Playing simple four chord songs in a pop context should be easy right? I mean, all you gotta do is play a pattern to support the melody or something that would make people dance in general. No, no and again no.
Whoever has ears should have noticed how much drum-o-centric modern pop has become. Some would argue that it has always been that way but I would respectively disagree. Yes, it was always about the beat but i think it never was JUST the beat and vox. Let’s see some examples:
Ok, by now I really think it’s obvious where this is going. You got new age female pop stars, big chorus melodies, driving drums with tons of reverb and… three major radio hits. It is now safe to say that this has become a recipe, a very drum-o-centric one to be precise.
The thing is, most of these songs would exist and still be great pieces of music even without any drums sounding throughout them. This should be a relief for the studio session drummer but as it turns out, its not. The big question is: how can you create something useful when you job here is mostly “unnecesary”. That takes a lot of thinking.
Fistly, let me point out the importance of knowing where you ‘re getting into. In a studio session there have to be references and you have to be mostly prepared for anything that might come up. If the singer or the producer happens to quote “Lykke Li, Adele, Sharon Jones etc etc.” you better be able to translate the words into sound. Its impossible to know everything but trying to do so helps, believe me.
Secondly, you have to be very decisive on when and where is your time to lay down a beat. In most of these cases the drums are either a repetitive minimal pattern that drives the song or the bombastic element that kicks in the chorus and takes the song from a room with a piano to a theatre full o people that raise hands. So, it IS actually very important to feel the right time and place you are needed and make yourself sound necesary for that matter.
Thirdly, gear, gear, gear, gear. Your old faithfull supra and big cymbals are 100% cool but they may not be the best choice here. In some points you have to think out of the drumming box and get your hands dirty with mallets, concert toms, bigger snares, crappier (yes indeed!) snares, not using cymbals, not using a snare, play a bass drum with you hand, try various percussion fx etc etc. Sound is the key if the notes are not many so make use of it.
Lastly, cooperate. When the thinking process is so intense and the drums become so important to the structure of the whole song not just the rhythm section it’s easy to forget your role in the session and go frenzy on ideas and arguments. No. If a producer has a method and the artist chose him, you are redundant to the equation. Just try and make things easier. It doesn’t always have to be about your signature moves and shit like that. It’s possible you won’t even listen to the exact drum take you kept before leaving the session due to editing and sampling. It’s ok. It’s pop music, anything goes, if it works.
Last week, the debut of a very talented young singer was released. Katerine Duska’s Embodiment is out on EMI and I’m happy to be using all the above in the record. The sessions happened in various locations hence the tones may differ but more or less the mentality is constant. Have a listen here: