How to work as a remote session drummer
We quiz our alumnus YEYO on his essential advice for session players wanting to work remotely...
Sergio Rodríguez Vitta (YEYO), an ICMP alumnus, is a Spanish/Colombian drummer, composer, arranger, producer and musical director who has toured and recorded in Colombia, Mexico, The Netherlands and UK.
As a member of collectives and/or as session musician, he has performed with various artists as La Severa Matacera, Sergent Garcia, Mr. Symarip and The Question among others.
Currently, besides leading his own DOS musical project where he composes and produces, he works as a live drummer for different acts and as a remote session drummer for a variety of singer songwriters and producers worldwide.
Remote recording is a relatively new career for musicians. It originated because of the Internet explosion and the new possibilities it created in exchanging bigger computer files at optimal speed. With technology more readily available, there are now more recording and production opportunities than ever before with drummers and instrumentalists able to offer his/her creativity and uniqueness globally to composers, singer songwriters or producers.
It’s a job format I enjoy hugely so I would love to share some of my experiences and ideas about things you can do to start working as a remote session drummer:
1. Do you like the drum sound of the records you listen to? Now, record yourself!
Start recording yourself and try to understand why you like some sounds more than others. If you have goosebumps when listening to a track, is there another reason for that besides the musical one?
Of course there is: the sonic side - so why not use your savings and purchase a nice interface and a couple of mics? By now I’m sure you have a DAW installed in your computer, so you are ready to go!
Seriously, some of the best drum sounds recorded in history have been captured with only a few microphones."
Start experimenting with the mic you have at hand and learn how frequencies move around your room and your kit through the microphone. It’s fun and the more you experiment, the more you get to know.
2. The creativity within
Understand recording environments as contexts offering endless possibilities to develop an artistic language, not only as mere places for capturing sounds.
As well as channels of expression, studios are ideal places to boost your creativity, explore, experiment and enhance your musical personality. And your recording tools can be seen as extensions of your own sound.
There are plenty of sonic possibilities in a studio environment, from the mics you use and the qualities of the mix table to the size of the room and different outboard gear. All of them can expand your expressive needs. Get in touch with them from an artistic point of view, not just a technical one.
3. Sound is key
At the studio it’s all about the sound. It is completely necessary to develop your musicality (because it’s crucial for finding the perfect groove for the tune), good chops and metronome management as well, no doubt about it, but sound is also key.
The sound you produce makes the audience and musicians listen to you and is as important as the notes you choose to play to serve the tune."
Each tune requires good decisions musically and good decisions sonically. Always think about sound, and keep in mind that different gear produces different sounds.
4. Gear freak? No, better be a sound freak!
Besides your actual playing, a big part of your sound is produced by the gear you select for each tune. Each tune deserves sound choices that meet its needs with regards to drums, recording gear, and an important third one, location (dry room, small room, big room, etc.). Consequently, it is important to start getting in touch with recording gear and, if doable, start buying and experimenting with it.
Mics, for example, have lots of specifics, as do our beloved snare drums, so it’s good to know about them but, most importantly, to know how the gear reacts to your drums. Every time you go to a studio, listen to your drum set through the different mics that are there; ask the engineer about them (if he/she is not too busy, because you don’t want to bother him/her much during a session!) take notes and see how your set sounds different depending on the mics, their placement and the room. The same goes for mix tables and outboard gear - all these details add up to create your sound.
Photo credit: Alvaro Fuentes
5. Experiment with your drum kit and other minor percussion accessories
Similarly, each part of your drum kit is important to make a desired sound. Hoops, lugs, drum shell sizes and materials, drumheads; every single detail makes a difference in the sound you produce. Know your drums, know about their construction, and an important one: know a lot about tuning! Try different combinations of drumheads, of drum sizes, try wooden hoops, try everything, and experiment! Also, try different sticks woods (maple, hickory, etc.) and different bass drum beaters; they make a huge difference to the sound. Try adding minor percussion to your kit, wood blocks, jam blocks, shakers, tambourines; maybe they will be the details the song you are recording needs. You will be amazed at how much you will learn from experimenting with different things in your set. There are hundreds of web pages and great drum magazines with dedicated drum and recording gear sections, explore them, learn and try! When working at a studio environment or when choosing the set for a remote recording this knowledge will be invaluable.
6. The concept behind the tune
Try to always remember that you are working for people who love their tunes and their creations, so they want the best for them.
Go into great detail in conversations via email, Skype or WhatsApp or whichever other way you can to understand what the musician wants for the tune and use other tunes as reference."
7. Start working remotely now
These days recording yourself is easier than before. So don’t wait, use what you have at hand.
You don’t have to have an incredible home studio to start working as a remote session drummer. What you do have to have is a decent way of showing your idea to the person who is hiring you, to share with him/her demos of what will be your final drum recording.
Look to build up your own drum studio, that will come with time and is your ultimate goal. But to begin with, you can produce decent demos using little gear. For the final recording, hire a well-priced studio for one or two hours to record the definitive take and later send all independent files to your client from your home computer.
At that point you will be so prepared sonically and musically after demoing that your time in the studio will be minimal so costs won’t be high. It is always nice if you can edit and do a raw mix at home with your DAW of the recorded drums. This means you can send the customer the drum part with the guide track or ‘drum less’ demo you received at the beginning of the process.
8. And, the money.
If you don’t charge for your job, nobody will. Learn how to charge for your hours of effort and dedication and feel comfortable with it. Of course the more you know and the more experience you have the more you can charge, but always ask to get paid.
Be clear with what you are going to charge beforehand and make a plan. Think about the tune and be clear about how many demos you are going to record and send before the final take."
Normally, it depends on how arranged the drum part is by the author or how clear she/he has the concept of the tune. Usually, if it's clear from the beginning, then one demo is enough, if not normally two, then a final demo which musically will sound exactly the same as the version you will record definitively at your own studio or at a hired one.
There are nowadays many drummers offering remote service so go to their pages and see how much they charge, then think about you and how much you can charge for your job depending on your experience and the effort you have to put in each tune.
And don’t forget, be musical, play for the tune and take care of the sound. Always have fun and listen to your inner voice and believe in it, at the end that is your guide and will be your musical stamp ;)
If you need or know somebody who needs drums parts to be composed and recorded then get in touch with YEYO via yeyodrummer.com (contact section), via social media @yeyodrummer (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and SoundCloud) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch the video 'Super' by DOS.
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