Q&A #25: Justin Schroder

Justin shares his journey as a guitarist, a reason why unprepared drummers make him crazy, and his affection for his family.

 

 

Leigh Lim: Hi Justin, thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A! How would you describe your target audience?

Justin Schroder: I like this idea and you have chosen a great name for your blog. It’s important that we have real discussion regarding how players become good musicians.

I would say my audience is elusive. I have no idea who they are, what they want, nor what use I am to them. That reads poorly, but I just don’t know anything about my audience because there is so little commentary or conversation.

 

 

LL: Can you give me a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing?

JS: How did I get to where I am as a player? Well, twenty years’ effort, frankly. If I may digress for a moment, there is a saying in the auto racing community, “There’s no replacement for displacement”. ‘Displacement’ is the size of an engine and all engines can be made to create more power than its original output, but bigger engines always have more potential for power. I use this example because no matter how many shortcuts, lessons, tips, tricks, etc. a person uses, one can only be as good as their CUMULATIVE PRACTICE TIME allows.

 

So, on to the specifics: I started playing songs. I didn’t learn exercises, scales, chords, etc; I learned songs. I still love learning songs. I also create songs. Sometimes I create songs from a musical concept, (e.g. scale, mode, chord type, etc.), other times I create songs by manipulating bits of other songs that I like to play/hear. I teach people a finger exercise to gain finger independence because I struggled with that as a beginner and it puts everyone a few steps ahead of me as I was at the beginner level. Same idea when I teach chords, chord groups, and barre chords; it’s just a way to bring people to a playing level in fewer years than I took to reach the same skill levels. Students that play for hours/day like I did are ALWAYS better than I within the same number of weeks, months, and years in my early days of playing. ALWAYS, but time spent playing is #1.

 

 

 

LL: You mentioned you create songs from a musical concept (e.g. scale, mode, chord type, etc.). Can you give two examples?

 

JS: Here is the link to the video of me discussing and playing Parking Lot Birds and Cream Soda:

 

Parking Lot Birds is a song for the little birds one sees in parking lots hopping about and picking at little bits of things on the ground. PLB started with the melody and I took a year or so to decide which chords I liked best. I essentially stole the A section chords from Benny Golson’s Killer Joe and from the Bridge of various I’ve Got Rhythm tunes, I developed the B section of PLB.

 

Cream Soda is a tune that started with chords from which I created a melody. I found myself drinking a lot of IBC Cream Soda at the time, and figured it would be a great title for a Smooth Jazz sort of a tune. I like most of my tunes which start with chords a little more than those which start with a melody, but I think Parking Lot Birds is my strongest Melody First tunes.

 

LL: What would your advice be to someone who has only a limited amount of time (Maybe 1-2 hours a day) to plan their learning and practice?

 

JS: If someone has limited time (Don’t we all?), I would suggest spending 90% of it playing. Too many people, myself included, spend too much time thinking or looking for efficiency or short-cuts; the truth comes with playing.

 

 

 

LL: How about getting the next generation to practice? Isn’t it all about starting as early as possible? (NPR has an article)

JS: Getting the next generation to practice is just like the old generations; if they want to play, they will. I still  get new students who outpace students who have been with me for a while just they spend more hours with their instrument.

My favorite concept: Be aware of the difference between a guitar OWNER and a guitar PLAYER.

 

People start playing music or anything else when they start. Age is only relevant because as we age, we often become more aware of our preferences and have developed better work habits. I find adults will advance with less effort because children waste more time and effort avoiding work than would be spent DOING the work in the first place.

 

I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 18 and I was teaching by age 23. I played many hours each day because I wanted to play. If my fingers hurt from playing, I moved to listening. I kept music playing while I slept. The funny part about that is when I suggest to students with the worst sense of time to sleep with the metronome on; the idea is for their brains to develop a sense of tempo.

This is a great article. The end of it is the real meat-and-potatoes of practice; getting good results regarding improved skill, higher self-worth, and organizational skill development.

 

LL: Sounded like you wanted to share a funny reaction to students with the worst sense of timing to sleep with the metronome on.

 

JS: No, that’s all there was the example of sleeping with the metronome clicking. I’m sure there are some funny stories, but I don’t think parents have told me about them.

One thing I’ve done in sessions with students who either A. Refuse to honor the time being clicked by the metronome, or B. Are so preoccupied with what their fingers are doing that they can’t ‘hear’ the metronome, is that I will plug the metronome into an amplifier and make it so loud they have no choice but to play ‘with’ it. To be clear, this is not so much an abuse tactic as it is a method in making the metronome as loud as a drummer.

People ALWAYS play in time with a drummer. This is what makes me crazy when a drummer is less than prepared for whatever we are playing; I can’t pull them back into place

 

 

LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never played before, so they could have the capacity to play at your level and skill. What would it look like?

JS: Start with thinking about where you want to be as a player by considering your favorite artists. There is usually something that someone else has done which inspires us to start playing.

Then discover where you are failing to have that ability and practice that until you are great. Remember there is no substitute for time on your instrument playing music. Just don’t forget that if you can’t play the music you want, you have some work to do and it should be in the form of an exercise using the actual music. If there is a two-measure section of a solo or rhythm part that you can’t play, then you should be playing it 5,000 times in a row as if it is an exercise, because it is and you will reach your goal directly.

 

 

 

LL: What would you advise a songwriter (who has never played guitar before) wanting to accumulate enough knowledge and skill to be able to translate musical ideas using the guitar?

JS: Learn piano. Seriously. Guitar is by and for crazy people. Piano is logically laid for the eyes and hands. If someone wants to be a songwriter, the keyboard is more intuitive so one will achieve better results in less time by using it.

 

 

LL: Is that why guitarists usually find it difficult to transition to piano? (and pianists usually have no problem…and if they do…they can easily figure out a work around?)

JS: Well, I don’t play piano, but I’ve tried a couple things on piano and I can certainly confirm that my problem with piano is trying to play one rhythm with the left hand and another with the right.

For guitarists, we need to have good timing with our left (or whichever hand is fretting), but it doesn’t exactly play rhythm. In a nutshell, the fretting hand arranges itself for the sound and the picking/plucking hand initiates the rhythmic quality of the music being played.

Eddie Van Halen is a primary exception because he played proper piano as a child before learning guitar.

 

 

LL: In one of your videos (Creative Soloing), you do a whole lesson (about an hour) — can you give a rundown of what you covered? And was it easy to get your students to agree to be videoed?

JS: The basic outline of the program is that we learn the five scale shapes, the five pentatonic shapes, the seven 7th harmony arpeggios in each of the five positions (many of which repeat), and we don’t move from the first of any shape until everyone in the class is competent to a certain level. Basically, it’s a 32-week course with so much playing that everyone’s skill jumps by leaps and bounds.

 

It’s really intense and it isn’t easy finding students who can dedicate the time to take it, but those who do grow tremendously as players/musicians and are very thankful to themselves for being dedicated to the process.

 

 

LL: What’s part of your guitar arsenal at the moment?

JS: Ah, the goods, the tools of the trade. Well, I have a Breedlove AC200/SM that I love to hate. We fight all the time. I have been playing it almost exclusively for the last several months almost with a battle mentality. I have recently started using 11 gauge strings, D’Addario EJ26. I had been using the originally intended set which were D’Addario EJ16, but I just couldn’t get what I wanted from them. It just sounded like there was a blanket over the instrument. I have played other guitars with 12s and they feel the same, so that eliminated ‘specific instrument’ from the equation.

(I have since returned to the D’Addario EJ16 strings and also using either Fender Medium or Jim Dunlop Big Stubby 1.0 picks for a brighter tone. This seems to be the best arrangement. At least until I change my mind again. Musicians: We’re a nutty lot.)

Funny enough, I will be using D’Addario EPN115 strings soon on my electrics. I have been using Ernie Ball Power Slinkys and D’Addario EXL115 for a while and just purchased a batch of the pure nickel strings to try. I think I will like them for their more mellow tone. I use a Bugera V22 that has a bright tone and I think a mellow set of strings will take some of the harshness away without making the sound dull. Just a hunch.

(Another update since first being asked, I sold the Bugera V22 because I wanted a smaller, lighter amp for greater portability. I now use a Fender Blues Junior with an Eminence Cannabis Rex replacement speaker. Yes, it’s made of Hemp, and yes, it sounds fantastic and is a solid 10+ pounds lighter. The D’Addario EPN115, Pure Nickel strings, are also here to stay. For now-ish.)

I also have a HiWatt Bulldog 10 from the 1990s. Great mellow clean tone from that and a nice RAWK sound on the distortion setting. Unfortunately, ten watts is not enough for any gig and the distortion setting is not foot-switchable. It’s very nice to carry though.

In the last couple years I have crossed the river regarding the use of pedals. I have been using a Electro-Harmonix LBP-1 in my effects loop to boost my solos when playing tunes that require some crunch for the rhythm sections. Using a booster in the effects loop allows me to make the tone remain exactly the same except louder. Plus, using a booster in the effects loop gives it a very wide range; it takes very little boost after the preamp section to make the volume increase a great deal. Putting a booster in the front end of an amp acts like a gain booster more than a volume booster.

I also have a DigiTechJamManlooper. Great for practicing, solo gigs, testing drummers’ listening skills, etc. I also use a HardWire SC-2 Valve Distortion pedal. I tried a Boss Super Overdrive and really liked its tone, but it isn’t touch sensitive like the HardWire series.

(Additional updates regarding effects: I have also acquired the Digitech Trio Plus which is a fantastic evolution of the looper to include the creation of bass and drum parts which are ‘Trainable’, and also a Tech21 Hot Rod Plexi pedal which emulates a Marshall Plexi sound and is a noticeably different sound than the Hardwire SC-2 Valve Distortion. I use each for different needs because both sound great, just different. The best function of the Tech21 HRP is that it has two stages of gain which gives me the opportunity to have a dirty rhythm sound and a slight boost in saturation for solos. The Hardwire SC-2 has similar functions, but the switch isn’t foot-operable. If only…)

My first guitar was a Peavey Predator from the early 90s. One of the ‘Crafted in USA’ models. I still have it and it sounds fantastic, but it needs a refret because, well, I played it a lot and now the frets are too low.

My favorite guitar is a Korean-Made Epiphone Dot from the late 90s. I sent it to Dan Erlewine for a refret, installation of Gibson ’57 Classics, TonePros bridge and placement modification, and a retrofit Buzz Feiten nut and tuning compensation. Plays and sounds like a dream to me. I have owned many Korean-Made Dots and this one is my favorite. Plus, it is a rare Tobacco Burst which had a small run for Dots and was mostly used on Sheratons.

My most recent acquisition, which was last year (2013) I think, is an Epiphone Les Paul Plus Top, or some such. The color is Trans Amber, which my wife says looks like baby poop, but I like it. The electronics are dull like most stock Epiphones, but I’m sure it will come to life when I upgrade the pickups. I’m also considering upgrading the pots and wiring with a rewiring pack from Stewart-MacDonald. I’m hoping to get it to function like my Dot which is wired so the volume and tone pots are independent.

I think that is all I have for guitars and amps. Picks are another story. I had used Fender 351 Medium Celluloid picks for a very long time. Then, I had a trio that played uptempo Blues and Jazz tunes with a set of Surf music like Dick Dale, The Ventures, and so forth. For some of the faster tunes, I noticed I was having trouble at higher tempi, then through some experiments I discovered that the pick was not returning to its ‘playable’ position soon enough to actually strike the string as my hand passed it. So, I tried heavier picks made of different materials. What I am using now are: Big Stubby 1.0 picks for acoustic playing and Fender 351 Heavy Celluloid for electric playing. The lexan of the Big Stubbys has a brighter tone and the Celluloid has a mellower tone (remember, the Bugera is bright).

Oh, and the same fingers as always. Much of our tone comes from the fingers, but everything else affects it too.

 

 

LL: How did you end up saying yes to a Breedlove guitar?

 

JS: It was the right shape, sound, and price for what I needed in an acoustic instrument. The Concert body style works best for my playing. It makes the single notes more defined whether these notes are melody or bass.

 

LL: So this love/hate thing you have with your Breedlove AC200/SM?

JS: I think the love/hate relationship is more about acoustic vs. electric than this specific instrument. I did recently change to an 11 set of strings on the Breedlove and I am feeling much better about everything. Now I have about ten sets too many of 12 gauge strings. Need any?

 

(…and have since returned to 12-gauge strings as mentioned above. Now I have two leftover sets of D’Addario EJ26, 11-Gauge strings which need a new home.)

 

 

LL: Have you used the HiWatt Bulldog 10 in any of your videos?

JS: Yes. I made a series of videos by playing some fun Rock tunes/solos/etc. and I’m pretty sure I used the HiWatt for most of them. Here is Judas Priest’s Livin’ After Midnight on which I used the HiWatt.

I think it’s a great sounding amp, especially for a solid state amp. I primarily use tube amps. The HiWatt is just 10 watts and, while plenty loud at full volume in a small room, it just doesn’t have enough volume for playing with a drummer in a larger room. I may experiment with it one day just to hear it in an A/B arrangement with my larger amp.

 

LL: Did you have to do any set-ups or adjustments to any of your guitars (strings closer to the fretboard)?

JS: I setup my guitars once when I acquire them. Sometimes they will need a minor adjustment every couple years, but I don’t break out the feeler gauges when the humidity or temperature changes ten points. The process I use is time-consuming and more intuitive than scientific. If the job gets into nut or fret work, I hire someone else for the job.

 

LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide? (tablet, bits of paper,mental notes..)

JS: For Rock, Country, other Pop type gigs, I try to play by memory so I can move around and make a show. I play musical theatre and read the book because: A. I need to be spot-on and predictable, and B. I’m not part of the show. I have been part of the show once though. I went wireless during a dance routine in one show and crossed the stage during an improvised solo. That was cool.

For Jazz or Holiday gigs I use lots of charts or charts with improvisation ideas because nobody is paying that much attention since we are usually just ‘Mood Music’. I take the opportunity to be an ‘Artist’ during these gigs by working on my ‘Improvisational Voice’ and play some of my own creations. I can usually predict/remember my screw-ups.

It’s very important to know one’s self as an artist and player. I need to work more on the ‘Artist Me’ by doing more concerts instead of atmosphere music gigs.

 

 

LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?

JS: I subscribe to the Barney Kessel school of warm-ups: “Stay hot.”. I warm up on mid-tempo tunes. I use exercises for mechanical problems. It took many years for me to realize I should have balance in this regard. I usually only discover playing problems during an improvisational concept that I try on a gig and fail because I never thought to try it before.

Exercises are for building a skill that one does not have; it is not a way to become a better musician, it is a way to become better at instrumental execution. (How do I play this musical idea on my instrument?)

 

LL: Description of your playing style? (i.e. you like keeping it simple, no riff-busyness/crazy solos, go-to picking style..etc)

JS: The music dictates my playing style. To me, there is no rhythm, lead, left-hand, right-hand, etc., there is only ‘What must I be able to do to play the music?’ and ‘Can I do it?’. Sometimes I can’t ‘do it’, and that informs my next practice session..

