Wednesday, September 30, 2015

It's a Poor Workman Who Blames His Tools


Shortly after I bought a set of budget tabla, I came across an important bit of advice: Do not buy cheap tabla; it's too hard to get a sound and you will be quickly discouraged. OK, there are other reasons my tabla playing is seriously limited, but the sound quality of the cheap drums dampened my enthusiasm. Still, we ought not to blame our tools for a job poorly done.

Even marginal drums and cymbals can produce usable sounds. Of course drums are easier than cymbals as they can be retuned and you can try different heads and various damping approaches. With cymbals, you just have to go digging around. There are lots of sounds in there and while it may not be your ideal choice, there should be at least one that will be suitable.

On the other hand, quality tools are always a joy. When I was first acquiring professional grade drums, I thought in terms of a small business. For example, if I were starting a pizzeria, should I look around for a cheap beater of a pizza oven or should I invest in the best quality? If I want the best quality results, I need to start with quality ‘ingredients’. Many of my musical peers back in the day complained about their instruments and were apparently jealous of my 'good fortune'. But I noticed that they all drove fine cars, took frequent vacations, and other niceties. That was their priority. Mine was to improve the standard of my 'business' by investing in quality tools. The vacations could wait.

The investment paid off both practically and emotionally. My drums were easy to set up and easy to tune, and they stayed in place and in tune throughout the gig. They looked and sounded great and were easy to play, and that was a constant source of joy. There's nothing worse than trying to cope with poor sounding drums that require constant tweaking and adjusting. And if they're ugly as well? Let's not go there.

Good sound leads to less frustration, less frustration makes me happier, and a happier me is a better me -- one who is more likely to play well and to get asked back.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Buying Vintage Drums

Have you ever heard a great drum sound on a classic recording and then become obsessed with that sound? Have you perhaps dreamed of owning a set of Gene Krupa Slingerlands, Buddy Rich Rogers, John Bonham Ludwigs, or Tony Williams Gretsch? To argue the issue of vintage vs. new might be an interesting exercise, but the bottom line is: Vintage drums are very cool and easy to love.

So if you've decided you just have to have some vintage drums, there are a few things you should know before shelling out a heap of money.

The vintage drum market is alive and well. In fact, it's perhaps too healthy, to the point that there are loads of fake vintage drums showing up on sites such as eBay, Craigslist and Kijiji. So it might be wise to stick with drums that you can actually see and touch.

Assuming the drums are genuine, give them a thorough visual inspection. How's the finish? Is it intact or will the drums need refinishing or recovering? Do the drums match? Are all the parts there? Are the parts genuine and original or have substitutions been made or parts improvised? How are the plated parts? Are they free from rust or is the plating worn away, pitted or peeling? Are there any extra holes? You can't expect a 50-60 year old set to look new, but they should at least look cared for, and anything substandard will affect the value and therefore the price.

You may want to evaluate the sound of the drums, but this is very subjective. More to the point is whether they can be easily tuned. That means you need to check the bearing edges for trueness and that they are free from cracks, dents and damage. Make sure the hoops are round and that there are no bends or other damage such as can happen when a drum is dropped (this applies to metal shells as well). Do modern heads sit on the shell and under the hoops properly? Can you tune the drums to where you want them or are there issues with the casings or tension rods?

Other areas require a more experienced eye, and still others look a lot worse than they are. Cracked or chipped pearl wraps can be fixed or replaced quite easily. Reinforcing rings and loose plies can be reglued. Water damage, on the other hand, can be a kiss of death.

As for price, there are some huge bargains available if you're willing to search them out. Otherwise, expect to pay what you'd pay for a new set of comparable quality (and perhaps significantly more).

And that’s about all you need to know. So get out there and start looking for that classic set you've been longing for all these years.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

All Things Being Equal

When it comes to the hiring process, friends tend to hire friends, so the saying goes. And when all things are not equal? Well, friends will still prefer to hire friends.

It's happened to me in both directions. I've lost out when a friend of the band members became available. I've also landed gigs because the guys preferred my company to that of the other contender.

This is not peculiar to the music business. During the recruiting process, all businesses are looking for someone with the necessary skills and talent. Once they have a short list of possibles, the next step is to see which candidate will be a good fit with the corporate culture and its values.

Bands too have a culture. Imagine being on a lengthy road trip with people you have nothing in common with, or people you don't like, or people who don't like you! A musical group can be a more stressful and demanding environment than an office. On the road, you're living together. Watch any ‘reality’ show to see what happens when disparate personalities are thrown that close together for any length of time.

I recently had the honour of seeing an impromptu reunion of my brother’s very successful teen rock band of the ‘60s. The three old-timers were thrilled to get together after so many years apart. They were equally thrilled to play. The guitar player summed it up simply: "We were friends". And they remain friends, even though they came through some very tough times as a band. Yes, there were heated debates and plenty of tantrums, but the bottom line is that they were a good mix of personalities, and as dedicated to each other as they were to the music and the job. It’s even possible that the rigours of the road helped make the friendships stronger. It certainly can go either way.

So keep in mind that, in addition to playing, a large part of your job is to get along with your band mates ... and they with you!