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Microphone Month


Drummers, click tracks, and monitor mixes.

“I have seen drummers on TV playing with either headphones on or in ear monitors as they play along with the band. What are these drummers listening to? I have tried to get drummers to play with a click track but with little results. I thought maybe they were listening to something other than a click track. Please give me any suggestions on how to get the live musicians in my band to play in sync with my MIDI rig.”With the proliferation of in-ear monitoring systems these days, drummers could be listening to just about anything. It could be a whole monitor mix of the band. It could just be a click track from a sequencer, or anything in between. The better in-ear monitoring systems allow for a great deal of flexibility in this regard. They are a great development that, when configured and used properly, almost completely solve on stage monitoring problems for all the musicians.Playing along with MIDI sequences has always been challenging in a live setting. There are two fundamental problems: monitoring, as in being able to hear what you need to hear to stay with the sequence, and flexibility (or lack thereof). Even when you can properly hear the click, or whatever is required to play to the sequence you are faced with the fundamental problem of the sequence (and its fixed tempo, section lengths, etc.) not always being ideal for the circumstances of the moment. We can’t really get into the musicality of your sequences and how they relate to your musicians and the jobs you are playing. But in terms of monitoring there are a few points to be made.The first point is that not all drummers are adept at playing to clicks. This is a skill that is learned and developed. Drummers have different approaches. Some will tell you that when they are ‘on’ the beat they can’t hear the click, so they shoot to not hear it at all times. Others will say the click has to be so loud that it overpowers everything else they hear. Obviously this isn’t easy to accomplish with some drummers, and if you do there is risk of hearing damage. The click sound is important. Most default click sounds that come out of sequencers don’t work that well. They are too ‘soft.’ Not in terms of volume (anything can be amplified), but in terms of timbre. Others have too short a duration. They are too much like a pulse. The problem with both types is they just don’t cut through the cacophony of sounds on stage. Most drummers prefer a sound similar to a cowbell or sidestick snare: something that has a lot of attack, and enough decay to be able to be discerned if it occurs at the same time as a big drum hit or crash. Some people use a different sound for the first beat of each measure so the drummer can better keep track of where the ‘one’ is. So step one is to find a sound your drummer agrees will be able to be discerned amidst all the other sounds he hears on stage (this will almost certainly take some trial and error), then experiment with levels. Louder is not always better. The drummer needs to be able to keep it in perspective with the rest of the music. Some drummers prefer to get the whole sequence in their monitor system. They want to hear all the parts so they can play against different elements. There are so many potential situations that it’s hard to make one or two generalities for all of them. If your drummer can’t follow any sort of click, try giving him or her a mix of the whole sequence, or maybe a subset of the rhythm instruments in the sequence.Finally, I cannot overstate the importance of the drummer’s competence here. Some can keep time under almost any circumstances, while others have seemingly never heard of a metronome. And that doesn’t necessarily equate to how effective they are in certain musical contexts. However if your situation requires someone who can play to a click then that should be part of the audition.

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