Online Session Drummer | Mark Feldman

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The 11 Skills Studio Drummers Must Have

Now that the technology allows it, remote studio drumming is exploding. Actually, it’s not limited to studio drummers. Session playing in general is open to more musicians of all types than ever before. So, if you’ve ever daydreamed about becoming a session drummer, you should know that it IS possible. But, are you ready?
Studio Drummer
You’ll need to think this through. If you start marketing yourself as a studio drummer but don’t have the goods, you’ll be in for a rude awakening. It’s not going to work out for you unless you crush it on the job.

The worst thing you can do is play on a session before you’re ready. You don’t want to crash and burn; word travels fast and you’d be closing doors on yourself and your future studio drummer business.

So it’s really important to evaluate where you are with your skill set. Do you have what it takes? Do you have all the right training? Have you practiced the right things?

Let’s talk about the details. What are the skills that make for a world-class session Drummer?

Based on my own experience as a studio drummer and observing and studying some of the world’s best, here are the 11 skills I think you need to consider:

1) Reading

This is the language of music. As a drummer, you must be able to read rhythmic notation.

There are many reasons that being able to read will benefit you. However, as a session drummer, one reason stands out as the most important one: charts.

Understanding rhythmic notation will allow you to summarize the song at hand in chart form. And that means that you will be able to “learn” songs very quickly.

It’s pretty much the secret ingredient for being able to listen to a song a couple of times and then nail it on the first try when you actually sit behind your drums. The secret is your chart, and you can’t make one if you don’t know how to read rhythmic notation. This is essential. Don’t overlook it.

2) Groove/Feel/Pocket

If you don’t have this, nothing else written here will matter. If your groove isn’t happening, it’s game over. So, next time you’re lamenting that your single stroke roll doesn’t sound like Vinnie Colaiuta’s, just remember, groove is what will make money. Focus on that.

How to get it? That is the topic of a whole other article, but you’ll need the ability to play in time with ease, and your subdivisions must be spot on and consistent. That and a lot of listening–and importantly trying to emulate what you listen to–will help.

Playing along with a lot of music is important. I remember playing along with the Zeppelin song “Houses of the Holy” and not being able to stay “back.” I got excited and always pushed the time, getting ahead of Bonham’s pocket. I worked on it until I could easily stay with him. And emulating Bonham definitely helped my pocket. A lot of your practice should be devoted to picking apart and trying to sound like the drummers you like.

3) Technique

I know I just told you not to worry about your single stroke roll. The truth is that–of course–technique is important. But rather than focusing on having blazing speed, the kind of technique that makes a difference here is touch. If you can develop good technique, every note you play on the drums will sound better. And if the sounds you get out of your drums aren’t stellar, your career as a studio drummer will be short-lived at best.

Focus on a loose grip, a bouncing stroke and the evaluate the sound that you are creating with different techniques. This is a massive topic, and it requires that you make a “deep dive,” but make no mistake about how important this is.

4) Versatility

It’s pretty important that you have a depth of genres within reach if you’re going to be an online session drummer. As a studio drummer, you never know what is going to be thrown at you, so you want to be able to handle anything. So, get to work. Being versatile will pay off big time.

5) Sound

As discussed in #3, the basis of your sound is how you strike the drums. But additionally, you need to understand your gear. Drum brands, sizes, heads, tuning and muffling all come into play here. Your familiarity with the sounds of different types of recordings will come into play. But the most important thing is that you have good sounding equipment–both drums and cymbals–and know how to tune well. Great sound is just as important as anything else on this list. Overlook it at your own peril.

6) Musicality/Taste/Song Sense

You have to be a song drummer if you want to be successful. That takes taste and it means being ego-less in your playing. Less is more (I know, you’ve heard this a million times, but it is true). Make sure you are mature enough in your playing that you understand how to play only what is needed and how to support the structure of the song without overplaying. You also need to keep in mind that the drummer should add excitement to the time keeping. It is your job to keep the time-keeping interesting. The balance between interesting and bombastic is a fascinating one and it will come with experience. Lots of listening to the recordings of different players will help too.

7) Confidence

This will come with time, but you DO need to be confident. Your confidence will show in your playing. A strong groove usually comes from a confident player. Tentative playing will not make it in the studio. But don’t worry, when you have the goods, you’ll know it, and confidence will follow from that.

8) Attitude/Personality

This is important to help you get the jobs. If you are an introvert, consider how to break out of your shell. The music business in general relies on relationships. You need to be able to interact with many people and fit in. If you’re likable, you’ll work more. A positive vibe always helps. If you’re dark and complain a lot, no one will want to work with you. Make sure that your personality helps you rather than hurts you.

