“Brinley talks about his journey as a drummer, how he got into the habit of wearing socks during rehearsals, and why he chooses to ‘over-mix’ the snare when recording.”
LL: Thanks for agreeing to share a bit about yourself Brinley. When you joined YouTube, did you do so intending to create content?
BH: No problem! Yeah, when I first made my account it was to upload my first video, which was The Final Countdown, which now, inexplicably, has over 130,000 views!
LL: Can you give me a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing?
BH: I started playing drums when I was 11 in school. I had lessons until I was 13 learning the Trinity Guildhall Syllabus of grades, I learned a lot of the rudiments during these lessons. I got to grade 6 by the time I stopped. That’s where I learned the basics. I’ve never really had any books that I’ve learned from. I listen to a lot of music though so I developed from my style from my favourite drummers.
When I first started playing drums I was really into Jimi Hendrix and Zeppelin so I tried really hard to emulate Mitch Mitchell and Bonham, those guys are still my ultimate heroes. When I started doing covers I was massively into The Who and Muse so that was where most of my videos were based from. Towards the end of school I did my grade 8 exam and that was a nice bit of discipline which really helped to calm down my playing.
Now I’ve been playing in an originals folk act for a while my playing has calmed down even more and I’m pretty happy about it. I’m happy with the level of my playing at the moment. If I had to name one drummer that got me to where I am, I would say it would be between John Bonham, Jeff Pocaro and Mitch Mitchell.
LL: You mentioned you did two years of lessons from the ‘Trinity Guildhall Syllabus of grades’. Being where you are now with your playing, would you still want to go through that route?
BH: Yes! I believe that you have to have at least 6 months of lessons when you first start playing. Things like learning to grip your sticks properly, basic rudiments and limb independence are probably the most important. If you don’t learn this early you’ll end up with a lot of bad habits that will be harder to get rid of later.
LL: Can you give some examples?
BH: Stick grip is the main one. You see some people who have been playing for a long time still holding their index finger on the top of the stick and pushing down – who thought that was a good idea?! Lessons do help with a lot. I learnt to tune my kit and how to set things up so they are easy to play, and so I don’t break anything. You see a lot of drummers with their cymbals horizontal and 3 feet above them – that’s how you crack a cymbal!
LL: How do you think doing the grade 8 exam calmed down your playing?
BH: Before I did the grade 8 qualification, I had been teaching myself playing along to tracks for 5 years with no one telling me I was doing anything wrong (apart from the occasional hurtful comment on YouTube, which were mostly about my appearance rather than my playing).
When I started getting lessons for the grade 8 stuff, it was nice to have someone to say “no”. My teacher would stop me if I’d get distracted and make me play it again right. I think that helped me think a lot more about what I was playing.
Now when I play with my main band, I’ve actually got fills which I’ve written and use every time. Constant improvisation is only workable until it goes wrong somewhere important!
LL: Heel-up / Heel Down?
BH: I play heel up with both feet when I’m playing most music. If the setting is particularly quiet I will play heel down. It does depend on style. It often varies on the drum I’m playing too. If the kick is small and has a long sustain, I will avoid keeping the beater against the head after the strike has been made – this is easier to achieve with your heel down.
LL: Feet location on pedals: Would you have your feet closer to the edge of the foot-board (away from you) or not? Or maybe you’d go middle ground?
BH: I’m pretty sure I’m a middle ground player. You can see from that Wattershed cover where my foot lies. The faster the linear speed of the playing, the further back your foot comes is the rule, which is why some players use longboards (Gavin Harrison and Chris Adler both talk about this in interviews).
LL: In one of your videos it seems like you are playing with only socks for your feet. Has that always been a preference?
BH: My parents have always insisted on me taking my shoes off when I walk through the door. This meant I always was shoeless when I was rehearsing and it’s a habit that’s stuck. I play gigs with my shoes on, so it’s not an essential for me, just something I’ve got used to at home.
LL: With footwear (shoes during gigs, and none at home), do you think that influenced your choice of pedals?