Most recently, a couple years ago, I was rehearsing with a Hard Rock band and I couldn’t play some of the solos at the final tempo. These were a Judas Priest and some Guns ‘N’ Roses tunes; a couple others too, I’m sure. Anyway, I had to spend about six months really working on these solos to be able to play them at tempo. I essentially went from sixteenths at about 120 to sixteenths at 160bpm. I’m not talking about an exercise at 160bpm, this was the music, what I really wanted to play.

 

 

LL: What was your practice routine structured like during those six months (to be able to go from soloing at sixteenths at about 120 to sixteenths at 160bpm)

JS: I used the same process I teach: Learn the music at a slow tempo (50% or less), then move the tempo up ten points and play through. Keep raising the tempo until mistakes begin, then return to the last perfectly played tempo. Stay at that tempo for one week, then start raising the tempo again until mistakes begin and repeat the process. I did this until I could comfortably play the music at 10 bpm higher than the final tempo required. It takes a long time, but it’s worth it.

 

LL: What’s next for your playing?

JS: Taming the acoustic, becoming more of an ‘Artist’ regarding my voice in arrangements, improvisation, song choice, etc.. I will discover my weaknesses sooner by learning new music.

I’m also pursuing more concert opportunities instead of ‘Club Dates’, (Which are gigs at venues ‘needing’ atmosphere music for 3-4 hours.). I’m sure I’ll still do some weddings and other special events, but concerts are where I believe I will grow the most as an artist with message.

 

 

LL: Are you working on something specific at the moment to spice up your playing?

JS: Not really since I don’t have any upcoming gigs, but I do have a voice and guitar duo that is on hiatus (the vocalist is having a baby in June 2014) and a guitar and sax duo. The guitar/sax duo is just two weeks in the making, so we are still finding a start to our voice and choosing tunes. The real work begins when we have the music chosen and we need to find ourselves inside of it.

(A bit more updates: I’m currently have a guitar/flugelhorn duo, solo-guitar arrangements, and two possible guitar/voice opportunities, and a full band concept for which I can start booking concerts. Since first answering the above question, I have decided to pursue concerts as a primary goal and I want to have different levels of hire available to select venues. Some venues are a small, intimate setting, and some are larger and prefer a larger group for a more intense experience.)

 

LL: Pretty happy with where you are at now?

JS: HA! Never happy! However, I do consciously decide to stop ‘Improving’ so I can really internalize the recent changes to my playing. In other words, I have to make myself stop trying to be a better ‘Guitarist’ and remain in the work of becoming a better, more soul-touching ‘Musician’ with my current skill level.

Ever hear a guitarist play only scales or strumming patterns? Yes. Did it touch your soul? Probably Not. We need to work on the other bits of musicianship by ceasing the work on mechanics.

 

 

LL: Are there questions you find yourself answering multiple times?

JS: The funny thing about questions is that I don’t believe I hear any of them repeated. I know that may seem strange, but while my answer to the students’ questions may contain the same information, every question is different because each student has a different hole in their understanding.

As an example, the most common topic I discuss is improvisation. Most people know something in regard to improvising by the time I see them, but there is always something they don’t like about their playing, or something that has become stagnant to them. So, we discuss keys and how we make chords and melodies from the notes within. Then we learn more about how we can play them in a practical manner on guitar.

I guess the second most common topic is that of rhythmic concepts. Unfortunately, none of us manipulate rhythms as much as we should; music could be so much more interesting if we did.

 

LL: Are there artists that you absolutely dig, and are surprised that others haven’t heard of?

JS: No, I’m not part of any underground faction that is hip before anyone else. I’m 42. Ha!

Most of my new discoveries are from the social media posts of others, YouTube suggestions, online programs such as Tiny Desk Concerts by NPR, and other random finds.

 

 

LL: Are there songs/albums that you cannot get enough of?

JS:Man, what a list that would be and who has the time for all that listening? Joe Satriani, Led Zep, AC/DC, Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell, Big Bands, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Stu Hamm, John Scofield, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Earl Hooker, Chuck Berry, Merle Haggard, Jerry Reed, Roy Clark, Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Appetite for Destruction, INXS, U2, John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Arlen Roth, Booker T. and the MGs, Christian McBride, James Brown, Ray Brown, Ray Charles, Vince Guaraldi, Dave Holland, and many more.

 

LL: Do you go out of your way to discover music you haven’t heard before?

JS: Sometimes I accidentally find something on YouTube or a blog that I like or some Pop star like Lorde is in the news and I YouTube them. However, I certainly don’t go out of my way. I don’t think we need to go out of our way any more. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m 40 years old, so I remember when one had to hunt for music. Especially if you lived in the woods or the hills.

 

Now it’s almost like the matter of finding music is as easy as picking a blade of grass while in a park; we’re just surrounded my sources of music.

 

 

LL: Where do you go for inspiration?

JS: YouTube and watch the masters at work.

 

LL: What’s your view about social media?

JS: Social Media is, to me, a contradiction in terms, but it is important. I think ‘Social’ is about time with or making friends and ‘Media’ is a method of distributing information. I don’t think the two are ALWAYS good together as are chocolate and peanut butter. ‘Social’ and ‘Media’ are better as a small part of two concentric circles.

I like Twitter best, but some people lump YouTube in the Social Media box and I think we know by now how I feel about YouTube. Ha!

 

 

LL:Would you be willing to share your Twitter handle? (What do you think of Twitter so far?)

JS:  Twitter.com/ JustinSchroder

I’m concerned about upcoming changes to Twitter since there have been some leadership/ownership changes, but so far, they haven’t pulled a Yahoo! and done anything ridiculous.

I like Twitter better than Facebook, primarily because I only have so many characters to create posts. This has helped me learn to communicate more effectively. I find that most of the people that don’t like Twitter are people who don’t like to work on their communication. I don’t feel good about my communication, so I like to work on it.

 

I also go through phases of posting in Haiku form, just add an additional challenge.

 

 

LL: Are there websites that you like to visit just because you like the design?

JS: Most websites have good designs now. Site design means little to me unless I’m trying to pay a bill or see my bank balance. Some companies have websites which drive me bonkers. How wrong can one be when designing a website? Well, pretty wrong sometimes.

 

LL: Name a website that you would go to when you need cheering up/inspiration?

JS: Outside. Not a website. I find my pets, children, or wife when I need good feelings.

I like bike rides, especially in the woods. My wife likes hikes, I like hiking with her, but I would never decide to go on a hike on my own. I prefer rolling friction.

 

LL: Would you be open to collaborating with other artists?

JS: Absolutely.

 

My strong skills are harmony and melody, not lyrics or singing. So, I need to have others to complete my work. Also, I’m good at developing and leading bands, and most musicians/singers are not good at the management of musical endeavors.

 

 

LL: Are you interested in technology?

JS: Nope. It’s just a means to an end and, thankfully, systems like WordPress, YouTube, SoundCloud, et al are great for technologically imbecilic people like me.

 

I think that is the greatest societal improvement given by computers and the internet; it allows otherwise incompetent people like me to be able to produce documents, audio, video, and other forms of gaining an audience without needing to hire someone or develop into a Jack-Of-All-Trades to be an artist.

 

LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future?

JS: No. Frankly, I have found that very few of my videos are being discovered or watched by people whom I believe I am trying to help. So, evidently, I’m not as helpful via video as I thought.

 

 

LL: Or are you looking to do different things?

JS: Something that a lot of people will find helpful. It’s not so much of an ego-centric ‘Hey, look how many views I have!’. It’s more a matter of ‘Hey, look how many views I have by people I can help!’.


We seem to be moving toward Live online events through FaceBook Live, Concert Window, Periscope, et al, and I am upgrading my tools to take advantage of this trend. It’s interesting how our intrinsic Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is fueling the technological and social changes we are seeing.

 

Perhaps FOMO has always been the foundation of technological and industrial advancement.

 

 

LL: If you were asked to pick from the videos you have, which one would be your favourite?

JS: That’s an impossible choice, but it would be one of my youngest daughter Claire either playing violin, singing, or riding her bike for the first time. We were too poor when my oldest daughter was little to have any video of her and now that she’s a teen we just have pictures of her being beautiful.

 

 

 

LL: In what way do you enjoy helping others? (Is there a particular cause that you resonate with the most?)

JS: What I enjoy most is helping people realize how being a good musician isn’t as difficult as many other people make it out to be.

Essentially, there are a lot of people discussing music concepts in such a convoluted manner that it’s nearly impossible to understand or apply them. I really enjoy working with performing musicians who want to discover more about themselves musically. Working with a group of musicians is probably my favorite environment because we can inspire each other to do our best. It’s easier and more fun to be creative in a group setting because one idea triggers another and the creativity builds.

If I were to describe a cause which motivates me the most, that would be the success of the student. Nothing motivates me more in teaching than seeing a student surprise themselves with their playing or with a sudden moment of clarity. Most of the time the problem isn’t the student’s level of effort, but rather the music concepts being made simple, clear, and immediately applicable.

 

LL: How can we support your work?

JS: I teach at TrueFire.com via video exchange, which is probably the most efficient way to teach and learn for the intermediate to advanced player.

Players should take this link to register and learn the benefits of studying with me there. Visiting my website, JustinSchroder.com, will give people the opportunity to learn what I am doing as a teacher and performer. It’s also the best way to contact me regarding how I can help them. I am currently focused on performance and group education. I am available for concerts in solo, duo, small combo, and big band settings, as well as related workshops, clinics, and guest performer bookings.

Simply put, supporting my work is as simple as hiring me to help people and organizations reach their musical goals.

 

 

LL: Looking back through your journey, are you amazed at what you’ve accomplished so far?

JS: I’m amazed that I survived! 🙂

Frankly, I’ve noticed more of the effect I’ve had on students, other musicians, and just people generally since I retired from teaching daily. For various reasons, my current schedule and physical/mental condition are more conducive to effective thought and being present in my daily activities than ever before.

When I am looking for a video I made or a blog post to send to someone, I must say I’m a little surprised at how many videos and blog posts I have created. I’m sure they’re not all great, but I did them and they were evidently something I felt worthy of sharing.

I guess what is most valuable to me at present is the growing awareness and appreciation that I have a family, a job, and the ability to create and re-create Sound Art for my enjoyment to share with others.

 

 

* Justin Schroder is a guitarist based in Lynchburg. Witness him working on learning to communicate more effectively (in 140 characters or less!) via Twitter. You can pick his brain by watching him share playing nuggets on Youtube, through his entries, or by going through the really intense 32 week course.

 

Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (May 2014 – October 2016) between Justin 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 out of Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so based on this post. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her slightly cheeky FAQ.)

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Q&A #24: Matthew David

 

 

 

Matthew shares his journey as a drummer, his preference of one (big!) screen rather than multiple monitors, and the realisation that focused practice could have improved his skills greatly.

 

 

 

Leigh Lim: Thanks for agreeing to share a bit about yourself Matt. I noticed that there are a couple of vintage kits, is that a soft spot? (You’d pick, or even rescue an unloved, old-old-old kit, rather than purchase a new, or second hand one that was less than 5 years old)

 

Matthew David: I own 1 vintage kit yeah, and I had wanted to buy a vintage kit for as long as I could remember. Being able to restore one, well, that kind of makes it even more special. This kit was collecting dust and rusting away in a friend’s garage. When I dug it out and realised it was the exact sizes I wanted (20″ kick, with short 12 and 13 inch toms, plus a 16″ floor) I knew I had to have it. I took it home and spent an entire Easter weekend scrubbing, wiping, scraping, polishing, till the skin virtually came off my hands.

I smelled of polish and chemical and vinegar and detergent and whatever else I was using. But within a week, I had a fully functioning, totally restored kit (I also had to buy all new skins, plus snare wire and throw-off, plus a couple of hoops and some other bits and pieces). I use it in a 50’s/60’s band, and it’s great fun to play and sounds perfectly old-school.

 

LL: Did you have to wait long to find (and receive) the parts you needed for the restore?

MD: I just went to my previous place of employment (music shop) and bought the parts there. From memory I had to order something in but it only took a few days. I wasn’t up for trying to restore it with genuine parts, so I put generic parts on as no-one would be able to tell the difference anyway.

 

LL: Also! There are a number of Saluda Sound files! Was that a phase? (or you really like those Saluda Cymbals?)

MD: Saluda are great cymbals. I brought a whole bunch in from America to try myself and sell on to others, to get the name out there.

I don’t tend to use them much nowadays though, the ones I brought in were all within a certain kind of sound and I just don’t play the styles that suit the sounds. In saying that though, I use a Saluda Mist-X 16″ crash a lot, fantastic cymbal, it’s kind of like a Zildjian K Custom Hybrid.

 

 

New acquisition! #pearldrums #masters #playingwiththebigboys

A post shared by Matthew David (@matthewdavidmedia) on

 

LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing?

 

MD: When I started playing, I had lessons privately for about the first 6 months from a guy that wasn’t trained himself. We used a book “Progressive Rock Drumming” by Andy Griffiths, and I just basically worked through the exercises.

I didn’t exactly learn rudiments properly, in fact I couldn’t do proper double stroke rolls till I’d been playing for over 10 years (I’d done a lot of press rolls up until that point!). I remember one exercise he gave me was to play the intro part to the Screaming Jets song “Better”. He came back a week later and I played him what I’d practiced. He had to correct me, as what I was playing was actually a more complicated version of the part (I think I had written it down wrong, or just learned it differently and got stuck on doing it that way instead). That basically gave me the confidence to attack just about anything, drum-wise.

From there, I started to delve into blues and funk… nothing tricky though. About 6 years later my tastes all changed, I got more into hard rock, including progressive music, starting with some odd time signatures by guys like Soundgarden, and moving into trickier stuff like Dream Theater.

This got me into even heavier music, mainly Pantera, where I started to write a fusion of heavy metal and progressive music, with solid heavy grooves that you might find in a Rage Against the Machine track.

Eventually I moved into hard rock, then fell in love with latin, which allowed me to experiment with new grooves using the kit plus timbales, bells and blocks, and is really tightening me as a player.

 

 

 

LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never played before, so they could have the capacity to play at your level and skill. What would it look like?

 

MD: I guess it would contain music by a variety of bands/artists, and chops from a variety of drummers. Even if you only like one style of music, check out a wide range of styles to see what people are doing.

Learn your rudiments, learn how to play to a click, but never forget how important groove is. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be a bit sloppy sometimes. Don’t be the player that sits comfortably in a song and just plays predictable safe grooves and fills. Be the player that does the crazy stuff, because even though sometimes you might screw up, I guarantee when you play that killer groove or smash that totally out there fill or solo part, you’ll feel amazing, and your crowd will love it (and you’ll be known as the drummer that landed it!).

 

 

 

New toy. 14×6.5 Drumcraft Series 8 maple snare. #amazon #drumcraft #impulsebuy #hotpink

A post shared by Matthew David (@matthewdavidmedia) on

 

 

 

LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as a drummer?

 

MD: Not entirely. I tended to just have a natural talent, that allowed me to not have to practice a lot in order to get better as a player. Problem was I became complacent and then years later realised I should be better than I actually was! I still feel like I don’t practice enough… I play a lot, but don’t tend to practice things too often.

 

 

LL: Where there times when you didn’t want to practice? (What did you do to keep going?)

 

MD: Quite often I don’t have the energy. Or if I do have the energy, I don’t have the patience, so I’ll tend to just jump on the kit or timbales and smash away for a while, as opposed to practicing technique etc.

 

LL: Any words of wisdom for drummers who are quite keen to find the energy and the patience, to practice?

