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I must confess that I just watched, back to back, these three videos chronicling Dream Theater’s auditioning for a new drummer… and I totally loved it. Their music has never really INSPIRED me the way the artists that I regularly reference have, but it’s still completely mind-blowing what some of these metal guys can do.

Another super interesting aspect of this footage is the inside look on how a band at this level goes about choosing a replacement drummer.  A really important concept is Dream Theater’s effort to make sure that the new guy can do more than just play the current songs.  This reality permeates all of the music world: that successful musicians need to be not only competent players, but also creative, sharp/quick… and be a nice guy on top of it.

Sit back and be a nerd for a while, and click here for the 3rd episode where they reveal who got the gig (released and announced TODAY)…

click here for Episode 1

PS… I read online just now that Portnoy actually back-pedaled a few months ago and tried to reunite with the band, but they had apparently already begun their work on the new album and are forging ahead without him.  I mean, who cares… not me.  Still, what a cool documentary for drum geeks.

HT: Selness

It has come to my attention that the new Foo Fighters album kicks all kinds of ass.  While I’m still partial to Dave Grohl over Taylor Hawkins as a drummer, Hawkins really brings some A-game on this track. And seriously… who sounds more like Zeppelin: these guys on the last 30 seconds of this clip, or Zeppelin?

No posts for the past couple weeks = Steve’s busy with stuff. I actually have a TON on my plate right now, and some of it is relevant to the conversations we have here.

1. I took a gig as drummer and musical director for a Christian vocal trio called Go Fish. They started as an a capella group and have moved through a few stages of artistic approach since then, and about 5 years ago landed where they currently are at: children’s music. Their past few records are all targeted at kids, but less like Barney and more like the Jonas Brothers. Needless to say, it’s not the most artistically satisfying gig I’ve done, but I’m really loving it nonetheless. I’ve realized lately that I almost don’t care what style/genre of gig I’m doing, as long as everybody on the gig is taking it seriously and striving for excellence. Go Fish puts on a killer show, and the musical/production/entertainment value of it is through the roof. We’ve got a couple dozen dates over the summer that we’re prepping for right now, and I’m spending A LOT of my time sifting through the pretty extensive audio tracks we’re running for the show. As I mentioned, Go Fish is a 3-pc vocal group, and the live band is just a drums/bass/guitar power trio, but then the additional audio tracks really push the audio to the huge level that the live show reaches. Strings, loops, keys, vocal effects… tons of stuff. I recently upgraded to Ableton’s Live8 software, and I’m getting a great functional lesson on using that software as I organize all the tracks and construct the show. I also picked up a MOTU Ultralite MK3 interface. I must say, it’s a pretty killer rig.

2. I’m doing a ton of reading these days. I finished up John Piper’s Desiring God a few weeks ago, and I also just got through Rob Bell’s controversial new book. Then I got a free copy of ND Wilson’s Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl from a friend and read that (such a killer book), and I’m halfway through Jim Putman’s Real Life Discipleship with my Bible study guys at church. Also, for the past year or so, I’ve been spending a little time each week continuing to work through Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.  I’m saying all this not to boast about how much I read, but just to reiterate to those of you who regularly read this blog that my daily thoughts don’t revole solely around music.  In fact, I’m partnering with a couple of the pastors at my church in launching a faith/church-related blog in June.  I’ll keep you posted on when that gets off the ground.

3. Related to my thoughts/reading on my faith as a Christian are my efforts to use my time/resources in “ministry.”  You may remember the trip to Romania I took last year with Jason Harms.  As has been the pattern for that group for the past few years, we have another opportunity to take Jason’s music abroad this summer… this time to the country of Scotland.  You can see the details on that trip over at the Jason Harms Quintet blog.  Prepping for that trip has been the other thing keeping me busy lately, specifically the issue of fundraising.  I’ve invited you, my blog readers, to join me in that fundraising in the past, and I’d like to ask again this year.  In fact, I’m going to lay it on kinda thick this time, because many of you have expressed to me your appreciation for what I write and the fact that I do clinics at churches and what not.  Can I be so bold as to ask those of you who feel that way to express your gratitude tangibly in financially supporting Jason’s ministry?  I would greatly value your partnership with me in this area.  We have a somewhat more difficult fundraising challenge with this years trip because of the weakness of the Dollar vs the British Pound.  I have a vision of my blog readers not only helping with the fundraising, but additionally spreading the word to others so they can help.  I really really really believe in what Jason is doing with his music, and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.  I want more people in the Christian music world to know about.  Can you help me with this?

Recap:  I am crazy busy right now.  Lots going on.  Thanks for your loyal readership and interest in my blog.  More posts coming soon!

Check it: The “father of computer music” died last thursday. I bet this dude had NO IDEA how influential his inventions would become…

HT: Huntley Miller

In other news, my older daughter Betty was baptized tonight.  Huge honor for me to be in the pool with her and facilitate that. Happy Easter, everybody.

Yes… another clinic.

My friend Mike Michel (aka Bill Mike) runs a “rock camp” in Minneapolis that’s really taking off. Rock Camp For Dads is basically a full-band environment where guys can get instrument lessons in the context of playing real music with others. The students (adult white collar and blue collar professionals) are formed into bands when they sign up, according to the genre they’d most like to learn. Then they meet once a week for rehearsal with Mike with instructors and coaches, learning a full set of tunes over the course of a few months. The lessons sessions culminate in a gig at a local rock venue where all the friends and families can come and rock out with the bands. It’s really a great concept.