BH: Not at all! I have a set if Iron Cobra doubles here which I use with just socks and you barely notice the texture on the pedals. I have a Sonor JoJo Mayer single pedal as well, which is completely smooth brushed aluminium. I find this pedal is easier to use with shoes as it can be a bit slippery with socks.
My choice of footwear is based on whether I can drum in them however. I always choose snug sneakers with grippy soles. I used to wear Addidas Low Riders but then the discontinued them – I was heartbroken. Now I wear Onitsuka Tiger’s and I love them!
LL: Are you learning something specific at the moment to augment your drumming?
BH: At this very moment in time, I don’t have a lot of time to practise my own drumming. We (Tom James) are rehearsing, writing and recording getting ready for a summer of shows and festivals every day. If I’m behind the kit (which I am at least 2 hours a day) it’s with a band!
Having just finished university (I couldn’t have a kit there) I’m hoping to get some more lessons on general technique as I feel I’ve become rather lazy with my playing recently. I also aim to work heavily on my music theory, which I am appalling at, and my bassist/guitarist/keyboardist/good friend Ed and I are planning on working through the electric guitar grades together too.
LL: Did you have to go out of your way to find musicians to collaborate with?
BH: I’m lucky enough to have been good friends and band mates with Tom since we
were 12. When he decided he would like to have a drum kit in his set up I was the first person he came to, which is nice. Another very good friend of mine, Ed Sirl,
also happens to be a great musician. He plays with Tom too, and me and Ed have played together for a very long time. His YouTube username is ThymeFlies42. On
that channel you can see a few full band covers me and him have done of our favourite bands.
Aside from my close friends, I have found it very difficult to find other musicians I connect with. At University I had a shortlived band which I really liked. See “Start Again” on my SoundCloud (www.soundcloud.com/longstandingdead). Unfortunately, time constraints meant none of us could commit to rehearsal so the band never got off the ground.
LL: In what way do you think working on music theory could make you a better musician?
BH: It will give me a better understanding of the way music works. It’s healthy to understand everything you are doing on a musical level, rather than just recognising things by ear, like I do.I’d like to get to a point that I can sit in with other musicians (whether in the studio or live).
Most of the time you’re given sheet music and would need to learn how to ‘sight read’ — and for me, I still need a lot of practice before I can say I can.
LL: How would you describe your generic kit set-up?
BH: The kit that I would ideally play all the time is a one up, two down set up. My set up is often very much like Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. He’s another big influence on me I didn’t mention before! Two Crashes, a china/ozone and a splash is fairly essential.
LL: With drum tuning, do you get pretty fussy?
BH: I tune by ear. I am fussy though. I like my drums to sing. I like a 3 or 4 second pure note decay so it takes a while to get to that tuning. For me, it’s a trial and error process as even though I’ve been doing it for 10 years now, I’ve had so many kits that I can’t remember what works for each kit!
Some live engineers hate ringy drums too, so sometime I have to tune a couple of lugs down to get a bit of pitch bed, which these guys tend to love!
LL: Did you only keep one kit at a time? (Can you talk about the kits you’ve owned in the past? The reason you bought each one, and when you decided that it is time to let go and find a new one?)
BH: Up until 2012 I only kept 1 kit at a time. I had my first starter kit – an Arbiter CB kit. Then I had a Gretsch Blackhawk, which I bought from my local music shop on recommendation of the owner. It was a great kit for the money and I loved it until I decided to make a big upgrade. I chose a Mapex Saturn because the reviews were so good. It was a lot of money for me at the time and it took 3 months to arrive. I loved that kit, it looked and sounded brilliant and went perfectly with my Blue Bell Ride. The kick was 24×20 however which was too big when I started playing with Tom. So I bought a Mapex Orion, which was great, and sold the Saturn. This only had two toms though, so I decided I should have two kits; a rockier kit and a Tom kit.
The Orion was my Tom kit and I bought a Highwood Custom Lite with 4 toms as my rockier kit. I had those to kits together for a year and I loved how different the kits were for different stuff. But I then fell in love with my Ultraviolet Sparkle Tama Starclassic so had to sell the Orions. Then I fell in love with my Birch Customs and had to sell the Highwoods. Now I have two kits which I love, and they are both great for different things. The Yamaha has a lovey 20×16 kick which is great for folky stuff and the Tama has a 22×18 which is great for rock covers which I do a lot.
