What to Get

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What to Get

Premier is the best bet for the money. Tama are good, too. Reuben sez, "Their Swingstar and Rock Star lines are both affordable. Stewart Copeland only used their Swingstar series when he played in The Police. They're the bottom of the line so they are rugged and cheap."

Figure 6.4. Tama bass drum.

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Figure 6.5. Pearl bass drum.

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Figure 6.6. DW bass drum.

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Sonar and DW are good brands but very expensive new. There are lesser known brands that might work, too. Try 'em all out. It's fun.

So, a good kit would be a 12" snare , 10" tom tom, 16" floor tom, 20 or 22" bass drum, an 18" ride cymbal, a 16" crash cymbal, and a 14" high-hat . There are variations on this, and a few inches either way is fine, but this is a good place to start.

A bass drum has a foot pedal, a.k.a the bass pedal, that controls it. It hits the bass drum head with a mallet. This and the snare are basically the heart of the rock beat.

Figure 6.7. Bass drum pedals.

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Some drummers buy a rock pad, a hard plastic circle that sticks on the bass drum head. It makes the drum head last longer before it sounds dead or breaks. A rock pad changes the sound, though; it makes the bass drum less of a thud and more of a click. Think any record produced by Dave Jerden ("Nothing's Shocking" by Jane's Addiction). Many, many people prefer this sound, but I like the thud better.

The snare drum has wires called a strainer (sometimes called snares) stretched under it that give it the characteristic chattering, rattling sound associated with the snare sound. It usually has a release on the side of the snare drum to release the tension or " turn off " the snare. With the tension released, the strainer no longer chatters and basically becomes a tom tom.

The strainer rattles sympathetically from other music even when you aren't playing the drums. When your band is playing quietly on parts you don't play on, you might turn this off so it doesn't rattle. Then turn it on before you come in. Total pros do this instinctively. Make sure you turn it off when they're recording overdubs you don't play on.

My band doesn't have much money, so we share a studio with another band. I turn the strainer off on their drummer 's drums every time we practice so it doesn't rattle to our music. I try to remember to turn it back on at the end of the session.

Figure 6.8. Strainers on the bottom of a snare drum.

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Bottom Heads?

Some drummers put heads on the bottom of their drums to improve the sound. Technically, the snare is the only drum that requires a second head. But, especially for recording, many drummers like the sound of a second head. Sometimes they take it off for live because it's louder that way. (Reuben adds that you can just tune your first head higher in tone to make it cut through, too. But that will affect the tone, too. Experiment to find settings that work for you that, with experience, become your sound.

Remember that you have to tune the bottom heads as well as the top heads.

Most drummers put a pillow in the bass drum to dampen it a bit and give it a deeper sound. If they put a second head on the front, they usually cut a small round hole in the front head to allow it to be miked easier. See London May's comment on the CD-ROM.

Figure 6.9. Bass drum head.

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Figure 6.10. Floor tom head.

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Tuning Your Drums

Drum heads have to be tuned . This is basically tightening the bolts around the rim that holds the head tight. You do this with a drum key.

You want to tighten them all equally and spread the tension evenly across the head. You should tune them until they sound good. This takes practice, and you might want to get someone who has done it to show you.

Some drummers, when recording, even tune the bass drum to the key that the song is in.

Figure 6.11. Drum key.

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NOTE

Back in the 70s, a lot of drummers would wear their drum key on a chain or string around their neck as a necklace. It's probably more convenient to keep it on your key chain.

Cymbals

Paiste, Sabian, and Zildjian are the top brands, and all are good. Making cymbals is a mixture of science and voodoo. The alloy and process are always carefully guarded trade secrets. (In fact, Zildjian, who keeps the formulae in the family, is the oldest family-run business in the world, starting in Turkey in 1623.) Two cymbals of the identical brand and model can have subtly different makeup in their harmonic overtones. Basically, try 'em all out and find the ones you like.

Drum Sticks

Use the heaviest sticks you can when you start playing. That'll build up your wrist strength.

NOTE

Lifting small weights will help build strength for drumming or playing guitar. It's best to lift small amounts and do many repetitions rather than heavier amounts fewer times.

If you break a lot of sticks (and you probably will), you can go two different ways with buying them: You can either buy the expensive ones, which break less, or buy the cheaper ones in bulk. Six of one .

Vater brand sticks are very good and range from five to eight bucks a pair. You can buy no- name sticks for two bucks a pair. Or in bulk for as cheap as $12.99 a case (a case is 24 pairs). Lennon Rehearsal Studio in San Francisco used to sell used (but not broken) sticks left behind in the studios for a quarter each.

You can roll sticks on a table to see if they're warped. Warped sticks play funny and break easier. You can look for lines in the stick where there is an imperfection in the wood of the tree it's made from. A stick will often break along these

Figure 6.12. Drum sticks.

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lines. Keep in mind that since sticks are made from wood, there are bound to be natural imperfections. But better sticks are hopefully made from better grades of wood. The manufacturer has someone sitting on an assembly line looking for crappy wood and taking it off the belt and tossing it (maybe to be made into the cheaper no-name sticks). Sticks marked Computer Matched are usually better than those not thusly marked .

You can also play with brushes or ProMark Rods to get a quieter sound. Either is good for acoustic sets or songs. (I refuse to call this "unplugged." MTV made that up, and I was playing acoustic shows before MTV existed.)

Figure 6.13. Rods.

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Drum Cases

You'll also need cases for your drums. Some drums come with cases that are basically thick pressed paper. They will fall apart eventually but are better than nothing. Most drummers who play any kind of regular gigs get hard molded plastic cases that hold up a lot more. Good cases can cost as much as the drums. Anvil road cases cost more, but are even better.

