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Remember that Paul Leim video I posted a month ago? Here’s a few more vids in that same series from studio master Dan Needham. Anyone wanting to be a studio drummer needs to prioritize watching these 5 videos…

God bless Youtube and Vic Firth for making GOLD information like this available for anyone to learn, and God bless Dan Needham for being such a juggernaut player.

A month ago I posted the opening tune from the fall tour I did with Sara Bareilles, and the response was super encouraging! I’m pumped about everybody’s kind words. Thank you.

And so… here’s another one – the closing song of the show.


– Her exclamation at 0:15 is because all the fans at the Electric Factory in Philly had brought printouts that said “Brave” on them, and they held them up as soon as the tune started. It was a pretty cool moment.

– The Ableton tracks on this tune are just string-based, so all the synthetic drum sounds are samples on the SPD. My main point of focus while playing this song is locking in with the backbeat sample throughout the song. The sample has a 16th note slapback on it, so if I hit the sample at all late or early then the slapback is correspondingly late/early. The whole groove of the song relies on me placing that sample at the proper spot in the pocket. This is most difficult at 2:21 when I bring in the left hand marching pattern. Sometimes I lean against the click a little during this section, but it’s because I’ve learned to key into the sample slapback instead of the click, so as to keep the left hand 16ths locked with the sample.

– I have the Brave sequence set up for an undetermined length on the intro. Every night Sara talks over the SPD hook groove and I try to gauge when she’s going to be done and play a rest in order to cue that the verse will start. At this particular show she gave me a nod for the cue (0:48) and it was a little sudden. I would’ve landed that rest a little differently had I not been surprised. Oh well.

– Brave, like Chasing the Sun, uses a trash can lid vibe instead of crash sounds in the album version. So I’ve got the ride stack happening (21″ Dark Energy over a 22″ Trad light), and the snare tone is my RD 5.5×14 nickel-over-brass with a donut dampening ring.

Have you ever wondered what the environment is like in a real Nashville studio session? What happens over the course of the day… how do things actually come together… how does a drummer need to function and behave in that world?

Answer: This video. Watch this video. It totally nails that world.

A few comments/observations:

– Paul takes a lot of control in the session (ie, choosing a tempo at 2:50 and counting off the take at 4:40). He’s not the producer, but he’s still very assertive and in command. This is a must for drummers. I don’t care what your personality is like in normal life… as soon as you sit down behind the drumset you need to be very type A. The drumset is the instrument in the band that naturally has the most influence, and the band needs the drummer to be a leader.

– The “Bat Maaaaan” suggestion at 2:23, the “4 down 4 up” comment at 4:40, the reference to the “pretty woman” groove at 8:32… these are all phrases that describe common motifs a band will use in a performance. Slang like this is helpful in communicating to the other players about how a track should be approached. Pay attention to the nuances of how to get in and out of the various sections in a song and learn how to speak about these nuances using terms like these.

– Regarding the “Pretty Woman” riff, notice how that idea developed as the take was in process. Paul had a rough idea of how to play the song once he sat down to record, but during the performance he was inspired to follow certain details down a different direction. The studio isn’t necessarily an improvisation environment, but a good studio player will be able to roll with developments and evolutions in the ideas.

– At 7:00 Paul is speaking about how one gets hired in the Nashville studio world, and it’s clearly about one’s mind MORE than one’s chops. The practice room is an essential component to being a professional musician, but so also is the ability to keep up with changes that are being implemented in the moment. Nobody cares about the patterns or fills you can play if you are always confused about WHEN to play them.

– Getting a complete “perfect take” is definitely desirable, but punches and edits are commonplace (9:00). Again, ideas morph and evolve in real time.

– The Nashville number system is a charting method used heavily in the studio world. It’s mainly about “key” and therefore not necessarily drummer related, but it’s still a good thing to be familiar with.

– At 11:15 Paul does some overdubbing… a trick where the drummer plays on top of a previously recorded drum track, with the end result being something that can’t be replicated by only one drummer in a single performance. That’s not a problem for a recording session. Modern studio technology makes overdubbing very easy, but before I got into the studio scene I wasn’t really thinking that way. The challenge of performing a song live is a totally different creature than the challenge of creating a cool track in the studio.┬áDon’t expect that everything on an album was created in a single take.

– While Paul is punching-in fills he makes a comment that shows his awareness of the vocal as a factor in whether the fill works or not (10:52). This is key. A fill’s coolness is always contingent on the overall musical context, and the vocal is the primary context of a mainstream pop/rock/country song.

– At 3:42 you can clearly see Paul using a snare dampening tool of some kind. I’ve read a lot about Snare Weight lately, but Paul’s seems to be homemade. Either way, snare dampening is a very common thing in sessions. I usually use moongels myself.

– Paul, like so many of the well-known studio players, is a Paiste guy.

– The quote at 13:10: “I’m fortunate to be playing with my buds every day”… this really nails the overall point of being a musician. If you want to get into the studio world because of some sort of desire for status or accomplishment or money – well, don’t bother. That stuff won’t come very easily in the session player scene. One needs to be content with the simple act of making music, and if you are, the studio world will be a BLAST.

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