This week’s rule for drummers (SHOW UP PREPARED) comes from the talented violinist and entertainer, Doug Cameron. I remember playing drums for Doug’s show back in my cruise ship show band days. As a show band musician, typically this is how it went: the entertainer would arrive to the ship the day of the show, hand us a stack of charts in the afternoon, and we’d perform the material just hours later in front of an audience. Doug Cameron was one of about 50+ artists that I would back up during my time as a show band drummer.
Anyways, I received Doug’s music the day before the rehearsal (usually we’d get it the day of). As I opened up the packet, I found a cd, dvd, and one-page letter placed in front of the music. I don’t remember exactly what the letter said, but it was something along the lines of: “This show is DIFFICULT. If you do not prepare the music ahead of time, you will fail.” I was terrified.
The reason why Doug’s show differed from the other shows we played was not just that the music was much more challenging to execute, but that there were also frequent visual cues that could cause immediate problems, especially for a drummer. For example, Doug would often cue tempo changes with his left foot, all while you’re reading the chart ( and ignoring the distracting lights/fog on stage). Your eyes have to be in 2 places at once; the slightest mistake could cause the whole show to completely derail! Talk about pressure.
With the fear of the warning letter in my mind, I made sure to prepare my butt off! I spent that entire night listening to the music, watching the dvd, and drumming the parts on my legs. I was as ready as I was going to be. The next day, I nailed the rehearsal! The show ended up a huge success and Doug thanked me for my preparation. I remember feeling proud to have tackled such a difficult show.
On the other hand, Doug’s show also taught me a lesson in how a lack of preparation not only makes you look really bad, but is also disrespectful to the others around you who HAVE prepared. It could even cost you the gig!
Several months later, Doug returned to the ship. We had a new keyboardist in the band who sadly, had not prepared for Doug’s show. The rehearsal was a disaster… almost 4 hours of starting, stopping, and frustration. Ultimately, the keyboardist was fired and sent home the following week. He was a talented musician, but because he had not prepared properly, it cost him his job!
If we don’t show up prepared (at a gig or in other aspects of our lives), we risk the possibility of caving under pressure when it matters the most.
Preparation is the key to success.
So… how can we work to develop our level of preparedness?
YOUR ACTION STEPS THIS WEEK
Here are 5 tips to consider the next time you’re preparing for a gig:
1) Find out what material is being played - You might think it looks “cool” to walk in and wing it, but nailing the setlist because you prepared the music ahead of time is WAY cooler in the long run.
2) Listen to original recordings - If you’re playing original music, ask for a demo track to listen to. If there’s none available, ask the band-leader for what vibe they’re looking for. If you’re playing a cover song, listen to the original recording. How can you best match the VIBE of the song?
3) If charts aren’t available, make them yourself. - Even if you don’t write everything out note for note, making a simple form chart for each tune on your set will accelerate your learning process. Often times, I find myself accidentally memorizing a song because I’m visualizing the chart in my head as I’m playing it!
4) Eliminate the most common "failure points" - This is critical, and trumps all other tips. What are the moments in the show/songs where problems are MOST likely to occur? Rehearse THOSE moments ahead of time. Let’s take one example: tempo. In order to prevent starting a tune too fast/slow, write the tempo markings down for each song and bring a metronome to the gig for reference. Adrenaline often shifts your perspective, so a quick 3-second tempo check before you start a song could prevent a major disaster! Other “failure points” can include tempo changes mid-song, odd meter songs, song endings/beginnings, the “bridge” of a song, visual cues, etc.
5) Logistics are everything - The key to being truly prepared is not in simply learning the music, but also thinking about the non-musical variables of your performance ahead of time. I’ve listed a few examples below:
-Will there be a click track used?
-Will there be a sound check?
-What kind of room will I be playing? How will I need to change my playing to best suit the room?
-If using my own drum set, will I be setting up before the show or during the show? How can I make this process easiest on myself?
-What will I be wearing to the gig? Will this affect how comfortable I am on stage?
-How much time will we have in between tunes? How can I arrange my charts for quicker transitions?
ABOUT DOUG CAMERON
Thanks to Doug Cameron for offering his 3 words of advice to drummers (SHOW UP PREPARED) and for inspiring me to write this week's article!
Doug Cameron is one of the true innovators of the contemporary and electric violin. With eight CDs to his credit, Cameron has long been a favorite on jazz radio internationally. An arranger and composer as well, Doug’s CDs feature many of his own compositions. A veteran of the Los Angeles studio Scene, Doug has recorded and performed with a wide range of artists, including George Benson, Doc Severinsen, Tom Petty, Cher, The Allman Brothers, Dionne Warwick and many others as well as numerous motion pictures and commercials. Doug lives and records in Los Angeles, where he has a full recording studio in his home and also enjoys having the talents of many of L.A’s top studio musicians and recording artists at his disposal. Many jazz luminaries appear as special guests on Doug’s Various CDs, including David Benoit, Lee Ritenour, Boney James, Gerald Albright, Joe Sample, Russ Freeman from “The Rippingtons” and Russ Ferrante from “The Yellowjackets”.
His latest project, Different Hats is a two CD collection which contains music recorded in Sydney, Australia where Doug performs regularly, as well as other previously un-released material. Also included on the project are tracks from each of Doug’s previous seven releases. “I’m excited about this new release as it will be a departure from my previous album projects. Doug’s previous release, Celtic Crossroads-The Uncharted Path was a unique departure from his other recordings. One of Doug’s original compositions on the CD was produced by multi grammy award winning producer, David Foster. Doug has also just released his first concert DVD, Doug Cameron Live. The DVD contains video from five different performances.
Doug appears regularly as a soloist with symphony orchestra. His innovative program features over two hours of Doug’s arrangements, and has been received with overwhelming response. “I really enjoy performing with symphony orchestra. It’s always a thrill to hear a great symphony behind you when you’re performing.”
Cameron has been exposed to the music and entertainment industry from a very young age. In the golden days of live radio, his mother, singer-songwriter Barbara Cameron had her own radio show on WLW in Cincinnati where she replaced Doris Day and often sang with Rosemary Clooney and The Clooney Sisters. She is best known however for writing and singing The Road Runner cartoon theme (beep beep!) and is featured on Different Hats in a jazz arrangement of the tune.
Doug is an avid tennis sportsman and loves tennnis, skiing, and golf. If you see Doug’s coming to your area and you share the passion, you never know when he’s looking for a game! Send him an e-mail! For those tennis buffs, Doug is a 4.5.
One of Doug’s focuses has been working with young musicians in an inspirational master class/workshop environment. “This has truly been some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. I believe it is more important than ever that young people become exposed and involved in music. Music is a gift that I am grateful to have in my life, and it’s my hope to be able to share it with as many young people as possible.”