Rockin' The Studio With Rich Redmond

Rich Redmond

Rich Redmond slams his DW Collector's Series kit on a session at Sound Stage Studios in Nashville.

Talking about Rich Redmond as simply an outstanding drummer is like trying to describe a whole house by just focusing on the kitchen. He’s the quintessential successful, modern-day musician: a multidimensional jack-of-all-trades and master of several, with a fierce work ethic. In addition to playing drums both live and in the studio, Redmond is also a producer, songwriter, drum clinician, and motivational speaker. He’s equally comfortable speaking to a classroom of kindergarteners, or drumming onstage behind his long-time employer, country sensation Jason Aldean (“a 12-year ‘overnight success’ story,” Redmond says wryly). He’s very appreciative of the breaks the gig has afforded him. “Whatever notoriety or visibility that that outlet has provided has fed every other thing,” he says.

People Make The World Go ’Round

There are few facets of Rich Redmond’s personality that he infuses into everything he does, including drumming and producing in the studio. One of his most sacred tenets is teamwork. His team (more like a band of brothers, really) and their production company, New Voice Entertainment (newvoiceentertainment.com), was an outgrowth of working as Aldean’s backing band. The musicians on the team include Redmond (drums and percussion), Tully Kennedy (bass), and Kurt Allison (guitar), who affectionately refer to themselves as “The Three Kings.” “It’s been me, Kurt, and Tully playing music together for 12 years,” says Redmond. “Clothing styles have come and gone, wives have come and gone, hairstyles have come and gone — and three presidents — and we are still making music together, and growing as musicians and as people and as businessmen together.”

Rounding out the core production team is engineer David Fanning, who manned the Pro Tools rig at the session we attended. “Adding David into the mix has been great. We met him cutting sides as an artist, and then we realized that he’s also an amazing vocal coach and a Pro Tools whiz. David knows that not all my parts are going to be slammed to the click, and he knows where he’s going to have to edit and what he’s going to let ride. It’s been really, really, really amazing.”

There’s no dictatorship or hierarchy on the production team; rather, it’s a collaboration based on mutual trust and respect. Even when working on drum parts during the session, Redmond takes as many suggestions as he gives. While he has his own ideas about whether he has executed a part correctly from both a technical and a musical standpoint, he relies of the feedback of the rest of the team for a final decision.

He adds, “Sometimes we fight like brothers, but in a good way, because that relationship is going to affect the end product. Kurt is like Switzerland. He keeps Tully and me from killing each other! [laughs] But it’s good. It’s this great thing where we’re all fully committed to the end product. That’s what we want — we want it to be great. We’re accountable to each other and we don’t let each other off the hook.” Collectively, the team genuinely is concerned about working on every aspect of the track until it’s right, and not settling or falling back on a “fix-it-in-the-mix” attitude.

Redmond summarizes the team’s individual roles this way: “Everybody chimes in with what they do best, for the company. I get a lot of clients and I do marketing and I manage the books, and then David does all the co-engineering and the digital editing. And then Kurt and Tully are song guys, so they’re always taking song meetings. So we’ve got four arms [that we can draw upon].”

Also on the session was engineer Jim Cooley, whom the team employs on every session. It’s obvious that Redmond has great respect for Cooley and trusts him implicitly. “Jim was trained by [top Nashville producer-engineer] Chuck Ainlay, so he knows all of Chuck’s philosophies and tricks. What’s cool about Jim is that he knows that we’ve got something going on and we have a vision for what we want to do and he wants to be part of it. So we’re happy to have him on board. It’s a people thing. People make the world go ’round, and we would all rather work with our friends. Jim is kind of inside my head and he knows where I’m coming from.”

The session took place at the legendary (and newly renovated) Sound Stage studios on Nashville’s Music Row. “We have a really excellent relationship with the new management at Sound Stage studios, and we do everything there,” Redmond enthuses. The day’s order of business was tracking a couple of songs for an upcoming release by singer/songwriter Kristy Lee Cook, who first received national recognition for her musical talents through her seventh-place finish on American Idol’s seventh season. We observed the team producing “Every Boy’s Got One,” a bouncy rocker that showcased both Cook’s and the production team’s studio prowess.

Rich Redmond

A view of the tracking room, with an AT4081 "crunch" ribbon mike, center.

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Tracking at Sound Stage with Redmond, bassist Tully Kennedy, and guitarist Kurt Allison.

Session Readiness

Redmond tunes his entire kit for every session, including tops and bottoms. “Tuning is more art than science, but I just try to get each drum to sing and be as fat as possible and sound good right there in the room. But I always err on the side of the engineer and ask, ‘What are you hearing in there?’ And if they want to bring it up or add some tape, it’s worth it, because when we listened back to the track, we said, ‘That sounds really cool, like somebody right out of the ’70s. It was worth the time we spent getting that snare drum sound.”

