Session Drumming Month: 7 Top Tips From The Stars



Pick up the latest issue of Rhythm and you'll find just about everything you need to know to help you decide whether a career as a session drummer is for you. If you've not been scared off by tales of slaving over the accounts and ever-demanding producers, here's a few tips to help you reach the top.

1. Understand the Click

Dean Butterworth: "It's really important to understand songs and arrangements. Working with a click is a must and being able to listen to a song one or two times write a short form chart and then record your drum track in a couple of takes."

2. Don't just show off your chops

Swiss Chris: "Play for the song, not for yourself. The moment you get the call, do not worry about the fastest licks.....learn the music, the song wins."

3. Use the right tools

Brendan Buckley: "I tend to think of studio gear as tools. For instance, yes, I could probably fix most of the things around my house with just a hammer, a saw, and a Phillips-head screwdriver. But, I could probably do a much better repair job if I use the proper tools for each individual task. Over the years, I've learned information such as: how various drum heads sustain, how different drum-pitches sit in a mix, how the white noise of certain cymbals can destroy your drum sound, how some microphones can bring out strange frequencies from your kit. It's important to gather this knowledge, and put it to use in the studio while listening to a song and deciding which diameter of snare drum to set up, or whether to put a pillow in the bass drum. 
First, picture the overall sound you want. Then, use your knowledge and experience to quickly dial up those sounds."

4. Don't be afraid of trying something different

Ian Thomas: "You can take a 14" Ambassador head and turn it upside-down on top of the snare drum and hit the head upside-down, it gets a really wicked, thick, '70s snare sound. Try it, you won't believe it. It changes the drum instantly into something completely different. The good thing about that is you're going to get one sound out of the drum so when people come to mix they really like that because the snare drum doesn't change. I've played lots of hire kits when I've been on sessions abroad and there have been kits that sounded really awful in the room, you think, 'That's terrible'. Then you hear the playback and it sounds fantastic, so it's always worth remembering to listen to something through playback. How a microphone hears something is different to how our ears hear it in the live room."

5. Play, play, play

Robin Guy: "Get out there and play! Also, don't think that just because you might not be playing your own original songs, that it's not 'cool' - playing in a cover band is most people's first 'session'! It's free advertising for you - people get to see you and you get to meet them!

6. Put in the hours

Darby Todd: "Practice hard. Never stop. Become proficient in as many styles as possible. Have good working gear, know how to tune your drums and how to get on with other human beings. Get out and mingle! Meet musos. See bands and listen to many styles of music including stuff you hate. It will all go to making you a better musician. Learn theory. I'm getting fed up of reading many YouTube comments of people saying that theory is pointless and for up their arse musos only. That's complete bulls***. Theory and knowledge can only help your facility on any instrument. I'm starting to learn chords and melodic music theory. I wish I had started long ago. Understanding other instruments can only help as well."

Josh Freese: "Play with whomever you can play with. Get out there, do it, put your hours in. It's hard work and you have to be willing to push yourself and go that extra mile. STILL, there are no promises but as long as you're having fun and feeling good about what you're doing and having the experiences that you're having then cool! Keep doing it!"

7. Don't expect immediate riches

Robin Guy: "Don't think that once you've perfected paradiddles in your bedroom, Bon Jovi, U2 and Aerosmith will all start calling you."

For more session hints, tips and secrets pick up the latest issue of Rhythm and check out our online Session Month.

Rich Chamberlain

Rich is a teacher, one time Rhythm staff writer and experienced freelance journalist who has interviewed countless revered musicians, engineers, producers and stars for the our world-leading music making portfolio, including such titles as Rhythm, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, and MusicRadar. His victims include such luminaries as Ice T, Mark Guilani and Jamie Oliver (the drumming one).