As a drummer, my most important function is to keep time. In the 80’s I learned how to play live with sequences, time delay, arpeggiators and click tracks.
In another band, we were recording an album, with out click, and I could not get past the fourth song. I was second guessing every beat and drum stroke and psyched myself into failure. Red Light Fever, I call it; a fear of failure so intense that I was paralyzed. A Ringer had to be hired to play my parts. To overcome Red Light Fever, I began investing in recording equipment.
I needed to learn to hear incorrect intonation. At the outset, I assumed people who performed often knew what they were doing. Years of performing does not preclude correct technique. Bad habits can be reinforced by constant repetition. Thank God for auto tune, Melodyne, or what ever piece of software we might use to overcome incorrect performances.
Questioning the inaccuracies of my playing through years of lessons and association with better players.
Reading wave files of recording sessions and discovering my kick drum leads the rest of my limbs by 6 to 10 milliseconds. Still working on this one.
Learning to hear audio artifacts whether from editing or from recording performances. People stomp feet, click their tongues and teeth, leave strings open when they shouldn’t, grunt and create all sorts noise while they record. Some of it so subtle that it won’t be heard until Mastering.
Be it as it may, just a short, non complete list of things I needed to address to achieve competency.
Why not drive without head lights? Isn’t that what curbs and side walks were made for? Just kind of feel your way down the street risking flat tires. For a time it seemed to partially work.
Example Number One: I spent a year traveling with a band that disregarded our booking agents parameters. The only reason we weren’t fired sooner was because the rooms we played liked us. I had a nagging concern that we were not fitting to the standards adhered to by the other acts they managed. Too much pot, not enough focus. I walked away from that one.
Example Number Two: For the longest time, without knowing my destination, I desired success in my ventures. Early twenties, on the road, missing part of my grey matter, as clueless as can be, thinking I had arrived, not understanding how lacking my associations were.
Today I see the destination; lots of water under the bridge. I now understand what I sight in the cross hairs can morph, letting the target evolve, discarding previous conceptions…Making sure whatever I seek aligns with my passion.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite true anymore for Terry Jones of Monty Python fame.
We, who “got” the Monty Python humor ( and I remember many of my friends when I was younger didn’t ) were saddened on January 21st. by the news of his passing. Now, with Graham Chapman, two of the six geniuses who were Monty Python’s Flying Circus, are gone.
One of the final scenes in “The Meaning Of Life” has Burt Bacharach singing, “It’s Christmas In Heaven”, and I hope Terry and Graham are hanging out together again, if that’s “wha’ it’s all about.”
My introduction to Monty Python changed my life.
I didn’t know I needed it, but when I found it, I realized I wasn’t alone with my weirdness and “strange” sense of humor. I had already found Benny Hill, but it wasn’t the same; Hill was more vaudeville and had less biting satire.
As the show’s run on American TV was ending, there was a marathon on PBS that I stumbled upon and I must have watched for hours – laughing uncontrollably as a piano player got his arm ripped off and a fountain of blood spewed from the socket! Good times.
The unflinching look in the mirror the Circus took led me to realize that we have to laugh at ourselves and our society in general. That may be the only way to make progress…to point out how ridiculous we really all are, coming together in agreeing…”We’re all crazy.”
This isn’t as funny as it should be, but I didn’t expect some sort of Spanish Inquisition!
RIP, Terry…and now for something completely different.
We all know them. We all run in to them. They are everywhere. I say, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
The socio-political landscape is full of them.
My neighborhood is full of them.
The grocery store is full of them.
The streets are full of them.
Then there is your job.
The best solution: distant yourself as much and as far away as possible. If the toxic person is a good friend then perhaps a later time to re-associate yourself with them will work out. Your survival and sanity is paramount.
Lets use the example of a bass drum and a kick drum part. Lets say I decide to match each note of the bass and the kick drum. This would be an example of Rhythmic Unison.
