As this issue of MD hits newsstands, Mark Schulman is happily out on tour again with global superstar P!nk. “Mark has been a special part of my band for twelve-plus years,” the singer tells Modern Drummer. “During that time we’ve developed a super close-knit touring family. It’s been a beautiful journey as our careers and families have grown together. Mark is the most positive person any of us know, and we’re grateful for his spirit.”
To be sure, when you’re in Schulman’s presence, his enthusiasm and energy are contagious. If the atmosphere isn’t positive, he’ll lift the vibe right up. It’s one of the many traits that for decades have kept him front-of-mind for solo artists and established bands alike who are in need of reliable, exacting drumming at the very top performance levels— even when there’s extremely little time to prepare.
Schulman was born on September 4, 1961, in Los Angeles. Early on he found that he had a natural affinity for the drums. In the years since, he’s played in nearly every type of musical situation, including sold-out shows across the world with artists like Brenda Russell, Richard Marx, Foreigner, Simple Minds, Billy Idol, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Cher, and Velvet Revolver. He’s recorded countless sessions as a drummer, producer, and engineer. He’s also found success as an educator, with the instructional DVD A Day in the Recording Studio, his book Conquering Life’s Stage Fright, and the motivational lecture/ clinics that he conducts in between tours. None of this should be surprising to MD readers, who likely recognize his name from the inspiring educational articles he’s written for the magazine.
We spoke to the always-busy Schulman for this, his first Modern Drummer cover story, after he’d been touring with P!nk for the majority of 2018. He spoke at length about the value of networking (one of his favorite subjects), about his many achievements in the music business, and yes, about some of his failures, too. It was all in the spirit of passing along valuable drumming and career information, both of which Schulman is in great possession of. We begin our conversation at the very beginning, when he was just starting to absorb all that great wisdom….
Mark: Like so many, I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and something resonated deep inside. Then I saw Ringo, and I completely tripped out. I saw that big, beautiful smile and the way he was whisking the hi-hats back and forth, and that was it! It was like the calling came naturally to me, and the drums chose me. From that point on, I always wanted to play drums.
MD: How old were you when you picked up the sticks?
Mark: Once when I was five years old, I was at my neighbor’s house, where his band rehearsed. The drums were vacant for a moment when they took a break, and I sat down and I could play. I knew what to do intuitively. I wouldn’t call myself a prodigy, but I was so drawn to the drums and paid such attention to every detail that I could just play naturally. When I told my mom that I wanted to play drums, she said, “Can’t you play a nice instrument like your brother Randy?” [laughs] My brother was playing violin, so I started playing cello. I grew up playing cello, but at nine years old my parents couldn’t deny my passion any longer, and they got me my first drumset. It was a Slingerland Radio King kit from the ’30s. I wish I still had it, but two years later I sold it so I could buy a Rogers kit.
MD: Who besides Ringo became an early influence?
Mark: I was always a big Buddy Rich fan. Another early influence was Bobby Colomby of Blood, Sweat, and Tears. I used to try to play along with their records—it was a mix of jazz, rock, and early fusion. Mitch Mitchell with Jimi Hendrix influenced me, too—I remember trying to play “Manic Depression,” which was in three, when I was nine years old, and I was able to play it. From there I tried to cop every single groove and fill that Mitch played.
MD: Did you start to take lessons at some point?
Mark: I started taking lessons around eleven years old, with Louie Bellson’s brother Henry. He started me on the great drum books of the time, Louie’s Modern Reading Text, Roy Burns and Lewis Malen’s Finger Control, and George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control. It felt natural, as I already knew how to read music from playing cello.
MD: What was your practice routine like?
Mark: I always played in bands. I played in my first band when I was nine years old, and I was always playing along with music. So more than practicing rudiments or reading music, my biggest driver was just playing the drums and continuing to play. I went on a cruise when I was eleven and met a drummer, and I hung out with him for the entire weekend. He taught me how to play a six-stroke roll, which changed my life. And then some of the stuff that Buddy Rich was doing started to make more sense as I started using rudiments around the drumset.
