“Dean shares his drumming journey, being on YouTube, and his approach to mastering.”
LL: Can you give me a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing?
DW: I started on ice cream containers and bamboo sticks. I’d sit in front of the TV and watch the morning music shows and play along. Got a drum kit for xmas which was snare, kick, one cymbal (no hi hat) and began playing real drums at age 8. Six months later got my first gig playing at my school dance, and a family friend gave me a hi hat. I’m left handed, but my friend told me to play right handed so it will be easier in my career if I need to play other kits, which it definitely was.
I played to vinyl records for many years and just tried to copy what I heard, no lessons. I began lessons to read drum music at 15, and also learnt about rudiments, mainly the double stroke and the standard paradiddle. I used ‘Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer’ and ‘Syncopation’ by Ted Reed.
I also had some books by Frank Corniola and several others, mainly concentrated on funk styles, lots of left hand ghosting patterns. I also went to live clinics, watched videos, hung out and watched other drummers all the time. I have always spent most of my practise time playing to music, and use it as a metronome while I go thru stuff i wanna work on, like fill combinations, rudiment applications etc. And even more so lately, I love to get lost on youtube and watch other drummers, its an incredible resource…taught me loads since 2006.
Seeing Buddy Rich on TV as a child blew my mind, I didn’t know it was even possible to play like that, and he’s the reason why I investigated rudiments, particularly the double stroke roll.
Then while still at school, I heard of Vinnie Colaiuta through some Frank Zappa recordings, Steve Gadd, Toto’s drummer Jeff Porcaro (particularly the stuff he did with Bozz Scaggs and Steely Dan). Later it was Dave Weckl, Manu Katche, Virgil Donati (which inspired me to play double kick in the late 80s, but I have since lost interest).
LL: Heel-up / Heel Down?
DW: I’m ‘heel up’ on kick and hats, but sometimes my heel is also down on hats, depending on what style I’m playing, I often go heel down on jazz type stuff, or lighter funky stuff, but I’m not really conscious of it, I just find myself doing it naturally.
LL: Drumming Shoes?
DW: When i was a kid (like 12-16) I would do gigs at weddings and have to wear a suit and good shoes, I tended to slip my shoes off during sets. My dad (who drove me to every gig) said it looked unprofessional, so I got used to leaving them on. Now, I always wear shoes, thin rubber soles are my preferred shoe, but I will play in whatever…it’s very easy to get used to, and you def get more power wearing shoes.
LL: How would you describe your generic kit set-up?
DW: My generic set up is a basic 4 or 5 piece kit, 2 crashes, one ride. less to set up, the better. I’m using a Pearl Session series maple 10, 12, 14, 20, 14” by 7” Evetts blackwood snare.
LL: What’s part of your arsenal at the moment?
DW: I have a good selection of Zildjians, Paistes, and Sabians. My normal set up is Sabian 17” thin Crash, Sabian 16” thin crash, and 20” Rude ride, or 20”Paiste Big Beat as a ride and Zildjian 14” new beat hats. I use Vic Firth 5A wooden tip sticks, I have a Pearl World Series 14” chrome snare, Mapex maple piccolo 13” snare and the Evetts 14” X 7”
LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind of set-up that you like?
DW: Not really, I find it a bit laughable when drummers are so particular about their set-up, I spent so many years playing other peoples kits on stages, and sometimes i barely got a chance to adjust anything, there was no time.
I’m def much happier with my own kit, but I will play whatever, preferably with some time to adjust heights etc to my liking. I’m sure drummers in famous bands get fairly spoiled and have everything within a millimetre of perfection, but no, I’ve never experienced that kinda luxury.
LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?
DW: No, I will take notes to practise if it’s a particularly hard arrangement, but I generally prefer to commit it to memory.
LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?
DW: I’ve never really done it, I like what Buddy Rich says, he reckons his warm up routine was to take his hands out of his pockets, I concur.
LL: In your videos, you seem to be light-handed — as opposed to other drummers who seem to really lay it into the kit and cymbals. Would you describe your playing style as ‘drumming with a light touch’?
DW: I do use a lot of force with my wrist but at a low level, but I also play differently depending on the gig, but I do prefer a lighter touch.
LL: On your CD Baby page, there is a note that you played all the instruments yourself. Can you touch on your journey with the different instruments you play, and routines to ensure you don’t get ‘rusty’ in any of the instruments?
DW: In high school there was no drum teacher, and no drums, so I learnt guitar. I had already been playing drums semi pro for years, so I thought another instrument would good to learn.
Over the years I’ve taught myself bass and keyboards, but I don’t consider myself anything but a drummer, I know enough on those other instruments to write songs and communicate ideas…so it’s come in handy having a basic understanding of every instrument.
LL: How did you build up your bass and keyboard playing? (Were you going for being able to play a particular song?
DW: With bass guitar, I kinda got thrown in the deep end because of a school production. We had 2 drummers for the school production in year 9, I had always played drums so I decided to give bass a go, the student that had taken on the bass had problems learning the songs.
Being a drummer I already had a sense of what the bass guitar does in terms of following the kick drum, and I had already learnt guitar and could read music, so I didn’t find it that difficult. Once I learnt a few songs I began to really enjoy it, so kept practising.
I do not consider myself a great bass player, but I can figure out most songs and copy them by ear. With keyboards, I also never had any lessons, I have an understanding of basic music theory so I can work out where to put my fingers to make basic chords, but only well enough to add simple parts to my original songs.
