eyed glare and nearly imperceptible nod, my friend silently signaled something or someone right behind me. Slowly turning around I came face-to-face with the pianist, who’d been leaning in to hear our conversation, at which point I said something extra smooth like, "Wow — I, uhh — really need to go to the bathroom," and disappeared into the crowd.
Here’s one last true story. After wrapping up the very first album I ever recorded, my ’70s proto-metal band was listening to final mixes in our rehearsal studio, when an old college friend of the lead singer walked in. After a couple songs, our singer asked what he thought.
"It sounds really good, except for the drummer," the friend responded. He very likely didn’t realize I was the drummer in question, but that didn’t stop me from getting in his face. "What the hell you mean by that?!" I retorted, once again, extra smoothly. He went on to point out how I played too many fills, and my drum sound was dead and lifeless. Of course, I was too jacked on adrenalin and anger to believe a word he said.
Flash forward three decades. A CD player replaced my turntable, and then an iPod replaced my CD collection. Yet, for some reason, I still had a closet full of vinyl. So my girlfriend bought me a record player for Christmas and I began listening to my old records.
Within seconds of dropping the needle onto the wax of the very first album I ever recorded, I realized I was indeed playing far too busily and my drums sounded like cardboard boxes.
Criticism. I’ve observed it, dealt it, received it, and now fully appreciate how its value is decided in its delivery. So if you want to hurt someone’s feelings, use blunt force. They’ll get over it. But if you can point a fellow drummer in the right direction, try offering advice tempered with compassion. You’ll feel better about yourself in the long run, and won’t need to take quite as many fake bathroom breaks"
Paradigm For A New Era
You've heard the Chinese axiom, "May you live in interesting times." Well, it turns out the phrase isn't from China after all (thank you Wikipedia), though the mystery of its actual birthplace doesn't alter the wisdom behind the words.
At first blush, I'd bet most people interpret it as some sort of friendly greeting, as I did, since Westerners tend to equate interesting experiences with good times. On closer inspection, though, the implied sentiment is precisely the opposite.
The wish isn't a blessing. It's a curse. The logic goes that life is easy and comfortably predictable when times are uninteresting. Things become interesting only when the calm is disrupted by storm clouds, or worse, which brings me to my point.
We live in interesting times. Politics, economics, climate — big changes are reshuffling multiple decks in every direction. And while it might pale in comparison to more globally pressing issues, musicians also face an ever-shifting set of rules while trying to launch a career in 2015.
It wasn't always this confusing. I've lamented more than once that digital media, and the public's wrongheaded thirst for free music, chips away the profitability of recording revenue. Admittedly, it was never exactly easy to make a living as a musician, but in my opinion, defanging one of its key incentives — royalties — can only dissuade future musical innovators from ever picking up an instrument.
But now, I couldn't be more pleased to admit I might have been wrong. While the number of players inspired by the profit motive has shrunk, a new generation who are truly invested in the art appears to have emerged. And instead of plying the dusty record deal model to get their music out, today's creators are finding ways to use to their advantage the very technology that displaced many of their immediate predecessors.
For evidence, I submit a blog I recently read by Jack Conte, one half of the California duo Pomplamoose. Titled "Pomplamoose 2014 Tour Profits (Or Lack Thereof)," it reveals in painful detail the various new hoops through which artists must leap to get their music out.
In short, to produce their self-financed tour, they hired back-up musicians and a road crew, rented vehicles, and spent $26,450 on production expenses, $17,589 on hotels and food, $11,816 on gas, airfare, and parking, $5,445 on insurance, $48,094 on salaries and per diems, $21,945 on merchandise, publicity, supplies, and shipping, and $16,463 on commissions, for a total outlay of $147,802.
On the other side of the ledger, without the benefit of a major label's tour support, the band took in $135,983 in income from ticket and merch sales, as well as a strategic sponsorship from computer technology company Lenovo. You saw that right — in the end they lost $11,819 on the tour.
It might sound as if the effort was a failure, but not according to Conte. He wraps up his tally by stating "the loss was an investment in future tours," and goes on to explain that the two bandmembers otherwise sell about $5,000 per month on YouTube and Loudr, and each draws a monthly salary of $2,500.
See, they're too busy writing music and producing videos to waste a minute reminiscing about the good old days. To paraphrase Conte, one final time: While they haven't "made it," they are "making it," and I salute such pluck.
Time To Freshen Up
You can't play the same licks forever (though, Lord knows, I've tried). Sooner or later, for the sake of your bandmates' sanity or your own self-esteem, through diligent practice or subconscious osmosis, every drummer will expand his or her vocabulary and freshen things up a bit.
Drummers aren't alone. Virtually everyone involved in a specialized field wants to learn how to sharpen crucial skills, including your pals right here on the DRUM! team.
Throughout our 23-year history, we've always sought unexplored avenues and improved ways to deliver information that'll help you become a better, more informed player. We've taken two different tacks to update these pages. Sometimes we swallow hard, conduct endless planning sessions, and scribble ideas on whiteboards to bundle a swath of improvements into a single, dramatic relaunch. But more often, in fact almost every month, we like to tinker around the edges, tightening design and editorial elements to enhance clarity and make things more, well, fun.