MD: Do you remember your first “real” gig?
Mark: Yes! I played my first professional gig when I was twelve years old, and I started playing every weekend, from the age of fourteen to nineteen. I was playing weddings and bar mitzvahs and school dances—and I was singing while I was playing. We were playing everything from bossa novas, to as close to bebop as we could, to pop songs of the day, to oldies-but-goodies. I learned so much from playing with other musicians, and finally a guy that is still my teacher to this day, Bruce Becker, convinced me to study with Freddie Gruber.
MD: What did you work on with Freddie?
Mark: I took my first lesson with Freddie at seventeen years old, and I started to get real serious about technique and understand more about how the hands and feet truly function. That affected my playing very strongly. I studied with Freddie for a couple years, and then I moved out of California to Portland, Oregon, with my original band, Buster.
MD: Was this band your first big break?
Mark: Well, I’ll start with my first “big failure.” [laughs] When I moved to Portland, my friend Dan Reed, who was about the same age as me, got a record deal and was touring the world. His band, the Dan Reed Network, opened up for Bon Jovi, and he became friends with some famous musicians like Jonathan Cain and Neal Schon from Journey. They were about to put together a supergroup called Bad English with singer John Waite and bassist Ricky Phillips, and they decided that instead of using one of their contemporaries on drums, they wanted to find a young, hot, fresh drummer.
So Dan calls me one day and says, “Hey, Mark, I was hanging out with the guys from Journey, and I can get you an audition for their new band—what do you think?” So, a week later, I was auditioning for the guys in Bad English. I was quite nervous, and I’ll never forget Jonathan Cain said, “Okay, Mark, we’re just going to play a little bit of a Bad English song, and we want you to just listen. Then we’re going to stop and have you jam along with us.”
MD: Were you nervous?
Mark: Yes! But when they started playing, the nervousness melted away, and I was in heaven. I was surrounded by the best of the best. I loved it—until they stopped playing, and then butterflies in my stomach turned into bats! I was overwhelmed with anxiety. When Jonathan counted off the band for me to start playing, I literally felt like I was being pushed out of a plane without a parachute. I was so nervous I couldn’t even judge my own sense of time.
After about thirty seconds Jonathan stopped and said, “Man, you’re rushing really badly. Dan said you were the dude.” And then he counted off the band again, and we started playing, and I looked up. I just needed some support because I was still so incredibly nervous, and that’s when I connected eyes with Ricky. He was literally moving his hips and moving his head to the meter to try to telegraph the tempo for me. He was being such a cool guy.
So I started to relax a little bit, thinking that I had a chance. But then Jonathan stopped the band again, and all eyes were on me as he reached down into his bag and took out something. It was a metronome. And he literally threw it across the stage and said, “Mark, watch the light.” That was an incredibly embarrassing moment for me. But with sweat dripping in my eyes from anxiety, I stared at that light and tried to memorize the tempo. Cain said, “Okay, you count off the band.” So without looking up, I counted off the band and just tried to keep my eyes on the light. After a bit I realized I should look up and connect with the band, but I was so insecure a voice in my head just said, “Stay down!” so I did.
The band kept playing, so I thought I still had a chance at the gig. And when the band stopped, I looked up at Ricky, and he was giving me a thumbs up! And then Cain walked over to the kit and extended his hand to me and said, “Thanks, Mark. We’ve heard enough. You can go now.” I know my expression was motionless, but inside I was screaming. What do you mean I can go now? This was going to be my defining moment! This was supposed to be the rest of my life!
A few minutes later I was in my car with tears in my eyes, just pounding the steering wheel and thinking, Doctor! Lawyer! Accountant! Those were the careers my parents wanted me to pursue—why didn’t I listen!
That was a defining day for me. It didn’t go the way I’d hoped, but I knew that I was either going to quit from frustration or really get to work. Fortunately, I chose the latter.
MD: So a valuable lesson was learned.
