Drummers Gone Wild!

On The Set Of A Marco Minneman Video Shoot

Marco Minneman

There were about ten guys and one really attractive gal standing around in the main room of a recording studio in North Hollywood. Drummer Marco Minneman was in the middle of it all, in the glow of large video lights, seated behind his jumbo-sized DW drum kit and stacks of Meinl cymbals. Marco was about to play a solo for the video camera, and for posterity. Producer Rick Gratton, a sheaf of notes in his hand, scratched his head with a pen and asked Marco, “Do you have something worked out so I’ll know when you’re near the end?”

“Uh, no,” Marco said.

And then the circuits failed and the lights went out and a crew member said, “Aw, crap.”...

It’s fly on the wall time, dude. DRUM! hung out behind the cameras to give you the lowdown on a video production day. We were lucky enough to match schedules with German wunderkind Marco Minnemann while he filmed the video complement to his book, Extreme Interdependence. Minnemann is a good video star: he’s got ridiculous chops, some cool new concepts, and he’s a nice guy and a cordial host. Minnemann and the gang from Warner Bros. told us and showed us what goes into to the making of a drum video so we could pass it on to you. We wouldn’t want you to be short on info when it’s your turn to shred for the cameras, right?

A video is much like a small movie and it takes a good-sized team to make a small movie like this. On this shoot there are camera operators, three assistants tending cameras and tape decks, an audio engineer, a director, a producer, a couple of visiting “suits” from the corporate office, Minnemann, two more musicians (due in the studio on day two of filming) and a foxy, exotic Israeli makeup artist named Tal. (We mention Tal not because we’re sexist pigs but because enthusiasm is an important part of capturing a permanent performance on tape and in a room full of men a pretty woman soon becomes a source of enthusiasm and a muse to the artists present. Okay, maybe we’re just sexist pigs. She had long, dark hair, big dark eyes, and those sexy lowrider jeans, a white tee under a funky-furry short, suede jacket and apparently it was cold in the room.)

Marco Minneman

Minnemann grins widely while having his makeup touched up by Tal.

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Morale is key. Rick Gratton, the producer, is a chatterbox of compliments and ideas. Gratton’s own video, which came out in the ’90s, was popular with shredders of the day, and is a great method for learning odd groupings. Gratton has personally taught many big name drummers, and some equally famous drummers with short names, too. Today he is bounding around the studio, a sheaf of notes in his hand, pumping his arms in the air while Minnemann warms up and saying things like, “Oh, he’s hot today! Oh, he’s killing it! Killing it!” Gratton is from Canada but today he’s very Hollywood. You’re beautiful, baby!

The notes he has show the breakdown of the video. There are two days of filming to be done. Today will be drum solos, interviews with Minnemann, and Minnemann putting live drums on prerecorded tracks of his own tunes. Tomorrow, if everything goes right, there will be two more musicians joining Minnemann.

Today, most of the big things go right but plenty of little things go wrong. Murphy is in attendance – starting with the very first take and the overburdened circuit that blew two times in a row. The crew waited while a studio engineer ran some alternate power cords. There were too many lights and cameras running off of one circuit in the recording studio, because this isn’t a video facility, it’s an audio facility. The shoot was originally scheduled for a video facility, but some hoser band of Canadian wannabes – named Rush – needed to work overtime on their own project. Minnemann and company got bumped.

So now, in the main room of this, the alternate recording studio, there are lights, cameras, and action. Four cameras today. Two more will come tomorrow for the extra musicians. There’s a main camera, which sits on a tripod about 20 feet in front of the drum set. It captures the static “Master Shot.” There are two mobile, hand-held cameras that can be contorted between the cracks of the drum set for those up-close shots of Minnemann’s hands on the hi-hat and snare. You better believe these guys are wearing earplugs! And there’s another camera man operating a very large, industrial, crane-mounted camera called a jib camera.

Marco Minneman

It’s break time between takes as Minnemann, Rick Gratton, and a couple stage hands discuss camera angles and other fine points.

Most of the cameramen are drummers. In fact, on this shoot, there were more drummers than non-drummers present. And drummers know what other drummers want to see.

Director/camera man Jonathann Launer, for example, plays drums. “I’m a director who also shoots and edits,” Launer told us. He has been involved, to date most notably as editor, in many drum videos, including Terry Bozzio Live in Concert and promotional films for Sabian and Zildjian, among many others. “I do feature films, network television, MTV. Sometimes I hold a camera, sometimes I’m just directing. I have my own edit bay and I edit everything myself.” Launer is enthusiastic about his film work but when we got on the subject of drum sets he spoke enthusiastically about his kit and his collection of cymbals. He’s definitely got a terminal case of the drum bug.

