Howdy again from ATX, home of SXSW and some very entertaining bats who erupt from underneath the Congress Avenue bridge. I moved back home two years ago to regain some perspective on a lot of things, including music and drumming. I wanted to share a few thoughts with you about both in this piece, focusing on how we create our true musical future.
Many years ago, a friend of mine from high school (guitarist Chris McDermott) said I should write my own music to showcase myself and my style of drumming. I’ll never forget that conversation, a brief phone call that changed everything. I was heavily into odd meters at the time (1979) and had been since high school, when composer Hank Levy came up from Baltimore on a government arts grants to teach us his style of music. Hank was writing for Don Ellis and Stan Kenton at the time, and he believed a rhythmic revolution was long overdue.
I had very little music education and did not really think I could write my own music. There was no Garage Band, no Pro Tools, no laptops to help you construct music one step at a time on an electronic grid. There was blank sheet music, pencils, and inspiration. For someone with my level of ADD, learning how to read music was agonizing. The symbols barely made sense, and it was extremely frustrating to even think about following my friend’s suggestion of somehow showcasing myself…
But… there were cassette recorders…
I started singing my ideas into a cheesy-assed Radio Shack cassette recorder, hoping that some day, I could find the focus to write the notes down and bring things to life. I dreamed of there being technology like we have today, which probably seems impossible to imagine that it was not around. Every couple of years or so, I’d go back East to Delaware and be fortunate enough to spend a day in the recording studio of another high school friend (keyboardist Paul Harlyn), who’d let me tinker and explore. We’d capture the ideas on tape, and I continued to dream of the day when I could buy all the equipment I needed to spend hours diving into the sonic palettes that awaited.
It would be many years later that I’d finally acquire some equipment and begin my own electronic explorations. I bought a TEAC 4-track from Paul Harlyn in 1987 and started making my very first actual compositions, and here’s one that I wrote in a Washington D.C.
“Morning Walk Through Tibetan Gardens”
I used an Ensonique sampling keyboard, layered a few tracks, and BOOM! I was a composer! It was pure magic to bring these sounds in my head to life and actually MAKE something happen, taking charge of my music and life for the first time. I could finally combat my ADD and be patient enough to take the small steps necessary to bring the ideas out and make them happen. It was a game-changing moment.
Now, fast-forward to today. I’ve accomplished a lot outside of music, written books, screenplays, learned to fly and teach flying, traveled the country as a writer for a Harley magazine… but cranking out my own CD of original compositions still remains unachieved. It’s really the last big goal, because it’s the one I’ve had on my mind forever but had to put behind some of the other larger goals.
And here’s my point. Well, two actually. One… as drummers, if you aspire to lead your own band, to create your own music, know that this is the best time in history to do so, because you have incredible tools at your disposal, more powerful than is sometimes believable. Learn them, use them, and do it TODAY.
Second point… Don’t ever tell yourself you aren’t a composer. Every time you create a beat for a song, you ARE COMPOSING. You can learn the basics of song construction, simple music theory, and you can noodle around with the endless sound possibilities on a synthesizer until your fingers fall asleep. You’ll hear cool sound here and there, learn to cut and paste loops, add some effects here and there, and make music that YOU enjoy playing.
Here are a few samples of explorations from 1987 to 2020, to give you an idea of how things evolved. I hope they give you some inspiration to explore, and to reach out to musicians from around the world to collaborate with. I hope to do this in 2020, as I’ve seen a great of it being done lately and know just how possible it is.
1987-1990: Still living in Washington, D.C., aching to get back to California. I had a one of the original square Macintoshes, with Mark of the Unicorn software that I never fully mastered. Most everything else was just multi-tracked onto my faithful TASCAM 244. I still have those tapes, and I found a newer version of the 244 in a pawn shop for $50!
“Go Dog Go”
“Funk 5 Dub”
2004-2007: I was living in San Luis Obispo and had a Roland TD6, a Korg keyboard (model unknown), and a Fender Squire Strat and Precision Bass set-up. I was using Cubasis, running into a big blue Mac desktop that surely weighed 100 lbs. I used a TASCAM analog to digital converter to bring all the sounds into the Mac, and it was a lot of fun to see where things could go.
“Some Thunk Funk”
2017-2019: Between my last few years in L.A., and then once in Austin, I could more fully dive into ProTools, my Roland Handsonic, and a handful of other Roland synths to discover some cool sounds.
“10-4 Tribal Groove”
“Chasing Mr. Z”
“Madge Likes Mars”
I play all the instruments on these clips, trying to lay down ideas that I’ll share with like-minded and more skilled musicians to help bring them to life. I hope you’ll do the same with your music, and compose your own future. Drummers lead, we don’t follow. We drive the band and energize the music. There’s no reason we can’t do it for ourselves if we so choose.
And there’s no better time than now to do so.
– David Aldridge