Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Road Trips For The Somewhat Aged Musician In Me

Band Road Trips
Looks A Lot Like Our Tour Van

Band road trips are getting harder and harder for me. I hate to admit it, but I just can’t bounce back like I used to.  I have long stopped sleeping on floors. My days of rolling out a camping mat are also behind me.  Does that mean that I should retire from playing out of town shows?  I don’t think so, but there are some changes that I have to make if I want to keep on drumming. 

There are pressures I feel from other band mates when it comes to saving money on the road.  If we have a show that is a couple hours from our home town, I’m sure to hear the usual “We can take turns driving back the same night.” Yep, two hours of driving sure doesn’t seem like a long ride when you are heading out of town.  But after I have moved my drum kit six times in one night, and played a show, the two hour ride home feels more like six.  It’s torture. 

We rolled back to Milwaukee around 4am last weekend.  We unloaded our gear, and said our goodbyes.  I still had another 30 minute drive to my house.  When I finally turned in around five am, in a bedroom with makeshift black window shades, I really hoped to get six or seven hours of sleep.  It’s really hard to do that when your body is used to getting up at five a.m. I managed to get about five hours of fitful sleep before giving up.  The rest of my weekend was ruined. The main reason we drive home after an out of town show is to save $100 on hotel rooms.  There is a value to my off days, and it’s much higher than $100.

So what’s an aging drummer to do?  I’m going to foot the bill for my own post-show motel room from now on.  The band can keep their money, and if they want to drive home the same night, so be it.  I’m tired of loading up on caffeine at two in the morning, rolling out of some town soaking wet from my own show sweat, while hoping to avoid the deputies that have nothing better to do than pull over suspicious looking rock and roll vans.  I’m tired of wondering if our singer or guitar player is going to stay awake during their driving shift.  That keeps me up too.  I just can’t sleep in the van, when I’m too busy worrying that one of us is going to drive off the road into a cornfield.

Save A Life And Get A Room

For those of you in working bands, I know what you are going to say. “So Wisconsin Music Man, you are going to make the rest of the band unload all of the gear, while you sleep it off in a comfy motel room?” Not exactly.  I’ll be happy to take my gear to the motel.  I’ll roll all that crap into the room with me.  The band won’t be cursing my name when they get home, because the van will be half empty.  They might be cursing my name when it’s 3:30 am, and they are somewhere outside of Manitowoc, with another 75 miles to drive before they get to Milwaukee.  Instead of cursing my name, they should just admit that after a show they would love to take a ten minute drive to a hotel bed too.  If each band member put up $50, we could all get a solid night’s sleep, free breakfast, and be back in Milwaukee by noon the next day. I will leave that up to them.  From now on, I’m playing the rock star and getting a room. That’s what old guys do.  They get smart, and sleep well.    

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Which Drums Make The Best Sound? | Drum Heads Play A Part Too

Drum heads
I'm still playing my poplar Sonor Force 2000 drums.  These are the drums from Germany, not the newer Chinese drums that Sonor makes now. At the time that I bought them, they sounded great.  I knew little about woods at the time, and had a limited budget.  Poplar isn't the hardest of woods, but with the right drum heads, they sound great.  It took me a long time to figure out just which heads would work for those drums.  I'm still trying to figure out what heads work best on a much more expensive set of Yamaha Maple Custom drums that I purchased about ten years ago.  Is there such a thing as the perfect wood or perfect drum head to go with that wood?

For the Sonor drums, I'm using the Remo smooth white heads.  These heads (and that wood,) seem to produce a great sound for rock drumming.  The tones are somewhat muted by the 10-mil thickness of the head, but the notes cut through, and the attack is still pretty sharp.  For an attack that is somewhat less sharp, I will sometimes use the coated Ambassador heads.  That is especially the case when I'm playing the maple drums.  As the Sonor drums have been taking a beating for nearly 20 years, their bearing edges are in need of adjusting.  For now, the smooth heads seem to help in that regard.  If I ever get the bearing edges redone, I'll consider switching to a head that isn't as thick.  For a long time, I played the Remo Pinstripe heads on the Sonor kit.  Those heads lasted longer, and that was a good thing for a struggling musician.  Their double ply Mylar construction will reduce the decay, but the overall sound makes your drums sound "fat."

Evans Hydraulic Drum Heads 

For a short while, I tried my luck with Evans Hydraulic heads.  They looked cool, but the muffled decay was just not what I wanted for a sound as I left the world of punk rock, and moved into rock.  If you want a punchy sound, go with the Evans Hydraulic heads.  Don't expect very much sustain on those drums.  I realize that it costs a bit of money in order to experiment with different skins.  What you might want to do is head on over to your local music store, and see what skins are on which types of drums.  If you can test drive the skins, all the better.