 

MD: You really just have to make time to practice. And don’t let yourself plateau as a player. If you get stuck, change it up and learn a new style. If you’re a right handed player, start playing left handed instead. Flip everything around and it will keep you stimulated and interested.

 

 

New toy for my voiceover work. #voiceover #thatguyontheradio #isk #rode #voiceoverlife

A post shared by Matthew David (@matthewdavidmedia) on

 

 

LL: If you had a chance to redo things, what would you have wanted to practice on and work on?

MD: I just wish I had started to learn latin grooves years before I did. Not only does latin playing require a lot of discipline and feel, it’s also great to play a style where you can go between tight and robotic to crazy improvisation, all while people are dancing along and enjoying it.

 

LL: Heel-up / Heel Down?

 

MD: Heel up, both feet.

 

LL: Has that always been the case since you started drumming?

MD: Yeah always heel up.

 

 

LL: Favorite Shoes for Drumming?

MD: I don’t get a say, a lot of the time, because I play in bands that require me to wear more formal shoes. If I have to pick, I’d say light and grippy. Though I’ve had a lot of trouble with my feet and legs over the past 5 years (mostly unrelated to drumming) that have prevented me from wearing that kind of shoe (I have to wear something with a lot of rigidity and support).

 

LL: How would you describe your generic kit set-up?

MD: 5 piece, 2 up, 1 down, 2 crashes, ride, hats. This is my standard rock setup.

My setup for latin is usually the same plus add in an extra tom (when there’s room on stage!), an extra cymbal or 2, timbales, 3 cowbells, and a block.

 

 

 

 

LL: What’s part of your arsenal at the moment?

MD: For drums, I have a Pearl VSX graffiti kit, 22, 10, 12, 14, 16, short stack toms, black hardware. I’ve also got a ’69 Pearl kit that I restored, oyster shell wrap, 20, 12, 13, 16. And a Sonor Force 3003, 22, 8, 10, 12, 14, with 10″ accent snare.*

Mainly running Remo heads – Pinstripes and Ambassadors (clear and coated). Tried Evans, Aquarians and Attacks for a while, went back to the trusty old Remos because they do what I want.

Pearl signature timbales. Meinl signature congas. LP, Meinl and Sonor bells.

Tama Iron Cobra double kick pedals.

I use a lot of different brands of cymbals, just whatever I’d collected over the years and I like the sound of. I’m mainly a Sabian man at heart though, they tend to make cymbals that really capture the sounds I’m wanting to use. Also have Zildjian, Paiste, Saluda and Stagg.

Sticks I tend to use Vater 7a in Sweet Ride or Manhattan. I never got the hang of heavy sticks and these ones are long and weighty, but also thin enough to fit in my hands comfortably. I also use a heavier timbale stick, at the moment it’s Pro Mark.

Snares I only have a few, a nice Yamaha Sensitive 13×6.5, a Sonor Force 3003 14×5.5 and a 70’s Ludwig Supraphonic 14×5.5.

 

* Editor’s Note: Since there has been significant time between Matthew answering this question and him reviewing the draft for publishing, Matthew mentions that he doesn’t play a sonor kit anymore. His main kit is a Pearl Masters MCX, 22, 10, 12, 16. Instead of a Sonor 3003 snare, he now has a Drum Craft Series 8 maple 14×6.5, and a Sonor Force 3007 12×5 maple. As he doesn’t play in a Beatles/Sixties band anymore, his vintage Pearl kit hasn’t had much use in a while.

 

 

 

 

 

LL: That is definitely an array of gear! Do you usually go (clear) Pinstripes for the batter and (clear) Ambassadors for resonant (for toms)?

 

MD: Clear Ambassadors or Evans G1s for bottoms, and basically anything I like the feel of for the tops. It really comes down to the kit, and the style that I play on the kit. On my latin / funk kit, I have clear emperors on top, to give me a hardy and punchy sound, but still tonnes of resonance.

On my old-school kit, I have coated emperors, again for the hardy punchy sound, but with the old-school element associated with it. And on my rock kit, I have pinstripes, for massive punch. Emperors and Pinstripes are highly tunable, you can take the pitch up and down and they still sound awesome.

 

 

 

LL: With your double Pedals, why Tama (Iron Cobras)? (Is it because the footboards are quite heavy and chunky — as opposed to Pearl’s double pedals?)

 

MD: I bought them because I knew they were good. These days I mostly play single pedal though, simply because I found myself getting a bit lazy and using double pedal too often for things that I should be able to do with just the single pedal.

One time in the music shop I worked at I managed to get a cheap Pearl double pedal to feel as good as the more expensive Pearl pedals, and even setup a Dixon double pedal to feel just as good as well. So this led me to believe it was more about the setup than any other variable. In saying that, I’m happy with my Iron Cobra pedals, and can’t see any need to replace them any time soon.

 

LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind of set-up that you like?

 

MD: I’ve always liked having at least 2 rack toms, and at least 1 floor. I like having a lot of stuff to hit! Also I avoid putting a ride cymbal where a tom might go, such as in a 1 up 2 down setup (even though it’s so trendy to do it!), because I prefer to have a nice flow between each tom, instead of a gap that a ride would create. Ultimately I think my ideal setup is 3 up, 2 down, with timbales, cable hats, and a whole bunch of cymbals.

 

LL: So having your ride a bit further from you isn’t an issue, as they would be (Comfortably) an arm’s reach, and you can spend a whole gig on the ride, and you wouldn’t have any muscle tension (as opposed to if you had to reach out a bit to get to the ride)?

 

MD: Usually don’t have any problems. I don’t find it’s “further away”, more like just positioned differently. I’ve spent 20 years with the ride in that position so I don’t tend to think too hard about it. When I play latin I also ride on an 18″ cymbal that sits over behind my hats / timbales. It really just comes down to what you get used to.

 

 

 

LL: Are cable hats for your auxiliary Hi-Hats? (Or are you using it as your main hi-hat stand?)

MD: Cable hats I only use when I play latin, as it allows me to place the hats closer to the first rack tom, meaning I can position the timbales closer in (so I don’t have to stretch out as far to the left in order to play the timbales). It beats me why more latin players don’t do this, to be honest I haven’t seen anyone else doing it like this.

 

 

LL: When tuning your kits, do you have a specific process?

MD: I just wind up the top and bottom till the key starts to feel a bit of tension, then I tweak with quarter turns top and bottom until I get the tone I want. I like to tension my top and bottom skins to be fairly close to each other, I think the drum resonates the best that way.

 

LL: Drum Maintenance and Storage?

MD: Not as much as I should do!

 

LL: How would you go about restoring hardware that has started to rust?

 

MD: A few pieces I abandoned entirely because they were too far gone. Most of it I was able to salvage by a combination of aluminium foil, steel wool, vinegar and polish. There was a lot of rust and corrosion but I was able to fix most of it no problem. The Ludwig snare is pretty rough but it doesn’t bother me in the grand scheme of things, I play it for the sound not for the look!

 

 

Imaging for SCA at home. The best way to do it! #studiolife #protools #turndownforwhat #maudio

A post shared by Matthew David (@matthewdavidmedia) on

 

 

LL: Would you recommend buying consumables in bulk? (heads, Sticks)

 

MD: I’ve never done it so I wouldn’t know. Probably not a bad idea. I’ve bought sticks in 3 or 4 sets at a time before, but that’s as “bulk” as I’ve gotten. If I was going to tour, or was playing more than a couple of times a week, I would buy up more in bulk.

 

 

LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?

 

MD: If I’ve just started with a band I may keep a note of who starts each song, until I’ve done a few gigs with that band and then it just becomes habit.

When I first started playing latin, I took a lot of notes, writing down how each song started, the main grooves in each song, the way the songs finished, and the main lines that were sung (so that I could differentiate between tracks, because at the time, since I was only just starting out, a lot of the tracks sounded the same to my untrained ears!).

I try to avoid having any notes at gigs, I prefer to just memorise the songs and stay alert on stage.

 

LL: With the gigs you do, are there universal communication signs that you agree on beforehand?

 

MD: Depends on the band really. In some of my bands I end up doing a lot of the leading, and people watch me for the cues. Other bands, I just sit back and let other people manage it. You tend to work things out on the stage, more than agreeing on things beforehand.

 The trick is to just be flexible, watch other band members constantly and don’t get too absorbed in your own little world.

 

Changing the world, one ad at a time. #studiolife #nxfm

A post shared by Matthew David (@matthewdavidmedia) on

 

 

 

LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?

 

MD: It doesn’t really exist. I typically just jump on stage and play. Though I will take it easy and remain as relaxed as possible in the first instances, which helps me keep my energy up for the whole night.

 

LL: Are there times when you turn down gigs?

 

MD: Definitely. Although I tend to take most gigs as I earn a substantial amount of my dollars this way.

 

 

LL: Do you have a specific diet that you stick to and exercise regimen?

 

MD: I should, but I don’t. I was doing cardio at a gym for a while there, but then moved house and didn’t join up to another gym. Lately I’ve been really conscious of stretching, just making sure I’m fairly limber before I start bashing away.

 

Just a regular Wednesday afternoon ride around the block. I love this place! #gclife #mountwarning #cbr929rr

A post shared by Matthew David (@matthewdavidmedia) on

 

 

LL: Description of your playing style?

 

MD: I try to keep pretty consistent grooves happening. Sometimes I’ll get bored and chuck in some silliness for the sake of it. I tend to overplay as opposed to under, and I’m quite aware that it’s something I do so I make an effort to avoid doing it in gigs (though I’m pretty sure I still overplay haha).

Ultimately I just attempt to be sensitive to what’s happening in the music at any point in time, I try to have fun, create some energy and put on a show. I’m a little sloppy, I’m not the tightest player around, but I can slot into pretty much any style and take the music to a new level, which keeps me employed and has a lot of bands always asking  me back to play with them. I’m also my biggest critic!

 

LL: When you overplay — is it just enough that it satisfies your need for silliness?

 

MD: Very rare that my overplaying annoys other musicians. Typically if I try something tricky and pull it off, other band members will smile because they’ve noticed it. Sometimes I do it just to see if they’re still awake!

 

LL: What’s next for your playing?

MD: My next goal is to play for a Latin band where all the other musicians are miles better than me! I love a challenge and, providing they can be a bit patient with me, would love the chance to get to the next level with Latin music.

There are definitely plans to visit Miami (again) and Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia… 

I also have some connections with some solid Brazilian musicians so am keen to get back to Brazil to jam with them and see where it leads.

Technicality-wise, I spend a lot of time working on chops and jamming to Latin tracks, in an effort to just keep honing my skills. I don’t think I would ever reach a point where I wouldn’t want to be better, I’m always looking for that next level.

 

 

 

 

LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics when you play?

 

MD: Extremely mindful now that I’ve had the issue with my feet and legs for the past 5 years. The main thing I think about is my posture, and I have spent basically this year learning to sit more upright as I play. I also have to go easy on my feet so sometimes have to play softer so as to reduce the stress on my body.

Matched grip was just how I always played, and it feels right to me so I stick with it.

 

LL: What’s the average amount of takes per video?

MD: Depends on the video, and depends on the day! Some days I just crack it, other days I’m playing terribly. Or then the gear stuffs up and you only realise after you’ve done the perfect take that it only recorded the first 10 seconds then turned off!

 

LL: With your recording equipment, what are the current specs you use? (in your Saluda test video – you use a mobile phone, and some mics — what software did you use? And what did you use to keep that LG phone still?)

MD: Typically I record in Adobe Audition. Simple, easy to use and does everything I need it to do. The LG phone would’ve just been propped up against something. No other clamping devices or anything were used. The second video you referenced was filmed on a Canon DSLR. I tend to do all my videos now on that setup, as I own a lot of lenses and it gives me the best visual quality.

 

 

LL: Was choosing a DSLR something specifically for video?

 

MD: I had a couple of DSLR’s before I bought my 600D, and the reason I bought the 600D was purely for the 1080p video (I had a 40D before that and it took great photos).

 

 

LL: Do you mix the audio for your videos?

MD: Yeah I do all my own mixing. When I have mic’d in anyway. Otherwise I’ll just pull the sound out of the phone/camera and do a quick tweak before uploading. But I try to do things properly, with good audio, when I can.

 

LL: Will we be seeing gig videos with sound from the main mixer soon?

MD: I attempted it earlier this year with one of my bands, and because I didn’t get the chance to sound check it, it wasn’t perfect. I ended up combining live audio in the camera with the mixer output, and it sounded OK.

I’ll probably do more down the track as I have a new mixer that allows me to quite easily record the full mix in stereo. Usually it’s just enough to get the gig sounding good, so I don’t have much time to do a proper recording.

 

 

 

LL: What are your ‘go-to’ mixing settings for the kit?

MD: Typically I’ll roll off the mids in the kick, if there’s a way of doing a parametric on around 2.5khz I’ll do that. On toms I’ll do similar, just pull a bit of mid, and sometimes a bit of low if I’m getting too much rumble in them.

Snare I pull a little bit of mid. Ultimately if the gig is big enough to warrant doing a really nice mix of the kit, I won’t be in charge (it’ll be a sound guy running his own PA).

 

 

LL: Did you have to deal with latency issues when recording?

MD: Haven’t had to deal with latency too much. I’m usually running decent sound cards and don’t have the problem. If anything is slightly out of sync I’ll just jump in and match it by ear/eye.

 

LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting videos?

MD: Just whenever I get the urge, and have the spare time, to record one.

 

 

LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?

MD: Not entirely. Though I am a bit of a purist when it comes to latin grooves. Things like clave, you have to get that stuff right. And what instruments and sounds go towards creating different latin styles (for example, a lot of latin jazz / mambo gets passed off as salsa, when it’s clearly quite different.) Things like understanding why Colombian salsa is different to Cuban, Puerto Rican, USA styles of salsa.

 

 

 

 

LL: Can you share some of the artists that you absolutely dig, and are surprised that others haven’t heard of?

MD: Just about all the latin artists I listen to are fairly unknown in Australia. With exception to guys like Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, and bands like Buena Vista Social Club.

My favourites would have to be Victor Manuelle, Timbalive, Gilberto Santarosa, Jose Alberto, Oscar De Leon, Grupo Gale, Fabian Torres, Huey Dunbar, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Luis Enrique, Andy Montanez, Moncho Rivera, Frankie Ruiz.

Non-latin bands like The Truth, Directions in Groove, Incognito, not too well known around here but fantastic bands.

 

 

LL: How about songs/albums that you cannot get enough of?

MD: Pretty much the guys above. Can listen all day and not get tired (and I do listen all day haha).

 

 

LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new music?

MD: Yeah all the time. Because I also do latin DJ’ing, I’m constantly on the lookout for new material that no-one else is playing around these parts. It keeps my DJ’ing fresh and means that I always get rave reviews.

 

 

 

 

LL: Where do you go for inspiration? What do you do when you need to come up with a musical idea?

MD: Usually ask my brother! He’s a mad crazy guitarist and just a freak of a musician. Or I just absorb all that above music and bounce off that.

 

LL: What’s your view about social media?

MD: Took me a while to get into it. I see the benefits of it, but I think there’s still way too much crap out there.

 

LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?

MD: Anything car related usually 🙂 Or just Youtube, checking out music / drum videos.

 

 

 

LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?

