Miles McPherson moved to Nashville in 1986, when his father, Jerry, relocated the family there so he could work in the studios as a session guitarist. Miles was expecting to be a guitarist—until he sat at a drumset for the first time at age thirteen. The drums were set up in the basement for a Christmas party. “I’d been air-drumming for so long, I was able to just sit down and play,” says McPherson. “It was at that moment that my parents realized that I was destined to be a drummer.”

Miles McPherson

Miles took some drum lessons and eventually enrolled at Belmont College, where he studied with legendary drummer Chester Thompson. “Chester is one of the greatest drummers on the planet,” says McPherson. “He was teaching me jazz, but I never did any of the work. I’d show up for class, and Chester would say, ‘Let me guess: You didn’t look at anything that I gave you.’” Miles dropped out after one semester.

Fast-forward to today, and McPherson is one of the most well-regarded drummers in the business. His deft studio skills have brought him to some of the top commercial studios in town, and he does a lot of remote sessions from his own home studio.

MD: How did your professional career start?

Miles: I dropped out of high school to tour with a major-label band called Rich Creamy Paint. We toured for a couple of years. After that, I toured for several years in the Christian music scene. In 2001 I joined a metal band called Look What I Did. I was with them for about five years. We moved to Los Angeles for a while, got a record deal, and made a record. Then my wife got pregnant. I quit the band and moved back to Nashville in 2006. I painted houses, parked cars, and did a lot of odd jobs. I was just trying to support my family, and I wasn’t playing drums at all.

MD: When did you return to music?

Miles: I got the Kelly Clarkson gig in 2009, which was a huge turning point for my career. In about 2011, I found myself off salary because she had taken a break. I didn’t have a lot of session work because I’d been on the road so long, so I was back to doing odd jobs in between one-offs with Kelly. I left her band in 2013 because I had an opportunity to tour with Paramore. I did that for about seven months and then had a pretty rough accident that pulled me off the road. I never thought wrecking a golf cart would be such a life-altering event.

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MD: How so?

Miles: There were some health issues and some legal ramifications from the accident, so going back to touring wasn’t likely. A month before I was supposed to go back on the road, I had healed enough to where I could play drums, so I started doing sessions in town. I worked nearly every day for that month. When it came time to get back on the road, I opted to stay home. That was in 2014, and I couldn’t be happier.

MD: When you decided to devote yourself to session work, were you working primarily in the commercial studios or were you working from home?

Miles: I procured a studio space in 2009 in a commercial facility in a dilapidated old house. I was there for almost ten years. Initially I had that space as a creative outlet, but it morphed into a place for doing drum overdub work. I was fortunate to start riding the home studio wave from the beginning, and it’s gone through a few different phases. There was a year where I hardly did any real drum overdubs. I was just recording MIDI tracks. That was a trend in pop-country music for a while.

It’s been an interesting journey. Now we’re starting to see how seriously drummers need to have self-recording skills. This probably represents thirty percent of my income, whereas ten years ago it was zero percent. It’s become a very significant focus, especially with so many commercial studios here in Nashville shutting down.

MD: What is your current studio space?

Miles: My studio space is in the bonus room above a detached garage of a single-family house. Because of the technological shift in home recording, I don’t need anything fancy. I don’t even need hardwood floors. My room sounds are all “in the box,” and I control them.

MD: Can you elaborate on that?

Miles: The setup that I had in the other studios was with two stations: a drum station and an engineer’s station. All of my outboard gear—some great preamps, compressors, and EQs—was all at the desk. So if I was playing drums and wanted to dial in a sound, I’d have to walk over to the desk, change something, go back, play, etc. This silly back-and-forth dance would go on and on. I started exploring options and discovered the Universal Audio Apollo, which is an interface that has pre-amp modeling capabilities. I started shooting out the virtual pre’s in the Apollo against the $15,000 worth of preamps that I had in my rack, and the UAD stuff sounded just as good. So I sold every piece of gear I owned and bought three Apollo 8p interfaces, and I now do everything in the box.

The workflow is such that I can engineer from the drum chair, and someone can do the exact same thing from the desk. Everything is mirrored. This has opened up a whole new world of being able to really get what I want in the context of a song. For someone who isn’t a trained audio engineer, the Apollos allow me to get what I hear in my head efficiently, quickly, and fearlessly without assistance from anyone else.

MD: How does this relate to the portability of the setup?

Miles: I can relocate anywhere and replicate exactly what I have here. I can set up in a buddy’s bedroom if I had to. I’m no longer room dependent. I have the Universal Audio Ocean Way plug-in, so I can I just throw up decent room mics somewhere near the kit and I have full control over what my room sounds like.

Admitting to using plug-ins would’ve gotten me blacklisted a few years ago, but with this system you really can’t tell. This space in my house is the best-sounding drum room that I’ve ever had. The room is dead, which gives me complete control. The Ocean Way plug-in is doing all the heavy lifting for the room sounds, while my close mics are very isolated. The other advantage to having this type of setup is that I can be kicked out of this house tomorrow, and just go someplace else and be fine.

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Gear Box

Early-’70s Rogers (16×24 kick, 13″, 16″,
and 18″ toms, and 10″, 12″, 13″, and 14″ concert toms
18″ Yamaha Stage Custom kick
(no front head)
28″ Ludwig marching bass drum
6″, 8″, and 10″ Rototoms
Yamaha Oak Custom (16×22 kick and 12″, 14″, and 16″ toms)
22″ Yamaha Live Custom kick

Yamaha Recording Custom 8×14 steel
Yamaha Paul Leim Signature 5.5×14 and 6.5×14 chrome over brass
’50s Slingerland 8×14 mahogany
Ludwig 5×14 Supraphonic
Ludwig 5×14 Acrolite

Kick in: AKG D112
Kick out: Yamaha Subkick
Snare top: Shure SM57
Snare bottom: Shure Beta 56
Hi-hats: Neumann KM 184
Overheads: AKG 452 or Shure SM81
Toms: Sennheiser MD 421
Rooms: Cascade Fat Head
Auxiliary: Shure Green Bullet

Meinl Byzance Medium crashes (20″, 21″, and 22″)
Meinl Byzance 22″ Extra Dry Medium ride
Meinl Byzance 15″Medium hi-hats
various vintage hi-hats and crashes

Electronic Drums:
Yamaha DTX900

Story and photos by Sayre Berman