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Last week on my Tumblr I posted a photo from a session I did recently. The engineer at the session asked me to remove the reso head on my kick drum for the tracks, which I’ve noticed is becoming common. My well-spoken friend Seth Earnest sent me an email in response to the no reso head idea, and he brings a bunch of great insight to the topic. With his permission, I’ve posted the email he sent below. Get ready to learn something.

*NOTE: The audio examples referenced below are now posted on my Tumblr.

I do a lot of engineering and mixing, as well, so it’s funny as my skills are developing there how I find myself in a battle between my engineer hat and my drummer hat.

With my drum hat on, I almost always despise the sound of a kick without a reso head on it. It’s just attack-y with no bottom and sounds dull, right? Especially compared to a reso head with no “sound” hole. There’s nothing more awesome than a well-tuned, wide-open kick drum sound w/both heads w/no holes. It’s magnificent, and makes me feel like Keith Carlock or Bonham.

Putting that hat on the rack and sliding into my mixing hat is where the reso head/hole/no hole/no reso head really kicks into gear. It’s also full of many variables ranging from the song, the room, the bass player–both how he plays (busy/sparsely) and his tone (round, warm, lots of lows, edgy, lots of mids, clicky, rock-n’-roll, with a pick, w/o a pick, etc. etc. etc.)–and many others to avoid a land mine on down the road of the tune as the mix is being built.

What this brings me to is that the exact sound I hate as a drummer of no reso head becomes really tight & punchy through a mic in the control room and cuts through a mix well w/o a lot of twiddling on my part as the mix engineer. If I’m playing with a really round-playing bass player with a lot of subby stuff going on in his tone, I really want that kick to cut through and be the attack to the bass player’s bottom end. There’s only so much space in a mix for the low end, and to have two full-range sounds (booming kick and round bass) gets way too muddy for there to be any joy in that range. And that range is so crucial for a tune’s foundation.

If my kick is boomy, huge, round, awesome and full on the bottom end, my bass player will have to back off his lows and put more mids in his tone to cut through a mix and not muddy up the bottom end (see the “Grooves” audio example).

So, there’s a lot of “where do I want to end up” and working backwards that has to happen on the producer/mix engineer’s part. These days, a lot of producers are the engineers or mix engineers. So, either I as producer need to determine the final vision of the song and explain to my engineer, or I have to get the vision from whomever is producing to know where he’s going. If I know I’m going for a Roots-style low end on certain hip hop track, I know I’m going to want ridiculous warmth and roundness out of the bass and a nice “thump” (read lower mid-range) out of my kick to push the low end of mix through the song without it getting muddy.

Keep in mind I’m talking exclusively in the studio world right now. Live music is a whole other thing that I only understand from a musician’s perspective.

But, if I’m going for a tune with a Jaco-esque jazzy bass tone, I have all sorts of room in the low lows for my kick drum to serve as the foundation. I can slap a no-hole reso head on that kick, mic it from the outside so I get that huge boomy joy out of a great kick, and put the two together for a solid low end foundation.

All of THIS being said, I come back (long-windedly so) to the reso head off issue. It creates a kick sound with a nice thump, a nice attack and nice mid-range punch that tends to be easier to fit into a mix than a bigger-sounding kick drum. Wise engineers know where they’ll be headed come mix time and will go ahead and mic everything accordingly. It creates a much better mix time because if everything is engineered with the final product in mind, there’s a LOT less twiddling and bangin’ your head against the wall during the mix stage.

There are so many different styles of mixing, too, so each person may do it differently. I know you’re familiar with Mayer’s Continuum, and I listen to that record’s low end, and it’s freakin’ money at all points. This is an example of a genius set of players, producer (Jordan) and mix engineer (Michael Brauer) planning ahead and creating all of this subtle interplay between two of the best players in the world–Jordan and Palladino.

Steve Jordan has a relatively boomy kick on most of those tracks, but what’s really interesting are the holes our brains fill when dealing with sonic information. Listen to “Waiting on the World to Change.” Jordan starts out on his own with that sick groove, and his kick is boomy–def has a reso head on it–but it’s not getting into the sub area. That kick is centered around 100Hz or so, but it implies a much deeper set of frequencies, and then when the bass comes in, it’s sort of “around” that kick on either side, both lower (like 60-80Hz) and above it (200HZ or so), so each sound has it’s own little home. The kick sounds deeper when the bass comes in b/c they’re working together to round out the bottom, but the kick on its own is actually not as deep as we might perceive it to be if we heard that track soloed out without any other tracks in the mix.

On track 2 (“I Don’t Trust Myself”), it’s the same idea but with different frequencies. Jordan’s kick is up around 150Hz, and Pino has that huge low end (under 100) but also that mid-range attack for how he’s playing (esp. the slap thing he’s does every few bars) up in the 400-600 range.