His brother, Jerrold Launer, is the audio engineer. In the booth he’s recording the music from the many mikes on the kit. Audio is being recorded onto Tascam DA88 digital decks, the industry standard for syncing audio and video. All the cameras record “time code” as well as video footage. The master recording is based on the time code from the main camera. The engineer must keep the video from all the cameras in sync with the audio of the main camera’s time code‚ or the edited results will look and sound off kilter, like an old Japanese monster movie.

Ray Brych, the Warner Bros. A&R/Project Manager guy, is another drummer. In fact, he told us he landed this day job through the networking grapevine of his old college professor in Potsdam. Brych is a friendly guy, the sort of even-tempered, funny dude you hope to have with you for support if you were on a really bad gig. He was eager to answer our questions. Our first question was, “We can get Lord of the Rings for ten bucks, so how come a double-disc drum piece costs $60?”

“Oh, those doubles have been top sellers.” Brych said, “But as far as the price, you’ve got to remember we’re competing with Blockbuster, and they move a lot more stuff than we do. Our sales aren’t like Lord of the Rings. It’s a smaller market. We reach our audience through the big retail chains like Guitar Center, the mom and pop stores, and through the online stuff like Amazon. We also have international distribution. Still, the States outsell international stuff, and the numbers are not like the movies. But we always think that if we give you a good product and it’s timeless, and you’re getting a lot of information and performance, then the content will sell forever.”

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Scott Acosta splits hairs to find the sweet spot in between Minneman’s overhead microphones.

He’s got a point there. A classic drum book, such as Stick Control, sells for decades. Will drummers continue to play and study popular drum videos of today ten, 20, even 30 years from now? Will they be as enduring as the classic books? Some, certainly not. But dog or hero, a drum video costs a bundle to make. So how does a company like Warner Bros. decide which projects to pursue?

“Sometimes we’ll do a book first, and if it proves popular we’ll do a video. Zoro’s book and videos are a good example of that,” Brych says, and then he waxes enthusiastically about Minnemann’s book for a while, and about Minnemann in general. “He writes all the time. He’s got six or seven solo albums. He’s got his own band the Illegal Aliens. He plays a little guitar, bass, keys. He just sits in his little German studio and blows himself up. I think he’s genetically altered.

“Marco will have a trio here tomorrow. Some of Marco’s new tunes have been done [at his home studio] on ProTools, then he sent them to the bass player, in another country, and to the keyboard player, in yet another country. And so when they get together here that will be the first time they’ve actually played some of this stuff together. Hopefully it will work.”

With musicians of this caliber it surely will work. But Murphy has been visiting the shoot again. A large order of famous brand microphones was due from the manufacturer on Sunday, the set-up day. The delivery, from Austria, never came, so the drums went up with other-brand professional mikes. Now, on Monday, while standing around during a lull, watching Tal powder Marco’s face, a crewmember aimed a casual finger at a pile of cardboard shipping boxes in the corner. It was the microphones, delivered sometime during the day, unnannounced and unnoticed.

Marco Minneman

Jib dude Scott Acosta checks the monitor to make sure that the massive microphone boom arm is safely hidden out the picture.

“When did those get here?” he said, but no one answered. And no one made a lunge for the pile of microphones, either. There is an unspoken pressure in the room. This is, after all, a do-or-die schedule. Yesterday, all day, was set-up. Today is Minnemann alone. Tomorrow is Minnemann plus other musicians. And that’s it – the players all go back to their respective counties and countries. The footage goes with the director/editor and sound engineer for hours and hours of post-production work. There isn’t room for much error during the shoot, and there are few volunteers around to jump on any grenades – or microphones. The shoot just keeps on a-rollin’.

There is no time gratuitously spent, either, not even for the star. Minnemann speaks up and says he wants to make another pass at the ending of his solo. He feels that, just at the very end, he could have been a little smoother – which is pretty funny – and he wants to record again, just the ending. He is met with some resistance by both producer and director, who are trying to keep things on schedule. Minnemann gets his five minutes, but no more than that.

The next section of work is Minnemann recording drums over his mini-disk recordings of his own songs. There are a couple of false starts. Adjustments are made to the headphone mix. “The headphone mix is coming to me in mono,” Marco says, “It should be stereo. It was recorded in stereo.” “Not any more,” comes the reply from a crewmember watching the clock.

