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The Artist's Way - The Book That Saved My Artistic Career

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My artistic career had come to a crossroads in the mid-1990s when I felt both a lack of direction and motivation. Then, in 1997, I came across a book called, The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. In the midst of the 90's self-help craze, this was a book all about artistic self-help. The book is a 12-week course on recovering, and jump starting, your artistic ability/career. Each chapter covers a different aspect, giving you affirmations, practical advice, and exercises to do during the week. It doesn't teach you how to be creative, but how to access and nurture your innate creativity.


My well worn copy of The Artist's Way
One exercise Cameron recommends is morning pages. Each morning when you get up, sit down and write out 3 pages—long hand is preferred to typing—of whatever comes to mind. It's a sort of stream-of-consciousness brain dump diary. I was faithful to this at first, filling up a whole filing cabinet of notebooks, but eventually felt that it was a lot of eff…

Towards Greater Consistency

I'm often surprised at how a musician will sound one way one day, then sound very different the next. It's not just the actual sound, but the performance, and little details of the performance. Many artists aren't consistent in what they do.

So much of this goes back to preparation. You need to be prepared for every gig/performance/recital. This would seem like a given, but it seems that it's not. This is not to say that we want every performance to be a clone of the previous one, but that there needs to be a consistency, a sense of connection for all performances, especially in a series or a tour.

Playing night after night naturally has its ups and downs. Some nights are amazing, others, just average. But as a performer, we need to try our best to present a consistent performance across a range of dates.

Here are some tips:

1) Work out everything you need ahead of time! Often people keep putting things off, thinking they will get them done before the performance date, the…

Towards Greater Clarity Of Sound

While I think percussion can be some of the most beautiful sounds in the world, others may feel that a lot of it is noise. This difference in perception often has a lot to do with both the clarity of the sounds being made, and the message being transmitted by these sounds.

As a percussionist, I have always striven to create a good sound. This is important to me. Even when I'm creating more of a noise type sound, I still want it to have a certain quality to it. I don't like leaving things up to chance, or just making an indiscriminate racket. To me, everything starts with a good sound. 

I also strive to have a sense of purpose in what I play. Paradoxically, in improvising, I never randomly strike things. There is always thought behind what I am doing. Even in the moment, at an instinctive level, I'm always asking myself questions about what I'm doing:

What sound fits with the previous sounds I've made (or that others have made in a group situation)?What rhythms fit wit…

Have Drummer's Lost Control Of Their Sound?

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This is a companion piece to last week's, What Ever Happened To Individuality? post.

Music today has become so homogenized. So much of it sounds the same because the same small group of producers/songwriters are making all the hit tracks. There often seems to be very little individuality left. This is especially true for the musicians playing on all these songs, but specifically drummers. Rather than controlling their own sounds/feel, drummers are increasingly at the mercy of producers. 

Since the advent of digital recording, and software like Pro Tools and Logic, it's possible to completely change a recorded drum track. Individual drum and cymbal notes can be moved in time and retuned. Recorded drums can be easily replaced by samples of other drums. It's to the point where you could do a session, and when the recording comes out, you've been completely replaced and reshaped by the producer. Your actual performance was really nothing more than raw data that was used to s…

What Ever Happened To Individuality?

There was a time when most drum set drummers you heard had their own, identifiable sound. And by sound I mean both the actual sound of their drums and cymbals, and the sound of their playing style. It was easy to hear a new recording and identify the drummer by their sound
Jazz drummers certainly had their own sound. You could tell Tony Williams' ride cymbal from Buddy Rich's, or Gene Krupa's toms from Max Roach's. Rock drummers had their own identities too. Bill Buford's snare drum was always identifiable, as was Phil Collins' concert toms. Mick Fleetwood always had that very muffled drum sound, and no matter what brand of drums Neil Peart decided to play, he always sounded like Neil Peart.
Trending Today
Today, things are much more homogenous. And not just at the major pro level, but at the local level too. There just seems to be a general inclination towards sameness. This is due to multiple trends.
One trend is that young drum students don't seem to have …

The Thing About Endorsements…

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Too many drummers think endorsements are some sort of ‘trophy’ signifying they 'made it.' Well, not quite. I have some endorsements for gear I play, but I don't for others. I 'made it' to a certain point before the endorsements, but the endorsements haven't made me any better as a player, or more famous. That’s all up to me.




Drummers need to know that an endorsement is a ‘two way’ relationship: you need to give back to the company you endorse. I do this various ways:

1) I talk about the gear I use because I really love it and it works for me.
2) I try to feature endorsed gear in promotional photos and mention it in interviews.
3) I always try to play my own gear, unless it’s a situation where I must play rental gear of a different brand.
4) Did I mention that I talk about the gear I use because I really love it?


#1 & 4 are really key. The endorsements that I have are for gear that I had already been playing for years! And I had been promoting on my own because I …

“What Kind Of Music Do You Play?”

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People often ask me how I classify my solo percussion music, or even the music I play in ad hoc groups. I tend to think of it as contemporary classical music. This usually elicits startled looks. “But you improvise a lot. Isn't that jazz?” My response is, “Jazz is based on swing, the ding-ding-a-ding cymbal pattern. I don't swing. My music is based more on hierarchies of energy that I push forward, and different levels of meter & pulse.”

Ding-ding-a-ding

Swing. That brings up ideas of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa. The ride cymbal and hi-hats are king. I don't use either. Swing is great. I often play it when I'm using a traditional drum set. But for my own music, I don't.


Gene Krupa, the king of swing
European Echoes
My own style comes more out of the European improvisers, who unlike their American counterparts, didn't use jazz & swing as a basis for their music. People like Jamie Muir, Frank Perry, Eddie Prévost, Le Quan …