Track 3 brings a different approach. That hot-rod loop starts, then the “real” drums kick in w/the rest of the band. The “real drums” kick drum is mostly an attack/punch sound, and the bass is low and round. Also, it’s interesting to note that after the band kicks in, the hot rod loop get a low-cut EQ on it (i.e. everything below around 200-250 is rolled off, I think); the kick drum on the hot rod loop has almost no legitimate low end once the “real” drums come in. BUT, most interestingly, our brains almost create the low end b/c low end is implied by the timbre of the kick drum itself.

It’s like thunder. If we only heard the upper frequencies of thunder (say, above 120Hz), we would still process it as a “boom” because its timbre implies and our brains process it as having all that low end, as well (see the “Thunder” audio example). It’s a subtle thing that if you really listen you realize there’s actually not the low end there, but the quick, instinctual perception of our brains becomes a god-send in a mix environment when you only have so much frequency real estate to deal with. You can imply something without it actually being there in a mix, and that will always leave room for something else.

Mixing, I’m learning through tedious trial-and-error, seems to be a series of compromises.

SOOOO, the reso-head-off for a lot of engineers can remove one set of land mines on down the road of “How in the world do I deal with this kick and bass interfering with each other?” A decision will have to be made one way or the other (kick gets the low-end or the bass does, but it can’t be both), and a wise engineer will make decisions early on which make his life easier as he goes.

I brought up Keith Carlock earlier: listen to his stuff on the Steely Dan records he is on. That is NOT his normal kick drum sound. He’s normally blasting some awesome-sounding, wide-open kick sound, but that would have muddied up a SD record, so he (or they or the producer) were like, “Nope. Tight and dry, Keith.” My taste is that the newest 2 SD records are too thin sounding, but that’s just my taste. So, there are a lot of taste issues, too. 

This is a ridiculously long answer for a simple question, but it’s one I’ve been thinking about a lot, too. I used to get offended when an engineer would ask me to take off my reso head, but I’m now beginning to learn a lot more of why he might be asking as I’m learning more about mixing.

My point in all of this is that an engineer will use tricks and aural brain assumptions (like the posted audio examples) to make a mix work, and, sometimes, they know that a reso-head full kick sound will impede where they are going in their vision of the mix.

On the other hand, some engineers are just lazy and don’t want to fully engage in the art of capturing your kick drum as it actually sounds and ask you to do stupid stuff because they don’t want to get off their butts and actually listen to what’s happening in the room. So there’s that whole ball of worm cans to deal with, too.

John Mayer recently shared some interesting thoughts at his former school, addressing the topics of current social media and the creative process.  Good stuff to think about as I sit here writing a BLOG, having just checked my TWITTER and FACEBOOK… all while complaining that I can’t find the time to get my solo project off the ground.

PS. Those of you who are familiar with John Piper will find his response to Mayer’s Twitter theory worth reading.

… for constantly mentioning Steve Jordan on this blog.  He’s the man.  Why wouldn’t I post tons of stuff about him?  The issue is settled.

There’s lots of fresh youtube footage of him lately, coming off John Mayer’s recent tour. Apparently the setlist included a Jordan solo as the intro to “Waiting on the World to Change,” which was of course different from night to night. I may or may not have just spent the last 2 hours watching all the clips I could find.

Here are my favorite ones…

ps… Is it just me or does he look A LOT like Elvin Jones with this haircut?

I posted a ton about John Mayer’s new record Battle Studies while it was being made.  Now that it’s out, for those wondering what I think of it, let me say this: I like it a lot.  That’s all I’m saying for now.  Maybe more on that in a future post.

But…

I do want to bring up again the discussion regarding the single “Who Says” and it’s somewhat questionable lyrical content/depth.  I recently read an interview with Mayer, which covers the subject of that tune and the general direction of the album as a whole.  I can’t decide if his comments change my understanding of the situation with that song or not.

Apparently John Mayer played a full hour-long set at the Ed Sullivan Theater last Thursday, during the taping of the Letterman Show, but the performance was only broadcast in it’s entirety on the CBS website.  So, check out CBS.com to watch it.

I have to say, Mayer himself doesn’t sound very good, but the band is killing it, and Steve Jordan especially (of course).

Ok… the new John Mayer single… I just heard the song for the first time while watching the video, and I seriously don’t know how to respond. The track is like Tom Petty’s beautiful record Wildflowers, but with Busta Rhymes writing the lyrics.  Aside from the music and production being really great, the song is a complete letdown.

I suppose this is my 1:00am gut reaction, so maybe I’ll recant later.  If you want to check it out for yourself, then you’ll have to click here, because I don’t want to embed this video.  The images/concept are, frankly, a lot of what is wrong with today’s generation in America… in my opinion, of course.

The whole thing just seems so out-of-character for the guy who wrote Continuum and regularly calls for Americans to remember their brave men and women in uniform.  In fact, I have a small hunch that releasing this track as the first single on Mayer’s new record is actually part of a big sociological statement on his part.  I mean, literally, the song and the video are an EXACT REPRESENTATION of what most people associate with the becoming-a-different-person-once-you-hit-the-big-time phenomenon.  Whatever the case, I just really hope the rest of the record is different.

