March 4, 2010

New Era Drum Tracks

I want to look back at my recording sessions, and share some of my thoughts about my drum tracks in our New Era album.

I played drums on four tracks in our album - Sweetest Thing, Don't Ever Let Go, Your Smile, and Pangako.

Sweetest Thing

"My bandmates and I were in the studio, working on "Sweetest Thing", which is the last song we finished for our upcoming album. This is an original song written for us by our dear friend Mike Luis of Freestyle. Mike is a genius when it comes to songwriting, and the song is sooo good that it gave my bandmate Paolo quite a headache while he was working on it in his computer haha, figuring out some of the notes Mike used (because Mighty Mike wasn't able to chart the notes, I think). It's a groovy, bouncy, and catchy tune. Anyway, the vocal parts were recorded on Wednesday night. Earlier that day, we had a last-minute decision to have my drum parts recorded live. At first, we thought of programming the drum parts. But I thought that I should play the drum parts live. I like the song, I like Paolo's drum ideas for it, and I was determined to put my mark in that song. And so, we booked a recording date at Blue Door Studio in Quezon City (the same studio where I recorded my drum parts for 'Pangako'). I was scheduled the next evening."

"In the studio, I set up a small kit which I felt would fit the song just right. My drumming inspiration for this song is Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, drummer and producer of Philadelphia-based hip-hop band The Roots. I went for the less-is-more approach. For this track, I want my drums to sound crisp and tight, almost like a toy, but still "realistic" enough for listeners to say, 'Hey, those are live drums!' I used three drums - an 18"x 20" kick and a 14" tom, which are both from my Tama Superstar kit, and my 5.5"x10" Black Panther Premium Maple, my choice snare drum for this track. I set up a few Zildjian cymbals - a pair of 12" A Special Recording Hi-Hats and a 16" K Dark Thin Crash (the said cymbals belong to my drummer friend Marco Katigbak), and my 20" K Custom Medium Ride. I thought of using my 8" A Custom Splash, but I find it too bright-sounding for the song, so I decided to remove it on my studio set-up. Paolo thought of using flammed cross-sticks for the backbeats on some of the verses, which is why I had my 13" Tama Artwood Maple snare drum on standby for that purpose (since I won't be able to play cross-sticks on a 10" snare). But later on during the session, we decided not to play cross-sticks anymore. And so, it was the 10" Black Panther all the way."

--- excerpts from my October 29, 2008 blog

I am pretty much happy with the outcome of this track, as I was somehow able to estimate the sound and feel I envisioned for the song. We got the tight, snappy, toy-like sound out of the drums, plus the bouncy & playful feel. The 10" Black Panther snare was the star of the drum set-up I used in that track. I remember feeling quite loose during this session, so it enabled me to become more playful behind the kit. Yet, I was having that "?uestlove-ish", less-is-more vibe, and I was making sure that my parts would still serve the music right. The tricky part in this track is the bridge part, where the groove shifts to a tight 16th note feel, against the shuffle grooves played through the verses and choruses.

This is one fun song to play, and drummers who'll play to this song can go loose. I look forward to playing this tune live.

Don't Ever Let Go

"I just recorded some of my drum tracks this week at SoundsRite Recording Studio in Makati, which is operated by drummer Boyet Aquino (who is best-known for his work with Francis M's band Hardware Syndrome). The studio has a good reputation for its high-end equipment and facility & quality recording results, and its clients include a good number of big names in the music biz. Though Boyet has an impressive collection of high-end drums, I still chose to use my Tama Superstar kit."

"On the Monday night session, I recorded Don't Ever Let Go, which was written by Paolo. This is quite a difficult track for me because of the crafty drum parts Paolo envisioned for the song. This was the old song which we recorded at Blue Door Studio a couple of years ago, but had some bad luck. I'm already through with that unfortunate experience, and I'm glad that I'm able to perform better in the studio this time, without any technical problems."

"I can't remember what I ate that time, or if the stars were aligned during those nights. But for some reason, I feel good with recording my drum tracks at SoundsRite."

