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The hardest lesson I had to learn…

I was 16 years old, still at school, and I had a phone call from a producer (friend of a friend) whose regular drummer had broken his wrist with a recording booked up for the following week. I was asked if I could do it, I gladly, and enthusiastically accepted!

In my head, that was it! I’d made it! I was going to go and record the 6 songs he’d sent me, he’d realise how amazing I was, along with the rest of the world, and I’d be called forever, for everything!

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This is what actually happened:

I practised these 6 songs to a standard I thought was acceptable up until the recording day.

Turned up at the studio, set up, and waited whilst they mic’d up the kit. The producer asked if I was ready to do a take of the first song, to which I proudly said ‘yes’ and a series of events unfolded.

I sat down at the kit, and as soon as record was hit, it all fell apart!… I wasn’t playing to the click, or locking in with the track, it felt lumpy, all my hits were inconsistent and I felt like my whole body was being controlled by a very amateur puppet master (nope the amateur was just me!), but in my arrogant/inexperienced head I thought ‘I’m sure it sounds better out there in the control room’.

At the end of the first take, there was a brief silence followed by the producer – ‘Is everything ok in there Em, do you need some more click or something? Shall we do another take?’ So we did. It was even WORSE!

The poor producer tried a final 3rd time at which point he came into the live room and said, ‘I’m really sorry Emily, but I’m just going to have to ask you to leave because this isn’t going to work.’ He was so sweet about it, but it was¬†the biggest heartbreak I have ever experienced, probably still have ever experienced to this present day!

I spent 2 days locked up in my bedroom, crying, refusing to eat, or speak to anyone. Then I got bored of feeling heartbroken and realised I needed to make a decision… either:

1.I hang up my sticks, say well that was a good run, I had fun, but it’s not for me.

OR

2. I learn from it, and face everything that went wrong in that session head on, put myself under the microscope, work my butt off and never ever let anything like that happen to me again.

Luckily I did the latter ūüôā

Fast forward 13 years, and not only have I recorded on some pretty amazing albums that I’m so proud to be a involved with, but part of my living is made out of recording from my own studio!

I was so affected by this episode, I decided to run workshops where drummers come to my studio and practise how to record as a session drummer. I create the exact situation you’re bound to find yourself in, but with low stakes and a supportive environment (get in touch to find out more).

I never want anyone to feel the way I did that day, but I’m grateful I went through it, because it’s brought me to this point now.

Whats the hardest obstacle you’ve had to overcome as a musician?

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6 reasons joining a covers band was the best thing I ever did for my career…

I’ve been getting a lot of messages recently from people asking ‘what’s the one bit of advice you’d give to someone wanting to get into the music industry as a professional player?’¬†For me a big turning point was joining a covers band!

Now I have to tell you this was an option that’d I’d fought (in my head) for years… I had the delusional view that as soon as you decided to become a professional musician, that was it, you’d get onto big tour after big tour, and you’d never look back! This of course was the furthest idea from the reality of making a living from music.

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The two people who gave me a chance by asking me to play a covers gig when I was 17. The wonderful George George (left) and incredible Andrea Samengo (right)

In hindsight, it was the best thing I could’ve done, not just for my career, but my physical ability, my listening skills, what makes a great pop song, and my understanding of how to make a crowd react. I’ll explain a little further:

  1. Career¬†– the more people you play with, the more people know about you, the more likely you’ll get called for other work
  2. Ability¬†(for the old classics)¬†– you’re essentially studying¬†some of the greatest bands and drummers in the world, and this is great for any references for the future when for instance in a recording session, the producer says ‘I kinda want this one to sound like early Kinks stuff’.
  3. Ability (for the modern songs)¬†– you’re learning what’s current now, whats a popular playing style and what really gets people going. Again great for references in other jobs, especially if you’re called to work with a new artist.
  4. Listening Skills¬†– you can never learn enough about listening to the people around you, and with covers, it’s a perfect opportunity to know your parts so well, you now can spend your time listening and reacting to what everyone else is playing (within reason – if that bass player is having a solo over the whole of Sweet Child O Mine, don’t follow him! – There’s always a balance of giving respect to the song and realising that’s what the audience is there to hear. They want to recognise it).
  5. What makes a great pop song¬†– You’re essentially playing songs from across the decades (sometime up to 6 or 7!) that have stood the test of time. There’s a reason those parts work, and by osmosis at the very least, that will become part of your musical DNA. There’s a great singer songwriter I know, and he has honed his writing skills in such an incredible way because he’s done thousands of covers gigs!
  6. How to make a crowd react – I remember the first time playing a covers gig and seeing peoples heads start nodding! I felt like I was finally at a level that was transferring my groove to make people move! (A big goal in my playing). That gradually led to people dancing, then I learnt how to build tension and excitement, and pretty much send people mental! It’s an amazing thing to witness and see how powerful music is.
  7. (Bonus)¬†– I’ve met some of the most wonderful, interesting people and lifelong friends through working with covers bands!

