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I was back in Two Pillars studio again today (Mon), this time working on a Christmas track for a vocalist named Brian Bates. My friend Nate Sabin was producing the track, and he’s a great guy that up until now I have not had the pleasure of working with. Aaron Fabrinni was also there on bass, and Ben Gowell on guitar.

Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy being in the studio? Love it.

The most fascinating aspect of studio work for me (right now at least) is the HUGE difference that one little change will make. Like… a fill for instance. The placement of one note, just a little behind the beat, makes all the difference. Suddenly the whole fill is cooler – just because one note is played slightly different. Being in the studio always makes me pay way more attention to my live playing, so as to capture those nuances and make that big difference in my live performances too.


My friend Matt Patrick has a very cool studio in South Minneapolis called Two Pillars, and I’m there today doing a session for the new Elizabeth Hunnicutt record. Tyler Burkum on guitar and Aaron Fabrinni on bass are also playing, which is cool because most of the sessions I do are drums only (recording by myself along with scratch tracks). There’s obviously more fertile ground for creativity when musicians are playing live along with each other. I think the stuff we’ve come up with so far is pretty cool.

For those of you paying attention, that snare in the pic is the same WFL snare from the Pachyderm pics a few months ago. Man, these days I am really liking that thing. In other gear geekness, I’ve been using this 20″ K Custom Dry Light ride as a crash. It has a really fat but short sound, and the compressed room mics make it sound very cool.

I spent the afternoon tracking some tunes for my friend Joel Hanson at his studio in Rogers, MN. The very boss Aaron Ankrum was engineering. Joel and Aaron have a producing partnership called Underdub Productions.

I love being in the studio. It is literally my favorite thing to do. I love the pressure, the creative environment, the attention to detail… and I am always amazed at the way those things feed into each other to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Anyway, the real subject of this post is the fact that Joel’s studio is located in the basement of his home in suburbia. “Home studios” are 100 times more common all of a sudden, thanks to the recent technological advancements in digital music and software-based recording. The entire recording industry has been turned on it’s head since 1999, when the first home-friendly version of Pro Tools was released. Because of this, we now find multi-million dollar studios (like Pachyderm or The Terrarium) scraping for business while home systems (sometimes pieced together for as low as $15,000) are busy making records that sound arguably as good as the majors. It’s crazy.

So I was thinking about that today as I tracked tunes in Joel’s basement while watching our kids through the sliding-glass door as they played in a blow-up pool in the backyard. What will happen in the next ten years? I honestly can’t even imagine.

After my recent post about doctoring your snare sound in the studio, I feel obligated to mention something about the more important factor in studio snare sound: deciding WHEN to use a doctored sound. Like I said before, the snare tone is a crucial element in the overall feel and vibe of a track, so you don’t want to use a strange muffling technique just for the fun of it. The snare sound you choose needs to fit the song.

The main issue is context. In fact, this is true for music generally, not just studio snare tone. Context is king. A fill is not “cool” on it’s own… it is only cool when it fits well in the moment that you play it. Consequently, a fill that you hear on a record might be really cool in the song where you heard it, and not so cool in your own band’s song (especially if your song is a significantly different musical environment). The same is true of snare tone – the “coolness” of a snare sound is directly related to the context of the track you are playing.

So, how does a drummer develop a knack for picking the right snare tone for the studio? In my opinion, musical skills like this are always gained through listening. How often do you make a mental note on the kind of snare tone your favorite drummer is using on a given track? More importantly, how often do you pay attention to the characteristics of the rest of the song and how they might have impacted the decision to use a given snare tone? This kind of awareness in your listening will jump-start your ear for snare sound and context in a big way.

A good record to listen to along these lines would be John Mayer’s “Continuum.” Steve Jordan produced the album and played drums on the whole thing. The first 5 tracks all have noticeably different snare sounds, and they fit so well with the songs.

I’m in the studio right now… doing some of the final touch-ups on the forthcoming Look Alive album.

Look Alive is a band I’ve been in for 7 years. We started in college, at Bethel University. We released our debut album not long after the band formed in 2003, and we started work on our sophomore release shortly after that. We’re still working on that project. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the process of making a record… 4 years is a REALLY long time. Life happened to all of us, and the band had to take a back seat. (Update: You can find a free download of Look Alive’s completed 2nd and final album¬†The Already Not Yet¬†here).

So anyway, I’m sitting here listening to my buddy Tim do some guitar overdubs. It’s really interesting to hear the drum tracks on these tunes, which I recorded in January of ’05. I am a very different player now. I have different instincts, different opinions, different preferences. Most of my drum tracks actually annoy me. I feel like I’ve learned so much about WHY to play the notes that you play, not to mention all the nuances of playing to microphones under the microscope of a studio setting. I hope that my playing is smarter now than it was 4 years ago… BUT… I think I have less chops. Some of the things I played back then are things that I can’t do anymore, or at least I’d have to practice a little in order to not be sloppy.

So now I might be weaker physically than I was back then, but I’m confident that I’m stronger mentally. I think I’ve come out ahead overall, then – because I believe that music is primarily a mental game and not a physical one. Those who put too much emphasis on the physical side end up treating music like athletics, and not art. But there’s a balance on the mental side as well… between data (left brain) and emotion (right brain). Too much emphasis on the data and music becomes mathematics, not art.

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