The other gig stuff drummers need to handle

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The other gig stuff drummers need to handle

Words by Adrian Violi

I am fortunate enough to perform in different contexts week to week as a drummer and performer

Sometimes, I’m filling in with a band and my role is to play drums but other times, I’m in charge and running sound too. This could be at a wedding or even doing sound design/MD for a theatre show.

Regardless of the context, my role changes and the knowledge associated with the different roles changes too – all in the name of making music.

Given it’s the band production special this month, I thought I would touch on a few things that help me on the gig when it comes to the ‘other stuff’ that isn’t actually playing the drums. 

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Drummer/side man

This is my standard role – playing drums. However, there are things I’m constantly thinking about and some gear that I can’t live without or wouldn’t want to forget. Firstly, there’s the ease of transport/loading. My drums are in soft cases and pack down small. Why? So, I fit the whole lot on a trolley in one go. I work hard at being lazy. If I’m going to have to walk some way from my car/car park/loading dock, going back for two trips isn’t ideal – Crown Casino anyone? I use a four-piece kit as standard. I have a trunk trolley – I put my small hardware bag on the bottom, my carpet/rug (folded to a square) on top to even the surface out and stack my bass drum, cymbals, floor tom, snare (often in front of the floor tom), and rack tom. I use ratchet style tie downs to hold the whole thing and off I go. It seems like more effort, but I can’t tell you how much this has saved me in the past. 

Other things that are non-negotiable for me on the gig are spare felts, washers, sizzles for cymbals, and a hi-hat clutch. I keep these in my cymbal bag. If the gig has a backline kit and you get there to find no felts on cymbal stands and no clutch, you’re completely stuffed. So, I just keep these in my bag as a matter of precaution. I also keep dampening on hand – moon gel, gaffa, and my favourite, leather snare weights. I just want the ability to remove the ring from the drums if I or a sound engineer needs it. I also just have a zero ring and a big fat snare drum donut. These live in my snare bag and come to every gig. Big ballad? Big fat snare in no time. These things are also very useful in a recording session too.

Finally – I bring my own microphones. Sometimes, mics are provided for me but most of the time I need to have some. At a minimum, I have a kick drum mic – I use an Audix D6. I will use this mic on every gig no matter what unless it’s a jazz gig at Paris Cat or something. If there’s a channel on the mixing desk, I’ll get my kick mic out. I also tend to do a lot of backing vocals (BV’s) at weddings and a benefit of this is that the drums tend to bleed into my vocal mic and out the front of house. If it’s a bigger room, I will sometimes set up an overhead mic. I don’t get fancy here though. I’m conscious of looking like an idiot setting up condenser mics that might feed back or pick up everything else in the band, so I will often just whack up an SM57 above the kit above the snare if I feel I need it and it’s effective. Another trick is to come under the ride cymbal, over the kick pointing at the snare. This captures more drums and less cymbals. 

Drummer/sound guy

One of the bands I am in is my own. It’s a function band and we do weddings/corporate events up to a full seven-piece with horns. For the majority of gigs, I am running sound from a mixer next to my kit and the whole band plug into this and I get to be in charge. In this situation, it’s as per scenario one, but there are a few things I try to remember and always do when I’m on sound for a gig. 

The PA is a standard vocal PA with two RCF HD-12 powered speakers and a single 15” or sometimes two smaller 12” subs. The lead vocalist has a fold back/monitor. Plugging in and setting up the stage is fairly standard, but I do try to use smaller leads to go from the subs to the tops and longer ones to go from the mixer to the subs – just to not have too many excess leads coiled everywhere. Another tip is to try to run cables in one direction and not as the crow flies. We run four vocal mics, a 57 on the guitar, DI for the bass, DI for keyboards, and then two mics for horns if they are on the gig. Gain staging is an important thing, so I know I’ve got headroom when the gig gets louder.

I’ll check levels coming into the desk and ensure they’re not peaking before I turn anything up. I also use high-pass filters on all vocals and the guitar to avoid unwanted low end. I tend to leave instruments as flat on the EQ as I can within reason but sometimes, I’ll make some adjustments. I try to cut rather than boost if I can help it. But a little extra low end in the kick is always nice. I tend to run some reverb on vocals. I’ll also ensure the singer has adequate volume in the monitor and try to set the speaker up in a way that I can minimise the band footprint but also ensure nothing feeds when I turn it up. My mic set up on drums tends to remain the same as before. Keeping things simple ensures there’s less to go wrong. Besides, if I need to fully mic the drum kit, often the room would probably have the need for professional production anyway. 

There’s a multitude of resources out there to help you learn about doing sound but not everyone will need to do it. However, I wished I knew about some of the things mentioned when I was coming up the ranks – having kick drum mic and a lead, bringing a hi hat clutch, what gain staging is etc. I’ve learned the hard way at times but now, I know I can handle all the other things on the gig so I can then focus on what I need to do – play drums. 

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