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Here we are extending the discussion on piracy once again. Earlier this week prominent Jazz bassist and musician’s rights advocate Ben Allison wrote a pretty legit post about how modern commerce affects the arts. Give it a read, and if you’re interested, here are more of my thoughts on the subject…

I appreciate Ben’s points on intellectual property and the need to “raise awareness” among those in our culture who truly want to abide by applicable laws and support the business side of music. I also agree with Ben on the suggestion that musicians will always make music, regardless of the ups and downs within the “industry.”

But I smell a sense of entitlement in his perspective on the career of music. He asks, “Will choosing to become a professional musician continue to be a viable career choice in the future?” Um… I don’t know the answer to that, but one doesn’t get to CHOOSE whatever career one wants to have and expect that it will be viable. At one point manufacturing horseshoes was a more viable “choice” for career than it is now. Then technology transitioned a little and all of a sudden manufacturing tires became more viable. And in the near future it is certainly possible that tires will be replaced by another option for transportation. It is, in fact, entirely possible that teleportation becomes not only feasible but commonplace, rendering the entirety of the automobile, airline, shipping, and hotel industries completely obsolete and therefore not viable “choices” for a career. One industry thrives, another suffers. That is the way of things.

Indulge me in some imagination. Digital media developers (software, etc) have made a lot of money in recent years, and most of that money used to be made by the music industry. What if record labels had seen that coming and refused to sign on to distributing music in a digital form? What if musicians had opted to not allow record labels to be their only option for overseeing the production of their art?

Another example: You know who doesn’t make HALF the money they used to make on music sales? Best Buy and Sam Goody. But I don’t hear those companies whining about needing more protection for their industry. They just changed products a little – more washers/dryers and less compact discs. Just learn to change with the times. That doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

Ben ends his post by saying that “we should work to strengthen those laws and institutions that help to protect and enable us to sell our music in a fair way.” The way I see it, if music retains its commercial value it will be because musicians continue to provide something valuable to society, not because we erect laws and institutions to protect our industry. I’m not saying that there is no place at all for regulations within the complex world of free market capitalism. Rather, I’m simply suggesting that musicians, in their efforts to be compensated for their art, look first to THEMSELVES as music creators/providers for their job security, not to laws and regulations.

In other words, I want to see musicians try as hard as possible to be as good as they can be. Let your desire for job security be one of your motivations to get better. Now, many musicians do just this, but find that “as good as they can be” doesn’t cut it. Well, bummer. My version of “as good as I could be” in basketball never cut it either. Other kids were ALWAYS better than I was, and without trying as hard as I did. So I changed fields. It turns out that music is a field that I’ve been able to find success in.

Listen, I don’t want to sound prideful or overly confident here. I’m nothing but grateful that music continues to be a field that I can make a buck in. But the fact is that the music industry is a place where some are successful and some are not, and I don’t think the credit/blame lies with the music industry or with game-changing technological developments. I know that the piracy issue isn’t cut and dry, but that whole discussion really only affects certain aspects of the music world. Live performance may in fact be the new way for musicians to make the bulk of their profits, as opposed to recordings. Or maybe you can be the guy who invents a new format for music listening that is piracy-proof. Either way, I have a gig this weekend and I have to do some prep for it. And I need to work more on mastering that 4-limb single stroke exercise.

My 5×14 Canopus Ash in all it’s glory

Modern Drummer has a great review this month on the Canopus Ash series, which is the model of snare I got last month in Japan. My review: LEGIT.

Fresh coated Ambassadors on the bottom of the blue sparkle RD toms…

Whenever someone mentions putting new heads on their drums they’re usually talking about the top heads. Changing the top head on a drum (also called the “batter” head) is a great way to turn a crappy sounding drum into a much better sounding drum. When I was a kid I changed the batter heads on my toms once every two years, but these days I change them once a month. The same goes for snares.

But drums have heads on both the top AND the bottom.

The bottom heads (called “resonant” heads… or just reso for short) play a huge role in the tone of the instrument. How they’re tuned and what type of head is used makes a big difference, especially on toms. This is apparently not common knowledge, as almost every backline kit I’ve ever played has had reso heads that are at least 5 years old. I’ve even seen kits at churches with what appear to be the ORIGINAL reso heads still on them, upwards of 20 years old.

It’s true that the reso heads don’t need to be changed as often as the batter heads, but they shouldn’t be completely ignored. And as long as you’re taking the time to change them, try a few options and you’ll notice that not all reso heads are created equal. For example, the traditional wisdom is to have resonant heads be as thin as possible. That’s a good strategy for snares (where the sympathetic vibration from the batter head dramatically affects the snare wire buzz), but my experience has been that ultra thin reso heads on toms just leave me fighting with more overtones than I want. Lately I’ve been using Remo coated Ambassadors as resos, and they RULE. I’ve also always loved the way larger floor toms like 16’s and 18’s sound with two-ply heads on the bottom.

So, if your kit has reso heads that are more than 3 years old, consider shelling out the $40 or so to get new ones. You won’t regret it.

PS. This doesn’t really apply to kick drums. Kicks are so heavily dampened and muffled that “old” heads don’t hamper a good sound. I’ve had the same heads (both batter and reso) on one of my studio kicks for 12 years, and I get compliments on how great it sounds all the time. 

I post “recent listening” lists because engaging in attentive and critical listening on a regular basis is crucial for musicians. More on that in this post from June 2008.

The Drum Workshop 9000 series hardware is so great. Strong, solid, well-designed, easy to adjust… it rules. It’s absolutely my go-to for heavy duty hardware.