While he’s a stickler for tuning for every session, Redmond takes a bit more of a voodoo attitude about how often to change drumheads. “If it’s sounding good and it sounded good at the last session, I’ll push it. Sometimes I’ll get sentimental or even superstitious … ‘This head was used on a couple of hit records and I don’t want to change it!’ But as a general rule, I change kick drum heads every six months, depending on the amount of recording I’m doing. Tom heads once every couple of months. Bottom heads definitely every six months. A lot of guys don’t change their bottom heads, and those things are vibrating all the time, so they should be changed at least twice a year.”

While he doesn’t use completely different kits for live and studio work, Redmond does use slightly different configurations depending on what the situation calls for. “For the road, the guys in the band seem to like the 24" kick the best because it has the attack and it has the punch. The 24 in the studio is nice, because most of our style is rock-based and it’s a familiar sound, but on this session, I played the 22, because it’s tighter. I think the whole spirit of what we do as a production team is that we all lean on each other. ‘What are you hearing behind the glass?’ Some drummers are really set in their ways, like ‘this is my sound. Capture it!’ And we’re more about what’s going to be best for the song and for the project. You have to be flexible. Have your tools — your RTOM Moon Gels, your gaff, your Remo Rings — all the tricks.

There aren’t a ton of pieces in Redmond’s studio kit. “In the studio, there’s something really beautiful about just coming in with a Ringo kit — 12, 16 — there’s a nice spread there, the interval spread. And there’s the less-is-more thing; I don’t want to be distracted with chromatic toms up top that are going to make me want to go ‘DOOP, doop, doop’ and fall into that. I lost my splash cymbals about four years ago. I just find that every year that passes, the drums get bigger, the cymbals get bigger, I play less, and I make more money!” [laughs]

Rich Redmond

AKG D112 slightly off-axis, inside the kick.

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Sennheiser 421 near the hoop of the floor tom.

Rich Redmond

Audio-Technica ATM450 angled across the bell of the hi-hat.

Rich Redmond

Audio-Technica 4047 to the side of the front kick drum head.

Rich Redmond

Engineer Jim Cooley adjusts a Shure SM57 on the snare.

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Tools Of The Trade

While Redmond is very hands-on with the selection of his own drum components and the performance and production processes, he leaves the choice of mikes and the like to Cooley, whom he trusts implicitly to get the right sounds. “I am a fan of Audio-Technica mikes and we use several of them on the kit,” Redmond explains. “Their ribbon mike [AT4081] that we use for the center-room ‘crunch’ mikes is one of our secret weapons. We love it.” Cooley’s drum-miking setup consisted of 13 mikes, as follows:

Kick In: AKG D112
Kick Out: Audio-Technica 4047
Snare Top: Shure SM57 and Audio-Technica ATM450
Snare Bottom: Shure KSM-141
Hi-hat: Audio-Technica ATM450
Overheads: Schoeps CMC 6s, in stereo X/Y pattern
High and Low Toms: Sennheiser 421s
Room: Coles 4038 ribbons in stereo, spread wide
Mid-room (“crunch mike”): Audio-Technica AT4081 phantom-powered stereo ribbon

A single Shure SM57 handled percussion-miking duties (for tambourine, shaker, etc.).

On the session, Redmond played a DW Collector’s Series kit. “The cool thing about DW Drums is that they’re out-of-the-box thinkers. They reinvent the wheel. And their quality control … there’s nobody making drums of that quality on that scale. You can get a DW drum set in frickin’ South Persia or the middle of the desert — you can get them anywhere.” Redmond’s cymbals of choice are Sabians.

He also brings “an arsenal of snare drums, like Ludwig Black Beauties, Supra-Phonics, and Acrolites.” (Redmond brought a road case of no less than a dozen different snare drums to the session.) “I usually prepare a bunch of snares different ways. So the drums each have their own personality, and my partners know to pull up the ‘goosh’ drum or the ‘crack’ drum or a specialty drum. So it’s all prepared to go.

“Usually I’ll start with a 5.5" Black Beauty and we’ll get sounds. The idea of hiring the same engineer for every session is that we have that symbiotic relationship. So Jim might say, ‘bring up the chrome-over-brass today, we’ll start there.’ Then we’ll cast the snare drum for each song. I try to meticulously tune everything and Jim places the mikes. We kind of work on that together. And then I start playing and we get sounds, and he gets my cue box all set up nice to where it sounds inspiring. And then the other players start rolling in and he gets sounds on them, and hopefully by 10 a.m. we’re at a point where everything is sounding good. My training is as a percussion educator, so if Jim says to use a certain snare drum, I’m not going to fight him. I just totally trust him. Sometimes he’ll record me playing a little bit and then I’ll check it out. There’s something really awesome about doing a take, coming into the control room and listening, and going, ‘Oh, wow, this does sound huge! This sounds great!’ It’s really inspiring and sets up the spirit of the whole day.”