MD: Play the kit. Or the timbales. Or the congas. Or work on my cars.

 

LL: Would you be open to collaborating with other artists?

MD: Definitely. If they’re the same level as me and interested in doing the same types of music that I am, for sure.

 

LL: Are you interested in technology?

MD: I love audio plugins, I have a tonne of those. I like upgrading my computer every now and then, at the moment it’s a quad core beats with a fast graphics card, and my monitor is a 40″ Sony LCD. I’m definitely a tech head, though I don’t really have the income to be a very good one!

 

LL: A 40″ monitor!? Quite sizable! Did you choose that size because you needed more space when editing?

MD: Laptops bug me, I love screen real estate. the 40″ screen allows me to do audio and video with ease, opening multiple windows at once (like, a mix window and an FX window, for example), rather than running dual monitors. I’ll probably upgrade down the track but at the moment 1080p on a 40″ screen does me fine.

 

Imaging for SCA at home. The best way to do it! #studiolife #protools #turndownforwhat #maudio

A post shared by Matthew David (@matthewdavidmedia) on

 

 

LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?

 

MD: I’d like to do some more guides, and also some more timbale covers. I’m probably due for uploading 1 or 2 more, now that I have a bit more free time that could be a possibility for the next couple of weeks.

 

LL: If you were asked to pick from the videos you have, which one would be your favourite?

MD: Hard to tell. Really depends what I’m picking for. I like my timbale cover, since I like the song and I enjoy playing Latin. But I know it’s not my best playing. I don’t really have one that I feel highlights my playing properly.

 

LL: For someone watching a video of yours for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?

MD: Well, it comes down to the video. If it’s my latin band, I want them to think “these guys aren’t too bad!” and then they book us for a gig! For my personal playing, I’m happy if it inspires people to make up their own stuff and get better as a player. After all, it’s not a competition. And I am of the mindset that if I’ve learned something, I just be gracious enough to pass that on to others.

 

 

 

LL: What feeds your soul?

MD: Playing with awesome musicians definitely does that. Or just jamming along to my favourite tracks.

 

 

LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with your audience?

MD: This is still something I struggle with. Audiences are fickle and sometimes you just can’t figure them out. Ultimately I just try to do things that I think audiences will enjoy. Keep people entertained and do things in a way that they haven’t seen/heard before. And it usually pays off.

 

 

 

 

 

* Matthew is a drummer based out of Queensland’s Gold Coast. You can find content on his Youtube channel where he shares groove ideas, covers, as well as gear reviews. See things through his eyes (as well as have a glimpse of the projects he’s working on) via his Instagram feed. He is open to teaching privately though he thinks he’d be better at doing instructional videos than getting students in and trying to teach them. As for gigs and recordings (in person or online), you can reach out to him to have an initial conversation to see if your project would be a fit for him.

 

 

 

 

 

Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (August 2014 – September 2016) between Matthew 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 out of Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so based on this post. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her slightly cheeky FAQ.)

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Q&A #22: Nigel Powell

 

Nigel shares his journey of being a drummer, the perils of being self taught, and how learning proper posture early on helped him with his playing.

 

Leigh Lim: Hi Nigel, thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A! On your YouTube page, you use an alias, and from what I can notice, you don’t put your name in your videos. Is that something you just wanted to have a bit of play with?

Nigel Powell: Most of that is historical. My alias everywhere is sadsongco, which comes from The Sad Song Co., the ‘band name’ that I’ve so far released two solo albums under – my third is in the recording process right now.

I opted for that when I started working on solo stuff because I can’t see the name ‘Nigel’ as very rock and roll or credible! Probably a contextual thing. In my work with other people, especially Frank Turner, I go under my given name, but all of the social media accounts I set up used the project name.

 

LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing?

NP: The bulk of my learning was copying records I liked. I tried teaching for a little while, but it didn’t feel right to me. I just wanted to say to students “go and play along with your favourite album until it sounds right”, because the way you do things wrong is what makes drumming develop and be exciting, and creates original and new drummers with identifiable personalities.

When I was first out and gigging there was a famous drum school in London called Drumtech, and whenever you came across a player who’d learned there you could instantly tell – they were like little drumming clones. They could always play the arse off everyone around them technically, but it always seemed to be lacking soul.

 

I do practice though. I used to do it much more, working on rudiments (which some drumming friends had showed me), working things out at home. We play so much with Frank now that I don’t practice in quite the same way any more, I much prefer playing with people in front of an audience. It develops different skills – my technical level has perhaps declined a little, but in terms of vibe and making a band sound good (which is the top of my priorities anyway) I’m as good as I’ve ever been right now.

 

 

LL: Do you have specific books that you keep within reach that you regularly refer to?

NP: I worked through the first half of Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer by Jim Chapin a few times, and will still occasionally revisit to see if I can break through to the second half.

From time to time I work on pages from Stick Control by George Lawrence Stone, sometimes hands and sometimes feet. But as I say, I’m on the road so much that that ‘woodshed’ kind of approach to my playing has taken a back seat to actually playing shows.

 

 

LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never played before, so they could have the capacity to play at your level and skill. What would it look like?

NP: Definitely wouldn’t want someone to go through the same journey that I did. If I had to give advice it would be to get into a band with your mates at school (or even more than one band), and learn your instrument in the context of how it makes music with other people, rather than from a technical perspective.

Take some advice from knowledgeable people about simple technical things – how to hold the sticks, letting them rebound, that kind of thing – otherwise you will find yourself hitting a wall later on and having to unlearn things. This is a problem I still come up against because of my self-taught approach.

But as to drumming as a philosophy, find your own, and invent yourself.

 

 

LL: Are there any challenges that come to mind during your learning process?

NP: Motivation is harder now than it was. But the biggest challenge is always working through something that you can’t do, starting it slowly and patiently making it work. Do what I say, not what I do – I get frustrated and I’m bad at being patient!

 

LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as a drummer? (That you were able to build up the knowledge and skill — and able to apply it)

NP: In terms of career success, I can only really put it down to always keeping going and staying positive, even when things were bad and I really should have given up pursuing it full time if I had any sense. It’s a boring answer, but I was very careful to plan myself financially and be careful with money so I could afford to ride out the bad times and keep going.

I had other jobs, responsible jobs, and things I was good at, but I always considered myself a drummer who was doing something else. You want to be in for the long haul as a drummer? Stop smoking and drinking, you’ll save yourself a rent’s worth of money every month so you’ll never be cornered into having to give it up!

 

 

LL: Were there times when you didn’t want to practice?

NP: There have been times when I didn’t practice. Depression and negativity visit most people at some time, and I would sit on a sofa and play video games rather than improving myself. I think anyone who says that never happens is probably not telling all of the truth. I’m sure even Gavin Harrison has occasional days when he thinks “bugger this, I’m going to the cinema”.

But luckily there’s always been a gig on the horizon, so eventually I need to get myself back in shape or risk making bad music, or not giving someone their money’s worth. That’s the thing that truly drives me – live, someone has chosen to take a percentage of the money that they earn, possibly doing something crappy that they hate, and they’re spending it on coming to see the show you’re contributing to. If you have any respect for that, you always do your best.

 

LL: How important was it to have someone help you learn a specific technique?

NP: The advice I picked up was all in bits and pieces. I never had a specific mentor, but gleaned little bits of information here and there. No-one was really invested in my learning except me.

If anyone deserves props it was my mum – my drums were in my bedroom above the kitchen, and I used to play for hours while she’d be cooking or something. If it was me I would have gone insane within a month!

 

 

LL: Description of your playing style?

NP: Ummm… hard to say. I try to think about whatever music I’m playing first.

I guess my personal preference is I don’t care it it’s simple or complex, but I’m looking for something original, even if it’s just a subtle twist that you wouldn’t necessarily consciously notice. Take the new Frank song ‘Get Better’. When we were arranging it straight away I wanted that relentless ‘four crotchets of snare drum’ feel. After shifting things around a little bit, it became that with the Sabian Chopper as well, which gives it the slightly unusual sound.

Then on the left foot for the second half of the first verse I’m playing hi hat tambourine, but it’s a three bar phrase, so it shifts across the pattern as the verse goes past. I don’t think anyone would notice unless you pointed it out, but it gives a subconscious texture. Then in the second verse the hi hat tambourine switches to the backbeat to give an injection of urgency, but the kick takes over on the shifting three bar phrase.

Something like that sums up how I think of my drumming style – trying to find ways to make it different, without it being obvious or self-consciously different, and it still rocking hard.

 

LL: What are some misconceptions you find about you as a drummer?

NP: I’m a fan of some prog rock, so a few people who’ve known that have assumed I’m going to be playing massive fills all over the place. But that’s not really me. I do, unequivocally, love Phil Collins, but I equally love the work of Rob Ellis on early PJ Harvey, and in my work I tend to take that approach – slightly weird patterns, generally repetitive to create an original groove – more than the prog.

 

 

LL: Do you have a mental (or written) checklist that you go through, before each work is finished? (Idea, mental picture of how the end would look like, then chart it out? or are there people that note some input, then you go about finalising your work?)

NP: My concepts for things are all instinct, which I then use my right brain to realise. If it feels right when it’s done, it is right. I’ve never charted anything, except for occasionally in rehearsal where I’ve needed to remember something.

 

LL: What’s next for your playing?

NP: I’ve been practicing a bit more lately, trying to get my feet a bit more solid when playing double kick and getting through the glass ceiling of speed on my left hand. But that’s technique, not music. And everything that is ‘next’ for my playing is musical, not technical.

So it depends on what songs need their emotions refining and focusing as to what I need to do on the drums next.

 

 

LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics when you play?

NP: I’ve always sat up straight. I saw a Dennis Chambers video ages ago where someone described his posture as “like he’s welded to a lamppost”, and I took that on board.

Thank goodness my idolisation of Phil Collins didn’t extend to mimicking his posture; now that his back problems have come to light, watching old videos of him just hurt to look at.

 

LL: Heel-up / Heel Down? (both feet?)

NP: Heel up for loud, heel down for quiet. Although my right foot has a weird thing it does on double, which is kind of a heel-toe thing, but not like I’ve seen anyone else do. The perils of being self-taught!

 

LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?

NP: I do half an hour of rudiments on a practice pad before we go on, to get the blood flowing through my hands.

 

 

LL: Favourite Shoes for Drumming?

NP: I’ve got a pair of Macbeth sneakers which seem to make playing easier. Totally psychosomatic I’m sure.

 

LL: Favourite time of the day to play?

NP: When there’s other people to play with. Other than that, no preference.

 

LL: What’s your default gear set-up? (You did a walk through on your kit in this video — do the details still hold true currently? or have there been minor changes in your set-up since filming that?)

NP: That video is pretty much up to date. Little bits and pieces change from time to time, but that’s the basis.

 

 

LL: Do you keep track of your kit bits?

NP: I’m a bit of a hoarder, and I know where it all is.

I run a backline hire company with the bassist of The Sleeping Souls, so I own a few more kits that we hire out, but I love them all dearly. I still use my older drums for various things depending on what I’m doing. I recorded my third solo album recently and used my old Premier Genista concert tom kit and loved it.

The Dive Dive album we recorded recently used one of the hire kits with a 24” kick.

 

LL: Are you a bit of ‘gear-head’?

NP: Not really a gear head. If it works and sounds good then I’m happy and I’ll hang onto things forever.

 

LL: Has any of your equipment undergone customisation?

NP: I’ve changed hoops from time to time, but no, not really.

 

 

LL: Do you vary your kit tuning?

NP: More once it’s right, I stick with it. Snares go up and down a bit in the studio, and there was one song on the new Frank Turner record where I tuned the floor tom to a note for a specific purpose.

 

LL: Drum Maintenance and Storage?

NP: I look after all my stuff, clean it regularly (I polish most cymbals as well, except for hi hats). My Frank Turner kits are in big flight cases, and they live there between tours. I have an identical kit in the states, which also sits all quiet and lonely in it’s road cases when we’re not there.

 

 

LL: Do you have a certain process when you get ready for gigs?

NP: Not really. I try and look after myself the whole time.

 

LL: When recording, are you pretty much hands on when mixing your kit?

NP: Depends on the project, but usually I make my drums sound the best they possibly can, and then trust producers and engineers to do their thing with it. I’ll throw my opinion in, but the best results usually come out of collaboration.

 

LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting videos on your YouTube channel?

NP: No schedule. If something interesting comes up then I’ll share it.

 

 

LL: Are you currently mentoring someone?

NP: I’m not mentoring anyone in the drumming sense of the word, but I have two children of my own so maybe there’s a bit of mentoring involved in that.

 

LL: What do you do when you come across something that annoys you?

NP: Not that much annoys me, but unless it’s directly affecting me or someone I care about I try to let it go. There’s quite enough conflict in the world without trying to kick off because someone posted a YouTube comment you don’t like.

 

LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?

NP: I geek out about movies a lot. I love watching films for enjoyment, and then again looking at screenplay structure, editing, shot choice and other stuff. I’m totally an amateur about it, but they are excitingly complex things to analyse.

 

 

LL: Are you a big listener of music?

NP: I’m sadly not that big a listener. I’m going to blame that on age – I think at a certain point everything begins to sound like something else that you’ve heard, and it’s harder to just go “that sounds COOOL!!!” at things. I’m too analytical.

Occasionally though things do have an impact. A few years back the first two The Streets albums blew me away; recently Mew and Honningbarna (a Norwegian punk band) have really been exciting me. I tend to fall back on familiar things too much though. It’s not healthy, but it is what it is.

 

LL: What are you reading at the moment?

NP: ‘The Hydrogen Sonata’ by Iain M Banks. One of the Culture novels. Only ever feel like I understand about 50% of what happens, but I really enjoy them anyway. Planning on re-reading ‘God Bless The NHS’ afterwards.

 

 

LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new things?

NP: As above, not really. It’s got better recently, because my girlfriend is a music journalist, so there’s a constant flow of new releases knocking around.

 

LL: In what way do you approach motivation and inspiration? (Are they both intertwined for you?)

NP: They are definitely intertwined. I find inspiration usually comes from doing something, and once you’ve got a kernel of inspiration it motivates me to chase it down and finish it.

 

LL: What makes you smile?

NP: Obvious answer, but comedy. I’ve had the pleasure of introducing my Norwegian girlfriend to loads of UK comedy she hadn’t seen, and getting to revisit it. The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, Father Ted. All awesome!

 

 

 

 

LL: What’s your view about social media?

NP: I have a very private personal Facebook which I really enjoy as a way of keeping up with friends, and I’m very selective about who I’m in contact with on there. Otherwise it’s excellent being able to have communication with people who appreciate your music through my more public FB, Twitter and Instagram accounts. I think it’s fabulous – face to face can be a bit threatening sometimes, but the technology allows a non-threatening way of having good two-way communication.

 

LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?

NP: I visit Ain’t It Cool News most days. I used to visit Global Warming News daily, but it reading the comments was bad for my blood pressure, so not any more. Other than that, BBC News keeps me in touch from the road, and I click on The Hunger Site religiously.

 

 

LL: Do you currently post on other sites?

NP: I don’t, no. It’s not really my personality to be trying to foist my opinions on others.

 

LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?

NP: Kids. Comedy. Cooking.

 

LL: Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists online?

NP: I haven’t done it, but I would love to. I don’t know if people assume I’m too busy with Frank, but I don’t get many offers. I’m always up for anything!

