Friday, May 15, 2015

Sitting In

It was pretty much the shock of my professional life. We had a months-long house gig, and my drums were centre stage all the time. One evening I showed up, relaxed a bit from the drive in to the city, and got caught up with my band mates. Then it was time go on. I stepped onto the stage, sat behind my drums and promptly said, "What the ...?" Someone had been playing my drums. And not just playing them. The creep had not only moved everything, he had retuned my drums completely ...  even removed the front bass drum head which, I later noticed, had been put back on crooked.

This was the guest drummer from hell. Their band had auditioned in the afternoon, and rather than respecting our instruments, they'd just mashed things up the way they wanted. So what is the correct protocol for sitting in on someone else’s gear? That depends on the situation and extent of involvement, ranging from one or two numbers to filling in for the night. Let’s look at a few typical scenarios.

Impromptu Guest
If you've been invited on-stage for a few songs because you are something of a celebrity and/or a friend of the band, my recommendation is to change nothing. Play a couple of numbers and then bow out gracefully.

Open Stage/Jam 
Typically the drum set belongs to someone else who is generously providing it. Respect that. I only move things that I simply cannot work with or something I know will be a health hazard. For example, I sometimes sit in with certain house band. Their drummer has a cowbell mounted right where I'm inclined to thrust my right hand. So to avoid injury, I move it. Otherwise, I try to leave things alone.

Guest Set
In a situation with multiple bands sharing the same equipment, you're still expected to do your best work and you can't do that if you're uncomfortable. But you don't want to disrupt things too much. Do your best to get the drums useable as quickly as you can. I'd take along a stool and bass pedal, as these are what cause the most problems. If there's a special prop you need (e.g. a gong perhaps) take it and a stand with you.

Subbing
At the other extreme is when you're filling in for the night on a provided set. Consider carrying a survival kit consisting of: stool, bass pedal, cymbals, snare drum, and of course sticks etc. Many drummers take their snares and cymbals home, so it's good policy to take your own. Better to not adjust the tuning, and if you can't abide the snare, just use your own.

House (Backline) Kit
As with the showcase, you're expected to do your best work and since the drums are there for your convenience, do whatever you need to do to get them where you want. In this case I'd definitely take along my survival kit. Cymbals and pedals are rarely up to snuff on a house kit.

The ideal situation is the drummer with great equipment -- well set up and well-maintained -- who says, "Go ahead … adjust whatever you need to." Even so, I'd make the bare minimum of changes. And I don’t put things back. The set’s owner can do a better job more quickly than I can.

And if you’re auditioning on someone else’s set, remember the Golden Rule.

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