Mark: Absolutely. That experience inspired me to work very hard to get my internal meter established very strongly, and I did work on that for a couple of years. I found a course called the Rhythm Course, which was put together by a gentleman named Jamie Faunt. I was taught by Tom Mendola, who is still teaching the course. But what it did was inspire me to really solidify my internal clock. I was excited to practice for hours a day with my former nemesis and now my new best friend, the metronome. But for two months I didn’t even touch the sticks. It turns out that the path to mastering my internal sense of time started with just clapping.
MD: Can you explain that process more?
Mark: I clapped every single tempo, from 120 bpm down to 30 and up to 240. The goal is to be able to clap for one minute and cancel out the sound of the metronome. When I got down to the really slow tempos, I started by subdividing them into 16th notes, then half notes. The idea was to feel all of that space, and that’s when I realized that what we don’t play is more important than what we do play, and to honor the space. That’s what gives the greatest drummers their feel: they honor the space between the notes.
MD: So what happened next?
Mark: I moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1984 and stayed until 1988, and during that time I worked with two original bands and in a few recording studios as an engineer and producer. Those were very formative years for me. As a bandleader of one of the bands, I learned how to appreciate the value of strong communication, empathy, and the perspective of the other instrumentalists. I’d grown up so drum focused, it was valuable to learn to assume the viewpoint of others and understand how my drum parts related to the overall sound. I began to really value the importance of simplicity in my playing.
When I moved back to Los Angeles, I got recommended for a gig from a gentleman I’d known many years earlier, Armand Grimaldi, who’d played with Clare Fischer and Don Henley. Armand had known me because when I was nineteen, I tutored him in English at a local college while working for my mother. He remembered my playing from seven years earlier, since we’d gotten together a few times to mess around on double drums. He knew I could play, so when he heard I was back in town, he recommended me for the Brenda Russell tour. They’d asked him, but he was unavailable at that time. So that was my first big break, touring the world for four glorious months with Brenda Russell, opening up for Billy Ocean.
MD: You went on to play with so many top acts after that. How did you get the Cher gig?
Mark: Well, let me start by saying I’ll probably go down in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only drummer to audition for Cher three times. I auditioned the first time in the early ’90s, and I had the gig for about an hour. Her old drummer, Ron Wikso, left and came back. When I auditioned again a couple of years later, there were twenty-five drummers. They narrowed it down to four, and then Bryan Hitt [now with REO Speedwagon] had the most compatible astrological sign with Cher, so he got it. And then Bryan ended up leaving the gig, and they brought Ron back to finish the tour. Incidentally, Ron and I became friends; I recommended him to replace me in Foreigner when I left to join Simple Minds. He played with Foreigner for a few years.
MD: So it’s important to stay friends and network with everyone?
Mark: Absolutely! When I tell my students the importance of networking, and that your network is your net worth, it’s because of my own personal experience.
But back to Cher…it’s now 1999, and I get a call from Gregg Bissonette, and Gregg says, “Hey, Cher’s auditioning. I’m unavailable to do the tour, so you should go down.” So I went down, and finally the universe acknowledged all the time and energy I’d spent, and I got the gig. I’ve continued to play with Cher on and off for the past nineteen years.
MD: In between you were also playing and touring with Foreigner.
Mark: When I joined Foreigner for the third time in 2011, I replaced Jason Sutter. Jason and I became friends, and when P!nk started up again last year, I brought Jason in to play with Cher. And he’s still doing that gig as we speak.
MD: How did you come to play with Velvet Revolver?
Mark: I’d been friendly with their drummer, Matt Sorum, for many years. Matt had also seen me play with Cher. One day I got a call from him saying, “I broke my hand in a water skiing accident, and Velvet Revolver is scheduled to do a six-week Ozzfest tour, coheadlining with Black Sabbath. Slash has been talking to Brian Tichy about doing it, but Brian can only do a week.” Brian is a fantastic drummer who replaced me in Billy Idol. He also replaced me in Foreigner—and then I rereplaced him in Foreigner! [laughs]
Anyway, I went down to audition for the rest of the band, playing along with a CD of Velvet Revolver songs. It was kind of strange but fun. Tichy did the week and then I came out, and my first gig was Ozzfest! We had no time to rehearse except for an acoustic runthrough in the dressing room. The next thing I knew, I was walking onstage with Velvet Revolver about to play in front of about 20,000 heavy metal fans. I don’t think I had ever played harder in my life!