Now lets say I decide to add kick drum only to those bass notes that need extra weight (anchoring) or extra movement (momentum). This would be an example of Rhythmic Harmony.
The point is that unison can be useful at times, but in my work, Rhythmic Harmony usually gives me more bang for the buck.
If I overdo it, a bad harmony is created; the notes do not complement each other. If I use too few notes, it may lack energy.
Must The Kick Drum Notes Always Be Married To The Bass?
If my bass line covers only a measure and a half of a two bar phrase, does that mean the bass drum has to stop?
All of this is very simple , but it is best to start from a place of total clarirty if the concept is to work.
I recently finished a composition that uses a two measure kick drum pattern like this: 1; ‘and’ of 2; 4; ‘and’ of 1, and 3 (some of you may recognize this polyrythm). The ‘feel’ or through-line of the piece was a hi-hat of eighth notes accenting downbeats 1, 2, 3, and 4. So, how did I get these patterns, hi-hat and kick drum, to connect with each other?
After trying many ideas, I noticed that opening the hat on ‘and’ of 2 and closing on beat 3 gave me what I needed. The kick drum was already giving me all the beats in question; it was just a question of a balanced connection between the two.
I could have accented those beats on the hat, but the feel I wanted would have been compromised. Better in this case to use other instruments, including the bass, to create harmony. For me, the kick drum by itself did not do it. By putting the ‘and’ of 2 on the open hi-hat, the first measure was now connecting on 1; ‘and’ of 2, and 4, thus creating enough of a Rhythmic Harmony to connect the two patterns.
It comes down to avoiding two things: overstatement and understatement, and this varies from one harmony to the next.
The grim truth; many of my artist type friends have depression running in their gene pool. It is in my family as well; seemingly prevalent in the families of creative types. One study shows entrepreneur start up founders, who are extremely creative people, revealing 50% with mental conditions and a 30 % depression rate.
The challenge with depression is that there are hundreds of markers that vary from individual to individual. With all the variables in persons affected there is incongruity in overall consensus regarding identification, diagnosis and treatment.
Many of my friends tell me that they needed to be more aware of their mental space and to keep pills and sharp objects out of reach. It’s not a joke. Those close to me have taken years to figure out triggers, medications and therapies. The path to ‘normalcy’ can be long and arduous.
Interestingly, everyone I know with Depression Symptoms are amazingly talented and brilliant people. I scratch my head in wonder. Why this curse?
The best course is to be there for them, listen with empathy, and give them a hand when they need the help. I would hope I would heed my own words.
Michael: I am my friendships and relationships. I am very blessed that my friendships are from all over the world. My glass of water, I can honestly say, is half full or close to full. I work hard to keep it that way.
Its music, or what I do to motivate myself, or sitting practicing scales, or whatever I want to accomplish.
I am well supported on the planet.
Musically, I have always been drawn to very good vocalists, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Michael McDonald. Motivationally, great jazz players. I’m like every other player; I need inspiration.
I really enjoy a great melody coupled with great vocals. I’ve always been partial to Black Music and Swing. Classic Rock, I would call a squared off sort of rhythmic structure. I have experienced those, and they really don’t do a whole lot for me. I’ve always had swing in my music, one way or another. I was born with a quarter note triplet in my blood.
I have been thinking about the bands I have been with through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and Millennials and how much they have really defined what I was doing and accomplishing. The last twenty years I have been trying to focus more on being a singer/songwriter, more of a front line approach.
I am focused on producing videos for my first album, Easy Street, and for current musical projects. Its really the task at hand.
Mackncheeze: What is Moondance?
Michael: A Van Morrison Tribute band, comprised of five really solid musicians who really enjoy Van Morrison’s music. We have great respect for Van who has been recording since the 60’s and even today is doing it at a very high level of success, which is really amazing.
Moondance captures the essence of the really great vibe of Morrison’s poetic ballads and pop tunes. We are not an orthodox tribute band; we don’t play note for note, but we certainly capture the essence, intros and hooks. We also inject solos within the arrangements, because we have accomplished people who know how to improvise.
