Episode 2: Emily Colt Radin, E-Drums in Cover Bands, and When the Levee Breaks

In Episode 2, I had the pleasure of hosting my first guest (to whom I happen to be married), and talked about the realities of starting over, self-employed.

Shoutouts to my advisory panel: Tim Shahady of Paiste, Ryan Gruss of The Loop Loft, and Richard Ash of Sam Ash. Thank you for your guidance.

Our first guest: singer/songwriter Emily Colt Radin. What it’s like being the spouse of a first-week entrepreneur and a discussion of the finer points of macaroni and cheese (hey Kraft Mac and Cheese, I’m looking at you…). Emily likes Kraft Spongebob Mac.

What a singer looks for in a drummer. Emily has recorded and performed her own music, and more recently focused on fronting cover bands. The most recent band featured not just one, but two different drummers who played electronic drums!

She liked drummers on electronics for a few reasons. First, volume control, which is somewhat obvious: playing in restaurants and bars, it’s valuable to be able to start the night at a lower level of volume without losing intensity. A benefit of this to the drummer is easy monitoring. Just plug in your favorite headphones, earbuds, or in-ear monitors and hear great sound without having to set up microphones or deal with a bulky, heavy wedge monitor. Most electronic drum modules (or “brains”) have a “mix” or “thru” input that allows you to run your band’s monitor mix in, and custom-mix it with your drums.

One thing I didn’t expect was that Emily mentioned the value of electronic drums for cover bands in that listeners may be expecting to hear sounds similar to what’s on the record – which tend to be pretty processed and/or sampled as compared with pure acoustic drums with or without amplification. You can easily dial up a processed “studio” or classic drum-machine sound with any electronic kit instantly.

Electronic drum sets have come a long way since those early Simmons pads and Akai samplers. They sound, look, feel, and perform in a much more natural way than many drummers may be expecting. You can get electronic drums that look just like acoustic drums if that’s a concern, and there are kits available for converting acoustics to electronics. You can also find hybrid acoustic/electric drums that can work both ways, including at the same time so you can have the flexibility to mix the acoustic sound with electronic sound for even more control and detail. And as it goes with technology, you can now find electronic drums priced to suit any level of cost, from thousands of dollars at the high end, all the way down to just $99 at the lower level of investment.

There are many ways for drummers who prefer acoustic drums to incorporate electronics into their setup. You can add a multi-pad, which give you access to multiple sounds at a time with sticks, and often can also be played with kick and/or hi-hat pedals, and are easy to fit into your acoustic kit.

You can add drum triggers, which use the energy from the moving drumhead to tell electronics such as a drum module, or software such as Ableton Live, to play sounds you’ve selected. To make that latter option work, you’ll need a trigger-to-MIDI interface or a drum module, most of which can work as that interface for getting the triggers to talk to your Mac, PC, tablet, or mobile device over USB connection.

Some drummers like to create truly hybrid setups, which might consist of a complete acoustic setup plus additional pads, bar triggers, and pedals. One setup I really like for when I want the best of both worlds is a bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, and at least one cymbal (often a crashable ride), plus an electronic kick next to my acoustic bass drum pedal, hi-hat control pedal and pad next to my hi-hat pedal, and drum and cymbal pads in the typical “second snare”, tom, and cymbal locations. This is a versatile setup that gives you a complete electronic configuration plus the visceral and organic elements most important in acoustic drums.

We get into time feels and playing with a click versus more fluid tempo as a songwriter. In the cover band setting, playing with a click or loop can be valuable, again, to recreate the feel of the recording, whereas as a songwriter, Emily prefers more flexibility in the tempo.

Emily’s favorite drum recording: Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks! John Bonham created a super-unique sound, feel, and texture using huge Ludwig Classic drums: a 14×26 bass drum, 10×14 tom, 16×16 and 16×18 floor toms, a 6.5×14 Supraphonic 402 snare drum; Paiste Giant Beat and 2002 cymbals: 15″ Sound Edge hi-hats, 16, 18, and 20″ crashes, a 24″ ride, and a 38″ symphonic gong… not to mention the Ludwig Speed King pedal (and its noteworthy squeaks) and a “Ching Ring” tambourine on his hi-hat pull rod. Bonzo played Remo coated Emperor drumheads on top and coated Ambassadors on the bottoms, tuned much higher than many drummers do today!

To get that unique sound – combined with Bonham’s signature setup and one-of-a-kind touch and feel – recording engineer Andy Johns placed the drum set at the bottom of a stairwell at Headley Grange, and recorded it using two Beyerdynamic M160 microphones at the top of the stairs. No close mics were used to capture this sound. Johns then compressed the drum sound and added an echo effect. And here’s the other reason why this sound is special: the song was was recorded and then slowed down, creating the unusual, thick, swampy feel.

Listen to Drum Showroom Episode 2 here, and please subscribe and leave a review if you like what I’m doing. It would really mean a lot.

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