MD: And how did the P!nk gig come together?
Mark: Cher’s manager is also P!nk’s manager. And when P!nk’s drummer couldn’t do a couple of weeks of gigs in the summer of 2006, I did them. After that two-week period they offered me the gig, and then I did my first big tour, behind her I’m Not Dead album.
MD: Besides her enormous talent, is she fun to work with?
Mark: Yes! She’s one of the most fabulous singers, an incredible lady with very high integrity, and arguably the greatest performer on the planet. The whole band is brilliant and includes some of my best friends. I’m the luckiest man in the world to be playing with her.
MD: How do you maintain your energy every night for live shows?
Mark: I have a philosophy that every single note I play matters. Where I hit each drum, when I hit each drum, how I hit each drum, the technique I use, the combination of rhythms, the dynamics, every ghost note, the relative placement of every limb, all the infinite possibilities, every single nuance matters. And because every note matters, I play every one with purpose. And the more purpose I give to every note, the more passionate I am about every note. That’s how I can play “So What” with P!nk six hundred times and have every single performance be as passionate and purposeful as the very first time.
I played with Foreigner on and off for twenty-five years, and I used to joke that I played “Feels Like the First Time” over a thousand times. I also realized that when I’m playing the show, it’s not about me. Even though I might have played a song a thousand times, most of the audience has never seen the show. So I tap into their excitement, I look into their eyes, and I realize that I’m there to be of service. It’s all about supporting the artist, supporting the other musicians, and giving the audience the time of their lives.
MD: Since you don’t play on P!nk’s albums, how do you adapt from the recordings to the live shows? Does she leave that up to you?
Mark: I love this question. Nearly every P!nk song that has been recorded in the last few years has a programmed rhythm track. What’s fun about playing these songs live is we actually get to expand upon them and do our own interpretations of the original songs. What happens is, we get all of the Pro Tools files, and we start by eliminating everything that we will be playing live, only leaving in the other parts that we will play along with. I can usually expand upon the original drum tracks, because most of those drum parts are repetitive loops. Of course P!nk has final say.
Here’s a great example: when we learned “What About Us” off of the new album, Beautiful Trauma, Roger, her manager, asked us to learn it and play like the recording, because P!nk had made a comment that she wanted to hear the songs sound more like the record. When she came in, we’d rehearsed that song in two ways. On the version just like the recording, I was playing very simple parts that didn’t even involve much drums, just a little bit of electronics. It was very repetitive sounding, and that’s how she heard it during the first run-through. We’d also created a version with crunchier guitars and really big toms, and a very dynamically expansive drum performance. After we played her the original version, she said,
“Okay, cool,” but she didn’t seem thrilled. I stood up and said, “We have another version that we expanded upon,” and when we played her the expanded version, she loved it! So that’s the version that we do.
That’s a perfect example of trying it both ways, and of course her having final say and knowing what moves her emotionally. Although she’s not a trained musician per se, she knows exactly what she wants to hear. If something isn’t right, she’ll call us out. If something’s right, it’s wonderful, and she’s very happy.
MD: Let’s talk about your DVD, A Day in the Recording Studio.
Mark: In that DVD, I talk about every component of recording drums. I include tuning, my approach to creating parts, miking techniques, signal processing, and my charting system. I’m very proud of it because it’s a lot of fun and has a lot of content. And it’s my method. Everyone has his or her own approach. It’s available on the Hudson Music website.
MD: What advice would you like to pass on in terms of handling the changes in the music business since you first started?