I’ve also owned a lot of snares. I have 4 at the moment and I couldn’t get rid of any because they all sound great for different stuff. My Tama Warlord Masai is my favourite though!
LL: What are your ‘go-to’ mixing settings for the kit?
BH: Now I have Pro Tools, I generally just use the EQ and reverb presets which come with the package. On the kick, I scoop out a lot of the low end and add a lot of upper mid frequencies for the click. On Snare, I cut the low end and add a tiny bit of upper mid.
On the toms it’s a similar setting to the kick. Overheads get a complete high pass treatment and lower mid cut, and a slight boost in the top end. I add some snare plate when I’m recording full tracks. I instinctively over mix the snare in terms of volume. That’s something I’ve grown up with. If you listen to Toto tracks, the hats and snare are terrifically over-mixed. It sounds right to me!
LL: With your ‘go-to’ mixing settings for the kit. Were those a result of trial and error?
BH: They were trial and error. When I got my first mixer (and started using more than one mic) I didn’t know a lot about kit EQ settings so I googled “Drum Kit EQ Settings”. One website had a great table of different sized drums and which frequencies to boost and that really help me work it all out.
With Pro Tools you get a lot of EQ options post recording, so now I record everything pretty much dry and then sort out the EQ after when I can listen to it properly and sort out what sounds good. A real recording engineer would never do that, but in order to get a decent pre-record EQ you need a separate recording control room and someone to hit the drums for you!
LL: What did you use before Pro-Tools?
BH: When I was first doing covers, I used some free software called Audacity, which was great considering it was free. Then in about 2007/8 I bought Adobe Audition, which I loved, but then it was discontinued and Adobe switched off the servers which allowed me to switch the licence between my laptop and PC. At this point I decided it was time to update so I bought Pro Tools 11 on the day it came out in a student deal and I haven’t looked back, the quality increase was dramatic!
LL: Do you have advice to those still preferring to use Audacity?
BH: I haven’t used it since 2007 so I can’t remember a thing about it! I would say don’t use G-Verb!! You’ll be surprised with the increase in quality when you move to a bit of software like Pro Tools/Cubase/Ableton/Sonar.
LL: Adding snare plate? Do you do that digitally? Or just listen to the track and decide which parts you needed added, then just make a separate snare plate track?
BH: On every track I’ve recorded recently I’ve used a bronze snare 14×5.5 snare tuned low so it sounds like someone is getting punched. This snare sounds a whole lot more epic with a nice plate on it so I’ve just put the reverb Plug-in on for the entire snare mic track. I never used to put any snare plate on – as I said before I always over mix the snare so I always felt the plate stuck out too much. Now my mixing is improving I’m more confident with putting the snare right in the mix so the plate fits a lot better.
LL: When recording (no matter the software), how do you deal with latency issues?
BH: I’ve never had bad latency issues. When I first get a new bit of software or hardware I just work on the settings until the latency isn’t an issue anymore. I have the advantage of having very quick computers so there is virtually no lag when I’m recording. Firewire desks like the one I have the moment have no latency at all as the data transfer is so fast.
LL: Do you do much video editing?
BH: The videos which have been posted on Thymeflies42 (http://www.youtube.com/user/ThymeFlies42/videos) have all been heavily edited and there’s multiple camera angles. Ed has been in charge of the video on those and I’ve done the audio so I haven’t been involved with that. In terms of my own videos, my expertise extends as far as getting the video and audio to sync up, and sometimes I can’t even do that!
LL: Have you been using the same video editor since posting your first YouTube video?
BH: I have. I’ve used the windows XP version of Movie Maker since the start. It’s very easy to use and has so few functions I can’t get confused. I would like to make my videos more visually stimulating but I only own one camera so there’s not much point really!
LL: It was interesting to read in your message when you said: “I didn’t know anyone was still a fan on YouTube” — Do you mean that all YouTube users have generated their own content and that would mean they are no longer ‘fans’?
