Lately a lot of people have asked me what it's like to be a drummer in the local Tucson music scene. To my surprise, I have been busier than ever and this is coming from a guy who used to perform in the Los Angeles music scene. Realistically, it's a lot of trial and error but I believe I am at a point where I think I have it figured in terms of what works best for me.
Time at Home
I have a family, a full time job and a home so I am just as busy as any other adult with the same obligations. I also have other interests outside of music so time management is crucial for me even though I am not one who outs everything on a calendar. As a drummer I can be limited to what times of day I can work on my craft so the one thing that I am most thankful for is that I have my trusted practice pad as well as my electronic drum set.
Taking time to practice is not always a luxury with all that I have to deal with on a daily basis so when I do practice I need to make sure that it is quality practice with a specific purpose. The majority of my playing today has to do with performing with a working country band and in the studio so the two main things I focus on are precision and endurance.
Working on the practice pad is something I really need to do every day. Sometimes I may only have about 15 minutes to spare but that time can be useful if I use it right. Over the years I have preferred to start with flam taps and Swiss triplets at about 85 BPM's. At that point I am just trying to get loose and feel the rebound at the fulcrum point of my hands while remaining relaxed.
Most of the time when people hear you say warm up they assume that you're going to start picking up the pace as you go but I actually do the opposite. I dial the metronome down and continue to do so as I do some sticking exercises that involve singles, doubles and paradiddles while increasing the amount of subdivisions. I like to do exercises that involve triplets, quintuplets and septuplets because the odd number groupings really force me to hear and feel how consistent my strokes are between each beat of the metronome. When they are consistent and smooth my groove is spot on at the gig.
I usually practice my set playing on my electric drums because it has a built in metronome and it's just more practical for me at this point in my life since it's usually the early morning or late evening when I have a chance to sit down and work on my set playing. If I am not working on new songs or some new world drumming adaptations I work on various exercises that involved the hands and feet together. I usually start with various patterns of 2, 4 & 6 and make sure to lead with either side of my body. Then I will work on some double bass beats that require me to change my footing (foot talk for sticking) as leading with both feet also allow for more consistent playing. And, just like on the practice pad, I tend to work at moderate to slower tempos because for me it's about being accurate and consistent for a 4 hour gig and not being the fastest gun in the West.
Lately people have also been asking me about the physical toll of drumming. Thanks to the lessons I had with some great teachers such as Greg Alban back when I lived in Southern California I have never had any injuries as he taught me the importance of using the proper motion when playing. Aside from preventing injury it has also saved me a lot of money on sticks, drum heads and cymbals because efficient motion helps get a better and more consistent sound out of my instrument without doing damage to my gear that is common for many drummers. That and the fact that using the proper motion and having a good drum sound (another gift from Greg who taught me an awesome tuning method) means that I don't work my body too hard and let the drums do a lot of the work for me.
Still, drumming is very demanding on the body and the older I get the more I have to do whatever I can to ensure my ability to deliver each night on stage. Therefore, I get on my bicycle whenever I can and have even started adding some weightlifting to my daily routine. Stretching is also very important so I try to do that every single day, which includes doing a few Pilates exercises and yoga postures that have really made a difference in helping me be physically ready for those long gigs as well as work and family obligations.
Preparing for a Gig
Aside from what I call the house cleaning details I address before each gig there are also some important drummer things I need to do. First off, I load my gear and check multiple times to see if I have everything. Most of the time I get it right so that's when I pray that I don't live too far from the venue in the event I have to go home and get something.
Aside from that I always make sure to have my practice pad, my wrist bands as well as some snacks such a trail mix or nuts handy in the event that I get hungry during the gig. I then pack my shirt for the night and head for the club. I like to arrive early because I don't have to hurry when it comes to setting up and it gives me time to grab a bite to eat while taking some quiet time to slowly prepare my mind for the four hour marathon that awaits me and the rest of the band.
Most of the time I will wear a t-shirt from one of my endorsement companies that all can see while I am loading my gear because I feel that it is important to do as much as I can to promote their amazing products. Of course once I am dressed for the stage I have their logos on my front bass drum head so I am still doing my part to announce to whoever is there that I use such equipment.
About 30 minutes before the show I put on my stage shirt, my wrist bands and grab my practice pad. I usually find a place that is away from everyone and start my warm up exercises. By now my mind is set and the anxiousness to hit the stage starts to take over because the rest of the band has arrived and we are all ready to start the show. At that point I still try to stay in a mellow mood so I warm up slowly while keeping a close eye on my sticking. It is important for me to make sure that I don't rush my warm ups because if I feel myself flow slowly into being ready for the gig is allows me to stay strong and focused the whole night.
Once I hit the stage I give my band members a nod and then look towards the crowd before counting off the first song. Now it's on! From the time I start the first song until I hit the final cymbal crash for the night, it is all about throwing down the best groove possible and doing whatever I can to keep that dance floor filled with the amazing people who come out to see my groups perform.
Tearing down after a gig is nothing more than a necessary evil. Thankfully since I am just taking things apart and packing them into their gig bags it takes less time than setting up. Once I check to make sure I have everything I make what is usually a 20-40 minute drive home as I live outside of town but that's okay because I usually drink some water and reflect on the night's show. Also, there are times when I am coming down from the adrenaline rush so I use the drive to wind down a bit from the gig.
Once I get home I shower up and go straight to bed. I don't sleep a lot as it is but I still need my rest as there are usually things I have to do away from music the following day. Once I get out of bed I try to make a point to stretch my back out over an exercise ball while using Chinese Baoding Balls to relax my hands a bit. It's not that I come home sore or anything but I am working my body hard and being in a seated position for a long period of time isn't the best thing for the human body so I want to make sure that I take care of my back.
Aside from my physical routine I also stay away from drugs and alcohol and try to eat high energy foods before a gig while eating foods that are good for recovery the day after a show. That and I try to take it easy because it's not uncommon for me to have another gig or a recording session the day after a Friday night gig.
Finally, the main thing I focus on through all of this is feeling a sense of gratitude. I am blessed to be working with two great bands while also doing session work from time to time. The extra income is great as it helps me provide even more for my family and to be able to do this while drumming is such a gift. In my younger days I focused more on being creative and such and while I do that from time to time it is not as important to me as it is bring home an immediate financial reward, which of course is easier to do when a musician is in a working situation. I will admit that I am pickier about gigs now than I was when I was younger but to me every night away from my family is a night I can't get back so I insist on bringing something home that will benefit all of them. But to do that I have to be a true professional and make sure that I am ready for every aspect of the gig.