Mark: The music business has changed dramatically because there are two generations of people that now believe music isn’t a resource one should pay for. That’s unfortunate for many reasons. When I was starting out, we would tour to promote selling our music, and now we give away music to promote the tour. The revenue stream and the focus are so much more about the live show than the recording. Of course, an artist like P!nk will still sell a lot of music, but where she might sell one or two million copies, that’s relative to selling ten or fifteen million copies fifteen or twenty years ago.
These days it really is about generating revenue through the live show. I tell my students, “You’re going to make your money through a variety of things.” Everybody needs to be able to teach and to be able to support an artist live. It used to be common for musicians to make a living by doing sessions, but now it’s a hybrid of playing live, doing some recording sessions, teaching, and selling merchandise.
MD: Tell us about your motivational lectures.
Mark: I’ve cultivated a corporate speaking career in which I use music as a metaphor. I bring drums onstage, and I talk about top performance. I’m actually cowriting my second book based on my primary keynotespeaking topic. I’m writing that with Dr. Jim Samuels, who’s one of the most brilliant thinkers I know. He created a concept called ABC—Attitude, Behavior, and Consequence. The concept of ABC is based on the fact that we can’t always control what happens to us, but we always have the power to change, shift, or choose our attitudes about it.
This relates to everything from personal and business experiences to how we approach our practice time and our live and studio performances. Your attitude is what generates your behavior, and your behavior is what determines the consequences of your life, your business, your drumming, and everything else that matters to you. This is a very critical formula, and I utilize ABC every day of my life. And that’s why I believe that I’m still playing in the realm of world-class musicians after thirty years. There are no accidents to success.
Mark Schulman in the Studio
While juggling an extensive touring schedule and a heap of corporate speaking engagements, Mark Schulman has maintained a prolific career as an independent studio musician. Here the drummer explains his modern take on recording and dives into “Just Breathe,” a track he recently laid down for the up-and-coming Swiss indie-pop duo Sinplus.
The Current State of the Business
The whole recording industry has been turned upside down. It used to be that to record drums, you’d first have to not only rent a studio, but you’d also need to have an engineer present. So before you’d even played a note, it could cost $1,200. Now it’s become a lot more of a self-generated business. Just about every studio musician and drummer I know has their own studio. With artists’ budgets, they’re just not willing to pay a lot to record drums. So you want to be self-sufficient. That way you remove the cost of the studio. And you may bring in an engineer—I have an engineer who I hire sometimes, depending on the size of the studio and the budget.
My DVD, A Day in the Recording Studio, is about being able to do the entire process by yourself. If you want to charge $200 or $400 a track, it all goes into your pocket because you already have drums set up, and you’ve got a reasonably quality setup that’s going to produce a high-enough quality recording and separate stems, depending on how many mics you use. That’s going to enable you to upload that recording back to the client, because everything is mobile.
Most of the tracks I do, the other musicians aren’t there. Such was the case with the band Sinplus and their song “Just Breathe.” Oftentimes I get emailed, or people find me online through Facebook or Twitter. And now I have a recording studio. But before I had a studio, I was just doing it in my house. And I know that now a lot of musicians only have laptops and really basic audio interfaces.
People ask me all the time, “How can I become a session drummer?” I say that I think that’s kind of a thing of the past. I’ll still record in big studios sometimes. But I even recorded a track for P!nk at my studio. It was just about cost. So if you look at every session drummer—Kenny Aronoff, Josh Freese, Abe Laboriel Jr.—nearly all of these guys have their own recording setups, because it’s gotten too expensive. It’s not the same industry that it used to be.
But I’ve gotten to the point where a client will contact me, give me their budget, and I rarely turn people down. Usually I charge $350 to $450 or $500 per track. But if somebody only has a couple hundred dollars at that time, I try to group their tracks together. I might record twelve to fifteen tracks in one day. So the more I’m doing, the less I can charge. And that’s also contingent on if I can do it myself without hiring my engineer. But all of that money goes into my pocket.