Pearl stands, on the other hand, are such a bummer. I’m using some on the backline kit at my gig today and it is seriously disappointing. I know I have my quirks and preferences as a player, and I’m also very accustomed to the DW stuff, but I don’t think the issues I’m having are simple lack of familiarity issues. I’ve never had as much trouble with hardware as I am with this (very expensive and “top of the line”) Pearl equipment today.

Specific disappointments:

– DW boom arms have separate wing nuts for rotation and extension, whereas Pearl’s only uses one wing nut for both. Is Pearl’s single joint approach more streamlined? Yes. Does this make it more convenient? Not at all. And as far as streamlining goes, the Pearl boom arms don’t retract into the lower tube level, so they’re cumbersome when positioned completely vertical. 

– Pearl hihat stands have an infinite spin on the top cymbal rod at the point where it attaches to the base of the stand, rather than threading into the socket and staying still once fully threaded.

– Pearl boom stands have the plastic sleeve attached to the top wing nut, so that if the wing nut is off then there’s no sleeve on the stand anymore. I like my cymbals to sway as much as possible when I’m playing, and I sometimes even take a cymbal off its stand entirely during a performance. So in order to play without the wing nuts tonight I had to wrap electrical tape around the top pin of the stand so my cymbals didn’t rub metal on metal.

To be fair though, I had a Pearl T-99 hihat stand back in high school that lasted me for a LONG time, and I’ve always loved it.

Hockey tape sucks. I know that now. More details here.

More importantly, snare tone is a huge deal. It makes or breaks your overall sound as a drummer. Check out this post on that topic, as well as this follow-up post.

1) Bill Frisell – Good Dog, Happy Man …I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is by far my favorite Jim Keltner performance. Do yourself a favor. Listen to this album.

2) Radiohead – Kid A …the perfect soundtrack for walking through airports.

3) Pedro The Lion – 2012 Remasters …free downloads of awesomeness from David Bazan. I already owned all these tracks but the remastered versions was a good excuse to revisit them.

4) Rage Against The Machine – Evil Empire …one of my top ten albums of all time, and not just because it immediately transports me to being in a skatepark in 10th grade.

5) Helios – Eingya …A Berklee grad makes ambient instrumental music and it doesn’t suck.

Unrelated editorial comment: I was going to link to a Pitchfork review of that Helios record, but I actually felt myself getting dumber as I read it. I’ve basically given up completely on Pitchfork. What a massive hipster joke that website is.

My practicing on the airplane yesterday got me thinking about the stages of practicing an exercise. From my experience, working on something follows a path through these four levels of how I relate to what I’m working on…

1. Can’t do it
2. Can kinda do it
3. Competency
4. Mastery

These four stages are the same as the 4 overall stages in the instrumental pursuit. The point of this post is to reiterate that the goal in practicing is to reach stage 4. That might seem obvious, but it needs to be stated (and I constantly need to remind myself of it) because the temptation to stop at stage 3 is so strong.

“Hey! I’m doing it! Look everybody, I can actually do this really difficult thing/exercise/pattern now! This is great! All my hard word is paying off because now I can finally do it!” (self high five)

My heart makes those exclamations long before I’m even in the ballpark of mastery.

“Hey… I think I’m getting this. Wow. I can do it for like 20 seconds without screwing up.” – Me on the plane yesterday

“Who cares. It won’t make a difference in your actual limb control until you can do it for 10 minutes without screwing up. And significantly faster.” – The voice of reason

“Hey shut up and leave me alone.” – Me

“How could it possibly benefit you to tell the VOICE OF REASON to shut up?” – The voice of reason

“You’re right. I’ll keep at it.” – Me, reluctantly acknowledging the voice of reason

That’s how it always goes.

And listen, just a warning here… the distance between each of the stages is roughly the same. Don’t expect to get from stage 3 to stage 4 quicker or faster than you got from 1 to 2 or from 2 to 3. I think that’s where the deception lies in the temptation to not go for stage 4. Reaching stage 3 after a lot of hard work and then realizing you still have a ways to go before stage 4 is demoralizing. But do it anyway. Getting to stage 4 is what makes ALL the practicing worth it.

Summary: Practice past the point of competency to the point of mastery.

I sat on a plane today for a few hours. Lately that’s more common for me than it used to be, whereas opportunities to sit behind a drumset and spend time simply practicing are less common. So today on the flight I tapped out a rudiment pattern for probably 45 minutes just using my finger tips on my lap and my feet on the floor. The noise of the flight covered up any sound so I didn’t bother anyone around me… at least I don’t think I did.

It’s a variation on a Bonham triplet pattern that inverts the RL and LR strokes, but using a 4-stroke pattern instead of a 3-stroke one. The variation is that I’ve got all 4 limbs involved, instead of only 3.

Pattern A: R-L-Rf-Lf (that is… right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot)
Pattern B: L-R-Lf-Rf

It’s just simple single strokes between the hands and the feet, though what I’ve really been working on is switching between them. In other words, play the above patterns once each back to back…

R-L-Rf-Lf-L-R-Lf-Rf

I work up to it by doing each “half” 4 times (a full bar if you’re feeling the strokes as 16ths) then switching to the other. After a minute or so of that I switch to alternating each time (two full rotations per bar, still in 16ths).

It’s way more difficult than I want it to be. I’m not a dbl kick player, so I’m not sure what this is even helping, other than mind stuff and limb control. But that’s the more important part of the game anyway.

PS. The link above to my post about Bonham triplets contains a few more super helpful limb control exercises. So I guess we can file this post under the “From The Archive” series.

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