Brian recently wrote a brief piece for Modern Drummer magazine about the ten songs that he played on that stood out to him. There's so much great info that I thought it should be repeated here. If you're a drummer, producer, or engineer, you'll love this.
When Modern Drummer asked me to write about ten songs I've played on that were special to me, my initial thought was. Wow, it's going to be hard to come up with that many. Then I started reviewing music and realized it would be tough to narrow it down! So here you have it. I'll start with a happy accident.
Sheryl Crow, "Solidify," Tuesday Night Music Club (1993)
"Solidify" was a song I recorded for Sheryl Crow's first album. I've had drummers come up to me and say, "That's a crazy track. The fills are all in weird places. How did you come up with that?" Well, to let the cat out of the bag, that track started as a jam that we recorded, and it had no form. The song was written over that jam. That's why the fills come in haphazard places. From that experience, I learned it can be cool to play fills a bar after a change to a verse or a chorus. I still do that on occasion.
For "Solidify" I used [producer] Bill Bottrell's Gretsch kit and my 5 ½x14 Black Beauty snare. On other tracks I used a Valley Drum Shop wood snare, which has a darker 70s sound.
Ziggy Marley, "True To Myself," Dragonfly (2003)
This song was lots of fun to play, and the message is so great! I played a toy drumkit on the track. That same kit was used for a Marilyn Manson video shoot. It had a 16'' kick, a 12'' tom, and a 12'' snare, which I cranked way up. I used two 8'' splash cymbals for hi-hats. The producer, Ross Hogarth, made it sound great. I played the song using an anti-fills approach, which is a tip of the hat to Steve Jordan. Sometimes space is the place.
To get a consistently punchy kick drum sound, even on a toy drum, I try not to let the beater choke the sound. I let the beater slap the head, and I don't hit super-hard. If you hit at just the right velocity, you get a better tone out of the drum, and it will sound lower.
Steady grooves like this require solid time. To develop that, it's good to practice to drum loops or click tracks. When I first started recording myself, I freaked out because I was rushing my fills. So I practiced a lot to a click so I could play my grooves and fills with confidence and still sound natural, without feeling like I was pushing and pulling too much.
Toy Matinee, "Last Plane Out," Toy Matinee (1990)
It was hard to pick one song from this record. But "Last Plane Out" sums up the entire experience, and it was the first single. I had just moved to Los Angeles and was pretty green. When I got the call to audition for the band, I thought there was no way I would get the gig. The players in the lineup were at the top of their respective fields, and I didn't know much about recording at the time. I didn't even know what a compressor was. I learned a lot about recording techniques from this session.
I like "Last Plane Out" because I really connected with the bass player, Guy Pratt. The kick and bass guitar are pretty tight, and the middle-eight section has some cool pushes with the kick and bass.
I used [producer] Pat Leonard's DW kit, which John Good made personally for him. John even came down to the studio each day and tuned the drums for us. So I got spoiled on that session.
The Office TV show theme (2005)
My buddy Bob Thiele Jr. called me and said, "Hey, can you come down and help me record this song for a TV show?" Well, I got down there, we listened to the demo once, and then we went into the studio and tracked it. Greg Daniels, the show's producer, said, "That's perfect!" We all looked at each other in total confusion. We were still learning the song, but Greg loved what we did. It's so scrappy, but it fits the show. I hear that song at least once a day-I can't get away from it!
I used a 5 ½x14 Supra-Phonic from the '70s, tuned pretty tight. I like to use different sounds on different tracks. If the song is fast and energetic, I'll generally pull out a Supra-Phonic or a 5 ½x14 wood snare and crank it up to get an open, Stewart Copeland-type sound. If it's a ballad-style track, I'll whip out one of my old, deep mahogany drums, tune it way down, and muffle it with my wallet or some tape.
Dramarama, "Memo From Turner," Vinyl (1991)
I was brought in to do this record after they lost their drummer. We got together and played through the album once at the band's rehearsal studio and then went into the studio and started tracking. We didn't play "Memo From Turner" in rehearsal. The producer, the late Don Smith, played it for me once, we went into the studio and tracked it, and that was it. Don was a master at capturing first-take magic.
