Whitten: The Story Behind "What I Am"

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Mcjnic

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I am better than a guy who can't play with a click (when asked to), can't play with the same volume and tone on their snare or bass drum from bar to bar. Can't record a take without a mistake in less than three hours (say).
These are all things that are quantifiable, measurable, and all things band drummers have done badly and which I've then been called in to do 'better'.
That's the problem with band drummers who are replaced. They think their playing is misunderstood, rather than it has faults that could be improved upon.


Well … that’s disheartening.
I was under the impression you were not saying you were better at this or that than anyone else.
I see artistry different than others here … and that’s cool.
We are all built differently. It’s not a bad thing.
Have a great one.
 
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charlesm

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Well … that’s disheartening.
I was under the impression you were not saying you were better at this or that than anyone else.
I see artistry different than others here … and that’s cool.
We are all built differently. It’s not a bad thing.
Have a great one.

I think what may be misunderstood here is the idea that a particular drummer's "artistry" may not be what is best for a particular track.

Therefore, it is perfectly accurate to say that the drummer who DOES nail the track IS the better drummer--for that track.

Unless you have had experience working on a high-level session, you may not understand that it is not always about MY artistry or YOUR artistry or whatever. It is about those individual skills combined with being able to satisfy the professional expectations and requirements of the session and the producers.

Making pop records on that level is serious business...not like going to the local studio with friends to record some tunes. It may be fun but it is not fun and games. There is money and career expectation riding on it. There's a way that it's done, and you better know what that is...it involves humility and quick instincts for knowing what is going to make a track a potential hit.

The whole history of studio musicianship is about people like CW, Jeff, Gadd, etc., etc., who have those innate, killer instincts. These are players who are all acutely aware of the difference between *good* and *great* in the studio and how to get there...which is the key.
 

Tornado

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What it takes to play at this level (specifically the reasons band drummers get replaced) is something that seems to be lacking in most drummer's education, whether that's learning by meticulous self critique or studying with someone. Certainly was in my case. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know. Best thing I ever did for my drumming was learning how much I sucked when doing my first home recordings. Biggest eye opener I've ever had, and it hurt. At least I didn't find out right at some big break, that would be crushing. But you need to know where you stand compared to others. I still suck, I'm fine with that as long as I keep improving.
 

Mcjnic

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I think what may be misunderstood here is the idea that a particular drummer's "artistry" may not be what is best for a particular track.

Therefore, it is perfectly accurate to say that the drummer who DOES nail the track IS the better drummer--for that track.

Unless you have had experience working on a high-level session, you may not understand that it is not always about MY artistry or YOUR artistry or whatever. It is about those individual skills combined with being able to satisfy the professional expectations and requirements of the session and the producers.

Making pop records on that level is serious business...not like going to the local studio with friends to record some tunes. It may be fun but it is not fun and games. There is money and career expectation riding on it. There's a way that it's done, and you better know what that is...it involves humility and quick instincts for knowing what is going to make a track a potential hit.

The whole history of studio musicianship is about people like CW, Jeff, Gadd, etc., etc., who have those innate, killer instincts. These are players who are all acutely aware of the difference between *good* and *great* in the studio and how to get there...which is the key.

Howdy Charles.
Yes, I do have some experience in the high bit arena.
And I do understand the quantifiable bit discussed.
But in my personal opinion, that doesn’t make the drummer “better” for the track.
It makes the drummer “better” according to the specific ears making those decisions.
Again, Van is all over the place when he records … guitar, sax, vocal,etc.
There are tons of artists that can play the track with more precision.
But does that make them “better” guitarists, vocalists, etc? ... or even "better" for the track?
Definitely not.
Just more satisfying for the decision making ears.
The business wins most times … but it doesn’t make the odd man out less of an artist. Just not the personal preference of the decision maker.
That was what I was saying.
And cool to cross your path again.

EDIT:
I believe there's an entire thread on here dedicated to the wandering non-precise artists. Some outstanding tracks have been put forth on that thread, and yet the reason they are noted is due to the imprecision in one way or another. There's something to be culled from that. The decision makers ears preferred that imprecision and we are the beneficiaries. Not a bad thing.

 
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dale w miller

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No, the record label has hired the producer. When you sign to a very ambitious major label, you gave away a lot of your control. f they had signed tom an indie label they could have caed are of the shots.
Don't forget they had one of the biggest albums of 1989/90 as a result. They hired a world class drummer (Chamberlain). They had more control on the follow up album and it was a flop. Arguably the producer contributed to making that first album the huge success it was.

First off, please take this as no reflection of you. Your playing is great with them. This is just for discussion’s sake.

If a band gives up creative control, of course the label is going to have more say. It’s obvious to me they had none again by simply changing their name.

Essentially, the label is loaning the artist the money. They are the ones in debt.

