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Posts in Drums
Drums // Muso × Sound Engineer
 

By Caleb Kay x Caleb Chan

It’s no secret that you only sound as good as your engineer makes you sound, but good sound is really a team effort; the end-goal is to set the team up for a win. Both musos and engineers really want the same thing – to create an atmosphere for people to encounter God – and learning to see from each other’s perspectives will allow us to work towards crafting that atmosphere better, together!

We embark on a dialogue between our Resident Drums Mentor, Caleb Kay, and our Resident Sound Mentor, Caleb Chan, to gain insight on the different approaches drummers and sound engineers take with regards to this instrument.

How is your working relationship?

Kay: There’s been such a natural grace on our working relationship, maybe something to do with having the same name?

Chan: It definitely helps to have the same name. (Imagine if everyone on the band had the same name, the level of unity will be incredible!) We share quite a similar sense of humour, play the same mobile games, support the same football club, love the same God, so I guess we get along pretty well.

What’s one thing that has had a huge impact on getting a better sound?

Chan: Unsurprisingly, communication and being willing to communicate goes a long way.

Kay: It’s something we do before either of us get behind the drums or sound console: explaining what drum sound I’m trying to achieve, and also hearing from Chan on how that fits within the bigger picture of his mix. That gives us both the same target to hit.

Chan: It’s common for musicians to come into a session/rehearsal prepared and ready to play their roles and parts, but not have an awareness of how their sounds play a role in the bigger picture.

What’s worse is when you try to bring up certain things that could help, and they get offended as they feel you have overstepped your jurisdiction and entered their ‘space’.

When Kay and I started working together more, we would talk about what drum sound we were going for, how to achieve it, what could be improved - all in context with how everything fits back into the vision of the leaders and AG. But that calls for a certain openness, and not getting easily offended when something doesn’t work.

Kay: There are some specific traits to the drum sound we attempt to go for at AG: a deep, low-pitched snare; warm toms with a subdued attack, and warm, mellow cymbals. My equipment choice and drum tuning facilitates this, but the rest is in the hands of Chan, so we have to communicate to ensure that this envisioned sound is seen through from source to speakers.

That’s great to hear (ha ha) and it’s so true that communication and trust go a long way towards sounding better. But what about some techniques you’ve both employed?

Kay: Firstly, good sound starts with a good source.

Chan: Good source is good sauce.

Kay: You can’t expect the sound engineer to manufacture sound/tone that doesn’t exist at the source. Have a good understanding of tuning and muting your drums to achieve a wide range of tones, and use cymbals that produce the tone you desire.

Chan: With most (actually all) instruments and singers, getting it right at the source is so critical to better sound.

I’ll add that mics and mic-ing play a huge part as well. What kind of sound are you going for? There are tons of drum microphones available and different mics respond differently and have different characteristics. Similarly, with mic positioning, every inch closer or further, and every angle change, alters the sound dramatically.

Kay’s understanding of drum mic-ing really helps as well! I don’t have to be running to and fro if I want something adjusted, I just need to let him know and he’ll sort it out.

Kay: Yeah, it’s so underrated but goes a long way for drummers to try and understand how to mic your drums – a basic understanding of how mic positioning and placement affects how your drums sound. You’ll help yourself and the sound engineer out a huge deal getting to grips with these techniques.

Chan: Oh, and… REVERB! I always find that drums require a lot more processing than other instruments to sound great. But nice reverbs – used tastefully – make your drums sound massive!

As a drummer / sound engineer, what's the one thing you wished the other camp knew?  

Chan: I’ll share this in relation with drummers as a whole, and not particularly Kay. One big tip for drummers: Learn to mix yourself.

I don’t mean going to the sound board or having an iPad mixer by your side. I mean balancing the velocity with which you strike the various components on your kit.

I’ve encountered drummers who smash their hats way harder than the rest of the kit, or don’t hit their snares loud enough to cut through, or hit their crashes really loudly; all these mean an imbalance in how the kit is coming through the various mics.

Learn to get good balance on your own, even before your sound is picked up – remember drum mics are very close to each other – and amplified by the system. Again, good source is good sauce.

Kay: For me, it can be frustrating when you work hard towards a certain kind of tone, but the engineer just treats your instrument generically, or, because of limited technique or ability, defaults to only one kind of tone.

