Preparing for Recording as a Drummer
Just a couple things I want to touch on as far as preparation for the studio because I get asked about that a lot, too is what do I do for a session. If I have the music, I'll listen to the music a lot before I can go into a session. Specifically with Periphery. A lot of people think that we'll write a song and then I'll go record it and a day later it's perfect and that's not the case. A lot of the songs that we recorded for Juggernaut, we had in our possession and could listen to for six months, maybe even a year or longer before it. So, I had already had a big chance to digest the songs, to know them, to be very comfortable with them, to learn all the different parts, all the melodic instruments way before I ever actually sat down to record them in the studio. So, if I can really get to know the songs I'll spend as much time as I can. In a setting where I have a session that I don't know the stuff if you are really good at notating it's great to bring a staff book and actually sit d...
own and notate the part. If you can do that by ear and you can do it quickly, that's great. But, a lot of times you're on the clock so you need to have other methods. I personally will just bring sort of a little journal and I'll just map out like, first verse eight bars open hi-hat, like little notes like that for myself that I can follow. Like little cheat sheets. There's a lot of drummers that do that, Josh Freese, for those that know who he is, is one of the best, most well-known session drummers alive today who is notorious for having these sheets with tons of big words on it that dictate what happens in each section. But, because of that, he's able to go into a studio never hearing your song before and track it in one take and it's perfect. Because -that's a combination of talent and being able to understand what certain song formats are like. But also, learning how to take notes for yourself in a way that's unique. And, if you have a way that works for you that's an art in itself. There's no right or wrong way to do it. Just do whatever works for you to connect with that. Then there's other technical things you want to be really cautious of in the studio. It's very, very important to work on your consistency as a drummer. And what I mean by that is, at different dynamic levels knowing how to replicate certain sounds over and over. So, if I'm kicking my kick drum with my foot heel down. I wanna be able to practice getting every note sounding exactly the same. If I'm playing with my heel up and I'm playing louder I need to be able to play consistently with the kicks with that technique. So, going through the different foot positions, different hand positions and working on, you know what happens if I play the hi-hat with a stroke that that's kinda like a hard down beat, light up beat versus what happens if I play with all straight down beats that are really, really specific. There's all of these different movements that we need to work on as drummers so that it becomes muscle memory. And it's not that this is the one way we play, it's based on the song. That dictates what techniques you might use and the way to do that. So, just really honestly the best way to do this isn't, there's no big secret it's just sitting down, picking a groove and focusing on different aspects of that groove with a big emphasis on listening. You really need to listen to what you're doing. And there is a visual aspect too, I mean you can sort of, with your eye, kind of measure the space between the kick drum beater and the actual drum head itself and see if you're consistently creating the same amount of space between every hit. But, a lot of times it's hard to tell that so it's all about listening. So, again, this applies to the idea of mixing yourself. And, go as far as to play a groove where your bass drum is consistent playing really, really, really loud but you're working on your hi-hat playing really, really soft. And work on sort of subdividing the interdependence between your limbs so that you don't you don't want to have to move your right arm and then because you moved your right arm, your left arm has to do something as well. You want to be able to move your right arm and have your left arm free to do whatever you need to do. It's like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time or some kind of coordination like that. But, it's not just one movement. There's so many little incremental differences you can use as far as dynamics go to create different sounds and it's just really important to study that. If you want a career as a session drummer or someone who can go and perform live and sound consistent every night, you really have to work on these things because the drummers that do have those gigs, they have worked on that. And there's no substitute for that. Like you said, when you're in a live room and you have one mic you want to be able to hear the nuances and how each different sound that you're making on the drums fits into the mix. You don't want it to be this big mush. And if it is, producers who are really putting your drumming and the sound under the microscope will see that, they'll hear that, and they won't call you back for another session. Honestly, it's really tough. So, that's really important. The other thing is, look in any situation that you're going in a and you're working with other people it's good to communicate, it's good to ask questions, it's good to be able to take direction. You may have this great idea, but everybody else in the room may feel like it's better another way. In certain cases you gotta learn how to say, "Okay, cool, I'll play it this way" and do what the person who's hiring you wants you to do. It's very important to be able to take direction, to be laid back, to not be in the way, to not sort of take over the room. These are things I've talked about in my previous Creative Live class I don't need to get into now, but it's all about sort of learning how to read the room and come into a situation and blend in versus standing out in a bad way. You really want to do your best to just kind of seamlessly come into situations and go. I think, with that, and the last point is a lot of drummers will go into the studio and get really nervous because it's such a high-pressure situation and you really are under the microscope and thinking about "Oh my god, this producer's listening to me." And "oh my god, the guy who wrote the song who's paying me is listening to me" or "my band members are counting on me to get this session over with in one day because we only have five days in the studio and I need to bang out five or six songs in this one day." That's a lot of pressure. But, again, preparation is key in that regard. Make sure you're prepared and you know