Session Drumming Month: Ash Soan's Top Tips
Have you bought a top 40 album in the last few years? Chances are then you've heard Ash Soan. The drummer has played with everyone from Cee Lo Green and Adele to Robbie Williams and James Morrison.
So he's pretty well qualified to hand out session tips. Which is just as well, as that's exactly what we did.
You've got to be on time, or even early. Big studios can't operate if people turn up late. Be prepared.
It's all about communication. Trying to decipher what the producer wants. In my experience a lot of producers aren't drummers and thy can only explain in their terms what they want. It's up to you to understand this and to bring your own ideas to the table. Sometimes it's the artist chipping in with ideas. Adele, Dido sat at my kit and showed me where she wanted to the skip-beat in the bar.
A lot of people ask me what it's like to be recording when the artist is there. You don't leave college and you're on a Robbie Williams session. It's a very slow build-up to that point. You gain experience and confidence on the way. I'm in an amazing place right now and it eels like a very comfortable, natural place to be. You can't practice being confident in the studio. It's just experience and time. Record with as many people as you can. Everybody records. From demos to sessions with friends. Record yourself a lot. Get used to it so it's second-nature. I was recording when I was 11.
I don't have blistering technique, and you don't need it. No-one will ask you to do that stuff in the studio, forget about it. If you want to practice something for the studio practice time, groove and educate yourself musically. A producer will reference a particular drummer from a particular record and you should know. If someone says to you 'do a Ringo fill', I heard it from so many producers I went and learnt everything. Now I get asked it I say 'which album!'. You've got to be able to do what they want. Sometimes there will be a demo groove to follow and everything fits to that. You have to bare that in mind. Sometimes the producer will say, I want you to copy this demo part and embellish it slightly, and sometimes they'll 'what do you think?' That's the point that you've got to armed with knowledge and bring things to the table. I love those types of sessions.
You never get a chart in a pop session. You've got to be able to chart it yourself. I don't don't sight read. I can read and over the years I've developed my own hyroglyphics that I can look down at a page and know what's going on. Let's face it, it's pop music. You're not getting to get any surprises. It's not going to be in 7/8, very rarely will you get handed something in odd time on a Dido session. The variable that does change is the feel. You need to accommodate the feel.