Spring Break was off to a great start for Roddy superfan Gabe Gose. His idol was in town, and the New Mexico State University grad student planned to capture every moment of the March 18 Derek Roddy clinic. Gose spent the days leading up to the event posting fliers all over Las Cruces. They screamed: “Please come! Even if you’ve never held a drum stick! You’ll be thankful!”
Remember, no drummer had ever before traveled to clinics across the country to break down the aspects of playing extreme metal. So the metalheads weren’t the only ones from this city of retirees to take notice when Roddy came to town. That Friday evening, music fans of all ages, from preschoolers to baby boomers, packed the university’s band room. “It’s not every day that you see a ruffled, long-haired teen in a Cannibal Corpse shirt seated next to a man in his late forties in khakis and a polo flanked by his wife and infant son,” says Gose.
Three feet from Roddy’s kit stands the student, armed with his video camera and tripod, anticipating the drummer’s arrival.
“I am having a brutal, brutal, allergy attack right now,” Roddy announces as he takes the stage. “So if you see my nose dripping up here, it’s all part of the show.”
Those in the crowd laugh, and it’s off — several minutes of sinus-clearing percussive power rattles the classroom as Gose documents every moment of Roddy’s ferocity.
“I have been listening to this guy’s playing for 16 years,” Gose reflects three days later, “and he still scared the crap out of me. In a genre like death metal, where drummers often rely on triggers and beat-correction to achieve inhuman levels of volume, speed, and accuracy, Derek showed me why he stands out from the pack.”
Roddy often advises drummers to listen to their playing as if they’re in the audience. He shares this message with tonight’s clinic, and explains why listening matters more than anything when it comes to developing and improving style, speed, and accuracy.
“Drumming to me is 90 percent mental,” Roddy tells them. “I think if you can hear it first in your head, you’re already a step ahead of the game. For me, the majority of my practice routine isn’t even behind the drum set.”
Those who have recorded and toured with Roddy confirm this claim. John Storemski met Roddy in high school, and the two later played together in Deboning Method and, most recently, Traumedy.
“When Derek tells people that there are no shortcuts in drumming, that hard work and time spent is the only way, he’s not kidding — and I’ve seen it in action,” says Storemski. “What always impressed me about Derek was his work ethic. While most of my friends were focused on getting trashed, Derek would be at the practice shed all hours of the night, blasting away all by himself. It was nice to know that on a Friday at three or four in the morning, I could go down there and make some noise with Derek.”
Though Roddy was dubbed some time ago as “One Take,” the drummer admits that he cannot solely credit practice for his flawless blastbeats.
“I’m the worst about practicing,” he laughs. “I didn’t start practicing as a drummer until probably about four or five years ago. I was too busy playing, bro. I was too busy being in bands. I didn’t have time to practice. How many times do you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to go practice,’ and you go to the warehouse and you play the same stuff you’ve been playing for ten years?”
Back at the clinic, Roddy follows his thunderous performance with some laid-back Q&A and conversation. He’s a no-b.s. musician who for years has made it his business to discuss the underpinnings of a steady music career. To sustain the life and cash flow, you’ve got to open your eyes to some additional things you’d like to accomplish, he says. Guys like Dave Weckl and Dave Grohl have done it. So can you.
Roddy then informs his crowd of synesthesia, a cognitive condition wherein one’s senses cross paths — some people have reported tasting color, for instance. For Roddy, the perception of drum sounds presents itself as a color scheme — he senses his hi-hat as yellow, while the snare emanates orange and the bass drum burns with blue. Other musicians who claim to have experienced synesthesia include Duke Ellington, Lady Gaga, and John Coltrane’s drummer, Elvin Jones.
News flash: The house guys would rather be smoking out back than running your cable and board. Want to pocket few extra bucks? Try offering your services to the opening band, says Roddy. You stand to make a name for yourself as either a sound or lights operator, or as the guy who shoots great YouTube-ready video. Most bands can’t afford their own stagehand or roadies to travel with them, which opens the door for you to enhance their stage presence. Somebody’s got to help them look and sound their best. Why not you?
“The moment somebody says, ‘Hey, man, you guys sounded great tonight,’ then they can justify giving you that extra money every day,” says Roddy.
And if you ever graduate from that van to a tour bus, make sure your tour stops make sense. Roddy recalls when a month-long tour stretched into six weeks because of poor planning, which meant being stuck on the road and not getting paid. And there’s also a fine line between being successful and accessible — over-gigging in the same cities and towns can work against you, and lose its luster for even your most dedicated base.
Roddy cautions that the business of drumming is often out of your control. Passion and the love of doing it just might make you rich. But even some of the bigger names out there struggle to string together regular gigs and make the rent.
“There really is no glass ceiling in music,” Roddy points out. “It’s a steel ceiling, or a cement ceiling. It’s hard to break through. I know guys literally that have Grammy nominations hanging on their walls that can’t afford to get their cars running out of the driveway. That’s not to say that there aren’t successful people, too. But that’s the exception, not the rule.”
Derek Roddy lives to inspire drummers everywhere to recognize that there’s more at your fingertips than drum sticks. Other opportunities exist that might help you earn a living while following the beat of your heart. Because this business of drumming begins long before you roll out of bed and ends well after last call. It demands rigorous adaptation and nurturing the things you can control. And it’s only as solid as the support it gets from those outside forces — managers, egos, bills, relationships — that often disrupt and resist more than they encourage and embrace growth.
Your life as a drummer is yours to incubate. Hatch at your own risk, and on your own terms.
“The greatest satisfaction I get from breeding,” Roddy offers, “is creating a new look or type of animal, and just the overall feeling of watching something with millions of years of history hatch out of an egg right in front of you. It’s the coolest thing,” he laughs. “It’s a lot like creating living art.”
1. Get Versatile: Break out the crayons and paint with as many colors as possible.
2. Get Multitasking: Learn to run sound, lights, and video for the opening bands.
3. Get Teaching: Advertise lessons and help get budding drummers on their way.
4. Get Writing: Earn publishing credit (and royalties) for assisting with the band’s songwriting.
5. Get Strumming: Ever picked up a guitar? Strap one on and learn a new instrument.