So anyway, Mike has asked me to come and give a two-hour master class on playing drums in a rock band.  This session will cover basics on up to more complex issues like discerning patterns and their appropriate genres, as well as fills and even soloing.  The event is open to the public, and will be held at the RCFD rehearsal space (which is a pretty rad facility).  There will probably be some cool gear give-aways from Risen Drums, Paiste Cymbals, and Mono Cases, as well as a few other goodies.

May 21st.  2011.  11am.  Be there.

PS.  Pretty sure it isn’t free, but I don’t know the exact cost.  $10 maybe?  Meh… I’ll figure it out and post an update.

The “Amen Break” is the watershed groove that birthed hip-hop beats, jungle/rave beats, and many other current forms of sampling.  Here’s a 20-minute lecture on this important moment in drum history and it’s subsequent manipulations…

I don’t totally agree with his commentary on the UK usage of samplers as a “high brow” and “absurd” art form, as that UK stuff is super interesting/inspiring to me, and my main influence in the solo stuff I’m working on.

HT: Travis Faust

PS.  Some colorful language from NWA (surprise), so heads up there.

Guys. I have SO MANY blog posts in draft form right now. Tons of stuff I’ve been thinking about and there’s a bunch of ideas in there that I’m anxious for you all to respond to… BUT… today was busy so all you get is the obligatory cool video. This one is pretty cool though.

HT: Bob Stromberg

I’m watching Peter Gabriel’s Growing Up Live Tour DVD with my daughter Suzy right now. We both appreciate Ged Lynch’s bright red Premier kit, but I think for different reasons.

Anyway, I am noticing how much more rocking the older tunes are on this DVD,  at least compared to Gabriel’s Secret World Live tour.  I’ve narrowed it down to Lynch’s tendency to wash on the ride more often than Manu Katche, and the fact that David Rhodes is playing a much cleaner sound overall in the 1993 tour. (Not an LP vs Strat issue like I formerly thought… thanks for the correction Joe!)

This reminds me of a perspective I’ve arrived at recently regarding where energy really comes from in music.  At this point I’m pretty sure that it’s tone and tone only… and I’m not talking about composition.  I’m talking about taking a given drum part and, without changing the pattern, playing it with more energy than someone else might play it.  When I was younger I thought bringing energy came from my muscles and my strength, which then morphed into the belief that volume was the real issue.  I acknowledge that of course your strength does contribute to how hard you hit the drum, which of course contributes to a higher volume (and technique fits somewhere in there too), but I think the reality is that the TONE produced by hitting hard/loud/well is the real difference maker in the energy department.

This is easily observed in the fact that a recorded drum track can be placed at any volume within the mix, but the energy of the drum track will remain the same regardless.  If a lightly-played brushes groove is cranked in the final master, it still won’t have energy.  But you simply cannot dial down the sheer power of a wide open Dave Grohl slam fest, even if you make it the softest track in the tune.  This is even more apparent when I consider Rhodes’ guitar choices mentioned above. His playing is the same volume in both DVD’s, but the additional saturation and grit in his 2003 tone brings so much more juice to the overall sound.

Ok. Hitting hard produces volume, but more than that it produces a particular tone that has energy. So what?

Well, I take this observation and apply it to my quest to play at the appropriate volume in every acoustic situation I’m in, without sacrificing energy. That’s what.

Is there a way to create an energetic snare and cymbal tone without a high volume?  I think so.  It may not be the exact same tone that the high volume produces, but it can still be energetic.  But, achieving this requires that you actually pursue tone and not volume.  Some players are convinced that volume is the only thing creating energy, and as a result they work on techniques and approaches that only pursue volume. Therefore getting energy seems hopeless when they’re in a situation where they can’t be loud.  I used to be that guy, but the observations listed above have made me think differently, and it seems to be producing a lot of fruit… which makes me think I’m right.

PS.  Growing Up Live is a killer show.  You really need to check it out.  The production is ground-breaking and completely rad and the performances are super inspiring.  The crowd is actually one of the coolest parts… they participate in very moving and unsolicited ways throughout the entire show.

I don’t think I totally understand the drum line world.  I mean, I’ve never really been in it, and I know a lot of people who have been and enjoyed it, so I’m sure there’s value there.  But this video is not very convincing…


This is a photo of a wall in the Art lab near my teaching studio at Northwestern College…

I walk past this message every day.  It’s a great reminder.

Let’s for the moment imagine that we can quantify progress/skill on an instrument by counting rungs on a ladder.  It seems to me that the difference between a gifted student (aka “brilliance”) and a normal student would be how many rungs they can climb in a given amount of time.  The gifted person climbs 5 rungs in 30 minutes, and the normal person only manages 1 rung per hour.  Now, a normal homework assignment (for my students at least) requires a 5-rung effort.  So then, the normal guy has to work an hour every day for 5 days between now and next week’s lesson in order to get the stuff done.  Yep, that’s about “normal.”  But the gifted guy… he has a choice.  He can get his 5 rungs accomplished in the first half hour after he gets home from the lesson and then have tons of time for video games, or he can practice an hour a day anyway and come back having learned the homework AND a bunch of other stuff.  Pretty soon he’s asking for 50-rung assignments each week… or pushing himself for even more.

The point is this: what does the gifted person get out of their giftedness if they only put in the work needed to stay on par with everyone else?  More video game time.  That’s it.  That’s all they get, because at the end of each week they are still on the same rung as everyone else.  And then at the end of 5 years, or 10 years, they are STILL on the same rung as everyone else, so at that point nobody really knows or cares that they’re gifted.

But at least they’ve logged in tons of video games.

True greatness comes from the combination of giftedness AND hard work.  In fact, the hard work is actually the means by which the giftedness makes itself known.

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