In musician-speak this means that you need to be a “good hang.”

9) Programming

As a drummer, I had a tendency to focus on only my physical playing, rather than being able to program drum tracks. Eventually, I realized that I was missing out on potential work by not learning how to program drums. It’s not that hard to learn, especially when you know how to actually play the real thing. But I implore you to learn this skill so you can get that work. Lots of drummers do both and you need to be competitive with them.

10) Audio Engineering/Production/Mixing

Oh, how I avoided learning this. Oh, what a mistake that was!

But, I finally saw the folly of my ways and dove in. I’m glad I did. The future is in this direction. If you want to be a studio drummer, it is important to have your own tracking set-up. And that means, unless you’re going to hire someone, you need to understand how to be an audio engineer yourself.

You’ll want to seriously consider learning how to mix as well. If someone wants a fully finished drum track from you and you can only provide the raw stems, you’ll be at a disadvantage.

It’s my belief that the future will favor the drummer who can play, program, audio engineer AND mix. (Can you say Aaron Sterling?)

11) Playing to a Click

I saved the best for last. It’s hard to overstate how important this is– particularly in today’s environment. There are plenty of drummers who’ve gotten fired because they can’t do this. So don’t be one of them—work on this until You can do it in your sleep.

You should be able to play to a click with only a very small amount of concentration.

The idea is that you’ll know the click is there, and you can lock in with it easily while still focusing on the other things you need to listen to.

At first this will seem like a tall order, but just practice it. Playing with a click is a skill like any other and it can be learned with practice.

You Can Do It

Yes, I do believe you can do it. I’m doing it and it’s only because I’ve worked hard and persevered. Don’t give up–just work hard and have fun. There’s nothing like playing in the studio–it can be a magical experience. The work is hard but the pay-off is worth it.

5 Crazy Glyn Johns Stories from his Book, Sound Man (Legendary Music Producers 1)

7-crazy-stories-glyn-johns-legendary-music-producers-1Glyn Johns has had a stunningly successful career as a music producer. For one thing, imagine that you have a technique for placing microphones named after you–that alone is somewhat impressive. Just Google “Glyn Johns drum mic technique,” and you’ll see what I mean.

Interestingly, as Johns describes in his book, the discovery of this mic placement method was stumbled upon–as the result of a significant mistake. And that mistake happened during the recording of Led Zeppelin’s very first album for Atlantic.

It’s just one of the fascinating tidbits from his autobiography.

But beyond just this influential microphone placement method for drums, there is his body of work and the many huge artists that he worked with. It’s kind of hard to argue the assertion that…

Glyn Johns is One of The Most Successful Rock Music Producers of All Time

Simply consider who he’s worked with and what records he’s produced and it’s shockingly impressive. Here are a few of the artists: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Eagles, The Steve Miller Band, The Who, Led Zeppelin and many others.

It’s a mind-blowing list.

The stories I’m describing here can be found in Johns’ autobiography, Sound Man.

It’s not a particularly “deep” book. You won’t learn much about Johns’ personal life and you won’t hear his deep philosophical thoughts on life. But what you will read are many tales from his side of the mixing console. And for music fans, musicians, aspiring producers or audio engineers, that lack of depth or introspection won’t diminish the pleasure of hearing these tales from a life spent making music with rock’s royalty.

Here are 5 Crazy Stories About Legendary Music Producer Glyn Johns

They are in no particular order. And don’t worry, I’m not giving everything away here; there’s plenty more in the book, but these 5 anecdotes will whet your appetite.

#1) Would You Turn Down the Chance to Produce The Allman Brothers?

Glyn Johns did. In fact, he was being offered the chance to produce their very first album. He flew down to Georgia to meet with them. He was invited to come to their studio to hear them rehearse. As Johns put it:

…they were not ready to make an album yet. It was very early days for them. They clearly had potential, but were still a little rough round the edges. For some reason they had decided to use two drummers in the band. This is not an easy thing to pull off, and they were still figuring out how to play with each other. This made the rhythm section quite stiff and unsettled, which was the reason I passed.