The headphone mix gets tweaked and the first tune gets recorded. The easiest way to describe Minnemann’s playing is to paraphrase a common quote of the day, “That’s really sick.” Minnemann plays the song without a hitch. The second tune of the day, however, gets thorny. It is a very complex tune. Minnemann is reading the Zappa-esque drum parts off of a score. But the recording has no click track and the tune, as recorded, proves nearly impossible to play to. Minnemann appears frustrated and disappointed. They move on, perhaps to return to it later.

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Producer Rick Gratton discusses movie minutia with Minnemann, while Project Manager Ray Brych inspects the bass drum foot cam.

There’s another short pause for technical adjustments. The photographer, Marty Temme (also a drummer) is waved in to snap some shots of Minnemann playing. Temme puts a big flash head on his camera and asks Minnemann to play a bit. Relaxed and “fooling around,” Minnemann sounds even smoother, faster, and groovier than he did during his recorded drum solo. Tal (who plays congas, too) is standing by to powder his face before the next take. Someone makes a sotto voce remark: “It’s good to show off for other drummers, but it’s even better to show off for girls.” The girl and the guys are all smiling as Minnemann shows off, and Temme keeps burning film until the director calls for a return to places so filming can resume.

The movements of the cameras are choreographed for each tune. The camera operators need to have at least a sketchy blueprint of where they’re going and what they will focus on. The exception to this is the Master Shot camera, which just sits there in the front row and gets a pretty good view. The kinkiest camera is the jib camera, which is a camera on a long crane, mounted on a large industrial tripod on wheels. Jib cameras are responsible for the smooth overhead panning shots that we’ve come to know and love in drum videos. They’re the cameras that can look straight down at the drummer from directly overhead and then swing over to the side, front, or back. The jib camera operator has his own challenges of independent coordination.

Scott Acosta is the jib camera operator on this shoot. He’s not a drummer, but as he told us, “I shoot a lot of live concerts. I can’t play. I can’t sing. But I feel music.” As he stands behind the large struts of the camera, his left hand runs a small joystick, just like a video game, that moves the camera. His right hand is busy, too, and he points at the controls and explains. “I’m zooming with this finger, focusing with that, panning and tilting with that, arming up and down left and right there, moving my feet as well and every time I move a single part of my body something else has to move as well to compensate. It’s sort of the same principle as drumming.”

All the contortions and kneepad work the cameramen make is more important now than it used to be. The move is on from VHS video cassettes to DVD discs, and the DVD format allows for a new revolution in consumer viewing. David Hakim, one of the suits – err, executives – of Warner Bros. Publications, is very knowledgable about where visual education has been and where it is likely going. Hakim has been in the drum video business since its inception, working with DCI videos and then CPP/Belwin and now Warner Bros.. He was there for videos by Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, and everything in between and since. He told us – and told us and told us – all about the new frontiers.

“The evolution of drum videos,” Hakim says, “leads us to DVDs. A player like Marco Minneman needs the technical innovations that the DVD format offers. We can show every angle and every perspective of the performance. And with DVD the user can slow down the tracks, isolate them, and it offers a wonderful way to study a virtuoso like Marco. We will have an extensive menu for the consumer to select from, whether he wants to study or just be entertained. We started this with our recent Santana Supernatural/Raul & Karl project, and now it’s part of our method. We think it’s the ultimate teaching tool. We’ll also have ’mega-packs’ coming out, including a book, a CD, and a DVD all together, including play-along tracks of the materials in the package.”

That sounds really cool and right away we thought to ourselves, Will it cost less than 60 bucks? But we kept our cheap-ass comments to ourselves. Hakim is a drummer, too; another Potsdam man from the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York. Before he earned his Bachelor’s Degree he was just another kid learning Bonham licks off the record. We had a good laugh with him, talking about the old school technique of dropping the needle on an LP set to 16 RPM. It was the best way to hear those tricky licks, but the future is DVD and the turntable is long gone. Now you just find the camera angle you want on the DVD menu, set it at half-speed or quarter-speed, crank up the speakers and pay attention.

Of course, no technology will replace practice, just as no profit motive can create a substitute for the genuine enthusiasm of the people working on this shoot. This whole crew loves drums and drummers. It’s their job, and it’s a business, of course, so love is not the bottom line. And to that end you won’t likely see a video, “Part Two,” from an artist who doesn’t sell good numbers with “Part One.” But there’s real love in this recording studio, and their enthusiasm is best compared to that of kids in a candy store.

And now, as the crew takes a meal break, and men ask Tal what she likes to eat, and some eyes cast around to see if the suits are buying lunch today, Gratton sums it up best. “Yesterday,” he recalled, “setting up for this, we all took turns playing Marco’s kit. We all play, so it was a little rite of passage to get behind there and make the drums speak. And you know, everybody here could play something. It was really cool.”