Steve Smith and The Seattle Drum School: Part Three

Artist Focus

Steve is an intellectual heavy weight; a modern renaissance individual.

Look for Steve’s upcoming book, Keys To The City.

https://seattledrumschool.com/?gclid=CjwKCAiA4Y7yBRB8EiwADV1hacJP6X-VNbOAh-Xd08qO269OQv8IqjU_gPWFF3ApOSXSiFRL-NntORoCyr4QAvD_BwE

Part 3 of 3

Mackncheeze: What inspired you to become an audio engineer?

Steve: I love listening to music, that’s what got it started. When I was going to Central I didn’t have a lot of money, I always had to work, going home on weekends to teach lessons. I also had bands; to have a band you need a P.A. I had worked at Hanford, I saved my money, and so I bought a P.A.

My mom would freak out because I was always bringing home some piece of new gear……

Mackncheeze: Oh, it started early?

Steve: Very early. My mom would tell me that I could not afford another piece of gear. My response was, “It’s worth it. It’s going to help me.” She didn’t believe it. She wanted me to have a job with a health insurer.

It got to the point where I bought a bigger Yamaha Mixing Console and put it right in the middle of the family room. “Here Mom, look what I got.”

We also needed transport so I bought a van.

Mackncheeze: This is sounding familiar.

Steve: We needed a place to rehearse so I would get the house with a basement. We would have to have a demo.

Mackncheeze: How many band houses were you in?

Steve: 4 or 5, 6 or 10, I don’t know.

I bought a stereo tape deck, we would set up in the rehearsal space and then I would try to record. I had two mics, trying constantly to get the demos to sound like an album; constantly experimenting with placement. Then I bought a four track and the possibilities blew my mind. I just got hooked.

I graduated to an 8 track cassette recorder, a Tascam 688. That thing was killer; ended up recording a demo of Kristy’s and my band, Billy Moon. My former student, Bill Rieflin, drummer for R.E.M., heard a copy of that session and he thought it sounded really good. I ended up using that demo for a Disc Makers unsigned band contest. Out of 508 bands in five states we scored the highest, made it to the finals.

I love recording, love learning from it.

Mackncheeze: When did you buy your first outboard processor?

Steve: That was in 1996.

Mackncheeze: That’s 20 years of recording before you bought a compressor.

Steve: With the recording contract we had after the Disc Makers contest, I picked up 2 ADATs, and two Empirical Labs Distressors, we recorded tracks off my 16 channel Studio Master Console. The record label brought in Don Gilmore to mix the single at Stepping Stone studios, on an SSL 4000 G Plus. He spent ten and a half hours remixing our single. On play back I asked him a lot of questions, then we put up the original track and everyone was blown out. Don thought there was no reason to remix the tune.

We took that original track and remixed it in our studio, using my recently acquired knowledge from Don, two days later presenting it to our A and R person. I said to him, ” If I had a few choice pieces of gear I would be really good at this.” He told me to make a list and they would tack it on to the producers advance. That financed a lot of the really good gear I own. The mics, pre-amps and what not, including a Crane Song STC8. A lot of that gear is now on loan to Robert Lang Studios.

I am so blessed. I have put together another studio here at the Drum School. I get to record my wife, Kristy, who is an amazing singer/song writer, my band The 350’s, which are unreal, Danny Godinez and the stuff we have worked up with him. So blessed to be able to work with this caliber of people.

End of Part Three

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Steve Smith and The Seattle Drum School: Part Two

Artist Focus

Steve is an intellectual heavy weight; a modern renaissance individual.

Look for Steve’s upcoming book, Keys To The City.

https://seattledrumschool.com/?gclid=CjwKCAiA4Y7yBRB8EiwADV1hacJP6X-VNbOAh-Xd08qO269OQv8IqjU_gPWFF3ApOSXSiFRL-NntORoCyr4QAvD_BwE

Part 2 of 3

Mackncheeze: With all that background, how did you come up with your Physics Analogies applied to your teaching methods?

Steve: It’s more of an intuitive understanding that I represent through music and rhythm. Frequencies and vibrations; everything is vibrating. There are no real particles; there are only particles when they are observed. Everything comes from waves and waves are basically constant frequencies.

In terms of music, you make rhythms that intersect with each other and create patterns. Like a 3/4 measure against a 4/4 measure. What is interpreted as a particle isn’t actually a particle until it is measured. You can measure 2 against 3, or 3 against 4, and those patterns become drum parts. They both come from the intersection of points. The concept is metaphoric, its poetry.

I read stuff about quantum physics, which I will reread 30 times. I’ll sit down to practice and I consider how form and matter relate to music. It can be argued that the same mathematical ratios that constitute music are the same ratios that constitute form and matter. It’s how things fit together.

There are certain things people say about music, if you think about it literally, people would say it is odd. “That drummer is solid.” Yeah, right. If you touch that person you can’t penetrate their skin. “The arrangement is solid.” What does that mean? To me that means the way the song is structured, the length of the verse and the chorus, the amplitude of each part and how it relates to the other parts, and the bridge, how all this fits together mathematically is how this all comes together as a pattern, or patterns, that all have order, with a magical musical contour that makes them work.

It’s like reading a great book; how much tension is there, when, how much conflict is there, and at what part of the story.

Two notes that are an octave apart; for every vibration of the bottom of the octave, the top is vibrating twice. That’s a two to one ratio, that’s the most harmonic interval in music. In matter, what is the most abundant compound on the planet? Water: H2O, two hydrogen atoms to one oxygen atom. What’s the most abundant compound gas on the planet? Carbon Dioxide: CO2, one part carbon to two parts oxygen. In molecules, the most common have the lowest ratios.

In music, the next most harmonic ratio is the perfect fifth. That’s a 2 against 3 ratio. The next is a perfect fourth, that’s a 4 against 3 ratio. In music, there are two kinds of meter: compound meter, which are groups of threes, and simple meter based on twos and fours and eights. Odd time signatures are combinations of both. These are defined by vibrating objects. Rhythm, drum set, everything I play, I can reduce down to these patterns.

The wave form that started the whole concept for my upcoming book, Keys To The City, I play 5 against 4 against 3 against 2 simultaneously, and it creates a chord. At 59 plus BPM, the chord is an A minor 7 , 2nd inversion, 8 octaves below middle C. When you slow down chords they become rhythms. These references are to mathematical frequencies. Rhythm turns into pitch.

My system of teaching drums is to show people how to understand time as hearing rhythm in tune. The most common thing people do when trying to get their time together is to tense up and rush. Basically what they are doing is playing sharp.

As well, I introduce the concept of singing these rhythms with their voice.

I have people play and sing in a continuum, as in a wave form. Similar to tuning a guitar with out a tuner. The strings are in tune when the wobbliness goes away; the strings are vibrating in sympathy with one another because they are in tune. With drums; playing rhythms that are in sympathy with one another. I teach people how to understand, from every point of view, what it is they are doing, all based on repetition.

End of Part Two

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