#2) Q:The Moral of This Particular Story? A: Clive Davis is a Dick

CBS Records had a policy of only allowing their staff engineers to work on the albums made by their artists. In addition, they paid less then any other record label at the time. These two things were enough for Glyn Johns to decide not to make any records for the company. Clive Davis, who ran CBS at the time (1970), asked Johns to meet with him in NY to try and persuade him to change his mind. Johns’ aversion to Davis is described eloquently in the following quote from the book:

This [editor’s note: Johns’ decision not to work for CBS] eventually resulted in me being invited to New York by Clive Davis in order for him to convince me that I was making a huge mistake by refusing to work for CBS. He was running the company and was well on the way to his “guru” status in the industry and more especially in his own eyes. I have never met anyone with quite such a high opinion of himself. He told me that even though CBS paid a third less than anyone else in the industry at that time I would make more money with them, as they sold more records than anyone else. Summoning teams of sycophantic administrators to unravel piles of royalty statements from Janis Joplin’s latest release on the desk in front of me in his palatial office to prove the point. I could not wait to leave, returning to my hotel feeling like I needed a long hot shower. All he managed to do was confirm that my original decision was correct.

#3) What Could Have Been The Greatest Super Group of All Time

This tale finds Jann Wenner and Glyn Johns returning from a trip in 1969 and arriving at NYC’s LaGuardia airport. Wenner was editing an interview he did with Bob Dylan while they were on their flight, so it was an interesting coincidence to run into Dylan himself as they went to get their luggage. Wenner introduced Johns and Dylan, and next–I honestly find this hard to believe–Bob supposedly pitches Johns on the idea of making an album with himself, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Dylan, knowing that Johns has worked with both the Stones and Beatles, asked Johns if he can find out if there is any interest. According to Johns, some of the the members of each band were interested, but Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger both were clear in their lack of any interest in doing it.

Just imagine what that album might have been like.

#4) 1970 Started with a Party at Ringo’s House on New Year’s Day

If you wanted to grab my attention, the above sentence would be just the way to do it. And the story is all about drummers. Here’s what Johns writes:

My overriding memory of that evening is hearing the sound of drums being played in another room in the house. I went to investigate and found Keith Moon giving Ringo’s four-year-old son, Zak, a lesson. Zak idolized Keith, who was his godfather. Amazingly, twenty-five years later he took Keith’s place in The Who, being one of the few drummers in the world who could come close to filling his shoes.

#5) Glyn Johns and The Beatles: How Phil Ramone “puked all over” Let It Be

The story that Johns tells of his time with The Beatles revolves around Let It Be (originally planned to be titled Get Back). He got a call in 1969 to come to Twickenham Studios, a film production workplace where The Beatles had filmed A Hard Days Night and Help!

The Beatles were to rehearse there and get ready for an album and a performance that was to be filmed for a television special. The idea for the “Get Back Project,” as it was conceived by Paul McCartney, was that The Beatles were to “get back” to their rock roots. For perspective, the album that had most recently been released as they got together to rehearse was the White Album.

The rehearsals and everything else were to be filmed and Glyn Johns was called in to handle the audio. On receiving that call–from none other than Paul McCartney himself–Johns writes:

In December of 1968, while sitting at home on a night off, I answered the telephone to a man with a Liverpudlian accent claiming to be Paul McCartney. I thought it was Mick Jagger trying to be amusing, so I told him to stop messing about and asked him what he wanted. The man persisted, and much to my shock and embarrassment, it really was Paul McCartney. He told me that he had an idea for the band to write all new material and then record it live in front of an audience for a TV show and for release as an album. The venue was to be discussed, but it would be somewhere exotic. He then asked if I would be interested in making the record with them. I felt like I’d won the lottery. He told me that they were all to meet at a soundstage at Twickenham Film Studios on January 2nd, 1969, when they were to start rehearsals, and asked if I could be there.

I turned up on the appointed day with enormous anticipation. After all, they were the biggest band in the world and were at the height of their career. I had worked with many successful artists but I have to say, this was quite different. I have always loved vocal harmony and had constantly been blown away by the extraordinary sound that the blend of John, Paul, and George achieved. Add to that their songwriting and their reinvention of recorded sound, and you can imagine how I felt as I walked through the enormous doors of the soundstage at Twickenham that morning.

Johns continued to be involved in the project as it moved venues during its creation, and as the famous rooftop concert took place. He was asked at one point to make sense of all the recordings and create an album from everything. Here’s what happened after that:

Having delivered the mixed master of my version of Let It Be, I approached each member of the band separately, asking if I could have a production credit on the album when it was released. I made it quite clear that I was only asking for that and not a royalty. Paul, George, and Ringo had no objection to my request but John was suspicious and could not understand why I was not asking for a royalty. I explained that I felt, because of their stature, the sales of the album would not be affected by my involvement one way or another, so a credit would be a fair settlement for what I had done, as by association it could only be positive for my career in the future. I never got an answer from John.

