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Preparing for a Gig or Two

Article by Jayson Brinkworth // June 02 2008
Preparing for a Gig or Two

This month I wanted to discuss a topic that surrounds my music career constantly. When I asked Sean (our fearless leader, here, at The Black Page) about doing an article on preparation for a gig, he was all for it. “This will give us insight into one’s creative/learning process,” he claimed. 

The timing on this couldn’t be better as there has been a lot of “the process” going on as of late. As players, we are, or should be, continuously learning new ideas, techniques, and tricks to add to our musical toolbox. And for any working musician, add to this the thousands of songs we have had to learn over the years for gigs, sessions, students or for our own personal musical expression. (Just a side note, who learns more songs than Kenny Aronoff? He has probably forgotten more songs than most learn in a lifetime!)

In the past month, I have had several gigs and sessions with new material popping up all of the time. Some songs were played once or a few times and I may never play them again, and others will be played on a regular basis when I am on a particular gig. 

This article is about my preparation for two upcoming gigs in particular. They are both with very well known Canadian artists, Aaron Pritchett and Lisa Brokop, and both shows have great songs. If you remember from past articles, I don’t take playing artist’s original music lightly. These songs are their heart and soul, and they don’t need some drummer, or any player for that matter, coming in and hacking and slashing through their work.

THE PHONE RINGS

Actually in this case, the communication was email, as most is nowadays. The first email about Aaron’s gig was from his bandleader/producer. In this case, a friend of mine has played drums in this band for quite a while, and has decided to pursue other career options, so they need someone soon. 

The first item was to see their upcoming dates, and figure out if the schedule could work with what I already had booked. There were a few conflicts, a couple of which I subbed out of (I hate doing this, but sometimes you have to. Thanks to two very understanding friends). There were also two that I couldn’t change (I didn’t even want to try and sub out of my wedding!). After discussing this with Aaron’s management and being totally upfront, we figured it out and then moved ahead. As of that time, the list of Aaron’s shows spanned to the end of August 2008, with his new album being released in September. 

The material was posted on their server and I was able to find all of the songs I needed. They also posted a live show—if you can ever get the bands live show to learn from, do it. This gave me a great overview of what the material was, as well as what the attitude and approach on stage was. So now I can start learning the material that I will play every show. 

In the case of Lisa Brokop’s show, it is a little different. This email came from her manager the day after Aaron’s, and was for two shows in June. Unfortunately, one of them was on the same night as our music school’s year-end concert, so that was out. Usually when an artist has a few gigs in a row, they like to use the same players for consistency. I let them know that I could do one of the shows, and that I understood if they needed to find someone who could do both (A very important lesson to learn in this business is that it is okay to say “no” sometimes). It turned out that they couldn’t find someone to do both shows, and wanted me for the one I could do. 

I have played Lisa’s show quite a bit, but not for a while now as she has been at home in Nashville writing more hits. Her show will be material I have played, as well as material from her upcoming album, and my show notes also denote that this would be more of an acoustic/unplugged approach. I like this idea as it suits her material very well. However, as a band, we all live in different cities so rehearsing isn’t an option (more on this in a bit). Lisa emails me all of the new material the week before her wedding, not sure how she had the time. Now I can get working on these songs that I will play for her show. 

WHERE TO START?

I have to decide how to approach learning this material efficiently and musically. The first thing I will do is write out Aaron’s songs, mark the tempos, and fill in the parts. Everyone has their own way of writing out songs, and I use several different approaches, depending on the type of material. I really like reading a Nashville Number Chart, and do my own hybrid that I call a slash chart. It gives me a great glimpse of the song's arrangement (which I view as the most important part for a drummer, seeing as we are directing musical traffic on stage). It also leaves room for last minute changes to an arrangement, and there is lots of space for writing in parts. I will cover charting songs in an upcoming issue of The Black Page

I do the charts for Aaron’s material as it is on his CDs. Then I review the live show to check on arrangement changes, endings, etc. There are some definite changes that have been made, so I alter my charts accordingly. Also some tempos have changed for the live show, and I make note of this as well. I forgot to mention that they run sequenced tracks on Aaron’s live show. This is happening more often these days where a band will run backing tracks from a computer with percussion and other instruments that fill out the song for a live show. There is a click on these tracks, so those tempos and arrangements are set. Who runs the computer on the live show you ask? Why not the drummer? Aaron has tracks on 90% of his material; it will be busy first show.