An artist will send me an MP3 of a song, and almost everybody has some sort of drum programming or idea for drum tracks. When I listen to the MP3, I learn a lot from what they programmed. I learn the basic feel and style that they want, the basic sound that they like, what type of drum sound, whether it’s ambient or modern or retro….[Regardless of] what they’ve done with their programming, they’re relying on me to take it to another level and put my own signature on it. So I don’t play exactly how they want it, unless they send me drum programming and tell me they want it exactly that way.
In the case of “Just Breathe,” they sent me a demo. My goal with a typical pop song, or something that isn’t too complex, is to receive it, listen to it, chart it, play at least two takes of it, provide alternative verses and choruses that the artist can edit in, and upload it to them within an hour per track. I’ll keep the click going after tracking, and I’ll do a whole other batch of fills. I’ll play the entire track a few times from start to finish, but I also want to give them options. My goal is for them to have more than they need.
And again, they’re hiring me for my signature. So I’ll listen to the style in which they programmed it, and I’m going to try to emulate the style of drums that they do, but still with the Mark Schulman signature. Because if they’re hiring me as opposed to Josh Freese, Abe Laboriel, or Kenny Aronoff, I’m assuming they’re doing it because they want my style. So I’m going to do things that are characteristic of my own playing. And that’s critical, because I’m not afraid to go for it. And when I do the alternative fills, it’s funny, because I’ll start with simple fills, and then I’ll put some crazy stuff in as well. You’d be amazed how many times a client says, “Oh, that’s wild. I like it; let’s put it in.” But more often than not, when it’s a pop song, they’re going to err on the side of simplicity, because that’s the current trend.
In this example of “Just Breathe,” it’s a pretty simple song. I opted to make a few musical changes to the original part, but they did some pretty extensive drum programming on the demo. So I always listen to the MP3 once so I can hear it from start to finish and get the continuity of the entire song. Then I know what I’m up against. Are there going to be any flips or turns? Are there any time changes? Is it going to get crazy? Are they going to go into some weird Indian rhythm? You never know with kids these days….
So I listen to this entire song and I’m looking for phrases and anything that might trip me up, because my goal is to write down as little as possible so I can be as in the moment and as musical as I can. I’m able to move away from the chart a little bit and just pay enough attention that I’m hitting the figures that I need to.
In the intro to “Just Breathe,” there’s nothing happening drum-wise. So I wrote “Tacet x4,” which means I don’t play for four bars. In Verse 1 of the demo, there’s some sort of rimclick or percussion on beats 2 and 4. So I did two different versions. In one, I played 2 and 4 with a rimclick, and on the other, I took an old washboard, put it on a music stand, and I hit it on beats 2 and 4. I like to have as much fun as I possibly can. And then I added in the kick drum on the fourth bar on the “&” of beat 4 into the second half of the verse.
The B section has a march groove. I emphasized the song’s rhythm and played my own version of the march, but I tried to keep it consistent so I wasn’t just fully improvising from bar to bar. So there’s seven bars of that, and one long sustained break for a measure, and then it goes into the chorus.
I also wrote out their basic chorus pattern. If you notice in the chorus, there are parentheses around the “&” of 4 on the bass drum. That tells me to play that note every other bar. I also assumed that Sinplus was going to want to open it up, so I added an open hi-hat on the “&” of beat 3 in this pattern. I try to make big dynamic differences between sections, so that was just a natural way of doing it. Also, I recorded alternative choruses with all open hi-hats, as well as choruses on the ride cymbal. So they had choices.
In Verse 2, it’s kick only for four measures. So I went back to that same kick drum pattern that I previously played in Verse 1, and I could remember it by just looking back to the top of the chart in Verse 1. So I played the kick drum on “&-1” of every other bar. Then I increased the amount of bass drum notes, because I was also thinking consciously of how I could open this part up.
If you look at the second B section, it’s another march, but it comes down in dynamic level. So I added that decrescendo right before the marking for letter “B” in my chart. That’s why I brought it down when I played. And I also noticed that it’s a six-bar phrase. That’s always the stuff that I want to pay the most attention to. There’s a six-bar phrase with a pause or just a long sustained note on the fifth bar.
