Go to Concerts!

Aside from getting out there and “making the hang,” you need to attend concerts. Not only is going to concerts a large part of making the hang, it also makes you a better musician. Think of a live music experience as visual and mental practice. When appropriate attend concerts of the musician’s you enjoy listening to. If they don’t happen to be in town, then go check out a local-band gig. Local band gigs are a great way to compare yourself to the band’s who are out there doing it. You may come to realize that you’re better than you think, and sometimes you’ll see someone play who completely blows your mind and sends you running to the tool shed.

I recently attended a local gig here in San Francisco and I was totally turned on to an incredible bass player who I’d never heard of. I made a point to make friends with him on their break, exchange numbers and wham!… I made a great new contact. Turns out the guy does a lot of touring with a national act and has some great leads on future gigs. Priceless!

For my money the best list of concerts in San Francisco is the SF Weekly. Who’s got the best local music calendar in your town?

Plus, there are tons of apps out there like Bandsintown that will alert you when your favorite bands are nearby.

Support live music!

The Bridge's Auditorium

The Bridge’s Auditorium

Make the Hang!

Some people go to music school and/or spend hours upon hours honing their craft and practicing or both getting themselves “up to speed” to play music professionally. Once they are ready though, how do they get the gig?

They make the “hang.” You have to get out there and meet people. Go to open mike/jam sessions. All you have to do is google “blues-jam” or “open-mic” for your particular city and go. Get to know the guy who runs it and get on the sign-in sheet. You will probably start out with a bunch of guys who can’t really play, but once you prove yourself, you’ll move up the ladder in a hurry. Before you know it, your phone will be ringing off the hook.

Check out this great article on making contacts in the music-business from Tom Hess.

Cheers!

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Playing for Tips

We all do it. Not every gig can be the 2,500 seater auditorium/theater gig. Sometimes we do something just because we like the music. Sometimes we do something just to keep our instrument in our hands and get some good “stage-time-dress-rehearsal” in. Sometimes it’s just a chill vibe with some really great people who just happen to be fantastic musicians at the same time. It’s like poker-night for guys who like to jam.

Please check out this video of Los Bandidos sin Nombre at the No Name Bar in Sausalito, CA doing exactly that.

The stage is set at No Name Bar

The stage is set at No Name Bar

Top 5 Drummers

Everybody has their own personal “Top 5” list of their favorite whatever. Here are my top five favorite drummers who have influenced me in one way or another:

5 – Adam Dietch – Dietch is the drummer for Break Science and the fairly popular jam-band, Lettuce. However, it was really Dietch’s work with guitar great, John Scofield that got me listening.

4 – Jeff “Apartment Q258” Sipe – I first saw Q258 in the early 90’s with the original lineup of Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit. The music those guys cranked out was absolutely masterful. If you’re fortunate enough to find a copy of the live album Col. Bruce put out somewhere around 1992, check out the tune “Time is Free.” It will blow your mind. It’s one of my all time favorite recording to date.

3 – Russell Batiste – I’ve been fortunate enough to have had lessons from Russell back when I lived in New Orleans in the early 2000’s. He’s an absolute animal-beast! Personally, I love the way he makes what most drummers might consider “overplaying” really work. Russell crushes it like no other.

2 – Johnny Vidacovich – A true. old-school New Orleanian. Johnny V. is a master of the New Orleans second line and “streat beat” rhythms. Drummers who don’t know about Johnny, shame on you.

1 – Steve Gadd – For me there is no better combination of musical sensibility and chops than Steve Gadd. Check out the feel he puts on James Taylor’s, “Country Road” in the clip. It’s perfect!

So there’s my top five drummers for today. It might be different tomorrow but that’s OK. Back in 2011, Rolling Stone Magazine listed there top ten drummers of all time. I think my list is better.

Cheers!

Now go play!

Now go play!

The Metronome Placebo

Everyone is different. That is to say, some like it a little faster than others and some like it a little slower. It’s all subjective. There is and will never ever be a “right” (as in correct) or “wrong” tempo because it’s totally up to you.

Now, with that said, as a drummer I find it best to find a tempo that the singer is comfortable with. If the song is too fast he or she may not be able to keep up. (Remember, singers are human and they have to breathe.) Usually you can find where the singer wants it just before the song starts by watching how they tap their foot. (Try it. It works 90% of the time.) Also, when there’s a singer in the band, I usually let them count off the tune just to be safe. The tempo the singer in your band is comfortable with is about as close to a “correct” tempo as there will ever be.

I had an experience with this issue, recently, that I would like to share with you. A fine group of four attorneys in the city had formed a classic-rock cover band. (Keep in mind, these guys are lawyers and not professional musicians.) They just wanted to have some fun with their expensive, high-end instruments down in the basement on the weekends. However, they had been asked to play a few “functions” and needed a drummer. (This is where I come in.) They hire me to play the drums on their gigs. At the first rehearsal one of the guitar players (and pretty much the MD) just couldn’t get comfortable with my feel for some reason. Fast forward to the next rehearsal a week later; the “MD” had been listening to and studying the studio recordings of the songs we were playing all week and had written down the BPM (beats per minute) for each of them. Right off the bat he explains this to me, hands me the list of songs (each with their respective BPM), and a metronome. He even had the metronome set to the “correct” tempo for the first song we were to rehearse. (I think it was about 100BPM or so.) Anyway, I count the tune off with the metronome and everybody falls in just right. However, about two seconds into it we are nowhere near the metronome, BUT after the song the “MD” looks at me and says, “perfect!”

I always play “with” the band. Since no human is perfect, tempo is what us professional musicians refer to as “elastic.” When performed live a song will always naturally speed up and slow down to some degree. The only way to get everyone synced to “metronomic-time” is to have everyone in the band playing with exactly the same “click” in their headphones. Otherwise, somebody is inevitably going to speed up or slow down and if you’re the only one playing to the click, and everyone else is playing with the band; if you try and “fight” the band back to the click, it’s going to sound like a big mess.

The point I’m trying to make here is that this particular “MD” was of the mindset that the studio version of a recording is the “correct” tempo for a song. This is not at all the case. This guy just felt better having handed me a metronome and some notes…

Try this experiment if you disagree. Listen to the studio version of your favorite song. Now go see that artist in concert or youtube a live version of that song. I bet the live version is a lot faster or even completely different (like an acoustic version or something.) Once you’ve heard two different versions of the same tune, come back and tell me which one is “right.” How do you know? (I will disagree with you just to make the point that it’s subjective. You like one version, I like the other. There you go. We’re both wrong.)

To keep the elasticity of tempo at a minimum, I highly recommend practicing with a metronome. Start slowly and build up speed gradually. Here’s a great little article on practicing with a metronome. Please check it out.

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