All these things have had a massive part to play in where I am today, able to make a living drumming. It’s also worth noting that I didn’t just stay with one covers band. I’ve depped/subbed for probably around 50 covers bands over the years, and continue to do so whenever I can. You can always learn!

Are you in a covers band? What’s the most beneficial thing you’ve done for your career?

Being Concurrent

Concurrent activity is one of my favourite types of activity, no matter what it is! It could be learning songs whilst exercising, working whist travelling or even cooking and hanging the washing out! There are very few better feelings to me than being truly productive in a condensed space of time.

There is another type of concurrent activity that I think is very important for musicians (or anyone self employed really) on a bigger scale.¬†This a lesson I’ve learnt in a¬†couple of different scenarios:

1. The Darkness

When we parted ways in May 2015, I was hyper-aware that the people who usually call me for work (Musical Directors, Musicians, Session Fixers) would by-and-large, think I was still out on the road with the boys, and not even bother to ask me to work for them¬†(which I’ve also been guilty of-assuming people are busy when they’re not). So with this in mind, I decided to do something absolutely terrifying and embrace the time I had… I created my own stage show!

Feathers and Cogs

This was the most creative, stressful, rewarding, terrifying, cathartic, hard work I’ve ever done in my life! And all of it was worth it! It was 8 months of solid work, finishing in a theatrical stage show (centring around rhythm and drumming of course!) with huge musical scores (all written, arranged and recorded by myself), crazy theatrics (all dreamed up by me, followed by ‘so how do I do that then?’), and film (yep me again) – you gotta have a story after all!

The final show was a success, I’ve never been prouder, gained so much confidence, and from that, the phone started ringing again.

https://youtu.be/RxqEmRpaCuQ


2. Getting Married

I was married on January 2nd 2016 to the love of my life, and have never been happier – now I wasn’t aware, but it seems concurrently (like what I did there?), as I said, ‘I do’,¬†a beacon went¬†out to denote I instantly wanted to stop touring, settle down, and have babies?! THIS IS NOT TRUE

Now this one threw me for 6 a bit… still does to be honest… I thought I was over the stereotype judging thing! The amount of times I now get asked if I’m off the road now, settling down, having a baby etc etc etc. To be honest it’s quite frustrating – and I’m someone who hates assumption.

EDD’s Place¬†EDDsPlace Logo

As soon as I realised this was going to be ‘a thing’ I started making plans, again to get some control in what was happening in my career. I decided to build a studio, and start offering remote online drum recordings! Not only is it great for showing people I’m still out and about playing, but it also gives me another string to my bow, and another way to earn a living doing what I love… and I must say, it’s been amazing fun!

And keeping in the spirit of concurrent activity – If I have some spare time in the studio, then I spend that making drum loops! – I’m basically powered by fear of boredom, and red bull! Ha!


I guess it’s another way of saying make lemonade out of lemons, but in the past where an empty month in my diary was the most depressing and scary thing in the world, it has now become a massive window of opportunity! It’s amazing that by just a shift in your perception about things, you can create something new, exciting and creative for yourself.

What concurrent activities do you do, or have you done? Share in the comments below

 

Should I Have A Website?

In short… YES!

As great as it is having Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a YouTube channel, and all the rest, it doesn’t serve a great purpose of people trying to look you up on a professional level.

A website is a clear, concise and easy way to direct people to somewhere about what you’re actually about as a musician, not to your twitter feed where the last thing you tweeted about was a home-made KFC recipe you were trying out (true story – and it was delicious)!

Much like my post about making a video, your website is somewhere to put yourself across in whatever way you want and aiming at your target audience/jobs etc.

I’ve had my own website (and a few others) for years and am still trying to hone it, simplify it and make it a nice place to visit. Here are some top tips on what I think makes a great website for a musician:

1.Simple

The amount of musicians websites I visit which are just so confusing is astounding! There’s all sorts of pages everywhere, in different menus and sometimes its not even clear what the person plays! I’d say keep it simple and to the point as best you can.


2.About

Always have an about page that again is fairly simple, but have the 1st paragraph be as punchy and engaging as possible. If whoever is looking at it reads past that, then it’s a bonus! I find the best thing to use is humour, but I’m not that funny, so I have the 1st¬†paragraph followed by a list of artists I’ve worked with, and my roles within that, to show the different skills I have to bring to a gig.


3.Media

One of the first things I always get asked for by session agents, or musical directors is:

‘do you have any pictures or videos of you playing?’

Well yes I do and it’s all on my media page!!! I have pictures, videos, audio and even press clippings so that in whatever situation they are thinking about hiring me, I (should) have it covered!


