March 15, 2007

Witnessing A Master At Work

I have a good number of musical mentors and inspirations. This past year, I've blogged a number of times about Benjie Mendez, one of my local drumming idols and one of the best Filipino drummers ever. And it's a privilege that I've become good friends with Bagets, and got to know the man better as a person, beyond his status as a Pinoy drumming icon. It's an honor and a blessing.

Last Monday, Jason Reyes (K24/7 road manager) and I accompanied Bagets to his recording session. The night before, Bagets asked me a favor; requesting if I could help him take his drum equipment to Asiatec Pink Noise Studio (along Roces Avenue, QC) for his recording date, since he knows that I have a van. Good thing there's nothing scheduled to do during the day, so I agreed on helping him transport his gear.

Jason and I made it at Bagets' home (in QC) at 9am. Bagets' calltime at Pink Noise is 10am. When we arrived, Bagets was still in his pambahay clothes. He just woke up, had a smoke, then talked about his drummer visitors the night before, going to sleep at around 4am, and the Heroes TV series which he's currently crazy about.

Bagets' personal drumkit was used for the recording session. His drumkit is the Pearl Session Birch SBX, and this recording was the first time these drums were actually used! Bagets bought this drumkit brand new over a year ago. And he never actually set it up and played on it! It was in its box all this time! Bagets is quite obsessive-compulsive with equipment, and he claimed that he doesn't want to take out this drumkit until his new house is fixed or until he's got complete equipment or something like that. In fact, he almost sold this beautiful drumkit! But I'm glad he did not. And the recording is a nice opportunity to hear the potential of these birch drums.

So, Bagets prepared himself, then we loaded all the drum gear in my van, then left for Pink Noise at around 945am. Around 20 minutes later, we arrived at Pink Noise. This is a first-class, state-of-the-art recording studio which has made quite a big name in the local music biz. Pink Noise recently moved from their old site (which was also within the QC area), so the facility is pretty much brand new. The studio is at the second floor of the building, so it was quite a chore carrying the gear from my van at the front parking lot, then to a hallway, up a flight of stairs, and finally inside the spacious studio. The studio facility is very impressive, with all its high-end equipment and well-designed studio rooms. Studio engineer Dominic Benedicto welcomed us.

After moving Bagets' drum gear in a studio room, the three of us had brunch at a nearby KFC resto, since we only had coffee for breakfast and we were all hungry. Of course, the meal became more enjoyable because of the kwentuhan, mostly about music and fellow musicians. After that, we went back to the studio. This was a great opportunity for me, because this was my first time witnessing Bagets work on a recording session. Actually, it was my first time to witness a topnotch drummer work on a recording.

Bagets was called to do drum tracks for a number of songs, which will eventually become part of an album planned to be released in Australia. First thing he did was listen to the first track which he'll be working on. After a few minutes, he moved to the drum room and began setting up his drumkit. Here I witnessed certain examples of how obsessive-compulsive the man is... His drums and hardware neatly wrapped with cloth and plastic, holding every gear with cloth (so that there wouldn't be any dirt or finger marks left on it), all memory locks already set in place, folded plastic bags separating multi-clamps from the stands (to avoid possible scratches)... Man, I think he's even more OC than me!

Bagets has these distinct drum sounds in most of his recordings. So I was keeping an eye (and ear) on how he tunes the drums. His drums were still mounted with stock Pearl Protone drumheads, which are pretty decent heads, though not as good as the high-end and tried-and-tested Remo or Evans skins. Bagets wished that he had single-ply heads for his toms such as Remo Ambassadors. Though the Protone skins projected a decent sound, he wasn't really contented with it. So he kept tuning until he found a decent sound on each drum.

The drums sounded really lively in the studio, thanks to its recording-friendly birch shells. Bagets began doing his warm-ups, and he was already burning then. He even shared to me some of his personal tricks, which I consider as a gold mine of understanding his distinct drumming style. Later on, he let me play the drumkit so that he can hear the drum sounds from the mixing room. There he realized that the drums indeed sounded wonderful. By the way, Bagets' drumkit sounded and felt really good when I played on it. After a coffee break and another batch of kwento, Bagets went on and began working.

The demos were quite a pain in the ass. Imagine... These are digitally-prepared play-along tracks; yet for some freaking reason, the notes were not quantized, the instruments were not on the dot with each other, and tempo was off in various parts! Bagets was scratching his bald head all day, shouting out all his classic hirit. Being a drummer, I know how it feels when we are playing along to a track with an awkward tempo and feel. And Dominic found ways to make it easier for Bagets, by somehow making the click tracks much clearer for him to play along. Besides, Dominic said that it is why he called Bagets for the job, because he believes he can pull it off.

And Bagets did pull it off! That day, he nailed down four tracks. And each track was a challenge to lay down. There were certain moments where in we were watching Bagets from the mixing room, and Dominic, Jason, and I were just laughing, shaking our heads, and just can't believe it. Bagets has once again done his magic. Dominic was at awe with Bagets' time sense. The phenom was so on the dot with the click track, we can't even hear it anymore; instead, we felt it. It's like the man was born with a metronome in his body. And of course, Bagets made it feel oh so good! There was one moment where in he was beginning to feel tired of one song, he made this incredible one-bar drum fill to end the track! Ah, the magic of spontaneity.

Besides witnessing Bagets do his recording work, it was fun hanging out with the guys, cracking jokes in between takes and laughing at Bagets' famous one-liners. One realization... Despite the challenging session, Bagets was somehow able to keep his cool. He's a true professional recording artist. And another... Even seasoned pros and masters can still have a difficult time at the studio. It's about confidence and composure, and being on top of your game.

I feel very privileged to witness a master at work in the recording studio. It's so inspiring. The next time I lay down my drum tracks for our recordings (hopefully very soon), I now have an added arsenal of ideas, tricks, and inspiration.