BH: I meant that I haven’t uploaded many videos on YouTube in quite a long time, so I wasn’t aware that people were still following me enough to want a Q&A session! It’s flattering!
LL: Are there artists that you absolutely dig, and are surprised that others haven’t heard of?
BH: YES! I am intensely into Arcane Roots, Vulfpeck, Theo Katzman, Natalie Duncan, Brother & Bones the olllam. Those are small bands though so I’m not surprised not many have heard of them. I’m in to Alter Bridge, and they’re not as popular as I thought they’d be.
LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new music?
BH: I try my best to buy a new album a week. When the BBC series Later with Jools Holland is on I pick my favourite artist and buy their album. I discovered Natalie Duncan, Drive By Truckers and Ellie Goulding (before she was huge) though that show.
I read Rhythm Magazine too, which has album reviews. If something catches my eye in there I’ll try that too. I discovered Killer Be Killed and Messenger through Rhythm, and I’m big fans of them too. Otherwise I get recommendations from friends.
LL: Do you have a go-to site for new music?
BH: I download my music through iTunes for the convenience and I know that the money is going to the artists. I’d say YouTube is good for it. Because I watch so much music on YouTube I often get some suggested videos which lead me on to a new favourite band! That’s how I discovered Vulfpeck (great band) and UZEB (80’s legends). I have a lot of musicians on Facebook too, so a lot of good music is shared on there.
LL: Where do you go for inspiration? What do you do when you need to come up with a musical idea?
BH: I used to go out and sit on a bench on the coast when I loved in town, but I now live 2 minutes from the bench and I have the same view from my house (I am very lucky) so I don’t need to leave my drum room!
I’m not a great writer. I am good at matching my parts with other peoples, which is why I love playing in bands.
LL: What are your favorite sites at the moment?
BH: I’m in the middle of exams in my final year of Uni at the moment so I haven’t had time to spend discovering new sites. I spend a lot of time on Facebook. The only site I can think of is Tickd.com, which is a meme site. I’m into it big style.
LL: What’s your view about social media?
BH: I love it. I’m on most sites and I use them every day. Facebook is good for communicating with my friends and making plans, and there are loads of groups for buying and selling music gear. I have bought a lot of gear through Facebook. I’ve never been nervous about using social media, as long as you know your privacy settings, I haven’t found there’s anything to worry about.
LL: Are you interested in technology?
BH: I’m only semi interested! I’m not a big software guy. Music technology interests me greatly and I try to keep up to date with new innovations in that field. I’ve never been a computer guy past knowing about general information – I’ve never changed my RAM for example!
LL: Are there websites that you like to visit just because you like the design?
BH: Not really, I’m not as big a web surfer as I may look! My bands website is nice and clean – tomjamesmusic.co.uk
LL: Website that you would go to when you need cheering up?
BH: Tickld it has to be for this one too!
LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?
BH: As I said earlier, I’ve recently just been doing full band covers with my friend Ed. I think these have a bit more value than just straight forward drum covers because you’re doing so much more. Having said that, I just uploaded a new drum cover! It’s of a Bruno Mars track where there were no drums originally, and I played bass, so I feel there is more value here as well.
LL: If you were asked to pick from the videos you have, which one would be your favourite?
BH: My cover of Anastacia – Left Outside Alone. I think it’s the tightest video I have up!
LL: For someone watching a video of yours for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?
BH: Since last year I’ve been hoping that people seeing my videos for the first time think “Wow, he’s really tight”. I also always hope my playing comes across as musical. I try to listen to parts and play something that fits rather than play all over it. I also like to think people will be impressed by the audio quality on some of my videos.
If anyone was inspired to take up drums or start producing their own content because of one of my videos, I would be very proud.
Brinley Hall is a drummer based in Cornwall. You can find his videos here and can reach him through the form below. He currently performs with Tom James and also collaborates with his long-time mate Ed as a duo (Ed and Brin). Brin welcomes jam invitations, recording inquiries (remote session work), and gear recommendations (or questions!).
Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (May-July 2014) between Brin and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.
Leigh Lim is a musician based at Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so via this form or a direct message through YouTube. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her tweets and personal entries.)
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