4.Contact

Well there’s no point in you having this amazing website showing how incredible you are if you’re not going to let them get hold of you! If it wasn’t for my Contact Page, then I wouldn’t have gotten the call from Dan from The Darkness!


5.Social Icons

I’d say do have a page or somewhere where people can follow you on a more informal and casual basis (so they can see your chicken recipe!), because it’s not always people trying to hire you on your site, it’s people who like what you do (I’m very lucky to have a few of those myself, of which I am very grateful). So make sure you tip your hat to them.


6.Redesign!

Don’t be scared of a little spring clean every once and a while on your website. Mine usually happens every January, if the old diary is a bit empty. This also follows on from what I was saying in a previous post about making sure you’re independent and able to maintain your own website without having to spend tons of money for someone else’s time and expertise.

If you have any website tips of your own, please share in the comments below.


Subs Orange


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How to Use Samples and Electronics

This is a post for anyone wanting to use electronic samples as part of their setup. Although this is mainly aimed at drummers, I have seen bassists and keys players also using them, so whatever floats your boat.

As everyone uses different stuff to do what they need to do, I’m going to just provide a checklist of key things you will need to know how to do on a typical pop gig. Finding out how to is up to you via manuals and videos.

  • How to create a new patch –¬†This is where each lot of samples per song will¬†be

  • How to import your own samples –¬†this is key so you can use sounds off the artists songs, so make sure your bit of kit can do this

  • How to normalize samples –¬†This makes all the samples the maximum volume they can be so you’re¬†staring on a fairly even keel when switching between samples

  • How to assign a sample to a pad –¬†No point of having a sample if you aren’t able to plat it!

  • Volume adjustment of samples –¬†The Musical Director might want the kick on this kit up a bit and the snare down… know how to do this quickly and seamlessly,and¬†everyone will be so happy you’re not wasting their time

  • Volume of overall patch – If the whole patch is too quiet, you don’t want to be spending¬†hours putting each sample up or down in volume, thats way too time consuming for my laziness

  • Trigger Velocity –¬† This is how hard you need to hit a pad for a sample for it to sound, make sure it’s not so low that you have a problem with…

  • Cross-Talk –¬†This isn’t too necessary if you’re using a unit like a DTX M12, but if you have¬†external pads, sometimes the vibrations from¬†hitting one pad, or a sub under the stage will trigger another pad. Learn how to change this quickly as¬†sometimes you might have to fiddle with it during a show (usually¬†festivals)

  • Sample Velocity –¬†Similar to Trigger¬†Velocity ¬†but this will give you a range of how loud or quiet the sample will come out depending on how hard you strike the pad. I find for the majority of¬†pop gigs, all samples are at 127 velocity, so¬†its consistent with every strike!

  • Rolling off the attack –¬†I learnt this to be really good for anyone using acoustic triggers on kick drums. You get the natural attack off the acoustic kick, but the tail of the sample, and as long as you have a good FOH, then it all should blend fairly seamlessly

  • How to Loop –¬†Sometime the artist will just want a single sample to keep looping, find out how to start and stop it, and also most modules have an emergency stop that stops everything.¬†Lifesaver!

  • Click –¬†Most modules will also have an¬†inbuilt click which you need to find out if you can route out¬†separately just to you (i.e. to the headphone socket) so no-one else has to hear it’s¬†dulcet tones if they¬†don’t want to ūüėČ

  • Panning/Multi Outs –¬†To keep your FOH very very happy, either pan you samples Left and Right (Kicks left, Snares and others Right), or assigned to¬†individual outputs (1 kicks, 2 snares, ¬† 3 percussion, 4 misc etc),¬†this way they can mix it all a lot easier and bring up any samples that¬†aren’t coming through, or bring down any jumping out, on the fly

  • SAVE! And BACKUP! –¬†I¬†haven’t lost too many files over the years, but in my books, losing 1 is 1 too many!

This should be enough to get you going and be ready for your first gig incorporating electronics!

If there’s anything I’ve missed off please add it in the comments below.


Subs Orange


 

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7 Steps To Getting That Call

These days being a musician is so much more than just being able to play your instrument!

In my last post, I talked about all the other skill sets you can have to make yourself more employable once you’ve been called for the job. This is a prerequisite to that, and it’s how you get called for that job!

Here are my top 7 skills¬†to help you get that call, and ways it’s helped me.


1. Socials

I know it’s a pain and it is for me too, but putting content out there (and not just about yourself) makes people interested in who you are. Also its a great way to connect with other musicians and see what’s going on. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by what everyone else is doing and comparing yourself. Best way to battle this is just keep your ultimate goals in mind, and support those going for theirs.