Mackncheeze: What are your passions?
Michael: As a Berklee drummer, I would like to be playing drums in some sort of intelligent ensemble. I grew up being a drummer and vocalist, for me, those usually went hand in hand.
I just wrote a song called, Say Goodbye, looking forward to recording that. I’ve also recently written a more modern, hip-hop kind of song.
Presently I’m feeling very creative. This year, after taking a trip to Europe and visiting friends in Germany, Poland and Iceland, I had a switch come on. I can be inspired to write music by walking down the street. I’m learning how to make it tangible. Its the combination of things; the video perspective of capturing an image, learning how to listen better, conversations inspiring a lyric or a feeling, something I can visually see.
I love singing. Talk about passion. These ballads, when I sing these songs, I sing them to the bone, I feel them and I think about my own life and how the songs interact with the lyrics.
Presently, it’s an exciting, creative time. Considering the lack of sun in the Northwest, this is a good thing.
Mackncheeze: You are your sun. Whats the most exciting thing you have ever encountered ?
Michael: Helping deliver my daughter. She was born in the back seat of Volkswagen Bug. I was in the backseat with a midwife, as we were on the way to a hospital after forty two hours of labor.
My passion list would actually be long; things that actually changed my life. Moving from the east coast in ’74, ’75. Playing in front of 85,000 people at Seattle’s Bumbershoot when it was in Pioneer Square. In 1986, playing at the World Expo in Vancouver, British Columbia . Bake’s Place, Moondance, August 2019, the only band to sell out the club on a Friday night. Being debt free and a home owner; anomolous for most musicians. There are alot of successes.
My health and my music are somewhat intertwined. Right now it’s about being in the trenches and disciplining myself everyday, everyday. I’m learning that more and more.
Mackncheeze: What are your struggles?
Michael: Writer’s block, that’s been a struggle. I’m trying to write down everything: documenting, documenting, documenting.
Mackncheeze: Anything else?
Michael: I’m really thankful for all my friends. And Jasper, my Maine Coon Cat. What would we do without our cats?
Yeah, Baby. I want to keep my hearing. Entropy has decided to work against me, so I fight back.
Every practice session, every rehearsal; ear plugs. Reviewing tracks; I listen at extremely low volumes, often times in mono, mixing off my IPhone, mixing off head phones set across the room, referencing Blue Tooth speakers in close proximity.
At 10 to 15 db, I make sure I can hear every instrument, placed in proper perspective, panning in place.
Here’s an important note: at very low decimal volume, inaccuracies in performance jump out. Not only must the mix sit well at high volume, it must sit well low. High volume playback easily punches, not so much low volume.
Keeping my hearing is crucial.
Depending on the gig I may, or may not, where ear protection. At extremely high volume, yes, definitely. At lower volumes, depends.
A snare hit, even with a bundled stick, can register at 140 db., so it is best to be careful.
For two years I played next to a Marshall Stack. The result was an eardrum which would pop at the slightest high frequency sound. That took years to heal.
I marvel at my fellow players who never even consider protecting their hearing. Those cymbal crashes certainly can’t be fun, especially from the high frequency sizzle. Yikes!
I have great friends who espouse custom fit ear plugs. The cost can be prohibitive. My challenge with those kind of ear plugs is the same as reading glasses, they are easily misplaced. The cheapest hearing protection is toilet paper wadded into my ear canal. Good enough for George Jones, good enough for me.
I have read the books. I have stood in front of the mirror yelling at myself. I have gone to the conferences. I have read the blogs. I have reaffirmed my affirmations. Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah.
I have found out what habit is – its habit.
The daily routine is what moves me forward. No matter what my day entails, two hours minimum on the drum kit, period. I wish I had more time but its the best I can do. Drums are my passion. Drums are the foundation of everything; my recording studio, my bands, this blog, performance, recording, production, song writing -everything.