 

 

LL: Are you interested in technology?

NP: I’m competent at it, and I’ve programmed the back end to a few quite complex websites using PHP / MySQL. And from a professional point of view I keep up with what’s happening and where things are going, definitely.

 

 

 

LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?

NP: I upload things I think will interest people. So if the stuff I’m interested in shifts, then I guess my uploads will change too.

 

LL: Are you the type of person that finds it easy to start something?

NP: I think I am. But I’m always cautious about making any pronouncements about what kind of person I may or may not be. That’s a question for someone who knows me!

 

 

LL: For someone watching a video of yours for the first time (or attending one of your gigs), what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?

NP: It depends on the video. A bit of entertainment, some info they might be interested in, something to briefly raise a smile. Whatever it happens to be.

 

LL: What makes your soul sing?

NP: My kids.

 

LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with people who admire your work?

NP: Twitter and my public Facebook. Or just chatting after a show.

 

LL: Have you found your tribe yet?

NP: I’ve always felt like a sole agent. I bounce around and am happy in a lot of people’s company (although usually I vastly prefer one-to-one over big group interaction), but I don’t really feel like I belong in a particular ‘tribe’, as you put it.

 

 

LL: What kind of opportunities are you looking forward to?

NP: I’m looking forward to getting the Dive Dive and Sad Song Co. albums out this year. Otherwise, I like to be surprised. Opportunities present themselves, I just have to be open to go “yeah, ok!”

LL: In what way do you enjoy helping others?

NP: I taught on a BND Music for a long while, and I enjoyed trying to inspire kids through that kind of course. Other than that I try to make my default position to be ‘generous’, but again that’s something to ask a third party, rather than me pompously talk about how great I am.

 

 

 

* Nigel Powell is a drummer based out of Abingdon. You can check out more of his videos here and learn more about him on his Wiki Page.

 

 

 

 

 

Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (April-June 2015) between Nigel 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 out of 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 slightly cheeky FAQ.)

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Q&A #21: Scott Raines

 

Scott talks about his journey as a guitarist, the importance of spending time with your chosen instrument, the importance of having a coach (no matter where you are) and the reason learning/practicing for him was never a chore.

 

Editor’s Note: Before you start reading Scott’s Q&A – play at least minute of his cover of Billy Joel’s ‘Just The Way You Are’. Let those chords and notes get in your veins!

 

(Word of warning: after checking out Scott’s videos on YouTube and reading his Q&A, you might be struck by the desire to fly to where his next solo show is going to be)

 

Leigh Lim: Hi Scott, thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A! Looking through your YouTube videos I notice that you have quite a variety of artists you cover. Is this a reflection of your own listening habits?

 

Scott Raines: With covers, I generally play what I like (my taste has a wide range). Sometimes I’ll learn or play something special for someone just because or if it’s something I like and is requested at a gig 😉

 

LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing?

SR: I was about 8 years old when my playing journey began. Growing up in Slocomb, AL, there were no local “mentors” or influences really. When I was 9, I had a really good friend (Johnny Hendrix), who was my age and knew some chords and played CCR [Creedence Clearwater Revival]. Sometimes we had music books with chords, but mostly we learned by ear.

Randy Thomley moved to Slocomb with his family from Michigan.  He turned me onto great rock like Ted Nugent, Montrose, etc. Of course, as I got older and travelled, I had many influences and mentors.

 

2 of my best friends, my older brother and I formed a band at very young ages and were playing honkytonks at the ages of 13 & 14 (my brother was older). We didn’t know what we were doing. We just knew that we needed to sound like the records we were listening to. So we would put the needle on the record and learn stuff note for note. There is no better ear training than that. We didn’t have another band in town with which compare ourselves, but only to the bands/artists themselves on the records. We blew everyone away from very young ages. The older bar cats/musicians didn’t know what hit them.

 

I grew up in the Church of Christ (no instruments), which is known for their awesome singing and vocal arrangements. I was hearing harmonies from the womb. I have always had a natural ear for harmony because of that.

 

 

LL: What pulled you to travelling?

 

SR: I knew I wanted to play music from a very early age. As soon as I was old enough, I hit the road. I took a break from traveling while my daughters were very young. They are older now, so I am enjoying traveling more again.

 

LL: Were there any challenges that come to mind during your learning process?

SR: As a kid, my problem was keeping my fingers from bleeding from playing so much on a very cheap guitar.

 

Most of my challenges came later when I crossed into other genres or between playing acoustic and electric (which are really 2 different instruments technique-wise). I never had a problem with motivation. I was going to do it/learn it, period. I would just listen to and play with the music, jam with people and study until I got better. Learn stuff note for note, then use the concepts and apply them to my own playing, etc.

 

I get blocks and hit ceilings, as I’m sure everyone does. That’s when you go see live music, get on YouTube and watch some greats, go jam with friends or put on some old music that takes you back to what got you into music in the first place.

 

 

LL: Does that mean now you’ve learned how to pace yourself? (making sure that you don’t injure your fingers? Or did you just find a way to protect the tips of your fingers as a kid – maybe with something like Micropore Tape?)

SR: As a kid, small Band-Aids, then superglue worked well. After you have played for so long, you and your fingers get in shape and it doesn’t bother you any more. Playing regularly keeps them in shape. I often play with heavier gauge strings, which keeps them strong as well.

 

LL: Do you have specific books that you keep within reach that you regularly refer to?

SR: I was turned onto SCALES AND MODES in the Beginning by a friend (Mike Barnes) who was/is an amazing player who trained at GIT [Guitar Institute of Technology, now MI – Musician’s Institute]. I was already playing much of that stuff I learned by ear, but this book enlightened me on some of what and why I was playing some things (scales, etc.). I don’t think it really changed my life or anything.

 

 

LL: If you were to put together a learning plan for someone who has never played before, so they could have the capacity to play at your level and skill. What would it look like?

 

SR: For me, playing guitar is mostly right-brained. It’s a feel thing. It’s a passion thing. My thirst for theory didn’t come until later when I wondered why I played what I played. My advice would be to explore the technical side as well as the creative. Feel what you are playing, but also explore what is going on under the hood of what you are playing and why.

 

Take lessons, get mentors, jam with artists much better than yourself. If you are really serious in making a living at it, go to where the music business is; L.A., Nashville or New York City.

 

Start writing your own stuff from day one! Learning covers is good in that you pick up technique, feel, etc., but don’t spend too much time on it. Put a band together and write your own stuff, no matter how bad is sucks. Just keep writing!

 

If you are seriously learning guitar (or ANY other instrument), consistently practice with a metronome. Rhythm is your job. Take it seriously! If it is your job to start or count off a song in a pro show, you’d better have a click in your ear or metronome on stage in order to start it at the correct tempo. There are too many factors that can affect your inner clock (butterflies, adrenalin, distractions, etc.).

 

As good as Tiger Woods is, why does he still have a coach? The best drummers in the world come to practice and to the gig with a metronome. That’s all I will say about that.

 

LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as a guitarist?

 

SR: It was never a chore for me to “practice”. My body and soul become one when I have a guitar in my hand. I can literally feel my blood pressure even out. You hear people speak of God-given talent. Maybe there is some of that, but I tend to believe it is more of a God-given passion.

If you have true passion for something, NOTHING gets in your way and “can’t” is not an option. Yes, running scales can get tedious, but by keeping your eye on an end result/goal, it is just a necessary thing. Task over time is the only way to get great at something.

 

 

LL: How important was it to have someone help you learn a specific technique?

SR: Over the years, I have learned to not waste time inventing the wheel and go straight to someone who is doing what I want to know how to do and ask them. I call it Continuing Ed. Ask them, jam with them, pay for a lesson or whatever it takes. I have played with some amazing guitarists over the years and I have to give credit to Jack Pearson, one of my current coaches/mentors.

Jack takes playing guitar to a whole new level, stepping into multiple arenas (genres, techniques) and drops jaws wherever he goes. I try to see him every few weeks when I make it to Nashville. I will pay him for a lesson, we will go to dinner and then we’ll go out on the town to see some great players.

 

I learned a lot by watching and playing studio sessions. Good session players, engineers and producers are incredible to watch. The way they create such masterful arrangements on the fly is just amazing. Hearing myself on tape put things in perspective. I had to practice more!

 

LL: Would you mind sharing some of the recent lightbulb moments you’ve had during your time with Jack?

SR: Jack and I are friends. I have never really taken formal lessons, though I would have liked to go to a music college like MI if I could have afforded it. Teaching guitar is a source of income for Jack, so I support him by paying him for lessons and subscribing to his online guitar school while I get top notch jam time and custom direction on new perspectives of the fingerboard.

 

 

LL: What would you advise a songwriter (who has never played guitar before) wanting to accumulate enough knowledge and skill to be able to translate musical ideas using the guitar?

 

SR: Get a chord book/app, learn the basic chords and go for it. I enjoy picking up instruments that I don’t play and banging around on them. This has inspired some pretty cool original ideas for me.

 

LL: Can you share three music theory related ideas that helped you become a better musician?

SR: The Nashville Number System (Number System is part of general music theory) has been the most useful for me. Generally, I can hear a song for the 1st time and have it mostly charted by the time it gets to the end. Great tool in studio sessions. Most of the jam sessions in my life, players are yelling numbers to each other, not chords. It is also invaluable when the singer decides to change the key of the song. The 1 is the 1 no matter what key it happens to be in.

 

Sight Reading staff certainly has its place.  I just never find myself in those places.

Not really music theory, but I have to mention that if you want to be a great musician, it is VERY important that you learn to listen to what else is going on. Do not stampede on top of vocals, someone else’s solo, etc. What you don’t play is MORE important that what you do play! Playing music is not everyone banging out the same chords from start to finish.

The arrangements are carefully designed for the instruments (including the voice) to work together. This may mean that you don’t play a single note until the bridge and when you do, it is only 3 notes (maybe not even chords). The same goes in jams. When someone else is singing or playing a solo, SHUT UP or at least bring your volume WAY down. It is a conversation. Let the others speak, too. All this depends on the genre as well. There are exceptions 😉

 

Another thing that has helped me is learning other instruments’ parts in songs. Organ voicing is very fun on guitar. Sax solos are very similar to guitar licks and lend another perspective/approach. Piano parts are a lot of fun on guitar. I have played guitar synth and would learn many parts like organ, horn lines/stabs between guitar parts, etc.

 

Finally, BE NICE! Just like everything else, it is all about relationships. Learn something from everyone you meet and be nice to your fellow musicians, club owners, managers, producers, etc., but especially your fans. Nobody wants to be around an ass—.

 

 

LL: Do you do your own chord experiments?

 

SR: Every time I pick up a guitar! I play with inversions, especially on an electric. One of the best things you can do to learn your neck is to jam with a song a thousand times and play it different every time. Play each chord in different locations of the neck every time it comes around, on 2 strings, on 3 strings, skip strings, play the chord in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, with the root on bottom, 5th on the bottom, 4th or 7th on the bottom, etc. There is no end to how many ways to play a simple song like Take It Easy. Per my answer above, learning other instruments’ parts helps with this, too.

 

LL: What’s your view on alternate tunings?

 

SR: I have played with alternate tunings in other artists’ music, but haven’t really gotten into it with my own music. I enjoy drop D, open A, D & E for slide. I wouldn’t hesitate to go there if I heard something I needed to capture that couldn’t happen in standard tuning.

 

 

LL: Description of your playing style?

SR: Yeah, there are endless ways to approach playing this song (and most songs). Depending on my mood, I may play a song different every time. Sometimes I want to play very sparsely to let a song breathe and bring more weight to the voice/lyrics. Sometimes I will play a piano line/part instead of guitar, etc.

 

Being a hired gun, my playing will have different colors, depending on whom I’m playing with, what instrument I am playing, the setting or music style. My playing style will always complement the song or type of music I am playing.

 

I do a different thing with my right hand, in that I hold a pick, but still use my other fingers for picking (unless it is a full on strum). I use this technique with acoustic and electric guitar.

 

LL: What are some misconceptions you come across about you — as a musician?

SR: Musicians/artists come in a wide variety and unfortunately many generalized opinions of them are justified by the actions of the egotistical, undependable, entitled and generally unprofessional actions of more than a few. It is a tough business and it is an uphill battle to make a living as an artist. Too few artists know anything about the “business” of their craft. It is very important to learn that side as well.

 

When I was young, I played by ear and would nail the songs I had learned. I had no idea what I was playing or why, but anyone who heard me thought I was amazing. This was NOT the case! Sometimes I would land on the wrong dot 😉 Ouch!

 

It’s funny when you see someone who shreds some song(s) and you want to jam with them and explore with them, but in reality, they can’t as much as open jam on a 1-4-5 blues. All these great clips on YouTube are cool, kids playing Eruption, or whatever, note for note, etc., but I always wonder if they have anything else. I like to think so.

 

 

LL: Are you learning something specific at the moment?

SR: I’m almost always happy, but never satisfied with where I am knowledge-wise in general. I’m a student in life and am always hungry for knowledge, especially musical knowledge.

Right now, I am working on my voice a lot. After singing all of my life, I have only recently learned about chest voice, head voice & the mix. There again, I’ve done it for years, but never really knew what I was doing and why.

I am currently spending a lot of time writing for a couple of different projects.

 

LL: Do you think you’d be on the lookout for a vocal coach as well?

SR: I heard a lot about Brett Manning in Nashville as the guy the record companies sent their new artists to in order to dial their voices in. I ordered a couple of programs from him that really helped my technique. When I am in Nashville, I like to schedule a one on one session with them.

 

 

LL: What’s part of your guitar arsenal at the moment?

SR: D’Addario electric strings and Elixir acoustic strings. I mostly use V-Pick for electric guitar (mostly a custom Tradition) & mandolin. For acoustic, I mostly use Dunlop Tortex (1.14mm). I use heavy pics unless I am playing a strumming rhythm acoustic track in the studio where you want to hear the sound of the pick on the strings, which syncs with the drummer’s high-hat.

I have many guitars. Which I use depends on the gig or style of music I am playing. My favorite is Fender Stratocaster (I mostly play a Jeff Beck model). I like the percussiveness of a nice clean single coil. It can get very funky.

I have Strats, Teles, Larrivee, Taylors, Peavy Wolfgang, Ovation, Brian Moore, Kramer, mandolin, dobro, ukes, etc.

 

LL: Do you go for D’Addario strings for your electric because they have extra flex in them? (for bends…and other nutty electric stuff. I have the impression that Elixir is great primarily for their longevity. Are those part of the choices for you?)

SR: I don’t break D’Addario strings like I do other brands and they sound and react really well. Elixir strings are for the lively sound and yes, for longevity.

 

 

LL: How would you describe your go-to set-up?

SR: Different gear for different genre/gigs. I use different amps for electric; Rivera, Fender or Marshall usually. If backline is provided, I usually get Fender, Marshall or Blackstar, depending. I’m pretty much ready for anything in my pedalboard.

If we fly to a gig, there is backline provided, so I will only bring a guitar or 2.

 

LL: Did you have to do any set-ups adjustments to any of your guitars (strings closer to the fretboard)?

 

SR: I’ve never had a guitar come straight from factory perfectly set up for me. The setup depends on what I’m going to do with it.

 

LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind of set-up that you like?

