In my experience it’s always best to be overly prepared for a recording session. This week’s blog details a routine I often fall into leading up to the session date. There can be lots of unpredictability tracking drums, but one thing you can count on is that if you don’t know the songs inside and out, chances are slim it will be a smooth process.
The following is a typical step-by-step process for me, where I don’t know the tunes beforehand or have never worked with the artist. I am currently toward the end of this process now, as of today I’m on step 6 in preparation for laying down the drum tracks for guitarist / songwriter Zac Lloyd’s upcoming EP in the coming weeks.
1.Demo listening / absorbing. Normally I receive songs, typically in demo form, via email or some kind of file sharing website (drop box, send it, etc). Immediately I start listening to the songs, analyzing every detail trying to get inside the song. If the artist sends specifics on what they want, then I’ll note that right away and then determine what parts, if any, I can add my own flavor to. I’ll also out what the vibe is, the feel, the overall way I should approach the track. Most of my initial ideas are the ones I end up keeping (first instinct kind of thing) but I love experimenting.
2. Jamming along. Part of my experimenting process is just jamming along and seeing what comes out. I try to capture the feel of a jam session while doing this, pretending the whole band is there and we’re improvising in the moment. Depending on the tune, I may play along with the same feel multiple times or switch it up each time to test the boundaries.
3.Recording jams. or transcribing. I love to keep a detailed record of ideas, whether it’s hitting the record button or transcribing beats, fills, or breaks. I feel I get into the piece more when I transcribe. The act of writing out the music makes me dissect each part more throughly and more clearly think of other rhythmic possibilities. Totally the drum teacher side of me coming out in that!
4. Repeating step two and throughly reviewing notes. This is where I finalize most of my composition. The jams and notes evolve into more solid parts.
5.Writing preliminary charts. Mostly focused on arrangements, figuring out exact metronome markings, and writing the main beat from each section. Lots of blank space left for changes or additions. I’ll also jam along to the beats w/ just a click and no backing track, ensuring that I have to proper feel locked in and can replicate that in the studio.
6. Writing final charts. Includes every important detail of the song, or in some cases a note for note transcription of the entire tune. The latter depends on the artist or the scenario. I often get asked to improv takes in the studio but I’m always ready to sight read approved pieces if requested. Normally I like to do both so the artist can have both to choose from.
7. Rehearsing and memorizing (if possible). This I normally do mostly on my own, but if there are full band rehearsals I try to have most of the music memorized or at least just having to quick glance at it. That all depends on how much time there is between the time of composition and the recording date. Could be months, days, hours, or minutes!! Regardless,being a session drummer you gotta be ready for anything. Hopefully my process will give you some ideas & tips on how to make your session more successful and keep you getting offers. Long live drum tracks from real drummers...”Drum machines have no soul.”