That is all.  (steps down from soapbox…)

UPDATE:  Lots of great discussion about this in the comments… nice.  Meanwhile, the second single was just released, and I really dig it.  Check it out below…

The short blog hiatus continues. I promise it will be SHORT, though. I’ve got some cool stuff in the works for the future, but for now I’m doing lots of practicing and reading and relaxing and so on.

In the meantime, the John Mayer Trio will be on Conan tonight. I wonder if Steve Jordan will still use that set up with the little kick drum off to the side…

6/5/09 Update: Confirmation on the little aux kick drum, even though he didn’t use it.  And… somebody needs to tell Conan’s front of house engineer that the guitar is not supposed to be the hottest part of the mix.  Pearl Jam, Green Day, Sheryl Crow, JMT… the show is 4 for 4 so far on mixing the guitar to WAY too loudly.

Ok, here’s the deal…

I realize I post stuff on this blog about John Mayer a lot.  What can I say… I like him.  I’m not a groupie or anything – I just respect his musicianship/songwriting.  That, and Continuum is one of my favorite records ever.  If I am totally honest, though, the main reason I’m so into his stuff lately is STEVE EFFING JORDAN on drums.  Seriously, I love Steve Jordan’s playing, and Mayer’s music is the main place to see Jordan at work for the past few years.

I’ve seen Jordan’s instructional DVD a couple times, which is rad.  I also have a live Mayer DVD that has Jordan on a few tracks (Where The Light Is), but aside from that I’ve not found much footage of him.  So, I am super pumped to have just now discovered a bazillion clips of him on youtube that I’ve not found before.  I spent the last few hours watching them, and the good ones are listed below.  Do yourself a favor and watch them ALL before you go to sleep tonight, and I bet you will wake up to find you are a better drummer because of it…

Some vintage Steve Jordan – a television performance w/ Jeffy Healey, circa early 80’s… (I feel like this might be from SNL during the era when Jordan held that drum chair). UPDATE: a recent commenter pointed out that this might in fact be Omar Hakim on drums, not Steve Jordan. Interesting.

Recording John Mayer’s “Stitched Up” with Herbie Hancock – this is a clip from a documentary on Herbie’s mulit-collaboration album from a few years ago called Possibilities.  The Jordan footage ends around the 5:30 mark…

Recording Sting’s “Sister Moon” with Herbie Hancock – another segment from the Possibilities documentary, this time featuring Sting, Cyro Baptista (perc), and John Patitucci (bass).  The pattern in the groove on this tune is sick.

Demonstrating a Sheryl Crow track – a clip from Jordan’s instructional DVD, The Groove Is Here.

Jamming with Danny Kortchmar and Bernie Worrell – this is apparently an outtake from The Groove Is Here.

Jamming in John Mayer’s home studio –  I found this video on Mayer’s blog, which is dedicated to chronicling the creation of his new record, Battle Studies.

Another jam from the Battle Studies sessions

Performing “Don’t Need No Doctor” w/ Mayer and John Scofield – Jay Leno show

JMT… “Who Did You Think I Was” – the official video release of the first “John Mayer Trio” single.  This performance totally rips.

JMT… “Wait Until Tomorrow” – the Hendrix tune on Jimmy Kimmel, from back when the John Mayer Trio was first formed.

JMT… “Bold As Love” – more Hendrix, this one from a Tsunami benefit teledrive.  Check out Mayer’s response to his own mistake at 2:51…

JMT… “Cissy Strut” – the Meter’s tune from another teledrive, this time for Katrina.  Jordan rocks a cocktail kit on this, and manages to actually make it sound super hip.

JMT… “Out Of My Mind” – another performance from the early days of JMT, from the Live @ Launch program.  The image is pretty grainy, but the performance of this tune is one of the best I’ve heard.

JMT… “Come When I Call” – a blues tune from the Where The Light Is DVD.  The pocket on this is huge, and Pino’s playing is just unreal.  Snare hit on “1” at 2:28 is oh so perfect.

Finally, there was apparently a JMT television performance that has some affiliation with “Network Live,” as I found a handful of videos from the same show all bearing that logo.  The “Jam” is my fav, but unfortunately the audio/visual timing is a little off on that one…
“I Got A Woman”
“Good Love Is On The Way”
“Gravity”
“Try!”
“Jam”

Video #2 on the home-recording of John Mayer’s forthcoming Battle Studies album. This is fresh off the press… he posted this on Twitter just over an hour ago…

John Mayer just posted a link to this video on his Twitter page. It appears he’s beginning work on another album this week, and it also appears that he’s doing the whole thing at his house. I have to say that I am HUGELY PUMPED that Steve Jordan is again producing and playing drums on the record.  That guy rules so much.

PS.  Another random John Mayer story: Monday he twittered a link to this performance of 4’33, the groundbreaking “Chance Operation” work by John Cage.  Mayer comically suggested that the link was “in observance of 4/20,” but the piece itself is absolutely no joke.  Cage has been hailed as the 20th century’s most influential and important Amercian composer, and is a household name among fans of the avant garde.  A good documentary on his life and work can be viewed here.

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