Nine times out of ten, the producer will prefer bigger drums, and usually old ones. If you don’t know the tunes yet, or even the sound they’re going for, it would usually be a better option to assume that they’ll dig fatter, shorter sounding toms. For this reason, I have a 1960s Ludwig with 13” and 16” toms. They have a naturally shorter tone that can be tuned up or down. On occasion, I’ve used my Yamaha Maple Custom, but the 10/12/14” tom arrangement would usually suit a fusion or RnB record, and you’d probably know that was the style you were going to be playing before the session. Either way, I’ve found the old and thuddy approach works most of the time and it’s the safer option.
BRING EXTRA GEAR
If you don’t know what’s going to be asked of you, bring extra gear, particularly cymbals and snare drums. Have a few sized snare drums that have different roles. I use a Yamaha 14×7” Oak custom to do the low/thud 70s vibe, a 14×6.5” metal drum does this well too. I also use a combination of 14×5” Ludwig Black Beauty, LM400 Aluminium Supraphonic or Acrolite snares for the medium to high tuning range. It’s nice to have the snares basically tuned where you want them so you can swap them in and out quickly. Likewise with cymbals, make sure you have a lighter ride and a heavier ride, brighter crashes or darker ones, crisp hats and trashy ones. This will give you a greater flexibility when the producer inevitably asks for a different sound. Interestingly, I’ve found splashes don’t really get a look in on a bog standard pop record.
This is a biggie. Make sure you have the following items on a session with you. Moongel (stick-on dampening gel pads), Gaffa tape and tea-towels or a couple of bits of old sheet/material. I end up using these items all the time. When the drums are left wide open they’re louder, and for a live gig it’s a good sound, but often the overtones can be a nuisance on a session when it’s usually easier to chuck on some dampening and get a more focused tone. Obviously, the producer will ask for a certain sound. Having the dampening will just make your life easier when they ask. It’ll also make those snare drums behave. Low and thuddy is very hard without some dampening.