I love the ending of this track. I messed it up when we recorded it, so Don just slowed down the tape. When I was younger, I used to lose sleep over little mistakes, but now I find them endearing. This is my wife's favorite album I've ever worked on.
Christina Aguilera, "Nasty Naughty Boy," Back To Basics (2006)
I used my old Slingerland Radio King drumset on this track, to get an authentic '40s/'50s burlesque vibe. That style isn't my area of expertise, so I just trusted my instincts to try to make it sound sexy. Brushes always make me a little nervous. I had my sticks under my arms and had to drop the brushes and pick up the sticks to make the transition. We tracked this song live, so there was no punching in.
Christina Aguilera, "Beautiful," Stripped (2002)
The night I got the call to record this track, I had worked all day. I'd just come home and lit up a cigar, and I was relaxing in my hot tub. My wife came out with the phone. I shook my head and told her, "I'm not home." But when she said it was [famed producer/songwriter] Linda Perry, I took the call. Linda had just recorded a demo for Christina and wanted me to come down that night to play on it. So I got out of my very comfortable tub and made my way down to the studio.
After we got drum sounds, Linda played me the song. I was floored! The message, the melody...everything about it was stunning. All I had to do was give it a bit of time and not screw it up. The final track has Christina's demo vocal, because she couldn't beat it.
There was a drum machine on the original demo-which I loved-so I tried to keep that steady vibe throughout. If the song had gotten really big at the end, it could have sounded cheesy. I wanted to be invisible and just keep time. Sometimes that's all you need to do.
I used a '70s Gretsch kit with a custom Drum Doctor 4 ½x14 wood snare.
Pink, "Waiting For Love," Try This (2003)
This song was written on the spot while we were making Pink's second album. It was recorded in her living room with the drums set up in the entryway, which had marble floors. The guitarist played the riff, and I started playing a tom groove. I put tea towels on the drums to get a more distinct sound. Pink loved what we were doing, so she started singing along. This song only made the album because she loved the groove. I like the track because it was recorded live and has flaws. We didn't use a click track, so it speeds up a bit. But it's rock 'n' roll!
Sara Bareilles, "Vegas," Little Voice (2008)
This track is full-on Brian MacLeod. Hats off to the producer, Eric Rosse, for letting me be myself. I love this one because it's so organic. I used a 30'' marching bass drum. I bought that drum off eBay, and I've never messed with it-I've never changed the heads or even tuned it. It has a distinct sound. I hit it pretty lightly, because it resonates too much when I hit it harder.
The toms are custom-made wood-hoop drums by ddrum.The snare is a 6 ½x14 Supra-Phonic that was taped up, with the snares nice and loose. I've learned over the years as a studio musician that it's deceiving to tune a drumkit for recording. Most drummers want to tune their drums like they would for a live gig, but once you put mics on them, the sound isn't right. I've found that I generally tune pretty low in the studio. And I don't hit too hard. I let the compressors do their work to make the drums sound big. If you hit too hard, the drums can choke. You have to find a balance where you get a great sound without losing excitement. Charlie Watts is a good example of someone who doesn't hit hard but gets a cracking sound on record.
John Hiatt, "The Wreck Of The Barbie Ferrari," Perfectly Good Guitar (1993)
I had a lot of fun making this entire record. I picked "Barbie Ferrari" because of the groove. It has a straight feel against a swing feel, which is something you hear on early rock 'n' roll records. From what I've heard, a lot of those sessions had rock and jazz musicians playing together, and the jazz guys would be swinging while the rock guys would be playing straight.
For this track I created a percussion loop that's both swinging and straight. I played hand drum and finger cymbal parts with a straight feel and then added a swinging part on a paint bucket. Then I played the groove on the kit with a swing feel, but the fills are straight. It was a challenge switching gears like that. The loop helped me lock in with the different feels.
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