Chan is one of my favourite sound engineers because he listens widely and is very up-to-date on the current sound of worship music, from Bethel Music to Hillsong to Elevation Worship.

He tries to borrow ideas – attempting to reverse-engineer the Bethel Music snare drum sound, for instance – and in doing this, pushes himself to become better as an engineer. At the same time, he learns how to better reproduce a certain kind of tone that the drummer might be working towards, becoming more versatile!

Any closing words for our readers?

Kay: Just want to encourage all the sound engineers out there: you are more than a face hiding at the back behind the sound console; you are such a vital part of the worship team.

Listen widely, be in-the-know of how drums (or any instrument for that matter) sound in current worship music, and learn how to reproduce that tone, always seeking to grow in your ear and your ability!

Chan: And drummers, you are in a position to influence the atmosphere of worship in a very audible and obvious way.

Be sensitive to what the Spirit is doing and learn to flow with Him on your instrument, more than just playing through a song!

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The Metronome: Blessing Or Curse?

by Caleb Kay

The metronome (sometimes referred to as a ‘click’)  is an often-disused piece of equipment in worship teams, and sentiments toward it run the gamut from mere disregard to extreme disdain.

Ten years ago, I was asked to play the drums with a click, because the opening song of a special service needed to be in sync with a video. I struggled and gave lots of excuses reasons why it couldn't be done. I'm sure some will be familiar to readers:

  • It's so rigid!
  • It's distracting or hard to follow.
  • I can't worship with it (and don't you know that's the most important?).

But over the last ten years, I've grown to learn how to play with it, and even how to appreciate the significance of its role in worship music. As with everything in life, there's a learning curve, but I've grown to enjoy it, and have discovered three benefits to using it in a band setting.

1. It's an objective foundation.

Ever had that experience where your band rehearses a song and at the end, someone goes, "Hmm that felt draggy," and someone else says, "No, it was too fast"? How easily swayed we can sometimes be!

The advantage of having a metronome is that you can always set it to the speed of the original song that the team is referencing. If the worship leader wants adjustments, tweak it from there.

We don't have to rigidly follow the original without budging, but at least having the click makes it objective, and not subject to feelings – unlike how I might play anywhere from 2 to 5 BPM slower after a heavy dinner.

2. It's a foundation that frees.

In my early years of using the click in a worship band setting, I found it so hard to play freely because I was so focused on following its timing. But there was a day when we went into spontaneous worship, and in our debrief after the set, all the musicians remarked that the click had "disappeared"!

It was really still playing, but what actually happened was that, as we all got better at following the click, it ‘disappeared’ because we were playing precisely in time. It takes practice, but eventually, your internal clock gets better at playing at a constant tempo.

It might seem counterintuitive, but having the click eventually liberates your team to express yourselves; because you're less focused on keeping time with each other, the metronome becomes a solid foundation for your band to express more creatively - together!

(A question that might come up: "Don't the band and all the singers need to be able to hear the click? What if not everyone hears it?" In such cases, the metronome can still be used as a guide for what tempo to start the song in, at the very least. It should also be used in personal practice time, when you're working out your own instrument or vocal parts at home.)

3. Craft and heart go hand in hand.

"It doesn't matter if I can't play or sing in time; what's most important is my heart! I simply can't worship with the click so take it away!"

I think that this may be the cry of every worship musician at some point of our journey (myself included), but we must understand that as musicians on platforms leading others in worship, our craft is just as much a part of our worship as our hearts' postures. They are not mutually exclusive. As a congregation member, it is easier to follow the leadership of a worship band that plays in time, rather than one that doesn’t.

So keep stewarding that heart of worship, because it starts from a heart that loves Jesus. But get better at your craft, too, because that expression is the overflow of what's within, and to grow in it is to better serve the communities we lead in worship.

It takes humility to honestly assess ourselves – perhaps our craft has not caught up with our heart – and take steps to ensure both are growing in tandem.

I hope this article inspires you to not only consider using the metronome in your teams, but also hone yourselves to become better musicians. I can safely say I’ve seen the hard-earned fruit when teams collectively work towards improving their craft, specifically in the area of timekeeping. Strive towards greater excellence - because Jesus is worthy of that!

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AG is excited to share that we are kicking off a pilot Drums Stream for our 2019 cohort, and it is now open for applications. If you'd like to apply or find out more, do email info@awakengeneration.sg!

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