Trying to bring the heavy groove for 50 Cent’s G-Unit artist Governor on his new record.
As you might imagine, studio work in Los Angeles isn’t what it once was. With so much music based around programming, machines, loops, and samples these days, no one’s been hit harder than drummers. Many of the movie soundtrack, rock and pop sessions that were once plentiful have tapered back significantly in this age of digital recording, turn-key technology and slashed budgets.
And dare I say that for the majority of modern hip-hop, rap, dance and R&B records, a live drummer in the studio would simply NOT be part of the equation at all.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to get a call this week from “The Governor” (as I like to call him), who’s finishing up his new record on 50 Cent’s G-Unit label. Governor had a vision for some slammin’ live drum tracks on one of his cuts, and I think his instincts were right on the mark – no matter how outside the box the idea might’ve been. He sent me the track a few days in advance, then I went in and knocked it out at a session this week.
The groove was on the slower side, but the pocket was pretty heavy, and we created a really nice energy for the tune. I played along with the full track (vocals and all), which included some programmed drums, a loop or two and a click. My job was to bring in an ultra-live feel, thicken up the choruses (which were really hooky), and basically tie everything together. Everyone seemed happy with the end result.
The More Things Change…
Aside from the fact that we had a great time, and there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as the red light rush of the studio, I had a major take-away from the experience:
First – I was hit with a sweet splash of nostalgia that basically reminded me; I’ve been doing this a long fucking time now! Why the sudden revelation? Because we tracked at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, which is only a few doors down from the old SIR rehearsal studios off Santa Monica Blvd… which is where – almost 27 years ago to the DAY – I successfully auditioned for Vinnie Vincent and began my “major label” career. 27 motherfuckin’ years ago!
There was something about it being a cool October night in LA, that was so much like that cool October night in LA after the audition… something about the timeless buzz, energy, and raw familiarity of this city… that took me back to that day, when everything was so new and fresh, and I was so young and stupid. And within a month or so after that audition, I would be hitting the drums at SIR in preparation for my first “big time” studio session. (I had obviously been in the studio a fair bit before the Vinnie Vincent Invasion record, but that would be my first major label experience).
…the More They Stay the Same!
And now, here we are, 27 years later, on a cool October night in LA, knocking down tracks a few doors west of the old SIR. So I couldn’t help but reflect a bit on all that has transpired through the years since then; all the records, all the sessions, all the last-minute calls to jump in and learn tunes for this, that or the other. All the studios, all the engineers, all the producers, all the musicians, and all the characters I’ve met along the way. I reflected on all the experience, seasoning, victories and frustrations you endure that make you a pro and, perhaps most importantly, how ALL of those things sort of aggregate together to lend an intangible mojo to your sound. Because every time a drummer sits down behind a set of drums, he brings his whole life up to that moment with him.
And when I thought about all of these experiences in the context of what I was doing at this session, it occurred to me: how can a machine ever truly replace all that living, all that experience, and all those hours? It can’t. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Now, I have no illusions. The programming, machines, loops, and samples we hear so much of are an intrinsic part of modern music, and truthfully, I have no real opinion about that. It is what it is, and there are many artists, engineers and producers who are very good at using these tools. But as the heads were bobbin’ in the control room while I was knocking down these complete, start-to-finish takes of this track, I still must silently proclaim:
Long live LIVE Drums!