I am a believer that the more information we know, the more valuable we are to a situation. I can play drums and percussion, I can sing, and I understand the program Pro Tools and can run this on a computer. These skills all add up in getting a shot at a gig. We still have to play our best all of the time to keep the gig. (Attitude plays a huge part in this as well). 

For Lisa’s show, I get a start on the material, but Aaron’s show is first and this takes priority. I have started planning for Lisa’s acoustic set a bit and have a few ideas. My first concern is that there will be a drum kit there for our backline but no percussion, and I believe this should be the direction of the show. I could send an email to management asking for specific instruments to be at the gig, but this is just being a pain. My other concern is space; I am flying to this show and can’t take everything I might need with me. I have decided to use my Roland Handsonic and program kits for Lisa’s material. This unit is portable and sounds very good, even though it is electronic. I think a combination of this with some acoustic drums will work great, but I won’t know until the afternoon of the show, as sound check will be our rehearsal.

CAN WE PRACTICE THAT SONG ONCE MORE?

Rehearsals, what rehearsals? I have become so accustomed to doing shows with limited or no rehearsal, that it doesn’t bother me in the least. Playing a festival in front of thousands of people and making them believe that you have played the material for years is my job. I also want everyone on stage to feel very comfortable playing, and I make this a priority. When was the last time you did a gig and it was just about you? I have never done one like that. My goal for the first show is to play solid time, nail the arrangements as musically as possible, not wreck the computer, and make all of the players forget that I am the new guy. 

So my first day with Aaron shapes up like this:

  • Fly to Edmonton, early AM.
  • Meet band and crew, board tour bus and drive to destination (Approx. 4 hours).
  • Setup and sound check, rehearse a few tunes. 
  • Dinner with promoter.
  • Show. 

Lisa’s show day will be very similar to this, but a little quieter on stage, I am sure. Even though the gig with Lisa is only one show, I am going to go the extra mile because that is what I do. If I don’t do a great job, I may not get the call for another gig if it comes up. Even if I don’t get the call for future gigs, I still know that I did my best and can live with that.

FINAL PREPERATION

My charts are done and are in cover sheets in my binder. I have listened to the material lots, but not too much. I will have a chance to play through the material later today, so what else is there to do? 

I have spoken to Aaron’s management and let them know of some specific items I need for backline gear. When you take on the role of an endorsing artist, you are there to promote their product and are required to use these products. I need to let them know what drums, heads and cymbals I use, even though I always try to bring my own cymbals and snare. 

I also have to find out what monitoring gear I may need. I always carry my in-ear monitors as well. I am not a fan of the “Drummer PA” for a monitor. I need my ears to keep working. I will need enough sticks and brushes to get me through the trip, and my practice pad will also be packed, as always. I bring extra batteries, a click and power supply, drum keys, dampening products and any other accessories that might save the day. Also I always ask what the attire is on the gig. (Nothing worse than not getting the “suit-memo” and showing up in jeans and a t-shirt). My motto is you can never be too prepared, and don’t rely on anyone else to take care of you. I will let you know how the gigs went and if I broke the Macbook. 

Go to http://www.jaysonbrinkworth.com/teaching.htm (using charts) to see a rough example of the slash charts I am talking about. I will explain, in detail, in a future issue.




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About the Author
Jayson  Brinkworth

Jayson Brinkworth is an accomplished drummer, percussionist, vocalist, educator and writer based out of Canada. He is co-owner of the Saskatchewan music school Music In The House, as well as the founder of both the Regina Drum Festival and The Stickman Drum Experience.

Jayson proudly endorses Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, Evans heads, Impact cases, Kickport, Flix, Future Sonics and Mountain Rhythm. Visit Jayson online at www.jaysonbrinkworth.com.



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