Part 1. Pride
by Brian West
This article will help you learn to be a drummer. You will be the first one to load into a gig, and the last one to leave. During the set up time, you are meticulous—taking inventory of parts, and instruments, fine tuning your drums, and adapting as needed for the music to come. You pull a few cymbals out, place them delicately on their stands while thinking ahead of which tunes may be complimented by your collection of precious metals. Turning your attention to the bass drum, you focus on tuning and muffling that will work best with both the music style and the room sound. Then, you begin to take special precautions with your snare drum sound. Unfortunately, the tuning you used in the studio last week seems to match an ugly overtone in the box shaped room and rings loudly. Your time is running out as the other musicians plug in, so the best you can do for now is to detune one of the snare lugs and muffle the head a bit more so it won’t drive everyone crazy. Briefly warming up on the new stage you discover that the room is too bright and brash sounding for the cymbals you selected. You quickly reach in and take out some darker sounding cymbals so you don’t overpower the room, the band, and most importantly the ears of people waiting on the other side of the club entrance. The sound man shows up and you start hitting your drums for several minutes, one at a time, until he (hopefully) matches your sound to the venue. Finally, after a long sound check with the band members, the concert begins. If you have practiced the material enough, and play with all of the passion in your soul, you will “turn on” some new fans over the next couple of hours that will spread the word about your group. After a hard earned encore and then talking with some fans during the sweep up, it is time to take the equipment down. You will spend a good half hour putting your instruments in their cases, taking stock of which sticks and drum heads you may need to purchase before the next gig, while having a chat with the opening band’s’ drummer. You will “talk shop” about cymbals, custom drums, and musical influences. You are both sharing in the pride inherited in your art form.
After a few years you find that you have moved from playing pubs, to small theaters. Your new album sells well among your regional fan base, but your group decides it is time to attempt to get signed by a record label and “go national.” The money doesn’t always compliment all the hard work you put in, and you realize that only the songwriter of the group may have a chance of earning much in the way of record royalties. The band goes on long tours, which can be full of great experiences, but also full of, uh…surprises. You show up to a club in phoenix and realize that you are playing to the staff. On the way to Denver your van breaks down on the interstate. Oh, and don’t forget that promoter in Dallas that short-changed the band four hundred bucks at the end of the night. These aren’t just stories you read about in rock star biographies.
So what is it that keeps drummers coming back to the practice room and the stage, time and time again, despite the well-known hardships of being in the music business? Of course there are many great musicians who keep their day jobs and play music on the weekends. For many of us though, our passion takes over and we yearn to delve deeper. Some drummers work the big city recording studio sessions, some teach students and give clinics, and others work on products to improve the industry. No matter what your drumming day job is, what surfaces in our minds after that recording or teaching session is that next show or tour that looms around the corner.
You will show the world the creation you have started in your rehearsal space with your band mates, and your music will evolve as you become more comfortable performing it over a twenty-six day run. You will play your set each night, even if you have the flu. You and your fellow musicians have a heated debate on day 14 of the tour concerning switching out the opening song and whether to finally add the album’s ballad to the set. Just as the band seems like it will implode from the exhaustion of being on the road, you hear a song from the new album on the radio. As your van pulls into the theatre parking lot, you notice a long line of fans waiting to get tickets. Suddenly you come back to life as you feel that familiar nervous energy that will launch you into another great performance.
Finally the tour ends and you spend a couple of days catching up on some rest. During the next few weeks the group plays some local shows and begins writing some new material for the next album and tour. Even if the fans loved the set list on the last tour, you and your comrades know better than to repeat it. Your music is an ever-changing artful expression that words have a hard time explaining. It reflects the passion and trends of the music industry, the fans, your emotions, and your world outlook, as you grow older and wiser. The music and camaraderie you create with other musicians with that common passion is truly one of a kind. Checking your voicemail one morning, you find that your tour manager has just booked a small tour of Europe. You feel that weird nervous energy again, imagining what that theatre in Valencia might look and sound like. You daydream of another long line of fans around the block to see the band in Copenhagen. You are road-wise enough now that you don’t let your expectations get out of control. First things first – time to get to rehearsal on time to shape up the new songs, and then downtown to renew that passport.
Meanwhile your musical influences constantly surround your thought processes as you tap rhythms on the steering wheel along with the stereo on the way to rehearsal. Before the rehearsal begins you “high five” your band mates upon the news that the record entered the Japanese Billboard charts. A few new dates have been added to the tour including Tokyo and Osaka. With renewed excitement and vigor, it feels like you are starting all over again—only this time the wretched band van stays at home.
by Brian West – Sticks West