Back in early September I received an email with a fill-in opportunity. I was recommended to the band leader by my friend, who is the guitar player in the group. The bandleader stated that their drummer wasn’t able to do the show. I requested their song list and noticed there were close to 200 songs, ranging from Jazz to R&B to early Rock N’ Roll to Latin styles. I was psyched because I knew roughly 90% of them, either by performing with other groups, previously learning on my own for fun, or teaching. I emailed back and said I had to wait a bit to commit as my schedule on the night of the gig wasn’t 100% solidified yet. In the meantime, I was asked to meet with the band for a quick jam session. I can prepared as always, having quickly gone over as many tunes as I could. When I arrived they were very accommodating by having a full drum kit already set up. I then received a list of songs they did at a previous show, 49 total, which most of them I already knew in some capacity. We ran through quite a few tunes and I made specific notes on their arrangements / versions of the tunes.
Shortly after the rehearsal I was able to commit to the gig and have been working through all the tunes, refreshing myself on previously learned songs and acquainting myself with the unfamiliar. Having over 10 years experience doing fill-in work, I have my systems of learning down pat and i'm no stranger to learning lots of songs quickly. I start with listening, absorbing all the songs and getting the vibe for each one. Then I start playing along and seeing which ones or which parts come naturally. Next comes the charting process. I normally write out basic arrangements to start, but get more specific with challenging or unfamiliar stuff. I also always figure out the tempos for every tune, even if I am not required to count them off at first (anything can change!). For this gig, I actually ordered some sheet music online, which will save me some time. My charts are completed in a timely fashion so the bulk of my preparation time is spent playing. This is crucial because most of the time the bands I work with are very busy and there is little or no rehearsal options. Plus it is typical for a freelance drummer to charge for rehearsals, which I normally do unless special circumstances.
In my current living situation I have the luxury of practicing and playing on two different drum sets, acoustic and electric. My electronic set is in my office (pictured above) with my computer connected right in for the perfect mix of live drums and pre-recorded music. In fact, each year technology makes my process more efficient. I regularly use You Tube, Soundcloud, Dropbox, & Bandcamp to acquire songs. There’s quite a few other choices for legal file sharing out there so I’m always staying hip to the new. Some artists still use CD’s and even in the last 5 years I’ve received cassette tapes! Regardless, with an 1/8 audio cable pretty much anything can be imported. After I throughly run the tunes in my office, I then move to the acoustic kit. My initial focus is on getting a sound for each gig (proper tuning is crucial). Then I play the charts without music at first, then with music. That process repeats daily over and over until the show date.
For a last review, I listen to songs I’m performing or songs in the same genre on my way to the show. Then upon arrival, my soundcheck is comprised of parts from the set list, no drum solo goof offs while checking levels! I never want to disappoint the band, and having the sound man on your side is a definite plus as well.