Choice of producers can be strongly encouraged. My friends were given 5 producers to choose from. In order to be sure they were going to be priority with the label, they did the right thing and played along with the label, but if you are already an established act or are willing to walk away from a deal that is not something you have to agree to.

Now when a band signs a production deal, that’s different all together.

I don’t know what the producer did or didn’t do, you would obviously know more than me in regards to that particular album, but we all know the sophomore jinx/one hit wonder is standard in our industry. They could be simply that.

Let’s be honest here, if they are known at all past our generation, Edie and The New Bohemians are known for “What I Am” and that’s about it, not the entire record per se. They are no different to me than Blind Melon and “No Rain” or the Spin Doctors and “Little Miss” in which their associated albums sold 2 million and 3 million more records respectively than “Shooting Rubberbands”.
 

dale w miller

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In my experience it is never about money. Don't forget, at the same time someone was trying to have me replaced on the McCartney album. I could record a McCartney backing track in two takes (under an hour), but the producer was more comfortable working with his usual 'go to' guy and presumably thought they would bring something extra to the track I wasn't bringing. Paul disagreed, and so did I.
I don't think Brandon's versions of the songs lasted more than a few minutes after their recording. It is distracting if the snare s changing volume and tone every other hit. It is frustrating if there is a pretty good take, but the second chorus (or something) loses the groove and contains a couple of scrappy fills.
I don't know what it was, but because I turned down the session and they tried to proceed without me, it had to be more than slightly less than perfection that motivated the producer to get me in.

Perhaps, my friend likes to move fast. In his case, he just doesn’t have patience to listen to players fight a performance and hear the same song over & over. He told me he almost doesn’t care about how good or bad the material is as much as if the players are any good or not. It simply makes his job as an engineer easier.

If Paul was not Paul but some new band, you would have been replaced. Paul had artistic control.
 

JimmyM

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First off, please take this as no reflection of you. Your playing is great with them. This is just for discussion’s sake.

If a band gives up creative control, of course the label is going to have more say. It’s obvious to me they had none again by simply changing their name.

Essentially, the label is loaning the artist the money. They are the ones in debt.

Choice of producers can be strongly encouraged. My friends were given 5 producers to choose from. In order to be sure they were going to be priority with the label, they did the right thing and played along with the label, but if you are already an established act or are willing to walk away from a deal that is not something you have to agree to.

Now when a band signs a production deal, that’s different all together.

I don’t know what the producer did or didn’t do, you would obviously know more than me in regards to that particular album, but we all know the sophomore jinx/one hit wonder is standard in our industry. They could be simply that.

Let’s be honest here, if they are known at all past our generation, Edie and The New Bohemians are known for “What I Am” and that’s about it, not the entire record per se. They are no different to me than Blind Melon and “No Rain” or the Spin Doctors and “Little Miss” in which their associated albums sold 2 million and 3 million more records respectively than “Shooting Rubberbands”.
Spin Doctors got like 3 hits out of that album, but yeah. To this day it's the only song I heard by New Bohemians. But it's like I always say, "If you can only have one hit, make it a classic."

Actually, I don't always say that, but it IS good advice.
 

notINtheband

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This brings to mind my gig this past weekend.
It was only our second gig as a band and we have 6 months of increasingly larger gigs already on the calendar. We are all veterans so we know it’s a lot of rough edges at this point with much to adjust and tighten.
So we recorded the gig to playback and work on throughout the week.
I already knew this lesson as I’ve done it many times over the years,
But WOW does recording a performance and playing it back ever expose your weaknesses, mistakes, bobbles, timing, and sound.
I had made a mental list after the gig of things I knew I needed to address.
but that list quadrupled after the playback session.
All this with the artists wife telling us she didn’t hear a single bobble the whole night.
Which illustrates an audiences perception vs. the bands. Sure we are hard on ourselves and an audience typically doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, but anytime I’ve ever started to pat myself on the back for a performance or a tracking session, the playback will always tell me the truth.
 
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Tornado

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This brings to mind my gig this past weekend.
It was only our second gig as a band and we have 6 months of increasingly larger gigs already on the calendar. We are all veterans so we know it’s a lot of rough edges at this point with much to adjust and tighten.
So we recorded the gig to playback and work on throughout the week.
I already knew this lesson as I’ve done it many times over the years,
But WOW does recording a performance and playing it back ever expose your weaknesses, mistakes, bobbles, timing, and sound.
I had made a mental list after the gig of things I knew I needed to address.
but that list quadrupled after the playback session.
All this with the artists wife telling us she didn’t hear a single bobble the whole night.
Which illustrates an audiences perception vs. the bands. Sure we are hard on ourselves and an audience typically doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, but anytime I’ve ever started to pat myself on the back for a performance or a tracking session, the playback will always tell me the truth.

I'm glad my audiences like to drink. I sound fabulous to them!
 

Jay-Dee

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Thank you for sharing so much here. I'm embarrassed to have not known much about your career until you started posting here … in spite of listening to and owning records you’ve made!

