by Tim Pedersen
The world of music changes rapidly. Because of this, we see the previously defined roles that musician’s play morphing into many different roles. Musicians today often have to wear an assortment of “hats” in order to have a successful career. Recording expertise, on both sides of the glass, has become mandatory with shrinking record budgets and reduced prices for ample home studios. Even with the advent of seemingly plug-and-play personal studios, it’s all for naught if there isn’t someone has who has the vision, and the ears, to make the music come to life. That person is the Record Producer. Today, drummers are making this role an active part of their career. Drummers often make great Producers, and there’s a good reason.
You see it more and more, the likes of Dave Grohl, Pharrell Williams, Steve Jordan, Simon Phillips, Butch Vig and many others have taken their drumming experiences and transferred them to the producer’s chair. What do drummers innately possess that makes them great producers? Their ability to listen intently. That’s the drummer’s role on the bandstand and in the studio. They sit in the back, offer up the groove, listen to all the musicians and play what needs to be played to pull the music together. The drummer’s skill at listening, mixed with some engineering chops and some business acumen, gives them the insight to be great Record Producers. After all, what is a Producer? A person who can listen to a song and make arrangement and sonic changes that will enhance the music. So throw out the old jokes about drummers not being musicians. That’s being silenced by their growing role behind the mixing console.
Making a transition from one facet of the music business to another is often a challenge and there’s no obvious path. In today’s climate it’s important to be open to change and be aware of the things that you enjoy about music beyond your instrument. Awareness creates opportunity. For many drummers the transition is natural due to their interest in music beyond the drums. Others come to it by happenstance like frustration over the drum sounds they’re getting, the need to record drums at home studios, interest in playing other instruments and making complete recordings. Whatever the reason, the change is occurring and, I believe, you need to get on board to survive in this business.
Playing a musical instrument is all that many musicians ever want to do. For others that passion is the same but they catch the bug that pulls them in another direction. In talking with many drummers that have made the jump to producer I found that their love of drums hasn’t diminished but they simply developed another passion to add to their drumming.
Making the jump from drummer to Producer can be a daunting idea filled with questions. Do you need engineering skills? Do you have to play a melodic instrument? Where do I begin? Well, having engineering acumen is generally necessary (of course there’s exceptions) and this is easy to obtain by delving into a great deal of books and videos on the subject. There is a nearly endless amount of information on the topic if you’re willing to do the research. In order to understand EQ, compression, etc. you have to do the work. There’s no easy way. But just as you worked on your drumming you need to do work to produce.
I believe having a fundamental knowledge of a melodic instrument is very helpful in communicating with instrumentalists and vocalists and in creating the production that you will be proud of and separate yourself from the crowd. You need to speak their language, to some degree, in order to get the most out of your product. It also helps you get the respect that will aid in the musicians believing in what you have to say to them. This, of course, is very important. You have to do whatever is necessary to understand the instruments you’re recording and be able to produce the sound you hear in your head.
In the end you just have to jump into Producing. You have to begin with trial and error and start the journey. In the beginning it’s best to start small and get an idea of how things work. Start simple. Get a few mics and a recording workstation and begin. Do a lot of recording, a lot of experimenting and put in the time. See how EQ affects the sound. Learn to understand what the different frequencies sound like, what their specific pitch is and what you need to subtract and add to get the sound you want and the sound that works with each instrument. Learn about compression and how it affects each instrument and how the combination of compression on each track affects the whole mix. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to mess up.
Recording is a great deal of trial and error and, just like with drumming, it takes time and dedication and it’s absolutely worth it. It’s greatly improved my drumming and with each recording I’ve made I’ve improved more. I now know exactly what I want to play and how my drumming affects the other instruments around me. I play the drums completely for the music now and I find that exciting, satisfying and makes me more in demand as a drummer.
Through my initial interest in recording I feel I can now call myself a producer, a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist and a songwriter. It’s opened my eyes to so much about music beyond what I was as a drummer. Get started today, don’t hesitate, and through a great deal of hard work and listening one day you can call yourself a Producer. It’s a natural musical path for drummers and can only help your ability to succeed in the business of music.