Occasionally the tinkering seeps beyond the edges and into the middle of the page, like our recent overhaul of the Soundlab department. These hands-on product tests had begun to look cluttered, dotted with cramped sidebars that weren't exactly reader friendly. So we opened up the layout by using graphic call-outs to highlight details and specs right inside each product photo. Bye-bye fussy sidebars. Hello more white space.
We also enlisted a couple more ringers for our Practice Pad drum lessons. Even though he's best known for his work with such hardcore acts as Dillinger Escape Plan and, more recently, Marilyn Manson, Gil Sharone shares his secret love affair with Jamaican drumming in his new Reggae column. And Spin Doctors drummer Aaron Comess takes over our Groove column from a trio of heavyweights who came before him — Stanton Moore, Jeffrey "Houseman" Clemens, and Chad Smith.
Flip forward a few pages beyond this one and you'll land in our Single Strokes department, packed with practical career advice that goes beyond flams and paradiddles. While there, be sure to see how our two new specialists can help. Need to sign a contract? A drummer with the hard rocking outfit One Bad Son and entertainment lawyer from Vancouver, British Columbia, Kurt Dahl now pens our Legal Beat column. Can't get that snare drum to sing? Meet Chris Achzet — 20-year drum tech and founder of Los Angeles Drum Services — who will explain how to sound your best with his Drum Care column.
Every issue is a new adventure, and we're glad you're along for the ride. As always, thanks for reading DRUM! Magazine.
Chad Smith Honored for Supporting Little Kids Rock
Red Hot Chili Pepper drummer Chad Smith was honored at Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park, California for his recent charity work with the Little Kids Rock foundation on May 16th. Little Kids Rock is a program founded by Chief Executive Officer David Wish who has been working with Chad since 2002.
Chad originally started working with Little Kids rock in 85 schools in the Bay Area and New York and now they’re in over 1500 schools in 30 cities around the country. That’s 14 years of work and 14 years of support. For David Wish, “That’s why we’re honoring Chad today with our Living The Dream Award.”
We talked with Chad when he had just gotten back from attending the Acoustic for a Cure event on May 15th in San Francisco, California. It was a fundraiser for kids that have cancer and featured guest performances by Sammy Hagar and James Hetfield. He was visibly impressed with that event, mentioning how they raised more money than expected, and was anxious to see the success of the Little Kids Rock event.
When asked about what he enjoys most about working with children and music Chad gave insight to his personal experience growing up in the public school system “If it wasn’t for the music classes and the music programs in my schools that I went to, I certainly wouldn’t have graduated from high school," Chad said. Chad went on to say his interest was not math or english but music and he is ashamed that how music and art programs are often the first to be cut by schools. “I think it’s important that kids be exposed to music and art. So I wanted to do everything to support that.”
Chad's high-profile drum-off with Will Ferrell that aired in 2014 on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon is another example of his efforts to help the program. According to David Wish, Little Kids Rock was able to donate 287 drum sets to schools across the country thanks to Chad and Will.
Not only does he support Little Kids Rock, but Chad is also engaged nationwide with Michelle Obama’s Turn Around Arts Program. Chad describes The Mary Chapa Literacy and Technology Academy as an underachieving school in a tough part of the city where “no one cared about the school or learning or for the kids to have any inspiration at all.” Chad’s vision was to rekindle that fire and bring inspiration and hope to the students at Mary Chapa. Through his efforts the school received donations from the companies he endorses: Pearl Drums, Sabian Cymbals, Vater Drum Sticks, and Remo Heads. Chad feels the Turn Around Arts Program provides multiple benefits to the community because “parents get involved when they see that their kids are excited about art and music” plus “attendance and graduation rates are up.” Clearly his vision is working. I’m blown away at the success," he says adding, "It [Little Kids Rock] is one of the programs that actually works which is pretty cool to see.”
Africa Is The Source Of The Music
February is African-American History Month. And, the history of modern music is impossible to imagine without African-American History.The rhythm of today's pop, rock, funk, blues, r&b, jazz, punk and hip-hop is traced back along a river of sound that rolls back into history, starting today in places like New York and Tokyo and Stockholm and Johannesburg and working its way back to America to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville, Memphis, Clarksdale, Mississippi, and ultimately New Orleans, and from there to Caribbean islands, Brazil, and, finally, the west coast of Africa.
Humans probably have always musically inventive, in all cultures. But from African-Americans we got something special. We got supercharged doses of rhythm, the tools of polyrhythms, syncopation, and group vocal styles such as call-and-response singing. We got heavily swung notes and blue notes. And, people loved it. Slaves weren't in the new world very long before they were being pressed into roles as musical entertainers, and military band members. But it was after emancipation and the beginnings of the 20th century that dozens of exciting new styles began to emerge from the mating of African music with European ballad forms. Blues, ragtime, Dixieland, swing, jazz, bebop, r&b, soul, funk and on and on. It's impossible to find an American style of music (North American or South American), from blues to hip-hop to salsa, even country, that doesn't get its rhythmic energy from the African musical tradition.
That huge gift of music and rhythm that Africa gave to the world still reverberates in every corner of the globe. It made everything about modern drum set and hand drum possible. That's worth acknowledging, and celebrating.