LL: YouTube has a very interesting approach to copyright — how do you find it? I ask because I came across one of your videos (Custard Pie) and noticed that the audio has been muted. Was it a case of not having the words: “Led Zeppelin cover” in the video title? Because you’re other video (linear 16th triplet) had the ‘guide track’ details in the ‘about’ section of the video, and the audio of that wasn’t blocked.
DW: Yes, that was annoying, and not the first time that has happened. I generally take a chance and hope for the best. If it becomes blocked, that’s okay, I’m not really that bothered, just a small waste of my time.
I have posted covers of loads of songs, but I don’t monetize them, just my original music. I’ve been a youtube partner for a few years.
LL: What monetising options are you going with (with YouTube)? The information page mentions there are three options. Can you comment on your experience with being a YouTube partner?
I applied to be a partner and got accepted a few years ago. I do not know what the deal is, I just monetize the videos that contain just my music or drumming, and youtube places ads on them. They used to send me a cheque from google but now it is deposited directly.
LL: Before putting your original music up on YouTube and CD Baby, what things did you do first?
DW: No, I never really put any research into where to place my songs on the net, like YouTube etc. I realize the chances of people using my songs without permission is quite high, as has happened in the past. Or people write to me and ask for permission.
But as far as making money these days on the net, it is very difficult, even for big stars, so much music is being downloaded for free. This is the reason why bands tour so much now, the income from recording sales is not what it was.
LL: Is there a specific reason you decided to go with CD Baby rather than itunes to carry your music?
DW: Not really, I use iTunes and CD baby, I think CD baby offers a better deal, and it seems to be popular with indie type artists. I have my music on other sites also.
LL: Did you have to jump through a few hoops to get your music on iTunes?
DW: I actually uploaded a track to CD baby (I think) and it automatically appeared on iTunes. I don’t know how that happened, maybe I accidentally ticked a box or sumthing when I was uploading, I have not ever specifically uploaded to iTunes.
LL: What’s the average amount of takes per video?
DW: That varies, sometimes it’s done by the first take after I practise it. But then sometimes it will take 5 or 6. Not usually because of major mistakes, but usually because it just sucked a little. I don’t think I have ever uploaded a perfect video to YouTube, I tend to play better when the camera isn’t rolling…I dont mind recording the audio, but the filming thing puts me off.
I’m not an extroverted person, quite the opposite. The fastest I could do a video, 5 mins for recording (if I got the first take) then mixing it on the movie software takes about 30 mins…so yeh, about 40 mins from start to finish.
LL: With your recording equipment, what are the current specs you use?
DW: I use Pro Tools 7.4 software with a 002 Digidesign rack recording at 24bit/44.1 using about 10 mics on the kit. I have a sony HD camera which I set to highest resolution. I import video and pre-mixed audio into Magix movie software, bounce down to quicktime for upload.
My studio PC is very old, single core PC, 4 Gigs of ram with XP. My video editing is done on my Aspire laptop, windows 7.
LL: Have you previously used another recording/mixing software?
DW: Yes, I had a Fostex 4 track recorder, then I got an Akai DPS12i which was a 12 channel all in one digital recorder. Then I moved into Pro Tools.
LL: What are your ‘go-to’ mixing settings for the kit?
DW: I have a template set up in pro tools. My go to settings are eq on everything, compression on kick and snare (I might use a slow attack and release on bottom snare mic, adds an interesting fatness) I sub the whole kit to an auxiliary channel, more eq and compression.
I don’t eq heavily, and often it’s more destructive than additive, trying to control low mid frequencies and spill without using gates. I believe the kit should sound pretty decent without any eq or effects, otherwise, I look at tuning and mic placement. I also add a little reverb, which I like the Waves Renaissance Reverb.
LL: Can you walk me through your mastering process?
DW: Once again, I believe to master properly you really need to out source. But when I make ‘fake’ masters, I use waves eq, L2 limiter, and Izotope. I mainly use destructive eq, pulling out the low mids, I use the exciter in Izotope and a little of the maximizer, and then I add the L2.
I go for an RMS level of around –10, I feel trying to compete with commercial loudness levels is dangerous, but my mixes aren’t too far off. I still retain dynamics, and most of what I do is usually streamed on the net, so no need to try and push loudness.
LL: Would you say you spend more time editing or mastering a track?
DW: I spend a lot of time mixing and editing my music, a song may take me half a day, but for YouTube, I spend very little usually. Often it’s just a pre-mixed playalong song that I might drum to and ake a video, and my drum template is set up, so there is very little to do. If I’m mastering my music, I will spend days and keep doing listening tests…but for YouTube, I just chuck an L2 Limiter on the master fader, mastering done!
I have done multiple camera videos and spent a lot of time editing, but my movie software isn’t very reliable, freezes up all the time, wont play etc…so I keep everything very simple. I may look at changing the way I do things in the near future because I do enjoy film editing, just don’t have the gear to do it reliably.
LL: Also, I’d like to link to one of your videos. Which one would you say is either your favorite, or the one you’d regularly send if you were asked for a video?
DW: ‘practising linear 16th triplet phrasing‘ — my favs change regularly, but this is the one I have featured on my channel at the moment.
LL: Thanks for your time Dean, to close our Q&A session, are there any particular people who you’d like to reach out to you?
DW: Yeh sure, I have done cover suggestions before, and I have also done collaborations in the past too. I welcome questions or even just chatting about drums in general.
I also have some subscribers who send me videos for advice, and i have also made specific videos explaining fills etc that have remained private, just for the benefit of the one particular subscriber.
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