Next is a four-bar chorus, and it shifts to the tag, which is an extension of the chorus. Whenever I see a tag, I change up the groove from the chorus. I might open the hi-hat or move to the ride cymbal. And again, I’ll do a few different versions and open it up differently. If I do four bars of open hi-hat, they can cut that into the chorus, bridge, or tag—wherever they want. I noticed that they did use some of the alternative performances that I provided.
After the tag we go into the bridge, which is tacet for four bars. And then for seven bars, I wrote, “maybe light time.” So that’s me actually relying on my own instinct, and it comes over. I don’t even know exactly what I’m going to do while recording, and that’s when it gets exciting. I was using the sidestick on the snare, and I played this samba-like groove, but it was just a straight 16th-note pattern, almost like this Steve Gadd sort of thing. And they liked it. Again, it’s just something that I’d typically do, and that’s what I was feeling. And that’s the beauty—sometimes the first take just has magic. And then I think I did something even simpler on the second take, and that gave them more options to choose from. And again, the most important thing is that this section is a seven-bar phrase, so I have to make sure I’m able to set up a build into that last chorus on the seventh bar.
The last chorus is just a standard eight-bar chorus, and then there’s another eight-bar tag. And then we’re out! That’s it.
Here’s my secret: I’ve gotten confident enough in what I do that I know if I’m on with a track. I go back and listen to it and only check the sounds. If I’m doing four, six, or ten tracks, I don’t even listen back to them. I listen to them briefly to make sure that the sounds are good, and I just send them off to the artists. I figure that if there’s going to be a problem, they’ll get back to me.
But I just want to be efficient when I’m in the studio. When I get home at night, I love listening back to what I do. When I do a take, I send clients all the stems and an MP3 of my mix with their music so they can hear it right away. And I lie in bed that night and listen to every MP3 that I sent so I can enjoy it. I love the process of recording, as much as I’m known for being a “live guy.” The truth is that I absolutely adore the recording process and listening back to a take and analyzing it and seeing if something was a good choice or if something could’ve been better. I always want to improve. But I never want to sound like I’m careless and that I don’t care. I care about every nuance, and I work so hard to make sure that my time is locked in with the click. But I spent years doing that, so I don’t worry about it now.
While recording, sometimes I’ll just stop and start the tape over again if I feel like something wasn’t right. If I want to play multiple takes of the same song, I will. I’m not charging by the hour. I want to make the artist happy. But generally speaking, with a song like “Just Breathe” that’s a bit more straightforward; I can do it in two takes and give them options, and I don’t need to do anything more than that.
Having said that, sometimes I’ll hear a track and think, “This would sound good with a metal snare drum, and it could also sound good with a medium or low wooden drum.” So I might do a couple of takes with a few different sounds, because I’m hearing both sounds. So I’m not rushing through. I’m just indicating that I can do all of this quickly because of my experience. If I want to spend two hours on a track, and I think the track warrants spending that amount of time on it, I will.
I don’t have personal representation. When I was building this business, I created a website and I advertised using AdWords and Facebook. I’d promote certain keywords, like “producers,” “engineers,” “artists,” and “live music recording.” My ads would then appear on the Facebook pages of those people who had those keywords in their descriptions or in their metadata. That might be the best way to go about this, because it’s difficult for people to find out about you unless you’re doing something to promote yourself.
But I haven’t advertised now in years, and I don’t do that many sessions, because I have so much on my plate. But I do get called by a lot of the same clients, which is nice. So I may work with the same producers, who may be in Australia, Germany, Spain, or L.A. And word of mouth travels far. When people know about the quality of work you do, the kind of person you are, how easy you are to work with, and what you can produce for them, then it makes a big difference in your continued success.
If you live in a community of a lot of musicians or producers, and you can record at home and save them that money, get on the phone. “Hey, I have this recording setup, and I can send you some examples of my work. I’d love the opportunity to record a drum track. Send me a track; I’ll do it for free.”
Head to moderndrummer.com to listen to the original demo of “Just Breathe” and Schulman’s final take, and follow along with the chart.