 

SR: With experience, you learn what you like. If I’m playing slide, of course, I don’t want the strings lying on the neck. Unless I am playing really hard rock, I like my strings up a bit so I can get percussive without splatting out.

 

Acoustics have a better tone when the strings are not right on the neck. Heavier strings help, too. I use .013 Elixirs on most of my steel string acoustics.

 

 

LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?

SR: If I’m doing a cover solo gig where people make requests, I have my iPad to pull up lyrics from the Internet so I can play songs on the fly. Plus, I can pull up songs to see what key they are in so I can get as close as possible. I play many songs on a gig that I have never played before. The ones I like, I’ll fine-tune later and keep.

 

If playing a show/concert with one of my regular bands, no. We follow set lists for those.

 

If I am hired for a show or session, I will have charts, probably on an iPad.

 

And of course there is always this mental note: Don’t screw up, because if you do, it will show up on YouTube and you’ll have to live with it the rest of your life!

 

No, seriously, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. EVER! Everyone makes them.

 

LL: Would any clips from solo gigs end up on your YouTube channel in the near future?

SR: Other people upload most of the videos I see on YouTube, so I imagine they are out there. I know the APB videos pop up all the time from videographers and people in the crowd. I like it. I can critique myself.

 

 

LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?

SR: Before a show, I warm up with scales on guitar. Some voice warm up. Then I’ll sing and play a bunch of songs with my acoustic to get all warmed up. Ideally, I like an hour to warm up.

For practice at home, it depends on my mood.

 

LL: Have you always been mindful of ergonomics when you play?

SR: All that just comes naturally. For guitar or voice, you should be very relaxed. That being said, I don’t like to sing sitting down. Even on solo acoustic gigs, I stand up for a better voice. Economy of motion is very important when playing any instrument.

 

LL: Do you have a piece of equipment (or software) that you thought was a good buy at that time, but you eventually didn’t use it as much as you hoped?

SR: Since I have regretted almost everything I have sold, I pretty much hang on to my gear. I love going through old boxes and finding cool pedals I forgot about.

 

 

LL: Do you buy consumables in bulk?

SR: We have string and pick endorsements. When I buy, I always buy in bulk. Saves $.

 

LL: Guitar Maintenance and Storage?

SR: 50% humidity. Most of them are hanging in my music room, ready to pull down and play when the mood hits.

 

LL: Would you have a humidity monitor in the room?

SR: I have a temperature/humidity monitor in the room. I use humidifiers to keep the level at 50%.

 

Editor’s Note: Scott tells me that this picture he shares on his Facebook page belongs Jake Peavy (a dear friend of Scott’s and current baseball pitcher with SF Giants). Scott clarifies that his (with 50% humidity) is similar, but smaller.

 

 

LL: With your videos, what process do you go through?

SR: The ones I have done, I just start the machine and start playing. The first ones I put up (after being urged by so many people to do so), I turned the recorder on and played about 20 songs straight through. I uploaded it, split them into separate songs, trimmed the beginning and end and uploaded them. What you see/hear is what you get. No editing. Plus I like everything dry. Just guitar and voice. If it doesn’t sound good, I have nothing to blame but me. Practice will fix it. Not reverb 😉

That reminds me of one of my favorite comments on one of my initial 20 videos. Some guy said something like, “Dude, you are awesome! You are good enough to go out and get paying gigs so you can buy a new shirt!”.


LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting videos?

SR: I always have stuff I would like to record and upload. It’s just the challenge of time. I hope to get better at it.

 

 

LL: Were there instances when you hesitated about posting something?

SR: No, I just post what I want to when I have time. The idea of setting it up is a bit daunting. I need to do it more so I get more comfy with the process.

 

LL: What would you like to learn about next? Has your approach to learning changed in the last 5 years?

SR: I have grown more in the last 10 years than my previous years combined. I have craving for knowledge and for the betterment of me.

 

LL: Are you currently mentoring someone?

SR: On my life path, I try to learn as well as teach, serve or inspire any place I can. As humans, we have a duty to do these things.

 

 

LL: What do you do when you come across something that annoys you?

SR: I am rarely annoyed or offended. I have learned that it is really easy to shake things off and move on. Life shouldn’t be that serious. We fail, we learn from our failures and hopefully next time, we’ll remember the lesson we learned. #fallforward

 

LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?

SR: Technology, business & investing (especially real estate).

 

LL: Are there artists that you would hope more people should listen to?

SR Music is a very personal thing. Some types of music or particular songs, solos, etc. touch everyone differently. Find something that moves you and get lost in it.

 

 

LL: What are you reading at the moment?

SR: Right now, I’m reading “How To Use the GoPro Hero 4”, by Jordan Hetric. For building a strong life foundation and attitude, I recommend books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey), The No Complaining Rule, Energy Bus, Training Camp (Anything Jon Gordon). I like business news, I follow the stock markets as time allows, I like commercial real estate and retail stats and trends.

 

LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new things?

SR: Every day! I mostly Google to find information. If I want to dig deeper, I look for a book.

 

LL: In what way do you approach motivation and inspiration?

SR: I stay motivated because I’m always feeding myself spiritually, mentally and physically. I play guitar, read positive books, I avoid negative input as best I can (sometimes this requires staying off of social media…or ALL media), do yoga, bike, run, swim, workout, crossfit, etc.

 

 

LL: What makes you smile?

SR: After a couple of days on the road with the Artimus Pyle Band, my face hurts from laughing. Great guys that love to have fun!

 

LL: I’ve been checking out your Facebook page photos and couldn’t help but be amused! Is enjoying life (including not being afraid to look silly for the camera) what you aim for each day?

SR: Every day, I want to lift others up, learn something, better myself and HAVE FUN!  EVERY day.  And I am a HUGE t-shirt fan 😉

 

LL: What’s your view about social media?

SR: It’s a great tool and a curse. I jumped right in, however with all the political and social rants that has taken over; it takes a lot of weeding out and unsubscribing. I mostly just post and try not to browse much.

 

 

LL: Do you currently post at forums?

SR: I never got into forums much.

 

LL: Are there websites that you like to visit just because you like the design?

SR: No. I’m all about content.

 

LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?

SR: Grab my guitar or go for a run.

 

 

LL: What do you enjoy most when collaborating with other artists?

SR: I love that music in an international language. It has been the catalyst for dear friendships across the globe. We may not speak the same language, but we can speak musically endlessly.

 

LL: Are you interested in technology?

SR: After drinking the Apple Kook-Aid, I am mostly Mac now. I love my MacBook Pro. I could not function without Dropbox and Evernote. My home recording software is Presonus Studio One Pro. And I love building out Excel files for real estate investment and cash flow analysis.

 

LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?

SR: Probably will change things up as needed. 

 

 

LL: If you were asked to pick from the videos you have, which one would be your favourite?

SR: I enjoy looking at videos that pop up on YouTube after a run of shows. I like getting the crowd’s perspective.

 

LL: Are you the type of person that finds it easy to start something?

SR: I’m a note taker. I have to get my ideas down and “whiteboard” them so I don’t forget or lose the vibe I had when it hit me. I can add to, edit or trash it later if it doesn’t do anything for me.

 

LL: For someone watching a video of yours for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?

SR: I hope to inspire.

 

 

LL: What makes your soul sing?

SR: Playing in front of thousands of people and directing/connecting them in unison (hand claps, applause, singing), flying down a mountain on a single track bike, jumping out of a plane, overcoming my limited mindset and pushing through a ceiling…any ceiling.

 

LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with people who admire your work?

SR: Messaging on social media is probably the quickest. I don’t think YouTube has messaging notification outside of email. If it does, let me know.

 

LL: What kind of opportunities are you looking forward to?

SR: I am open to all opportunities. I would love to jam with someone in every country on earth.

LL: In what way do you enjoy helping others?

SR: Our Church is very hands-on in the community and around the world. I don’t know an organization that does more in the world than ROTARY. I am an active Rotarian and the mission trips I have been involved with have fulfilled my soul.

 

 

* Scott Raines is a guitarist based out of Asheville, and is a walking jukebox (ask him how many tunes he can whip out!). He looks forward to realising his dream of jamming in every country in the world — and is open for an invite to visit a country he has not been to, and jam. You can see things from his eyes by checking out his Twitter feed or his Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (October 2014 – July 2015) between Scott 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 out of 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 slightly cheeky FAQ.)

Notes:

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Interested in reading more?

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Q&A #19: Mark Diamond

 

Mark Diamond shares his journey as a bassist, how he navigated learning the craft mostly as a self-taught musician, amusing anecdotes when people attempt to guess the name of the instrument he’s playing, and his 4000 Facebook “friends”.

 

Leigh Lim: Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A! On your Facebook page, you have a painting of a bass player. Is it a portrait of you?

Mark Diamond: Hi Leigh! Yes, it is a portrait of me! I was performing with my group Big Swing Trio at a now defunct club in Denver called Sambuca when a woman walked in with a giant blank canvas and said she was going see how the music inspired her and paint something while we played. This painting was the result! Her name is Michelle Torrez and she is amazing!

 

LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing? (i.e. first you did your scales, chords, then songs…etc etc)

MD: Well, I started playing piano when I was very young. Along the way starting in 4th grade, I added clarinet, drums in 6th grade, and bagpipes in 9th grade, only for that year. I pretty much considered myself a drummer until I was 20, when I first brought an upright bass home for the first time. It was my cousin Howard’s bass that he didn’t play anymore,, thank you, Howard!

As to scales, etc, I had much experience with the basics and theory of music from the years playing all of those other instruments. However, when I started playing the bass, I really began to play by ear, just learning tons of tunes and styles of music. Three months after bringing this bass home, I started gigging and have never stopped. I’m now in my 41st year as a full time musician! Indeed, I practiced scales and rudiments early on, and still do sometimes.

My practicing now consists more of constantly learning new material, which takes me on many different musical journeys and challenges.

 

 

LL: Readers may be familiar with someone else who has the same last name, your son Dean (link to Dean’s Q&A)! (Do you think it was your affinity to the drums that made Dean interested in it? Or was it just because you had your old kit in storage…and he asked if he could use it?)

MD: I did not have my old kit in storage, as I traded my drum set for a bass pickup decades ago, (not the best deal) in NJ before I moved out to CO. When Dean expressed interest in wanting to play the drums, we got him a set, used, of his own. I’m sure my love of music, and him seeing what I do everyday sparked his interest in creating music, no matter what his vehicle for his expression would be; whether drums, guitar, or any other instrument.

 

LL: Do you have specific books that you keep within reach that you regularly refer to?

MD: To be honest, I have piles of books that I have used over the years, but I wouldn’t say that I refer to them regularly, but they’re there when I need them.

 

 

LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never played bass before, so they could have the capacity to play at your level and skill. What would it look like?

MD: Each person’s journey is unique. My journey has worked, is working for me. I feel that people can learn theory from a million books on their own time, so when I teach, it is more of a hands on approach.

The upright bass has some extra challenges in the beginning, like building up calluses, gaining strength and endurance, playing in tune, as there are no markings for notes on this instrument. I teach beginners approaches to scales, and use blues bass lines as exercises. I have students bring in songs they want to learn and help them find their way to playing them.

I am a self taught musician, for better or worse. Some folks certainly want to go the school route which is great. Majoring in music was not my path and I’m not sure it needs to be for everyone. But always learning and hard work is always the path, no matter how you get there.

 

LL: Do you use products to protect the skin on your fingers? (For example Shakerleg uses tape on his fingers. Some volleyball players use a similar kind of tape on their fingers for grip/protection when tossing the ball)

MD: For bass playing, I am against using tape. You’ve got to develop your calluses, go through that painful but rewarding process. You can’t get a nice, natural sound on the bass with taped fingers. Skin on string is the only way to go. Taping is weak! :>)

 

 

LL: Are there any challenges that come to mind during your learning process?

MD: For sure! I take on some projects that seem utterly baffling at the start! I may ask myself, how will I ever be able to play this? That’s when I have to dig even deeper. I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator, but sometimes I know I’d better get to this if I want to be ready to perform this music.

 

LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as a bassist?

MD: To be a musician, you need to be very self driven, self motivated. No one can do this for you. There is certainly discipline involved. Many months and years of being alone in a room playing the same things over and over again…..very slowly and then gradually faster and faster.

That said, time is also a big factor. It just takes time to build up chops and a song repertoire, especially in the jazz world. Most jazz players have literally hundreds of tunes in their heads that they can play at any moment. You better be able to if you want to hang with the major cats! That just takes time.

Having the opportunity to play all these tunes on a regular enough basis to let them start to sink in is very important too. I was lucky to have that early on in my career. Of course, there are some very young players who can do all this in a comparatively short period of time, but that’s not true for most folks.

 

 

LL: Were there times when you didn’t want to practice? (What did you do to keep going?)

MD: Sure, most of the time! What keeps me going, for example, is knowing that I have to learn all these new tunes by a certain date, so I better get on it! Then there are other times where I just feel inspired to explore and try new things. Practicing can be boring or exciting, but always necessary.

 

LL: How important was it to have someone help you learn a specific technique?

MD: Being a self taught bassist, again, for better or worse, I really have carved out my own path to playing, and to the business end of being a musician. I did take a few lessons very early on with a great bassist in New Jersey, Don Messina. He certainly helped to show me some technique, but also turned me onto some great music like Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh, Lester Young, Bird, (Charlie Parker), and some others which changed my life forever!

I also learned in the beginning that you have to play through the pain! If you have a giant blister on your finger(s), the best thing to do is to keep on playing. It can hurt like hell, but so what!

 

 

LL: Artists are known to be very protective for their work. What would you say to someone who can’t seem to let go, and share their ideas/work — while it is in progress?

MD: There is an amazing bass player whom I have never met, but I tracked him down by phone one time. He does this really cool thing where he plays his bass as a percussion instrument while playing the notes simultaneously, way cool. I asked him how he does it and he wouldn’t tell me. That’s okay, I get it.

If there is ever anything I can share with someone about how I do something, I’m happy to do it. I think most of the good players feel this way. Most of the musicians I work with are very collaborative. If they aren’t, it’s often because they have a precise vision of what they want, and that’s fine by me. I will strive to give them what they want.

On the business end of things however, I may not be so forthcoming. It takes a lot of time and energy and persistence to build working relationships with club owners and managers, agents, and folks who run festivals, etc, and I may not want to just give someone a name and number when it may have taken me a year to build this relationship.  

 

LL: What are some misconceptions you find about you as a bassist?

MD: The first misconception is that so often people ask me how long have I been playing the cello? Also, people ask me more often than you would think what this instrument is called. I always ask them for their best guess. The worst answer ever was when a woman guessed the oboe. I told her she needed to get out more often!

Folks think the bassist is just a time keeper. Everyone in the band better be a time keeper. That the bass is easy. I’m sure there are many misconceptions, but I don’t always get to hear them.

 

 

LL: Haha! The oboe! So, for those who need a bit of guidance regarding the difference between the bass and the cello, how would you put it? (Also…do you have a preference on calling it an ‘upright bass’? Apparently there are some who dislike using the term ‘double bass’.)

MD: The bass and the cello are in the same family, so I get it when folks make that guess. The cello is much smaller than the bass and it’s range is higher. I love the sound of a cello. It can go quite low, but not as low as the bass, and then it goes much higher, closer to viola and violin range. It is also tuned in fifths, like the violin and viola.