your parts. Make sure that you've played through them before. That was a lesson that I had to learn when we recorded Periphery II. We had been so busy with touring prior to that album recording session that I hadn't actually sat down on the drums to play predominately any of the songs. So, I was actually, I'd memorized them and I'd tapped them out on my steering wheel while driving and I could kind of sing you the parts if I had to, but I hadn't actually executed them. So, it took way longer for me to play and perform those parts in the studio and we had to do a little more punching and a little bit more isolation. And that was kind of uncomfortable. I mean, it happens I guess due to schedule limitations but it's not ideal. So, for Juggernaut, we actually rented out a studio to record the drums. I think we did it about 10 days before we actually started recording so that we could go in, I could get the kit set up. I could have it in the room it was gonna be in, and feel really comfortable there. We played through every single song as a band. We were able to actually work out the parts so that when it came time to record it was still challenging but I was much more relaxed. I wasn't feeling as pressured or as worried. I have a session soon after this Creative Live class back home where I'm recording six songs with friends of mine. I've sort of listened to the songs, but I haven't they're not finished yet, so there's some interpretation going on and I kind of have to wait. So that's a little bit more challenging because I don't have all the parts worked out and even the songs themselves aren't worked out. So there's a little bit of nervousness there but I just have to remind myself it's all good, we'll work through it. And take a deep breath and realize that what you're doing, by recording drums in the studio is way more fun than a lot of other things you could be doing professionally, you know? It's supposed to be fun, it is expressive. It is artistic, you are making something that has a tangible sound that wasn't there before. You're creating something. If you can think of it as a very exciting situation versus a very anxious situation I think just looking at it that way can help you deal with the pressures and deal with the stress. It's like stage fright, same kind of thing. A lot of times we'll go to get out on stage and it's like, "oh god I'm like nervous" but it's all about how you look at that. Do you look at that as nervousness or do you think of it as excitement? If you think of it as excitement then you actually get excited. If you think of it as nervousness than you're going to go down that rabbit hole of nervousness. And I think it's good to - I'm sure guys like Josh Freese maybe I don't know at all personally whether he feels this way, he may not but there's always the chance that still to this day with all the records that he's be on that he still gets a little bit anxious and feels that pressure in certain situations. And I'm sure a way that he copes with it or at least someone in that kind of position would cope with that, is saying, alright, so I'm nervous. Before I do this thing that I do all the time But that nervousness is actually a part of what happens all the time. So that means everything's working normally. Like, my body's firing in the right way, my brain's working the right way. If I'm nervous, that's normal. And I can recognize that comfortable feeling that's coming back and use that sort of as a way to execute a positive outcome hopefully, in that regard versus feeling oh my god I'm nervous. It's almost weird now if I go to play a show or if I even go, like today, I've gotta record this song and all the people watching this it's like, "oh wow I'm really under the microscope." And it's a little nerve wracking, but that's a familiar feeling. And if I didn't have that, I'd probably be a little bit more weary of something being off. So, just learn to embrace those situations. Take a deep breath. Realize that no one started off being amazing at recording drums in the studio. At least I don't think that's possible. I think you need to really do it a lot of times to get fully comfortable. And then even when you do it might not be perfectly comfortable.
You need to mess up a few times I think.
Have a few bad sessions.
Yeah, you need to be open to that criticism you're going to get as well. So, believe me, I've been told many times "you're not hitting hard enough" Or, "the feel isn't right" Or, you know, "you're bashing the cymbals way too hard, pull back." And when you're recording and you're in that moment it can be so frustrating to be told what to do. I mean, we probably have videos of me screaming at you or whoever
You didn't scream at me that much.
No, you're pretty low-key. But when I've worked with other producers and things like that you know it's crazy. One quick thing and then we can move on if there's any questions or anything like that
Let's get tracking, actually.
Cool, one quick thing. I did a session with John Feldmann one time who's a producer that focuses mainly on pop and rock. I got a call 10 minutes before "Hey, I need a drummer, can you come in?" And I was like, okay, sure. I had no idea what I was going to be recording. I knew it was two or three songs. I went in, sat down on these drums that I'd never played before, nervous out of my mind. John Feldmann's like a big producer. I didn't know what to do. But, it was actually one of the coolest recording sessions I'd ever been a part of because as I'm tracking he was in my ears saying, "Okay, this part -" I'd be playing a verse and he'd be like "Okay, transition Phil, think Dave Grohl." Whatever that means, it somehow translated. "And in this next section, let's think really tight closed hi-hat, four on the floor." So, he was like kind of telling me where to go as I was playing and that was such a cool experience that I'm really grateful to have had because it's amazing to see how different producers will track. Some guys will be like, alright go. Some guys will be hands-on like that, you know. So, that was one of those really crazy ones that worked out pretty well and it was just a cool experience.
I think we successfully mentioned Dave Grohl in every segment so far.
I think we have, yeah. (group laughs)
I mean I think he's honestly very influential at least for me as a drummer he's a great musician in that regard because in the studio he is so good. And you hear drummers talk about him all the time. There's a lot of guys like that. Ilan Rubin, there's a ton.
I'm gonna mention him now, like in every - I'm gonna find a way.
You're gonna try.
Cool. (group laughs)
He's probably watching.
Yeah, we wanna go tour with the Foo Fighters so maybe this will work.
Yeah, that'll be the whole plan.
I'll just change our setlist for that.