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I want to play my own drums. It’s not too much to ask.

April 29, 2009 Leave a comment

[This entry was originally posted on my MySpace blog. It was transferred to WordPress on 1/20/2013.]

If anyone is reading this, chances are they know that I play drums in a rock band.  I love it.  I have my own drum kit.  I spent money on it.  I have spent years of trial and error determining how it should be set up: where the cymbals go, the heights of the snare drum and hi-hat, the angles of all the drums, the placement of drums and cymbals in relationship to one another.  I got it pretty much exactly as I want it.  I went to the effort of marking each stand, where it should be tightened and placed so that there’s never any more guesswork involved.  I can set up quickly and efficiently.  My mind and my muscle memory have become attuned to my setup so that in personal practice and group rehearsal I can close my eyes and just listen and focus while I play.  I don’t have to look where I’m hitting because I know exactly where everything is.  I also do this at times in shows when I am having a tough time hearing.  I close my eyes and focus while I play.  It’s a good thing to be able to do.  I’ve put time and effort into it.  That’s what a musician does with their instrument.  They create a sort of relationship with it.

Lately, there have been more and more venues and bands demanding that when we play a show with other bands, the bands share a kit.  Typically, the drummers will swap out snare drums and cymbals, which are the elements which generally take the hardest beating.  There are usually two reasons for it.  First, the sound engineer does not want to mic multiple drumkits.  Second, they want to speed up downtime between sets.  Sharing kits is a problem for me, and so are these reasons.

Engineers don’t want to mic multiple kits.  This is the reason that I can sometimes understand, depending on the venue, how many bands are on the bill, etc.  But in some cases, it’s crap.  We recently played a show at a venue in which we were told ahead of time that we had to work out drum arrangements for the sake of the soundguy.  After the show, I talked to the soundguy, he was surprised that all the bands had used one kit.   He said he’s used to bands using their own kits and that it would have been fine with him. There was some miscommunication there between the venue and the sound man, it would seem.  But even when the sound engineer doesn’t feel like putting mics on multiple kits, it’s still lame.  Because he doesn’t feel like it, the bands have to go through this whole thing.

They want to speed up downtime between sets.  For me, this is completely wrong.  I’ve got a system for setting up my gear.  In fact, when I am allowed to use my own kit, I am the first one ready nearly every time.  Before the guitars, before the bass.  This is not a slight on them by any means, but rather a testament to how smoothly I can operate my gear.  I am also never the last one off the stage at the end of the set.  Time is not an issue.  When I am forced to share a kit, THEN I’m always the last one ready.  I have to make adjustments to the other guy’s kit.  I have to try to set tom angles (which often cannot be set to my needs due to differing mounting hardware).  I have to adjust the seat height, which can be difficult depending on what kind of seat the other uses.  I have to wait for the other dude to remove all his cymbals and put them away, and then I have to take my cymbals out and mount them, which is usually a big guessing game because everyone’s stand setup is different and I can never get them to go where they belong. Then I have to try to make the proximity of everything correct.  The “saving time” argument always makes it take longer.  The rest of the band is always waiting for me in these cases.  However when I use my own kit, I get my stands and cymbals set up offstage ahead of time, so it’s just a matter of putting them onstage.  In this case, I’m always waiting for everyone else.  I will never buy the “saving time” argument.  It falls flat in my case.  The problem is the group of drummers that decide to set up and tear down ON stage, instead of prepping beforehand and removing the gear immediately after the set and then disassembling.  It’s a shame that this group of slow, inconsiderate drummers brands all of us with having to deal with this garbage.

You may ask, “why not just let the other bands use your kit?”  Well, this did work an few times until one band decided to abuse my equipment.  A member of this band did a standing leap off my kick drum, laid on the floor with his feet on the drum while kicking and threw a cymbal stand to floor with my cymbal on it (which I was reluctant to lend, but did anyway for some stupid reason).  I am poor and I cannot afford to replace anything on my kit.  I can’t even really afford the general maintenance that it requires.  I can’t afford the possibility that some band is going to do that again and actually break something.  I’ve been too trusting and now I realize that I can’t do it.  No one is allowed to play my kit but me, and other members of my band if they ask.  It’s not that it’s an amazing kit, it’s that it’s set up meticulously and it’s all I’ve got.

So now I’m screwed.  I either have to play somebody else’s kit that is nothing like my own (which causes me to make more errors and make the band sound poor, I should add), or else I have to risk having some clown abuse my equipment.  These aren’t good choices.

I have an idea that if venues were requiring all bands to share guitars, and the guitars had seven strings that were twice the distance apart, there would be argument.  There’s no reason, logical or illogical, that I can think of to ask people to share guitars, but I don’t think the drum arguments are valid either.  So it’s all the same to me.  It’s ludicrous to ask a guitarist to play a seven-string guitar that they’ve never played and it’s just as goofy to have a drummer play a kit his never played.

Contrary to popular belief, drum sets are NOT interchangeable.  Drummers do not play as well on other people’s kits as they do on their own.  Every time I play on some other dude’s kit, I can’t have fun at a show, because I am spending all my effort, energy, and attention on not screwing up.  It doesn’t work, because I inevitably do mess up.  Sticks get dropped, beats get lost, and your muscle memory doesn’t know what to do when it’s missing a rack tom.  And it makes the band sound bad – and that’s the most important problem.

It’s crap, and I hate it.  I own an instrument, I got to know it, and now I just want to freaking PLAY it.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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