The bass is tuned in fourths, like a guitar. As to what to call the bass, I’m sure it is the instrument with the most names. Just add the word bass after each name…here we go: upright, double, string, acoustic, stand up, contra, dog house, bass fiddle, and bull fiddle (don’t add bass to this one). I’ve never heard of anyone disliking the term double bass.

 

LL: Do you have a certain process when you get ready for gigs? (gigs close by, or when you are out on the road?)

MD: I kind of gauge my day gearing up for gig time so that I have my peak energy for those hours. I wouldn’t say I have a certain process, there’s lots to do before I leave for the gig, taking care of business by communicating with folks about upcoming gigs, dealing with organizing music and band members for upcoming performances, home stuff, yard work, whatever.

Food and changing into my “gigging vine” are the final preparations. On the road, depending upon where I am, I like to sight see, explore local foods, or have rehearsals if necessary.

 

 

 

 

LL: How would you describe your style of playing?

MD: I am a high energy, aggressive player, but I like to play slow and sweet too. I usually go through a wide range of emotions during any performance, so it all comes out along the way.

 

LL: Favourite time of the day to play? (either recording/gigs/writing)

MD: I’m not a morning person by any means, so I don’t like playing early in the day, although some performances do call for that. Otherwise, I’m happy to be playing anytime. A two hour gig is too short, and sometimes a four hour gig can be a drain, so let’s say the best hours for me would be 9pm – midnight.

I don’t like to record on days that I have other gigs, so for recording sessions, it’s nice to have the whole day to settle in, relax by not worrying about the time, and get the job done.

 

LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?

MD: Some days I don’t like to warm up or practice before a gig because I know the gig will be so demanding I want to have everything to put into it. Other days, I may run some scales and patterns, warm up slowly and get faster to be ready.

 

 

LL: Do you have a mental (or written) checklist that you go through, before each work is finished?

MD: I must have a mental checklist.  I don’t have a written checklist because at this point in my career, I know if I’m prepared, or not, for anything that I have to accomplish.  If I’m not prepared, I get prepared in time.

If by “each work” you are referring to writing, I really don’t write. I collaborate with writers and help arrange.  I’ve never been much of a writer, and there are so many great writers out there, I am just happy to learn and play their music

 

LL: What’s part of your arsenal at the moment?

MD: I have three basses. One is a Meisel that I bought brand new in 1978 at an import warehouse in Union NJ. It is a laminated, or plywood bass and is pretty good. I’ve done a million gigs and made many recordings using this bass.

In 2002 I bought a Juzek, a carved bass, each side of the bass is one solid piece of wood, and I love it! I also have an Eminence bass which is a portable, upright bass. I mostly use it for destination gigs when I need to fly. Since 9/11, TSA has made flying with a bass much more challenging, and this bass is just like checking a bag. The finger board/neck of the bass separates from the body and the two pieces go into a flight case that is the same size as if you were traveling with a set of golf clubs. No more hassles trying to talk my bass onto a flight that has already taken me somewhere.

Flying out of DIA was never an issue. It was always on the return flight that the trouble began. I got tired of that conversation! I have one German bow and one French bow. I prefer the German.

Over the years I have explored many different strings, but I keep coming bank to Dr. Thomastik Spirocores, until a few months ago when I tried Pirastro, The Jazzer. I am liking them very much!

I own four bass amps…one Hartke 15 Kickback, one SWR Workingman’s 12, and two Mark Bass 12″ combos. I am a huge fan of the Mark Bass amp and it’s the only one I will use. I try to get them provided when I travel. Sometimes that works out. That’s really about it. I’m mostly an LTD, a low tech dude. I just want to reproduce the natural sound of the upright bass as loudly as necessary.

 

 

LL: Fretted or Fretless? (Or both — when the environment calls for it)

MD: I only play the upright bass, which is naturally fretless.

 

LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind of pickup that you like?

MD: Over the years I have tried, and still do, many different pickups. I actually have four different pickups on my bass presently. I lean towards one of them more than the others, The Full Circle by Fishman. I also have a David Gage Lifeline, a String Charger, and an Open Source.

 

LL: Is it possible to have more than four different pickups? (Also interested to hear where is each pick-up located — and how you switch from one to the other. Are there separate plugs for each pickup?)

MD: I suppose it’s possible, but 4 is probably over doing it already! Yes, each pickup has it’s own jack.

I generally start with one of the pickups and if I’m not happy with the sound, I’ll try the others. Lately the Fishman Full Circle is my go to, and I stay with it. It takes time to learn how to get the right sound out of each one, how to set your amp settings, how any given room reacts to your sound. It’s a process.

The Fishman is built into one of the adjusters on the bridge. The Lifeline is also on the bridge held on by the pressure of the same adjuster, between the adjuster and the wood of the bride. The Open Source is like a piece of tape that is held in place between the low end foot of the bridge and the body, the top of the bass. The String Charger is attached by a bracket secured with velcro under the fingerboard and sits right at the bottom of the finger board. It is a magnetic pickup, (as opposed to a transducer like the others), which you find on an electric bass guitar, so when I need high volume with no feedback, I use this pickup in conjunction with one of the others. It’s a pretty amazing sound, if I say so myself!

 

 

 

LL: What’s your default gear set-up?

MD: I don’t use any effects. I just want to amplify the sound of the acoustic bass. I use a Mark Bass Amp, which I just love!!!

 

LL: Has any of your equipment undergone customisation?

MD: My friend James Connell of Sol Vista Violins, who is my “bass guy” whenever I need anything taken care of is developing a new tail piece which will house a pre-amp, tone and volume controls and inputs for two of my pickups so I can blend their sounds.  He has a patent pending. I am very excited to try this when it’s ready.

 

LL: Do you have a piece of equipment (or software) that you thought was a good buy at that time, but you eventually didn’t use it as much as you hoped?

MD: I’ve gone through many different items over the years. I keep some of it and sell or give away some of it. Creating your sound is always a work in progress and new equipment is developed and comes out.

 

 

LL: Would you recommend buying consumables in bulk?

MD: My strings, for example cost about $280 per set, but sometimes I buy two sets at a time when they’re on sale. I go at least a year between string changes.

 

LL: Gear Maintenance and Storage?

MD: I have a shed at the top of my driveway under a car port where I store all my gear. The bass gets to come in the house! As to maintenance, if something needs repair, I do it right away. I don’t like when things don’t work as they should, or more to the point, as they need to.

 

 

LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?

MD: With my IPad and or phone nearby, I may send myself a note to remember a song that needs to be learned or worked on, a vocal harmony, etc. I can also make notes right on a chart in my IPad. On a straight ahead jazz gig, I know many, many tunes in my head…..not all of them, but a whole bunch!

 

LL: Are you mindful of ergonomics when you play? “(Are there specific things you’ve done over the years to make sure that you are taking care of your posture and not putting unnecessary stress on your body? Do you use a strap when you play?)

MD: No strap for me, as I stand next to my bass when I play. I feel that there is an acquired skill to the art of strength through relaxation when playing. I try to stay loose, but I dig in deep when I play. I re-position myself often throughout any gig so no one area is being used too much for too long.

Of course, my hands and fingers and arms and shoulders are always in action.

 

LL: What’s next for your playing?

MD: I am always learning new songs and material. I am currently trying to work on the art of less is more, which is always a challenge, trying to leave more space, play less notes, and yet say more. I am proud of my musical diversity and being able to step into almost any situation, whether rehearsed or a one off with strangers, and doing a good job.

I’m almost never happy with where I’m at, which can be a good thing, to keep me working and striving to be better and as good as I can be. I may never get there!

 

 

LL: Do you think you’ll be doing any videos with just you in it? (Maybe jamming along with a looped chord progression or you doing a studio recording? Aside from the one you did with Purple Squirrel?)

MD: The Purple Squirrel video is actually a live performance captured. I don’t play alone, so a video of just me is not likely. Sometimes in the studio someone films us, but I don’t usually see or have access to those. It is for the person hiring me to play on their project who uses that for their own purposes.

I wouldn’t mind having some of those videos to see and share, but I don’t have them now.

 

LL: Are you open to teaching anyone to play bass?

MD: I’ll give my best shot teaching to anyone who wants to take lessons from me. One requirement is that they have to already have an upright bass, as lessons without one would be useless because they wouldn’t be able to practice what we’ve gone over.

You’d be surprised how many folks ask me if I teach, but don’t have a bass, at least yet. I don’t want to just take someone’s money!

 

 

LL: Aside from: ‘What instrument are you playing?’ — are there questions you find yourself answering multiple times?

MD: ‘How long have you been playing?’ I’m in my 41st year as a bassist. ‘Is this your real job?’ It sure is! ‘What do you really do for a living?’ You’re seeing it. ‘Do you play any other instruments?’ I have in my life but not anymore, except some drums once in a while.

‘How do you know where the notes are?’ It’s a secret! ‘Does it hurt to play the upright bass?’ Only when you don’t play for a little while. ‘Do you love what you do?’ Absolutely!

‘What kind of car do you drive?’ Presently a 2003 Honda CRV. The bass has been in many vehicles over the years including a ’68’ Beetle. It wasn’t fun, but it worked!

LL: Are you currently mentoring someone?

MD: I am not presently mentoring anyone, that I know of. Over the years though, people have thanked me for bits of advice or info that I’ve shared with them at some point in time, whether about playing, or how to approach getting a gig, or sharing info on how I get my sound.

I am lucky to surround myself with world class musicians who are also nice people. I try my best to always be at the top of my game to be ready to play in any situation that comes my way, with whomever it might be. Every phone call is a potential new adventure.

One of the only things I don’t do is play in a symphony orchestra. I love that music, but it’s not what I am striving for musically. I have, however, twice in my life, played in a jazz quartet with symphony orchestra. It was exhilarating to play in that setting!

 

 

LL: What do you do when you come across something that annoys you?

MD: Wow, that’s an interesting question. I guess there’s the saying, choose your battles. I try to do that.

If it’s a situation where I may not be in the same setting for a long time, or ever again, I won’t do or say anything and just do my job and be done with it. In situations that are ongoing, some for decades, I will certainly speak up when necessary for the betterment of the project. I try to do it off the bandstand because that’s not the place to try and fix things.

Unfortunately, there are some folks out there that just speak up openly rather than wait for a moment in private to give some feedback —- it’s very uncomfortable.

I do vent though. Unfortunately, my poor wife gets the brunt of my venting!  Thank you, Karen!  

 

LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about? (could be music or something not related to it! Specific thing / or things that you could end up going on and on about…if given a chance! Could also be either a topic which would get you talking endlessly — or something that has captured your interest recently. I’d also be interested to hear about a topic you’re hoping to get a chance to discuss more.)

MD: I try not to talk endlessly…..who wants to hear that?! Being like I said, a low tech dude, I don’t geek out on gear or anything like that. I’ll talk about my grandson for a while, if someone wants to listen!

I like sharing war stories of the road in the right setting. I always say, the worst times make the best stories!

 

 

LL: Are you a big listener of music? (Does your music library reflect the music you play? Or does everything you listen to eventually make its way to your playing? Can you share some of the artists that you absolutely dig, and are surprised that others in your circle haven’t heard of? songs/albums that you cannot get enough of? Alternately, you can also share things you like reading about or listening to —- or even your favourite non-musical artists: painters, dancers, sculptors, poets…)

MD: I do listen to a lot of music, a lot of different music. I’m sure all of the music I listen to seeps into my playing. It is not a planned thing, more of an osmosis situation.

I’d say my music library reflects the music I play and then some. Picking particular artists is always so hard. I can’t ever answer, what’s your favorite, anything, song, artist, food, etc. The mood, the location, the situation all play a role in what might be a favorite thing at the moment. I know that’s not what you asked, but there I was.

Musically, my influences are so vast. I grew up on rock and roll and music from Puerto Rico on my local am station, and George Gershwin, and then the history of jazz!

Who do I absolutely dig? Man, it’s so hard to go there. I’ll just start naming everybody from Bird to The Beatles. Okay, slow down…..I love a song called River Man by Nick Drake. I love vibraphonist Joe Locke, how he plays and arranges tunes. I still love Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Young…..all of them together and separately. Christian McBride is so amazing as is Rene Marie! Okay, now I’m just gonna start naming everybody and it’s sooooo many people!

I like reading people’s autobiographies, when I get a chance to sit around and read, which isn’t as often as I would like. I love all the arts that you mentioned. One of my brothers is a singer, actor, dancer who started as a classical ballet dancer in The Stuttgart Ballet in Germany in the mid 70’s….I love that too!

 

 

LL: What are you reading at the moment?

MD: I kind of answered this in the last question. I read all kinds of things in magazines or online. Could be music related, or about someone’s struggle or accomplishment in their lives…..I also love the Ted Talks!

 

LL: In what way do you approach motivation and inspiration?

MD: My motivation is often derived by a deadline! Motivation to me is having to get something done by a certain time, and wanting to do my best at it.

Inspiration to me is striving to achieve a level of something that I heard or witnessed and was awed by, and I want to get closer to that level. Maybe it’s the same thing.

 

 

LL: What makes you smile? (Could be something that gave you a really good belly laugh: a joke, anecdote, a scene from a video/film — if you can share one of the ones that come to mind the most, that’ll be great)

MD: Man, so much makes me smile and laugh, I’m glad to say.

Here’s a true story a friend of mine shared from one of his gigs a while back. He was playing solo piano in Buffalo, NY during a blizzard. There were only a few folks there, but he played and did his job, and nobody seemed to care at all. Towards the end of the night, all of a sudden at the end of a tune he heard this clapping and got a bit excited, as no one had responded all night long. He looked out in the room to see who it was, and there was a guy a few tables back who had just had his burger served and was slapping the bottom of his ketchup bottle to get it out. Ah, the life of a musician!

 

LL: What’s your view about social media? (Were you reluctant to get into it the first place, or were you happy to experiment and play around with specific social media sites)

MD: A friend of mine and I had a $10 bet that neither of us would ever get a cell phone! He lost the bet by getting one before. I soon thereafter got my first one. My kids got so tired of me asking them over and over how to send or check email. Well, I’m better than that now.

I mostly use social media as a tool to promote my performances. Sure, I’ve reconnected with friends from childhood and get to post and see other’s pictures of travels and family. It is a bit addicting if you’re not careful. Time can fly by when you get caught in the one thing leads to another….this story to that story, or videos of who knows what.

I have over 4000 Facebook “friends” some of whom I actually know in person! I do love that you can see photos and videos of gigs and life experiences in a handy manner.

 

 

LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?

MD: Well, YouTube has the history of the recorded world on it, so that’s a pretty good one. I use it if I need to find and learn a song for a gig. There’s usually a version to check out.

Also, to be able to see footage of some of the greats that have been long gone, that’s really something!

 

LL: What would you do when you need cheering up? (a particular website, listen to an album….?)

MD: I’m usually pretty cheery, but if I need cheering up I will talk to my wife, or maybe listen to some music, or just be silent and think.

 

 

LL: Are you interested in technology? (Details of your Desktop/Laptop/Tablet?)

MD: It’s not that I’m interested in technology or not, I don’t keep up with it until it affects my life, I guess. The specs of my Desktop/Laptop/Tablet ….who knows!

 

 

LL: Are you the type of person that finds it easy to start something?