Schulman’s Setup for P!nk’s 2018/19 Beautiful Trama Tour
- 5×12 custom Mark Schulman signature snare drum
- 6.5×14 solid maple custom snare drum
- 6.5×14 Brooklyn hammered chrome over brass snare drum
- 8×10, 8×12, and 12×14 Broadkaster rack toms
- 16×16 and 16×18 Broadkaster floor toms
- 5×8 USA Custom concert tom
- 18×18 Brooklyn custom floor tom
- 18×24 Brooklyn custom floor tom
- 14×26 Broadkaster bass drum
“I have a philosophy about gear,” says Mark Schulman. “I tell my students and everybody at my clinics, ‘Don’t play what I play; play what you want to play.’ If you want to check out the kind of gear that I play, then check it out. But when I was doing a lot of sessions, particularly in the ’90s, when I was touring so much, generally I would tell the producer or the engineer to bring in whatever drumset they preferred. And eighty or ninety percent of the time, they’d bring in a Gretsch kit.
“And I’ve loved Gretsch since I was little kid. I remember seeing the cover of the Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! record, with Charlie Watts carrying that Gretsch drum. I always thought that Gretsch was incredibly cool. Finally, after endorsing a variety of different drum companies, I realized that I loved the Gretsch drums so much, and I wanted to play what I love. So in 2002 I began endorsing Gretsch, and I’ve never been happier. And I’m very happy with the current relationship with Gretsch and DW.”
- 15″ Groove hats
- 9″ Radia chime
- 10″ AA splash
- 18″ Evolution O-Zone crash (inverted)
- 18″ Evolution O-Zone crash with rivets
- 19″ AAX X-Plosion crash
- 20″ AA Raw Bell crash
- 20″ AAX V-Crash
- 22″ AERO crash (prototype)
- 18″ stack: Evolution O-Zone crash on top of an AERO crash
“Cymbals, like drums, vary immensely in the materials they’re made out of, the thicknesses, the profile, the amount of hammering, the cup size, etc. But every cymbal company has their own unique sound. I started playing Sabian cymbals and grew attached to their sound, and I’ve been endorsing them for thirty years.”
Hardware: Gibraltar, including G series double pedals and Brent Barnett custom-designed rack “I’ve been using Gibraltar hardware since I started working with Gretsch, and I love their G series pedal.”
Electronics: Roland TD-50 drum trigger module, two 10″ PDX-100 mesh trigger pads, KT-10 bass drum trigger pedal, BT-1 drum trigger pad
“I’ve been with Toca for years. They not only have the perfect pitch of cowbells, but some other unique percussion that I’ve used in unusual situations.”
Sticks: Vic Firth X55B sticks, T3 Staccato mallets, RUTE 505 Plastic multirods, and CT1 Corpsmaster Timpani mallets
“I’ve been playing Vic Firth since 1995. Sticks are our direct physical connection with the drums, so they’re critical. And we can detect miniscule variations in weight, lacquer, wood type, etc. I use X55Bs generally for pop and rock playing, but I may use a lighter stick or a stick in one hand and a brush in the other, or dowel sticks, brushes, or mallets, depending on the musical demands of the song.”
Heads: Remo Emperor X Coated snare drum batter and Ambassador Hazy snare side, Emperor Colortone Red tom batters, and Powerstroke P3 Clear Black Dot bass drum batter “I started with Remo drumheads. I went through a lot of other companies, and I came back to Remo because, like my other gear, their heads feel like home.”
Accessories: “I use Cymbolts, which are an attachment for the cymbals that keep them perfectly tensioned and straight, and you can break down your cymbals in seconds. I also use the Big Fat Snare, which is like a second drumhead you put on top of the snare drum. I use that live with P!nk a lot because I can make my main snare drum about a third lower in pitch by just throwing on the Big Fat Snare. I love Sennheiser microphones and headphones. And finally, the SledgePad for the kick drum: it’s made out of light foam, and it muffles the drum slightly with some nice resonance and low end.”