I'm embarrassed to admit the same.

It's impossible to know every single great drummer in the world, but I'd heard Chris's playing on multiple songs without knowing of him. I've always dug the drum part on What I Am though which still gets played pretty regularly on some stations here in Aus.
 

Jay-Dee

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One producer heavily analysed my drumming on the McCartney album, although some others didn't.
My (sort of) audition for Dire Straits comprised of me going to the studio where they were finishing the album, being played the songs with Jeff Porcaro on drums and being asked to record my drums to the songs. I know they analysed my playing and timing after I left.

They hired you after having Jeff Porcaro play for them, that's pretty much as good a compliment as you're ever going to get.
 

Whitten

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Well … that’s disheartening.
I was under the impression you were not saying you were better at this or that than anyone else.
I see artistry different than others here … and that’s cool.

That's sort of a nonsense. You are conflating ability with some kind of snobbish pecking order. Of course if you study and practice at something you are more likely to be better at it than someone who has done no learning or preparation.
That's why some drummers don't get to play on their album, because it's their first time and they haven't learnt the necessary skills.
Artistry involves experience and practice. Picasso was better at achieving his vision when he was 35 than when he was at 15. He studied, practiced and gained the necessary experience.
You aren't an artist just because you say you are.....that is uncool.
 

Whitten

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These are players who are all acutely aware of the difference between *good* and *great* in the studio and how to get there...which is the key.

Exactly. If you haven't studied or done the work, you can't claim to be an equal. I could never have played on the track AJA. Gadd is 100% the better drummer than me at playing that and lots of other stuff by the way. I would never in a million years claim to be equal to Gadd, let alone better.
If you are comparing me, 20 years of recording experience, with someone who has never been in the studio and never practiced with a click track, then the chances are high I am better (at that task) than they are.... or maybe not. We will find out on the day, in practice.
 

Whitten

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If Paul was not Paul but some new band, you would have been replaced. Paul had artistic control.

Well you are stating the obvious. If an artist signs with a massive mainstream label they generally give away most of their control. If the New Bohemians had signed with a smaller independent, the record would have been made in a cheaper studio with no freelance musicians. It may still have been a hit, we don't know.
 

Whitten

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But in my personal opinion, that doesn’t make the drummer “better” for the track.
It makes the drummer “better” according to the specific ears making those decisions.

if you heard me playing Aja, then heard Gadd, you would know. It IS quantifiable.
If you heard me playing Miles Ahead, then heard Tony Williams, you would know. It IS quantifiable.
Over many years I obviously specialised in some things and ignored other things. I prioritised what I wanted to do. I practiced to play in time and to play with drum machines and clicks. I studied studio drumming and getting drum sounds.
You are rewarded for your hard work, you aren't suddenly equal to someone who has never put in any of those hours.
 

Carlos McSnurf

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That's sort of a nonsense. You are conflating ability with some kind of snobbish pecking order. Of course if you study and practice at something you are more likely to be better at it than someone who has done no learning or preparation.
That's why some drummers don't get to play on their album, because it's their first time and they haven't learnt the necessary skills.
Artistry involves experience and practice. Picasso was better at achieving his vision when he was 35 than when he was at 15. He studied, practiced and gained the necessary experience.
You aren't an artist just because you say you are.....that is uncool.
Someone heard potential in New Bohemians. As we can hear "What I Am" in radio still today - that was good decision to override original drummer parts.
More trust of producer experience and instinct than band.

Why Wrecking Crew sessions don't raise so many comments here? Beach Boys, Byrds had their drummers and it was normal to have hit takes by Hal Blaine or Earl Palmer on their sessions.
 

dale w miller

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Well you are stating the obvious. If an artist signs with a massive mainstream label they generally give away most of their control. If the New Bohemians had signed with a smaller independent, the record would have been made in a cheaper studio with no freelance musicians. It may still have been a hit, we don't know.

Of course I am, but that does not mean others don’t have that same amount of authority. Do you think a band like Nirvana gave up artistic control simply because they were on a major label?
 

underratedcowbell

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Of course I am, but that does not mean others don’t have that same amount of authority. Do you think a band like Nirvana gave up artistic control simply because they were on a major label?
Well, Dave is a great drummer and is playing is very consistent (he bangs that cans like a mother), but even so a lot of samples were added to the final mix of Nevermind, to the point that Kobain tought it sounded like a 80's pop record. They even tried to get Albini to mix In Utero, aiming for a more raw sound in general and for the drums (Albini is all about the raw drum sounds and the sound of the room), but that failed also, as Scott Litt ended up mixing the album!
 

Matched Gripper

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It was interesting to hear that the drums and cymbals were recorded separately. How common is this on studio recordings? I would think it could be a bit challenging since we're so accustomed to playing both at the same time when sitting behind the kit.
In the video, it looks like Chris was playing his right hand on his leg to keep it all together and tight.
 
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