Bivocational Drummer: Meetups with two pros and a hack

This past week, I met with two drummers that are very much part of the music industry.  One played tracks for Elton John’s latest movie and the other played with Kanye out in the mountains.  I met with them to hear their experiences as drummers and to deepen my own understanding of identity as a musician.  

I’m a bivocational minister and musician.  My path led me towards ministry (corporate chaplain) as a life calling.  This means that I am primarily devoted to being a sacramental presence in the marketplace, providing care to employees.

But I have also been playing drums since I was a kid, mostly in church settings.  I’m not a classically trained musician. I don’t read sheet music. I don’t know much about music theory.  And I don’t have deep aspirations to “make it” in the music industry. I just don’t.  

But I do have a longing to create music, play with great musicians, and facilitate times during musical worship where people experience the Presence of God in deep ways.  

While meeting with these great drummers, we talked about life, spirituality, and how music impacts our hearts.  They shared how the music industry and being a full time musician can be tough on a soul. While they’ve had great experiences, they’ve also wrestled with the realities of life.  One drummer said that the industry is a like a machine. Gotta stay relevant, say yes to everything asked of you, and eventually leads to burn out.  

We didn’t talk about technique, how to have more chops, or how to land the gig.  We didn’t talk about Elton John or Kanye West. We talked about the deeper things in life that we long for and wrestle with.  

I’ve been thinking of both interactions and wondering about my sense of musicianship and personhood.  In both interactions, I was both a minister and musician. Musicians have their own language and culture.  They see and think about things differently. Artists are wrestling with truth and trying to give it expression.  They’re the last standing prophets to call out the BS and wake us up to a new normal.  

I had more clarity of the kind of musician I’d like to be:  someone who wrestles with truth and beauty, inviting people into a new normal through the power of music.  

CCM Drumming. Lord, Help Me

The other day, I played at a worship night event and had lots of fun. I used the house kit: a Ludwig Keystone. I loved this kit. But this isn’t the point.

The worship set was a mixture of some gospel (not hard core, but some), African, and CCM. In all, it was a multi-genre set that was fun.

Afterwords, a few drummers came up and asked about the cymbals and shared some compliments (always a weird thing cuz I want to hear the compliments but I also don’t want the attention). One dude asked me, “Do you play at church”, and my knee jerk response was, “Well, I’m trying not to”. And then I started laughing!

He then asked me, “Cuz it’s too simple?” And honestly, I wanted to say, “Yeah! It’s too simple, dry, boring, and bland”.

But I didn’t. I said, “Well, I do periodically play at churches but I just don’t have much fun doing it right now.” Most churches are playing all the popular worship songs that churches like Bethel, Hillsong, and other mega churches have written. And the genre is this mesh of rock, folk, ballad which we have simply called CCM (contemporary christian music).

I also told him that I grew up playing and attending a church that did musical styles ranging from gospel, r&b, ballads, and latin jazz. That’s what I grew up playing…and still enjoy to this day.

I don’t have anything against CCM music, or the people who have created the songs, or the musicians. In fact, it takes lots of creativity to do what they’ve done. So I have respect for them.

I’ve been in the studio creating some CCM tracks and when I’m doing the creating, it’s MORE fun but it’s not what I prefer to be doing.

In the words of Marie Kondo (Netflix, Tidying Up), the current church music stuff does not bring me any joy. Whatsoever. I don’t blame the creators of CCM or churches that do this style of music.

But I get zero joy out of playing CCM or listening to it.

I’m sharing all of this because I’m frustrated with musical styles at church. Why is it that most churches only do CCM? I mean, really!? There’s some tom stuff at the beginning. Die out at the bridge. Build it back up with toms. And then go into a full blown rhythm at the end.

At this very moment, I wonder if there’s someone from a gospel music church that’s saying, “I wonder why we ONLY do gospel music and not CCM?” Or at a latin american church that only does samba and salsa! LOL!


I’m not saying anything spectacular right now. I’d have to dig a little deeper. There’s the whole convo of being a multi-ethnic church and about being hospitable to others. There’s a lot happening with music, church, worship, with many different layers that includes theology and anthropology.

