Monday, June 6, 2011

You know what they say about guys with big drum kits?

Small Toms.

I’m going to go on a bit of a rant here for a minute, but before I do I’m going to tell you a little story.

When I was a kid I had a drum kit. My best friend Andre, whom taught me how to play lived just a few houses down the road and also had a drum kit. Sometimes, on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when we had hours to kill, he would show up to my house with his drums crammed into his van, and we would spend an hour or so mashing them together into one monster hybrid of a kit, and then spend the next three to four hours taking turns playing the shit out of it. It was interesting, it was creative, and it was fun as hell. The idea that maybe you would find a unique combination of items placed in a unique way so as only you can play a one of a kind rhythm or pattern is intriguing to say the least, sometimes I would just flail my arms around back and forth and just see what I could hit with no concept in mind. It was a hell of a way to spend an evening.

Putting the thing together was half the fun. Constructing a percussion shrine that loomed over you as you sat down to it. Searching for the most correct position for pedals and trinkets was a challenge you had to keep them within reach but out of the way. Thousands of variables for optimum performance, these are the things that make Neil Peart’s jeans tight.

Well, that and space-robes.

So before I get going, please know that I understand the desire to build the dream kit. A shining example of one mans lifelong creative pursuits and financial independence. A kit that speaks volumes about you and your talent by just existing, a kit that will make the local drummers that open for you on tour wet their Lars Ulrich mini-shorts in fear -- A behemoth of your own creation. I know, I’ve been through it.

You used my name bro, that's fifty cents.

This isn’t even about the stay at home guys that have a huge set of mid life crisis DW’s in a sweaty man cave in the basement where they bang along to old King Crimson albums on Sunday mornings when the wife’s gone to the market. Whatever those guys want to do is their business. This is for the guys that are really serious about wanting to get out there and play, and balk at the idea that anything other than talent could play a factor in why their phone isn't ringing.

I don't care how you have justified bringing a giant hulking drum-kit on the road up to this point, but from now on leave Drumzilla at home please and thank you, because it makes you seem like a jackass.

Fuck you buddy, I look cool as hell.

Here are a bunch of reasons why having an oversized drumkit is suicide for anyone wanting to be a gigging/touring musician. You might not agree with me, but this might just be why Thom Yorke hasn't called you yet.

First - Practicality.

Look drummers, let’s face it, we’re already on the shit list for having the most amount of stuff to carry in. Everyone else can get their shit into the bar in two trips while we’re on our fourth trying to not pinch our thumbs between two pieces of hardware. Add that to the fact that they will resent us when get way more chicks at the show (you know, because we're drummers) and all of a sudden we’re prime candidates for getting stuck sleeping on the floor and sitting in the bitch-seat at every chance.

What I’m saying is, travel light my friend. Having 6 cymbals and a set of blocks might be fun to plink around with at home, but when you bring all that stuff along you’re just making way more work for yourself. Not to mention you're upping the chances you’re going to leave something behind on those nights where packing up is the furthest thing from your mind. Be real, no one is going to be happy when they have to turn around and go back to the venue because you left your djembe behind the soundboard. It’s also downright inconsiderate and rude to your fellow passengers. It takes up way more extra space in the van/trailer, which could be better used for stuff like merch or booze (or if your band is creative, merchbooze).

Or shit, how about just having somewhere to put your legs up? The space you get is small enough, nobody needs weird hardware arms poking them or tambourines jingling around when you're trying to nap.

Try this -- When it’s time to leave, start with your standard kit (kick, snare, rack, floor tom, high hats, crash, ride) and then, granted there is still lots of room, maybe take one or two things you like to play around with (an extra snare or cymbal, or a electric drum pad, etc..) and leave the rest at home. Let HOW you play define your talent, not WHAT you play. You're band-mates won't thank you I'm sure, but you can act a little more smug knowing you sacrificed for them.

Bad for PR

Here’s a scenario. Your favorite band is coming to town and when their support act broke up and dropped off the tour, your band got the local slot. You’ve never been so excited. You guys have been practicing all week to get real tight in order to impress them. If you play well and schmooze well enough, you might be able to finagle your way onto a couple more shows.

Now, how do you think that band will feel towards yours when they show up to sound check only to find it’s been pushed back an hour because they haven’t gotten your drums checked yet? You’ve already put a sour taste in their mouth and you haven’t even met them yet.

Really? You saw Vedder backstage? Did he ask about me?

Big kits take longer to load in, set up, and to sound check. It’s just logistics. You give me the fastest drum setter-upper in the world setting up Mike Portnoy’s kit and some sixteen year old neophyte setting up a standard one, and the kid will win every time. You want the respect of your fellow touring bands? Set up in a timely manner, don’t dick around during sound check and keep things running on time. Then if you blow them away during your show they will be a lot more likely to talk to you about it.

Bad for the show

I’ve run into countless drummers using oversized kits on shows with three or four bands and there’s one trend I noticed that makes things worse than they already are. Most often these guys are both insistent that they use their own drums, and very hesitant to let anyone else on their throne.

I dunno man, these high hats are vintage.

Let me put it bluntly. If you’re going to be a big enough dick to fuck up changeover so you can get your heap of a drum kit on stage, you should at least be prepared to let the next few bands use it so the show can remain somewhat on schedule. Taking thirty to forty-five minutes to set up between bands can really make the crowds decision to stick it out for the rest of the night or call it a night, go home and stream TV until they pass out. Ideally you want each band to be ready by the time the smokers saunter back into the venue from the previous set, because unless you’re AC fucking DC people aren’t going to stick around while you place your chimes.

The best rock shows aren’t just a series of sets, they are nights that flow perfectly with the will of the crowd. The bands start when everyone wants them to (and finishes when they want them to as well). Everyone has good sets, but good shows are a little more rare, so don’t ruin it by wishing everyone to indulge you without giving them something in return.

This isn’t the O2 Arena

Stage size at most venues is sometimes passable at best for even one full band, but indie rock shows will hardly ever have just one band, so the stage usually ends of a mess of chords, amps and pedals. Sticking drum add-ons all around can start to take up much more room than you are allotted, with cymbal stand booms and legs sticking out among the periphery you’re just begging for someone to kick over your Octobans.

I always laugh when I see a drum kit so big that the rest of the band has to set up and play on the floor in front of the stage. All I can think of of is how indulgent and egotistical you would have to be to not see how ridiculous it looks. I have no problems judging clueless musicians.

I think the go-go dancers can fit in front of the Marshall.

What it comes down to is this. If you have the ambition to really take drumming to even a semi-professional level but you can’t represent your playing unless you use your super customized mega-kit 2000, then you need to take a step back and sort out what’s actually important. Versatility is an asset, take yourself out of your comfort zone and minimize as much as possible. Use a little to say a lot. Or if you’re going to lug your 12 piece monster to open for my band and insist you use it, at least let me take a crack at it. You can’t bring a grenade launcher to the gun range and not expect everyone to ask to shoot it.

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