"In the studio, I brought with me my Tama Superstar kit, which has birch shells (birch drums are tried and tested in recording/studio situations). My toms are fitted with clear Evans G2 batters. My 18"x20" kick drum is fitted with an Evans EMAD batter and an Evans EQ3 Resonant black front head (with 5" offset hole). Though my drums are pretty much set up for live situations, I was eager to hear how it performs in the recording studio. At first, the drums sounded big and boomy. After some tweaking, we were able to get decent tom sounds which responded well in the mix and complimented the songs. I should try coated batter heads next time for the toms, for a warmer sound. The kick drum's heads needed to be loosened and Boyet placed some cloth inside in order to kill some of the overtones (because of the EMAD head, I don't have any muffling inside my kick drum). We were able to get a decent, thuddy, low-end sound from the kick."

"Opting to play simpler drum parts in the recording compared to what I would normally play on a gig, I only used the 10" and 14" toms, though I had the 12" tom set aside, in case it's needed. I was also able to use my 5"x13" Tama Artwood Maple and 5.5"x10" Black Panther Maple snare drums. I tried my Old Faithful 5.5"x14" Tama Starclassic Maple, but the Magic Drum and the Cat sounded more fitting for the songs. I was also able to use my two broken Zildjian K Custom Dark crash cymbals. Even if they had those cracks and were de-modified, they still retain that K Custom magic in their sound. It still has that complex, trashy & sophisticated character, while the damages dried up its decay. I kept these old cymbals because I felt that they'll work well in the studio. And gladly, they did."

--- excerpts from my April 26, 2008 blog

Don't Ever Let Go
has become a favorite among most of our loyal friends and following. The story behind the making of this song is interesting. First of all, Paolo wrote this love song based on one bandmate's past relationship experience (guess who). Second, during the first couple of drum recording sessions for this song back in '07, the computer at Blue Door Studio crashed - twice! And during that time, never did that incident happened in that studio, which pretty much has a decent track record. And it's so funny and coincidental that the two gear crashes happened during the sessions for this one song. There's really something about this song.

Finally, we were able to record the drum parts at SoundsRite studio in the summer of '08. I think the delays on the drum recordings in '07 were destined to happen. Because during the SoundsRite sessions, I was more confident, I was more prepared, and I had my then-brand new Tama Superstar kit prepared for recording.

I think I finished the recording in a couple of hours, which surprised me because I never thought I'll finish that soon, considering the sensitivity of the song and some of the more specific drum parts Paolo wanted. Those drum fills during the bridge and the last chorus? I can't remember the number of times I did retakes! I would have played the drum parts differently in this track. But this was Paolo's composition, so with him being the composer and producer, I have to respect that.

I said this to most of our friends, and I'll say it again... Don't Ever Let Go is the most challenging song that I've recorded in our album. And it's even more challenging to play it live. Believe me, it's not as easy as it sounds.

In this song, my main snare drum is my workhorse "Magic Drum" 5"x13" Tama Artwood Maple. Plus, I have once again proven my theory on broken K Customs in this recording session. Despite the defects, they sounded lovely in the studio.

Your Smile

"I recorded Your Smile, which was a bit easier for me because of its groovier, more straight-ahead nature; yet we need to make sure that my parts feel and sound right for the songs."

--- excerpt from my April 26, 2008 blog

Many listeners would think that the drum parts in Your Smile are programmed. But no, the whole thing is 100% live recording. It might not sound obvious during the first half of the song, which is mostly straight-ahead cross-stick grooves. But once the snare drum comes in at the last chorus after the bridge, that would hint the use of real drums played by a real drummer. Listen to the dynamics of the snare drum backbeat. I was in my "drum machine" mode during this song's recording session, yet I still want it to feel like it's human. And I have to say, this is one of my favorite tracks in our album.

Two snare drums were set up for this track. The main snare is my "Old Faithful" 14" Tama Starclassic Maple. It has the die-cast hoops, so I played the cross-sticks on that drum. On the left side of the kit is the 10" Black Panther Maple, where I played the backbeats of the last chorus. In case you're wondering about the splash cymbal model I used for this track, it's a 12" Zildjian Extra Thin Splash, which my good friend Rommell Garcia lent to me.


"Recording began at around 12am. I did a couple of practice takes then made adjustments such as fine tuning the drums, making sure that the drum sounds will fit nicely with the song. (Studio Assistant) Ian double-checked the microphone set-up and prepared a click track for me. Then we went on with the actual recording. I'm not aiming to finish quickly or become a one-take wonder. The most important thing for me is to serve the music by playing drum tracks which will compliment the song. But still, we need to be efficient and productive with our studio time."