I think about how a church will have a particular musical genre value and sometimes it just feels imposed on me. Or the idea that I should like it and respond in exuberant praise. “Well, it’s not about the music Roy! It’s about Jesus. Stop being so difficult and superficial”. I’ve heard comments like this before. I wanna say, “Ok. You’re right! I’m sorry.” But I’m not sorry for sharing that I have zero joy in playing CCM stuff. I try my best at it but it’s not what I prefer.

I guess I’m just trying to figure out how I can play more multi-genre sets that capture different ways of experiencing God through music. I also want to be stretched as a musician and learn different genres that give me joy.

Here’s to hoping for different genres to be played at churches so that we can appreciate different cultures and tastes.

And here’s hoping to get more latin jazz, afro, jazz, experimental jazz, neo soul gigs that will help me grow as a musician.

Studio work

A few things I learned about tracking drums in the studio:

Take your time planning out the song: Groove. Dynamics.

What do the different parts of the song call for?

Sometimes less is more, meaning that if the melody is busy, drums may need to hold down the roots.

A nice fill to setup the next part can create great movement. It’s like you’re making an introduction to the next part.

Work with good people that will challenge you.

Track slowly when possible.

Mad respect “creative process”. You’re not easily tamed.

You made me get vulnerable. Seems that’s what you like, as Bruno says.

After three long days of tracking, I’m crispy. It was a team effort.

Tracking for 12 hours a day, 3 days in a row, caused me to be crispy.

I appreciated how tough the creative process. You hear drummers do certain things and it’s not so much how complicated it is. It’s more about “how did they come up with that beat or that fill for this particular part?!” That’s the money part.

Coming up with parts that specifically work for this particular song. That’s what we’re trying to find out. So we ask questions about the point of the lyrics or how to contrast or compliment sounds.

Having a range of toms, cymbals, and snares completely changes the texture of a song. Sounds makes a difference to the feel.

Sometimes a part is best played with 8th notes but the hi hats opened just a bit to make it sound chunky.

Studio spaces DO inspire. They have their own ethos.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the process and hope to more of it next year.

equipment:

Yamaha maple custom kit

Sizes: 10, 12, 14, 16

Snares: Ludwig supraphonic, dark horse maple

Cymbals: Zildjian dark K customs (ride, 16 crash, 18 crash, 16 hats), meinl medium thin crash 22, t-cymbals 16 FX crash, sabían Splash

Music Integration Journey

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Here’s an interview with Vinnie Colaiuta by Modern Drummer.  I’ve been researching articles on drummers, session work, and becoming an integrated musician because I’m being asked to play in the studio.  It is proving to be a challenge.  For one, it is exposing my lack of practicing and technique.  It is also exposing my musical soul.

I love to play and usually do it from the hip.  I shoot from the hip a lot in life; whether it be music, pastoring, or recreation (i.e. “let’s go the movies” last minute).  My hope is that “my-shooting-from-the-hip” is shaped and formed by all the stuff I’m pouring into myself-personal reflection, perspectives from others, disciplines of studying/practicing.  So it’s a “hip-shot” but my hope is that it has some depth to it.

One of my biggest passions in playing came from feeling like it was a transcendent experience.  It felt like when I played, I was closer to God and Him to me.  This is not about using or conjuring religious jargon.  It was about space and time slowing down, and feeling like something special was happening.

Here’s a quote from the interview.  Vinnie is not just a drummer.  He’s a lover of life:
(source:  http://www.vinniecolaiuta.com/Interviews/ModernDrummer2007)

Beyond skill and talent, what are the keys to being a success in the music business?

Other than skill and talent and the personality to maneuver through all of that, the rest of it is a blessing and you have to do it all to glorify God. If I say this to people, they’ll interpret it in a religious, dogmatic way. But I am talking spiritually. I’m not trying to represent myself as some bastion of spiritual goodness. It takes a level of humility and recognition of what your source is and who your source is. You have to recognize where the source came from and be grateful for it. That then filters into the personaltiy needed to maneuver in the music business. Just being genuine and true to yourself – those are all things that are immutable. Getting along with people and being as true as you can be to the music and to yourself is what it’s about.

I avoid using certain words that will conjure up any kind of association of inferior versus superior. That’s why when I say “be the best you can be” I don’t use any connotation of what the word “best” means because I don’t want to suggest the idea of competition or some high skill level you have to achieve to be some gargantuan Olympian sports type. But if you can find another way to conceptualize that, you’ll understand what I’m thinking or trying to say.