Gigging an Electronic Drum Kit – Part 1
I’ve recently started using my e-kit in a gigging band. As this is still a relatively new approach to live drumming I thought I’d document my experiences along the way. My weapon of choice is the Yamaha DTX750K. The music is largely 80’s covers. The location, for the moment, is Newcastle upon Tyne, North East UK. I’ve been gigging my acoustic drums for over 20 years. This will be the first time I’ve used an e-kit for anything other than practice or teaching.
When I was first asked if I’d play my electronic kit as opposed to my acoustic kit for a new project, my immediate reaction wasn’t a positive one. I’ve spent years perfecting the sound and layout of my trusty Pearl Export Select kit. The thought of not using it live was horrific. But then the more I thought about it the more appealing the idea became, slightly aided by the fact that I’m in two other bands where my acoustic kit regularly gets to see the stage. I have to say, had an e-kit band been my only gigging option my decision may have been somewhat different. I’ve cut my cloth though and I’m really looking forward to this new project. A lot of advantages immediately sprang to mind:-
1. New venues / markets
Bearing in mind this is for a professional money making outfit, using an e-kit opens up a whole new market such as clubs and pubs who want live entertainment without the 120+ decibels dictated by your average acoustic kit.
2. More control
I can now have absolute control over my sound and fine tune it to the tracks being played. I’ll cover more of this in later blog entries.
3. Set-up / Break-down time
This is still something I’m perfecting but I already have the ability to ‘fold up’ my kit for easy transport in the back of a Zafira MPV. I’m ready to play in 10-20 minutes.
4. Easy sound checks
No more worrying about mics, levels and getting a decent kit sound. The stereo output from my drum module (brain) goes straight to the band PA. Levels are all pre-tested and set from the patches on the kit. I’m up and running sound-wise pretty much immediately. Quick sound check with the whole band and we’re ready. We also have the ability to do a ‘silent’ sound check (via headphones) and this can be very handy in certain circumstances.
We can practice without going deaf. This is a big thing for me – I’ve been in gigging bands for around 20 years and my hearing has paid the price. Anything I can do to protect what’s left of my ears is a good thing!
Of course there are down sides but most of these can be catered for with a bit of planning and a different approach to playing.
1. It’s not a real drum kit
Well, duh. I’m over it! My real kit sounds great and I’ll never give it up. My e-kit also sounds great and fits the bill perfectly for the sort of music I’m playing here. I wouldn’t, for example, use my e-kit for a jazz gig – the pros wouldn’t outweigh the cons. This is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome but it’s an obstacle in your head, not in the head of your customers (the audience). Once you view an e-kit as being no different to a keyboard player departing from an acoustic piano (one of the few less practical instruments to transport than an acoustic drum kit) then you’ve really made progress. View your e-kit as an entirely different beast to your acoustic kit and you’ll be in a good place.
2. It can break
This is currently my biggest concern and I’m putting a lot of faith in the reliability of my Yamaha kit. At the end of the day no matter what happens to an acoustic kit it will probably still be capable of making a noise of some description. If heads break on an acoustic kit they can be fixed in a matter of minutes for about £10. If an e-kit pad breaks it’s a warranty repair or a lot of expense, although I can re-configure the kit to use a different pad. I’ll probably buy a couple of cheaper pads to use as spares. If the brain breaks I have no drum kit and at the moment I can’t justify the expense of buying a second module purely as a backup – that may change.
3. Locality of sound
As a drummer you’re very used to the sound coming from the object you hit. It no longer works like that with an e-kit. Whether the sound comes from headphones or speakers it ain’t coming from the object you hit, it’s coming from somewhere else and this takes a bit of getting used to. You need to get much more used to listening your drums ‘in the mix’ rather than what was effectively a solo instrument with the accompanying background noise of the rest of your band.
I think this will be a learning curve and more will become apparent when I’m on the road. I’ll keep you updated at every stage along the way. For now, time to start charting up 30 or so songs and programming the associated patches into both my brain and the Yamaha brain!