Monday, September 9, 2013

Album Lockdown: Drum Day

Six or seven weeks ago, Tyler, Joey, and I walked into a recording studio in North Hollywood in order to track drums for Tyler’s next record. The studio was owned & operated by John Fields, a producer noteworthy for his work with artists like Switchfoot, The Jonas Brothers, Lifehouse, P!nk, Semisonic, and, most recently, Megan & Liz (another YouTube breakout). The day marked my very first session for an album contracted for a major record label and my first experience tracking with an A-list producer.

Needless to say, getting to sleep was a tad harder than usual the night before.

I was a little bit apprehensive, even more excited, and the morning of the session brought all the classic self-doubting questions: Was I going to contribute to the album in a meaningful way or stumble all over myself and waste everybody’s time? Was this legit producer going to enjoy my playing or would he end up trying to convince Tyler to hire somebody else? Was I going to hit it out of the park or strike out on a single pitch?

Confidence and I have an interesting relationship. In short, I know I’m a good drummer, but my goal as a working musician is a lot loftier than just being good. It’s about relentlessly searching for magic and remaining discontent until I find it. It’s about making the artist’s song even better than they thought it could be. It’s about more than just the right notes at the right time: it’s about creating something timeless. It’s about knowing when to step it up and when to back it off, when to play on top of the beat and when to sit on its bottom, and how & when to play that exactly perfect drum fill. There’s a lot of heady, philosophical stuff that goes into being a great (and not just a good) drummer, and whether or not I would capture that lightning in the bottle of the studio on that one particular day was a big question, indeed.

Especially when I’d never done it at this level before.

I knew I had the chops. If I didn’t, Tyler wouldn’t have invited me out in the first place.
I knew that I knew the songs. We had been working on the album for two weeks at that point and I’d heard all the tunes dozens of times.
I had all the confidence of the rest of the guys in the band and I knew that I’d been chasing this opportunity for the last 10 years.

And so.

In the big picture scheme of things, recording a CD isn’t the most important thing in the world. It’s fun, it’s an amazing experience, and it’s definitely something a lot of people never get the opportunity to do. But I had been dreaming about my first major label record project for more than half of my life and the opportunity to do it with a bunch of talented guys like the ones with which I found myself inside the studio that day made for what would surely become a landmark memory for me.

All in all, the drum day for Tyler Ward’s first major label record turned out to be one of the most amazing & rewarding days of my musical life.

Getting the emphatic stamp of approval from not just Tyler & Joey, but from Fields, as well – about as legit of a musical cat as there is – was an almost unparalleled achievement for me. The songs recorded great and I think it’s safe to say that we were all excited about what the drums added to each tune. Having a great rapport with an established producer – not just about the record but about music in general – was definitely an unexpected blessing. Getting to play drums that finally – finally – sounded as great upon playback as I had always wanted them turned out to be a genuine emotional liberation: it was that feeling of a big sigh of relief accompanied by a huge smile.

Drum Day was a great day.

When all was said and done, I felt vindicated, validated, victorious. All the work had paid off. All the time spent at the grindstone after having to revert back to the drawing board had been worth it.

The drum session for the album that was destined to be named Honestly was a milestone for me, a landmark. If I’m honest, I hope there are dozens and dozens more of them waiting for me in the future. The great thing is that if there’s not, I’ll always have this great one to think back on. Like Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

So, thanks to Tyler, Joey, and John for helping to make my first major label recording session a success. Thanks for making it fun and thanks for getting some pretty good work out of me.

I can’t wait to do it again.

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