MD: No! I am a procrastinator, but then again, when I want something done, I need to do it now! I think it’s a Scorpio thing. I’ve sure been quick to answer all of these questions right away! When I do have an idea, I suppose I do actually try to get the wheels turning quickly.

 

LL: For someone watching you play for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?

MD: If you mean someone watching me play “live” for the first time, folks tell me how animated I am, like a Muppet!

I want people to feel the joy and emotion of the music, listening to it, playing it, the sense of team work within a band. If you mean watching a video of me, well, the same goes. I think I’ve inspired others to work hard at their music and find like minded folks to play with and then bring it to the masses.

 

 

LL: What makes your soul sing? (could be things that energises you)

MD: The love I have for my family! When my family is good, so is everything else. Next would be when I get to travel, especially getting paid to travel and play music. That’s always a great combination!

Here is a soul singing moment to share:

It was the day of 9/11. I had been booked months in advance for a big, international corporate gathering. The tragedy of the day had occurred. First thing to find out is if the event is still going to happen. The band was to make some good money on this gig, and we really wanted it to happen, but there were so many other considerations to deal with.

Well, everyone was in town, there was no flying anywhere, food was ready, venue secured, etc. They decided to go forward and hold the event. There were people from like 40 countries at this gathering. It was less of the party it was supposed to be and more of a somber affair with only one topic being discussed.

After a couple of hours, a few people stood right in front of the band to actually listen. Within a few moments others joined them and before we know it, a large group was virtually circled around us. People from all over the world. Different skin colors, different garb, cultures, and for about five minutes, everyone stood shoulder to shoulder and let the music wash over them, letting them forget for just a few minutes the horrible event that had happened just a few hours earlier.

I don’t think I had ever witnessed the power of music as much as in that moment. That was some soul singing!

 

 

LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with people who admire your work? (sending and replying to individual messages via email or social media? or via your mailing list?)

MD: I make it a point at each performance to approach people in the audience and let them know how much it means that they are there, supporting me, the venue, live music in general. I like the personal touch! Of course if I receive an email or a letter form someone who I may have connected with on a musical level, I’ll thank them for thanking me!

 

LL: Have you found your tribe yet?

MD: I’ve been fortunate to have many tribes throughout my life. From childhood, I always had a group of friends, some of who I am still in touch with today, meaning fifty years of friendship, and counting.

I have band mates of more than 30 years who are also great friends. I have my amazing wife and children and our growing “tribe”! My wife always challenges me to be the best person I can be, ever evolving, hopefully in a positive manner. The people I perform with are always helping to keep me, and I, them, at our highest level of performance and musicianship.

Surely some people come and go through these tribes, but everyone leaves their mark on each other along the way!

 

 

LL: What kind of opportunities are you looking forward to?

MD: I have played in Europe a couple of times as a side man, and would really love to bring one of my own groups over sometime. As to a specific artist, I’m not sure, but I’ve had the opportunity so many times to play with some of the greats, and I hope that continues along the way.

I’d also like to play more concerts, festivals, and high end corporate events and be on more recordings. I do all of those things now, but I’d like to do more of that than playing in bars and restaurants, not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s where we hone our skills and keep our chops up, so we’re ready when the bigger things come along!

 

 

LL: In what way do you enjoy helping others?

MD: Most of my lessons run overtime just because we are deep into something and I want to complete the discussion at hand. Some of my associates and I donate time to playing music at homeless shelters, as those folks don’t get to go to places to hear live music because they usually get throw out. We also do special lower rates for some fund raising events.

I am always happy to talk shop with my peers, especially with up and coming younger musicians and try to share any tidbits of wisdom I may have discovered in my own journey.

 

 

 

 

* Mark Diamond is a bassist based out of Broomfield, CO, and is a staunch supporter and creator of live music. He looks forward to seeing and chatting with you at any of his performances (and doesn’t mind if you ask about his grandson!). You can check out his personal site or his Facebook page for gig information.

 

Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (April-May 2015) between Mark 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 out of 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 slightly cheeky FAQ.)

Notes:

  • If there are things that you’d like to know about Mark that has not been covered, please do leave a note (using the second form gives me the opportunity to share your request with the WNE community and also to give Mark the option of answering).
  • Corrections and additional information: Spot one? Let me know! (Please?)
  • If you share a quote from your favorite Q&A on Twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag ‘#WNEQA‘!
  • WNEQA is now on Facebook! 🙂
  • This post has been tagged so it could be considered for Long Reads.
  • To lock me in to be involved in your Q&A/FAQ for your page, contact me or fast track your request here🙂

Interested in reading more?

  • Following each Q&A session I post a separate entry (The Quote Jar: Eighteen) that would be a companion piece to Mark’s Q&A.
  • How about checking out all the other Q&As?

Want to start a conversation unrelated to the Q&A? That’s okay too! Just use the first form below. 😀

 

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Q&A #11: Andrew Simple

“Andrew shares his journey as a musician, why his Gibson J-45 is his go-to guitar, and the effectiveness of sleep.”

 

Leigh Lim: Hi Andrew! Thanks for being open to do a Q&A! I noticed you have a couple of lyric videos up on your YouTube Channel. Do you like doing them?

Andrew Simple: Yeah, I have some friends that are great at it, so any good ones are made by them. I’ve slung a couple together on iMovie after getting some requests, but you really want to do them right. After Effects, Final Cut, etc.

 

LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing, writing, and arranging?

AS: I started by wanting to write, and immediately learning the major and minor bar chords on the guitar and then just writing a bunch of songs based on that. I always recommend learning the bar form first, to get a quick win. It sounds good and is a formation you can easily just slide up and down the neck without too much thought.   It made guitar seem easier than in really is, but it kick started my writing.

As time went on, I gradually discovered more and about the guitar on my own. As far as arranging, I have been fascinated by the symphony orchestra since a young age, and that always gave me a good sense of the various elements that need to work together to create a piece of music. Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ probably was the most influential to me when I was quite young.

 

LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never played, written, or arranged music before, so they could have the capacity to play, write, and arrange music at your level and skill. What would it look like?

AS: Since I have had such a piecemeal musical path, its hard to suss it all out and recommend it to someone. After a few years in the wild, playing in bands, and learning on my own, I did go to college and studied music academically. That helped with a lot of “aha” moments, especially the music theory.

I believe in an individualized plan of education across the board, so whatever the interest is, I say follow it hard however that might look. Music school isn’t for everyone, practicing isn’t for everyone, writing isn’t for everyone, etc.

 

 

 

LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are now?

AS: This follows from the last question, and its discipline that is key.

If you follow the elements of music that you are interested in, study the greats in that field and soak it in, and then apply it. For me, it was breaking down the chord structures of Stevie Wonder, Beach Boys, Billy Joel, etc. And those artists all made really interesting arranging choices too, so learning from those artists was really important for me.

Guitar was the first “composition” instrument I used, and then I added piano when I couldn’t get all the voicings I wanted, which in turn lead me back to guitar to experiment with alternate tunings.

 

LL: Do you incorporate alternate tunings when you write?

AS: I like simply dropping the low E to a D. It allows me to get some richer inversions that I can play more easily on a piano.

 

LL: Were there times when you didn’t want to put in time to practice?

AS: I think deadlines are the only thing that really gets me to finish something when I don’t feel like it. Rehearsing, practicing, etc. If I have a gig coming up where I need to learn new songs or something, just that fact alone forces me to put in the time. Recitals were the same way in college.

 

LL: What would you advise a songwriter (who has never played guitar before) wanting to accumulate enough knowledge and skill to be able to translate musical ideas using the guitar?

AS: Besides the above, maybe try to build on any knowledge you already have. If you are wanting to learn guitar, and you already know some piano or theory, I think drawing some basic threads together would be good. Such as noting how the guitar is tuned in 4ths, or how the frets are chromatic, like going key to key on a piano.

I also recommend just learning 2 chords so you can dive in and at least get through a song, like Do Wah Diddy or something. Having a quick win like that can fuel more wins, getting more challenging each time, and hopefully learning the theory along the way.

 

LL: What’s part of your arsenal at the moment?

AS: My go-to guitar is my Gibson J-45. I like the Fishman Spectrum DI for live playing. As far as picks and strings, its Dunlop Tortex mediums and Curt Mangan light strings.

 

 

LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the gear that you like?

AS: Yes, it did. For instance, I settled on the Fishman DI for live playing, only after having an LR Baggs DI with a separate compressor, and since the Fishman was both a DI and a compressor, it helped lighten the load. You just make those tweaks all along the way. Settling on the guitar was the most significant thing. Once you play a guitar that really is inspiring to play, you just have to find a way to make it yours.

 

LL: With your Gibson J-45, do you think that what attracted you (and made you think: “I must make that mine!”) was the sound and feel?

AS: J-45’s are just a really nice, loud, balanced brand of guitar. They are famous for it. So when you pick one up for the first time, you go “oh, I see the light!”. But really, their strength, to me, is in their fullness in terms of EQ curve.

 

LL: Has any of your equipment undergone customisation?

AS: Just in swapping out bridges, and stuff like that, with my guitar guy in Nashville. Nothing major. I have some nice bone bridges on my guitars and ukes.

 

LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?

AS: I’ve written so many songs, I’ve had to use the tablet as a cheat sheet, I admit. Mental notes can fail you, haha!

 

LL: Were you just “fondly” recalling some gigs when you didn’t have some notes handy?

AS: If you play enough shows, eventually you will have times where you forget lyrics and get lost, etc. So at some point, it’s just nice to have a home base to look at so that you start verse 2 correctly coming out of a chorus for example. Also, once you right enough songs, its just harder and harder to keep them straight.

 

LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?

AS: I don’t think about it too much – I just start playing what I like in the green room or wherever – jamming, etc. You’ll get warm whether you want to or not. That way its not too structured and potentially stressful.

 

LL: Description of your playing style?

AS: I’m a singer-songwriter, so I rely on fairly basic picking strumming and I used finger-style on a few tunes, flesh, not nail. I am really choosy if I play any solo stuff – I leave the tearing it up stuff to my band.

 

LL: How about your voice? Did you have to put a lot of hours to get it to where it is now?

AS: My voice really just naturally developed. The hours were put in, but not consciously. Early on I was all over the place pitch wise and dynamically, but [it has] really evened out over the last 3 years or so.

 

 

LL: What are some misconceptions about you as a musician?

AS: I think, just in general, musicians get the classic bad rap as slackers or something like that. In my experience, musicians are some of the smartest cats around. Just not getting taken seriously when I was starting up years ago, but that’s to be expected, I suppose.

 

LL: What’s next for your playing?

AS: Playingwise, I feel like I’m fairly happy where I am. Honestly, I am always trying to find ways to condense, even just writing songs with two strings on the guitar.

 

LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics when you play?

AS: I think bass is harder on the body that guitar, and maybe a padded strap is more important there. With acoustic guitar, I’ve never felt a need to use anything besides a basic strap. Just having good posture in general will spill over to playing music. Since I started on drums, posture was a huge factor in being able to play properly, so I’ve always been mindful of that.

 

LL: Guitar Maintenance and Storage?

AS: I’m bad when it comes to putting my guitars away…they tend to lay about the room so I can grab them quickly. I get bummed out when I have to open a guitar case if I am wanting to play the guitar, haha. That sounds bad, but it’s true.  

All over my house are guitar stands and guitars in several rooms of the house so there is always something to grab. I’m not one of those that cares about keeping the guitars ding-free. Though there are cases, where that is in order. Otherwise, some lemon oil with a cloth up and down the fretboard is a good thing to do regularly for cleaning/conditioning.

 

 

LL: Would you recommend buying consumables in bulk?

AS: If you can, bulk buying for small stuff like strings and picks is wise.

 

LL: Your music has been used a number of times in ads — is that something you are constantly excited about?

AS: It’s a surprising twist in my musical journey – that my songs seem to work well for various film and TV applications. I love the exposure, and it’s just fun.

 

LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting videos? (Or it depends on when you think of something to share?)

AS: The latter

 

LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?

AS: I geek out about bird watching and philosophy/logic. That’s pretty bad.

 

LL: Are you still a big listener of music?

AS: I really don’t listen to much music these days. I’m creating it so much, there’s just not time. Maybe a couple times a week I will throw on an old record, but its mainly to zone out.

 

LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new things

AS: I think just being in the music business, I hear all the new stuff from various sources naturally.

 

LL: Where do you go for inspiration?

AS: I think films are heavily inspiring for me. Its such a rich art form, it stimulates on nearly every level.

 

LL: What helps you focus on your uniqueness?

AS: I don’t guess I focus on uniqueness per se. I just hope I naturally am “me”.

 

 

LL: What’s your view about social media?

AS: I’m fairly reluctant about all of it.

 

LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?

AS: Sleep

 

LL: Would you be open to collaborating with other artists?

AS: I collaborate all the time with other artists. It’s a big part of my world.

 

LL: Are you interested in technology?

AS: I use technology out of necessity. Pro Tools is my go-to recording software on my Mac Pro.

 

LL: With your videos, are you looking to upload the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?

AS: Always open to new things

 

LL: If you were asked to pick from the videos you have, which one would be your favorite?

AS: I like some of the live acoustic ones best probably. That was a fun concert.

 

 

 

 

LL: For someone watching a video of yours for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?

AS: Sure, inspiring others to create is always great. I don’t know if there is a single message, but that’s certainly one of them. If they find something they like and that they can incorporate into their jam, all the better.

 

LL: What makes your soul sing?

AS: I think just creating music, really. Basic as that!

 

LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with your audience?

AS: I think the mailing list does a good job of it

 

 

Andrew Simple is a singer/songwriter currently based in Nashville. You can check out his videos here and learn more about him here.

 

Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (October 2014) between Andrew and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.

Leigh Lim is Mini-Bio Photoa 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.)

Notes:

  • If there are things that you’d like to know about Andrew that I have not covered, please do leave a note (using the second form gives me the opportunity to share your request with the WNE community and also to give Andrew the option of answering).
  • Corrections and additional information: Spot one? Let me know!
  • Q&A Suggestions (individuals or groups) and feedback (specific or general) are always welcome. 🙂
  • If you share a quote from your favorite Q&A on Twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag ‘#WNEQA’!
  • This post has been tagged so it could be considered for Long Reads. 🙂

Interested in reading more?

  • Following each Q&A session I post a separate entry (The Quote Jar: Nine) that would be a companion piece to Andrew’s Q&A.
  • How about checking out all the other Q&As?

Want to start a conversation unrelated to the Q&A? That’s okay too! Just use the first form below. 😀

 

** For feedback and comments that you wouldn’t mind displayed publicly, you can use the ‘leave a comment link’ below.

Q&A #8: Dean Wuksta

 

 

“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”

 

Photo: Dean Wuksta

Photo: Dean Wuksta

 

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.

 

Photo: Dean Wuksta

Photo: Dean Wuksta

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.

 

Photo: Dean Wuksta

Photo: Dean Wuksta

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.

Photo: Dean Wuksta

Photo: Dean Wuksta

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.

 

 

 

Dean Wuksta is a drummer based in Rockingham. You can find his videos here and some of his collaborations here. and can reach him through the form below

 

Photo: Dean Wuksta

Photo: Dean Wuksta

 Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (May-August 2014) between Dean and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.

Leigh Lim is Mini-Bio Photoa 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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