Figure 6.14. Hard shell drum cases.

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Drum Machines

Drum machines are pretty damn cool. Drummers were threatened by them when they first came out a few decades ago, and with good reason. They never miss a beat, you don't have to pay them, and they never show up late or stoned. You don't have to muck about in the studio strategically miking them to get a good sound, and they never speed up or slow down unless you program them to.

There are a few things a real drummer can do that a drum machine can't, but with advances in technology this gap is becoming narrower and narrower. Drum machines can't improvise or vary from the set list as easily, but other than that, pretty much the only thing that drummers can do now that drum machines can't do on stage is look cool. Bands that don't have a drummer onstage look pretty lame. This is one reason that rap guys jump around a lot, throw up the standard off-the-shelf hand motions , and dance a lot: They are basically trying to cover up the fact that, in all but the most unique exceptions, most hip hop live is basically karaoke .

These days, what a lot of bands do is use a drum machine in the studio and a drummer live.

Drummers who were threatened by this and just said, "Damn machines; I hate them" often fell behind. Drummers who saw the future adapted . My friend Michael Urbano went out and bought one of the first drum machines that came out and got really good at programming it. He will even be called to bring his drums to play a session, have them all set up and ready to go, try a run through, and then suggest to the producer that he use his drum machine instead. Musicians should not be threatened by advances in technology; they should adapt to them. Record companies, however, should be threatened by technology. We will talk more about this in Chapter 14, "Business," and Chapter 15, "Starting Labels and Production Companies."

More and more, hit songs are being done with only a drum machine in the studio. All hip hop, any pop stuff like Britney Spears, and any R&B contemporary schlock like R. Kelley is all done with a drum machine. When they play it live, drummers sometimes play, sometimes not. If they do, they're playing like a drum machine. Except hip hop; they just rap to a recording of the backing tracks most of the time. Drummers who want to survive would do well to learn to play like a machine.

Some of my favorite music, Nine Inch Nails, is done with a drum machine and real drums. This can be an intensely powerful combination. Ivy and Gravity Kills do this also. Marilyn Manson does it a lot. Fugazi does it in "Closed Captioned."

When I was a kid, real musicians were so threatened by electronics that they issued statements against them. The first many albums by Queen all had a proud disclaimer on the back, always some variation of " Absolutely no synthesizers were used on this album." (When they finally used a synthesizer on an album, it totally sucked.) I remember people wanted their money back when word got out that Electric Light Orchestra was using backing tapes of string sections to augment their live sound. Lots of bands use tapes, samples, drum machines, synthesizers, and more today and make no attempt to hide it. Asking for your money back for this would be ludicrous today, but in the feathered hair cocaine haze of the 70s, it seemed justified.

Two of the most common synthesizers are the Roland 707 and the Roland 808. They have an older analog sound but are still coveted in hip hop and even rock.

One I like a lot is the Boss DR5. The Alesis SR-16 is great, too. You can find both cheap in a pawn shop or on eBay.

NOTE

Something you could do that I don't see bands do much is program your drum parts and record them to a CD. Then you don't even have to mess with the buttons live. Bands usually use a DAT (digital audio tape machine), which is more expensive. But you do need a stable CD player. I would also bring duplicate CDs in case one gets scratched.

Drum machines kick ass. They sound good out of the box, are easy to program, and have gotten a lot cheaper. There are several software drum machine emulators available. You program them with your mouse. Hell, they're cheap or even free if you have a computer and don't mind using borrowed software. (Of course, I would never advise you to do anything illegal.)

Two very cool emulators are Reason and Rebirth from Propellerheads software.

Check their Web site at www.propellerheads.se.

One of the coolest sites for emulators is this absolutely free site: www.keyboard-museum.org/d_machines/vdrums.html.

The drum machine emulators all run in Flash and look and sound like the originals . While Reason and Rebirth can output directly to a sound file, for these you'll have to record out through your soundcard to get them on tape or on your machine, but they work, and the price is right.

Keep in mind that any audio generated by Flash will have the compression of an MP3 because that is the native audio file format in Flash. So sound produced by Fruity Loops and other software-based sequencers, or anything from a real drum machine, will sound better. But good music could be produced and recorded using these Flash-based emulators.

Actual drum machines are programmed using the knobs on them. They are all different, so you'll have to read the manual.

Songs on the CD with hardware drum machine for the drums (as opposed to real drums, software, or sequenced or played electronic drums) are: "SPQA" and "Smelly Piano."

Other examples include: "It Could Be Sweet" by Portishead, "Porcelain" by Moby, "Nellee Hooper Edit" by Sneaker Pimps, and "Different" by Sage Francis.

Electronic Drums

You can also get drum pads that trigger samples when hit; it's kind of the best of both worlds between the sound of a drum machine and the human touch of an acoustic drum kit. London May has an electronic kit set up in his home studio. It requires no tuning, miking, or anything. You can sit down anytime and play and get a great sound right away. He used it when we recorded the theme song for my film, D.I.Y. or DIE . Listen to "D.I.Y. Theme Song" on the CD. The song is me on vocals, bass, and guitar and London on drums. It took under three hours to record and mix, from walking into his house to walking out with a completed master CD. And that included a hard disc failure and having to start over at one point.

The sound he used is pretty straightforward: pretty much an imitation of a drum kit. But you can also use them for more electronic-sounding drum sounds. Depeche Mode and KMFDM do this. The band VHS or Beta uses them also.

Skip adds, "Akira Jimbo uses a mix of digital and acoustic drums in his setup."

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