Drummer/Producer

Redmond feels that, especially for drummers, the transition from session musician to producer is a perfectly logical one. “Drummers usually make good producers because, first of all, when we’re on stage, we see it all. The amps are usually screaming at us, so we hear every note that’s played. And then we’ve got the singer blaring in our monitor … so we’re hearing everything, and we’re trying to piece it all together and figure out where we fit. We have the most power to shape — or destroy — the time, the tone, the attitude … everything. The drummer can be a weapon, or you can be Leonard Bernstein.

“So [when producing], I’m thinking ahead of time, Is this going to have a loop on it after the fact? Am I going to play maracas or tambourine? How is all of this going to come together to make my percussive ‘cake’ and shape the song? Once we get that basic bed, then I get behind the glass and can see how it comes together. And it’s that instinct thing of going, Wow, I’m really glad I decided to go four-on-the-floor in the bridge because it stayed out of the way so that steel guitar part can come in. Sometimes we do preproduction, and other times, the only production we’re doing is right from the floor. I think what drove us to start producing records is that, as your experience grows, you’re playing thousands of songs as a sideman or as a session drummer. Eventually, you’re like, Really, to be a producer, all I need to do is be a people person, help find artists the right songs, book the studio, and then have a party and try to shape the thing from the beginning stage to the end. It seemed very natural.”

Rich Redmond

Redmond uses a variety of Pro-Mark sticks, brushes, mallets, and other implements for just the right sound on each song.

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Redmond with just a few of the snare drum options he brings to a session.

Rich Redmond

A drummer can never have too many percussion options in the studio...

Studio Playing Style and Attitude

To describe Redmond as “dedicated” or “passionate” or “high-energy” just doesn’t do him justice. When it comes time to do a take in the studio, he puts his entire being into every beat of every measure of the song at hand. “I tell everybody, ‘Play from the heart — it will set you apart.’ You never mail it in, because you’re going to hear that thing on the radio, and it’s going to come through. I still feel that in the age of zeros and ones and a little computer, that sweat and passion make it to ‘tape.’ Hell, I twirl my sticks in the studio! Because that inspires the guys.”

Redmond doesn’t consciously think differently about how he plays on stage versus in the studio. Instead, he explains, “I think the song and the artist determine that. It’s that gut instinct that takes over — your instinct for music and your ears and your body will tell you what to play. So to me, it’s just not different at all. When we were playing ‘Every Boy’s Got One,’ it was like Sports Rock — boom, boom, boom! I might actually amp it up a little more live, because if you’re playing to 20,000 people, you’ve got to get out to the cheap-seat guy. Your energy has to somehow go all the way out there. But on the second song of this session, we said, ‘Let’s go for a ’70s vibe,’ so I’m immediately thinking, Don’t play as hard … let the mikes do the work … tune the drums lower. You can over-hit and kill the tone, so you have to know the limit. You can overplay things, but if it’s a rock song, you have to go there. And if it’s that ’70s thing, I just loosey-goose it up, and just let everything just kind of breathe.”

Rich Redmond

(L-R) Engineers David Fanning and Jim Cooley at the board.

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The New Voice Entertainment team with artist Kristy Lee Cook (clockwise from left): Tully Kennedy, David Fanning, Jim Cooley, Cook, Redmond, and Kurt Allison.

Rich Redmond

Kristy Lee Cook in the vocal booth.

We Have Arrived …

Twelve years of dedication and struggle have paid off for Redmond and his production team, and have allowed them a little room to breathe when producing in the studio. “The drum chair is a tough chair in [Nashville], because you’ve got to get it, it’s got to be from the heart, it’s got to hug the click, and it’s got to be fast. And so it’s a cool luxury now to have our own budgets and have a studio that we work with all the time, and say, ‘You know what? Let’s take more time in picking that snare drum,’ or ‘Let’s experiment with these 20" crash cymbals.’ You’ve got a little bit more time on your hands, which is nice.”

Redmond pauses, then reflects on just how far the team has come. “It feels good for me, Kurt, and Tully to come from where we were playing for 29 people at the Exit Inn [a popular Nashville venue] to just playing for 29,000 hard tickets in Chicago. We’re like, ‘When did this happen?’ because it was so gradual. We met Jason Aldean in 1999, when he was a young, struggling singer/songwriter. Sometimes you just have to have persistence and patience and believe, because all those songs we were playing were the same [hit songs we play today], and all the suits were going, ‘We don’t hear it. I don’t see it.’ And then it all came around. You create your own destiny. If you’re willing to just put yourself out there and play from the heart, and you’re a good business person, you can do anything.”