"On my first take, I wasn't quite warmed up yet, and I was still absorbing the feel of the song, the drumkit, and the studio room. But I felt confident that I'll be able to do better takes as we progress. I think it was on my third or fourth take when I finally got in the zone. I was fully warmed up and my focus was on a high level at that point. I thought I made a couple of good takes. But we know the drum parts can still get better."

"Recording resumed at around 3am. I lost a bit of momentum, and my hands got cold because of the strong air conditioning. But good thing I regained focus, and I was able to do my best takes of the night. In order for me not to repeat the whole take, we just went back to the parts which needed refinement, such as cymbal crescendos and embellishments, some fill-ins, and some hits which will lock in with the bass guitar parts."

"My drumkit for this session is a Premier Artist Birch kit, which belongs to my good friend Ernest Ramos. I used two toms - an 8"x10" rack tom and a 14"x14" floor tom. Both toms are fitted with Evans G1 Coated batter heads. The kick is a 16"x18". Don't let its small size fool you. It's the biggest-sounding 18" bass drum that I've ever heard. It has a solid low-end thump, which often surprises those who hear it. The kick is fitted with an Aquarian Super Kick I Clear batter head, which contributes to that huge sound. The front head doesn't have a hole for the mic. I don't want to make a hole because the kit isn't mine and I don't want to ruin the nice white Aquarian coated front head. So we removed the front head and put a pillow in it (Ernest didn't put any muffling on his kick). The snare drum I used is my Old Faithful 5.5"x14" Tama Starclassic Maple, which is fitted with an Evans G1 Coated batter head and an Evans Snare Side 300 resonant head."

"I used my Zildjian cymbals. My hi-hats are a pair of 14" K Custom Dark Hats and my ride is a 20" K Custom Medium Ride. The two crash cymbals used are my semi-retired damaged cymbals, which I both acquired from my friend Bennii Obana sometime last year. On my left side was my freshly-cracked 17" K Custom Dark Crash, which I recently retired from gigging. On my right side was my de-modified 18" K Custom Dark Crash which had so many hairline cracks when I acquired it, I had it cut after I wounded my finger. Even if these crashes are damaged, they still have that spirit in their sound. I thought that I'd just save these cymbals for studio work, where I think they'll sound well. And they did sound exceptional in the studio."

--- excerpts from my November 16, 2007 blog

My drumming inspiration on Pangako is Jeff Porcaro. This is a love song with a pop arrangement and mass appeal, and I can't think of any other musical inspiration better than Jeff Porcaro, who was not only a groovy pop rock drummer with a solid foundation. He was a master of great feel and sensitivity. He had the knack for playing drum parts which fits best for the music, in relation to its theme and emotions. What mattered to Jeff the most is how the listeners feel the music. I recorded my drum parts for Pangako with Jeff Porcaro in mind. In fact, I think some of the drum fills I used reflected his huge influence on me. May this be my humble tribute to one of my favorite drummers. May God bless Jeff Porcaro's soul.

To fellow drummers who are curious about the accent cymbal I used during the bridge/guitar solo part, that was the broken 18" Zildjian K Custom Dark Crash on the right side of the set-up, which was trimmed down because of multiple hairline cracks. It sounded like a trashy china/crash hybrid, and it sounded great on recording. So, before disposing those broken cast cymbals, think about it first. You'll never know how they'll sound like in the studio. You'll never know if it's magic.


Final thoughts...

The music on Dry Your Eyes and Pangarap Ko'y Ikaw were arranged, programmed, and recorded by Jay Durias of South Border. So, if the songs are coming from a musical master, I wouldn't dare touch it! But if Jay would ask me to record the drum parts, I would have done it.

That Side Of Me and Prelude To Ecstasy might have been more slamming if we were able to record live drums for it. But it's alright, because it turned out just fine. Playing it live during our gigs would be a different story...

Come Back... It's the most perfect drum recording... Because there are no drums on it! ;)

I'm planning to play more live drums on our next album, and I would love to do something more refreshing and out of the box. I'm looking forward to that.