How it’s helped me : This is how Becky Hill first saw me


2. Create Videos

I’ve already done a post about this, but I’m talking all sorts, cover videos, little snippets of grooves, sneak peeks at rehearsals, maybe even a ‘from the musicians’sPOV’ at a gig (if the artist is ok with that of course)!

How¬†it’s helped me : This video is why The Darkness called me


3. Website

This is one of the most important hubs of information about you. Keep it simple and to the point. This should be the first place you direct potential gigs to, so make sure you’re happy with it and you’re representing yourself exactly how you would like to be seen.

How It’s Helped Me : This website is where I send everyone.


4. Do Your Own Thing

Create your own project! This could be with friends, or alone. Just have a creative outlet that when work is scarce, you still feel like you’re growing and contributing. It doesn’t have to have the end goal of you being incredibly famous and rich. Do it for you.

How It’s Helped Me : I decided to do my own¬†project in 2015. I’ve never worked so hard, been so stressed out,¬†and grown so much. Priceless.


5. Be Busy

I always remember Cherisse’s dad saying to us as kids, ‘people always want to hire someone who’s busy’. And he was so right. Logical thinking – ‘wow they’re playing with lots of people, they must be great! Let’s get them!’

How It’s Helped Me : Hard to quantify, but I do remember The Darkness boys saying, ‘ok so we see you’re really busy and on tour with Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey, but can we work with you after that?’


6. Just Hang Out

A really sweet uni student once said to me ‘can I come and network with you sometime?’ I had to say to him, never use those words ever again! Ha! Go to gigs, jam nights, make friends, be genuine and just generally hang out. Your ‘network’ will evolve naturally.

How It’s Helped Me : Again, hard to quantify, but I’m pretty certain that 90% of gigs I’ve been called for has an element of me previously spending time with one of the people involved.


7. Be Independent

I’m not talking totally, lone-wolf kind of status here. What I mean is, if you get asked to do something, or you have a moment of inspiration, have the skill set to do it yourself. For instance if you suddenly want to make a random conceptual video with your own music, make sure you’re able to make the music, film it, and edit it all together. Nothing kills inspiration and momentum more than waiting 3 weeks for an edit of your video to come back. Always try to work to your own schedule.

How It’s Helped Me : The whole of the creative side of Feathers and Cogs was created in this way… Inspiration would hit at 2am,¬†followed by ‘Great! How am I¬†gonna do that then?’, followed by¬†meticulous researching and¬†experimentation.

What are the ways you maximise getting called for work? Leave a reply at the bottom.

Subs Blue

 

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Want More Work?… Get More Skills!

I find that a big part of the reason I get asked to play drums for people is not necessarily because of my playing.

At a certain point you start going to auditions and getting called for things, and the people you are up against for the drum seat, are all of a similar, if not¬†better, standard than you. But what’s the thing thats going to tip you over the edge and get you that job?

Aside from personality, how nice you are, and what they think they’re looking for, it’s all about your ‘added extras’. And this means building up other skill sets past hitting those skins in front¬†of you with some bits of wood! It’s all about embracing the new. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s¬†been happening for years!

I remember first being told by a¬†teacher that a lot of incredible drummers stopped getting work in the 50’s and 60’s because there was a big musical shift from jazz music, to this rock n roll ‘backbeat’ thing emerging. A lot of drummers refused to embrace it, and thus manoeuvred themselves out of lots work. Guys that did go with it were those like Earl Palmer¬†(whose biography is actually called ‘Backbeat‘!)¬†and Hal Blaine.

This has carried on as music has evolved. Click tracks have been bought in, drum machines, drummers programming¬†their own sounds to play live. Programming and creating whole shows using things like Ableton, QLab, or HD24’s and any manner of other ways to run a show. And this list will continue to grow!

I know some drummers who have decided to not embrace these things, and flat out refuse to learn them, so as great as they are as players and people, they won’t get called because they just can’t do what the job entails. This of course isn’t always true, but personally I think it’s best to have as many skills as you can!

Here are some jobs that I didn’t get (I think, and choose to believe) because my skills weren’t up to scratch at the time (I used these as motivation, and they sure as hell are now!)

I may have these years slightly wrong as I can’t remember for sure.

2004 – Zein Simone – Click

This was a nightmare situation! My first ever recording session to a click, and my playing (in more ways than one) was so horrific, I was asked (very politely) to leave.

2007ish – Kyle Minogue – Electronics

As far as I can remember it was an all electronics setup they wanted, and I had probably about 2% knowledge about electronic drums at the time!

2009ish – Goldfrapp – Singing

All was going so well in this audition, until the dreaded question as I was packing up – ‘oh, and you sing right?’

These things happen to everyone and it’s what you take from, and make of them. It all just depends on your goals as a musician.

Are there any opportunities you weren’t ready for and you’ve learnt from? Leave your experiences in the comments below!

Subs Yellow

 

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