This article focuses on the second portion of my CRASH (“commitment, relationships, attitude, skill, and hunger”) concept. We’re going to look at how relationships apply to our drumming, our onstage interactions, and our overall musical career.
Here’s an interesting fact: In all of my years of drumming, I’ve gotten only one job from an audition. Even in that particular situation, the drummer that had the gig before me called the artist and management to put in a good word for me. The message he left with management went something like this: “You guys can still have your cattle call, but I promise Rich is the guy. He’s a team player, he shows up prepared, and he’s always on time. His drums sound great, he’s versatile, he can take direction, and he has a good personality.” My relationship with the previous drummer was ultimately what secured my position on this new gig. How about a round of applause for our friends!
Every other job I’ve gotten has come from a recommendation. Simply put, another person was willing to stick out his or her neck for me. Of course, I always feel compelled to return the favor. Relationships make the world go round, especially if they’re based on mutual admiration and sincerity.
GET TO KNOW EVERYONE
I have meaningful relationships with instrumentalists of all types, as well as with songwriters, producers, artists, managers, booking agents, publishers, studio owners, club owners, and so on. I know a lot of people working in many subfields of the music industry (touring, recording, merchandising, publishing, etc.), and it takes all types to make the business work properly. Why limit your social circle to just one small group of people? By associating yourself with many groups, you’ll find that your next gig can come from anyone at any time. The music industry really is a small world, and many of the gatekeepers know each other.
DON’T BE AN OUTSIDER
I’m often asked by struggling musicians via social media outlets to keep them in mind for major auditions. Many of these players live in rural areas outside the leading music markets (New York City, Los Angeles, and Nashville). How could I champion someone when I don’t know anything about his or her playing, personality, and people skills? It’s an unrealistic request. Another factor to remember is that there are hundreds of qualified musicians in the larger markets scratching and clawing for the available work, so there’s rarely a need to look outside those cities. The best way to guarantee success is to relocate to one of the big markets and start cultivating sincere, lasting relationships.
Strong relationships within a band are crucial for creating great music, and being comfortable and friendly with the people you’re playing with is paramount. I’m fortunate that I’ve been touring for over ten years with my best friends. We know each other inside and out, and many times we know what’s going to happen musically long before it actually does. We anticipate, we encourage, and we listen to one another. There’s a brotherhood there, and we are committed to making things sound, feel, and even look great. (Remember: The average person hears with his or her eyes, so give ’em a show. Think Gene Krupa.)
There’s also a relationship between my right foot on the kick drum and the bass player’s right hand. When I whack my snare, I want to hear the guitar locking in precisely with me. Our goal is to play together as a section and make it sound fat and sexy. If we make the groove feel great, it will motivate and inspire the rest of the band—especially whoever’s out front. It’s always about making the artist happy. To solidify the relationship, we try to play at a high level each night so that it’s super-easy to entertain the audience. If you can please the artist and bandleader, you will have job security.
For drummers, the relationship between your limbs and the various sound sources of your kit is very important. Imagine each sound source having its own fader on a mixing board; it’s your job to balance those elements so they combine to sound like one instrument. The great Steve Gadd is a master of this concept.
At whatever dynamic level you choose, all of your limbs should be balanced to create a cohesive feel and groove. Try playing a swing feel with a rimclick on beat 4, à la Jimmy Cobb. If you play the rimclick too loudly, you’ll throw off the sonic relationships, and the groove won’t feel right. Maintaining the proper sonic relationship among the limbs is crucial. Be your own mix engineer on the gig.
SAVOR THE SPACES
Discussing the relationships among the limbs also brings to mind the concept of space. The spacing between two backbeats, or even between the kick drum and snare in a basic rock beat, will determine how the groove feels. As drummers, we have total power in shaping the feel of a song with the space we use between our beats.
Taking control of this power requires a massive commitment to subdividing. When I play a quarternote-based groove, I subdivide the time in my mind as 8th notes. If I’m playing an 8th-note-based groove, I subdivide 16th notes. I often pretend there’s a funky percussionist playing in my head, helping me keep my note spacing consistent and honest. I also use body language to maintain those relationships. Think of Ringo’s head bobbing or Shawn Pelton’s full physical commitment when he plays. Those guys aren’t afraid to involve their body in their groove, and the result is an out-of-this-world feel with fantastic timing and perfectly balanced dynamics.
The idea of forging meaningful relationships is a catchall concept that you can use to improve your drumming, get heard, and get yourself hired for gigs. So keep practicing, but also get out there, shake hands, and make your presence known.
Rich Redmond is a Nashville-based touring/ recording drummer with the multiplatinum country rocker Jason Aldean. He has also worked with Kelly Clarkson, Bryan Adams, Jewel, Ludacris, Lit, Joe Perry, Miranda Lambert, Steel Magnolia, Thompson Square, Rushlow, and others. For more info, visit richredmond.com.