As it turned out, none of this mattered, as in the end, after the group broke up, John gave the tapes to Phil Spector, who puked all over them, turning the album into the most syrupy load of bullshit I have ever heard. My master tape, perhaps quite rightly, ended up on a shelf in the tape store at EMI. At least my version of the single of “Get Back”/“Don’t Let Me Down” had been released in April 1969.

Johns’ stories about The Beatles are some of my favorite parts of the book. There are many more fascinating stories as well; some involve The Who, The Clash, The Rolling Stones and many others. I don’t want to give anymore of these tales away. I recommend that you buy the book and read it.

If you’re a producer or aspire to be one, this is required reading.

For Session Drummers, the Future is Online

Online Session DrummerThe Online Session Drummer

COVID, when viewed historically in relation to the music business, will turn out to have been just a blip on the growth of recorded music and the music business in general.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean to be glib and I’m not making light of the pandemic and its impact. The previous paragraph is just taking a very long view.

Clearly, this virus has shaken the world and has been (and continues to be as of this writing) devastating in many ways, none less important than the massive loss of lives it caused.

The music business has been greatly disturbed and interrupted. Tour after tour cancelled, Broadway theaters shut down, and countless music venues shutting down temporarily or permanently going out of business. Musicians have had to get a variety of other types of jobs to survive.

But the music business will eventually recover.

How Covid Fundamentally Changed Businesses

In the world of business, the pandemic is an event that caused many to pivot their business endeavors. The economic and business impact has been profound.

It’s already been shown that the pandemic has essentially sped up the direction that any business was moving towards–whether good or bad.  That’s my belief: if you have (or had) a business that was not positioned well for the future, Covid probably destroyed that business. If, on the other hand, your growth potential and business model was solid, you may have seen significant growth during the pandemic.

Some examples. A few that were well positioned, like Amazon, Zoom, and Netflix, were boosted by Covid to even more rapid growth and profits. But for the many businesses that relied on in-person activities for success, just the opposite has been true. Those poorly positioned got crushed. Some examples of businesses filing for bankruptcy during the pandemic: Brooks Brothers, Chuck E Cheese, GNC, Guitar Center, JC Penny, Lord and Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Pier 1, Men’s Warehouse, Dean & DeLuca, Lucky Brands, Gold’s Gym, Modell’s, and the list goes on.  There have been many casualties.

And I was no exception. My in-person drum teaching business was pretty much destroyed. That business was easily covering all its overhead and paying all my bills when the pandemic hit. It had been cranking along, growing slightly each year for many years. Then, almost overnight, my teaching business imploded. So, what did I do?

Two things. First, I sped up the process I had already begun of becoming a remotely operating studio musician; more specifically–an online session drummer. Secondly, I dug into the creation of an idea I’ve had for a while for a video course that will soon replace the in-person teaching business.

Interestingly, I always believed that my teaching business was limited by the fact that I needed a well equipped physical space to teach from. The overhead was significant and the day-to-day management (I had five teachers working for me) was also of consequence. Being reliant on real estate owned by someone else is a weakness that has plagued many businesses during Covid.

Having realized this, I thought that online video lessons would be the answer to scaling. Yes, the space is particularly crowded, but I have an idea that no one has yet tried and I believe that will make it a success.

But the planning for that business is significant and in the meantime, I worked on my remote online session drummer studio. After all, I was already a session drummer. It just happened that when the pandemic began, going to a studio to work inside was a scary proposition.

The Future of Session Drumming Will Be Online While the Music Business Will Rebound

When I say that the future of session drumming is online, I’m just pointing out the direction we’re headed. It’s no secret that many of the world’s top drummers have had their own tracking studios long before Covid ever hit.

Here are a few who come to mind: Kenny Aronoff, Ash Soan, Shawn Pelton, Simon Phillips, Aaron Sterling, and Dave Weckl. These guys have all been recording remotely for quite some time now–way before Covid. And certainly there are many more well-known drummers with remote capability.

The Traditional Recording Studio Will Remain

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying that the traditional recording studio is dead or dying. In fact that is not the case at all. Check out this article from ProSound about how USA Today incorrectly claimed that the recording studio business was dying: “USA Today is Wrong: Recording Studios Are Not Dying”

The only problem with the ProSound article is that it was written in 2018–pre-pandemic. Hasn’t Covid caused some problems here? I haven’t been able to find solid statistics on this, but yes, I’ve read about some studio closings. However, I do believe that the studio business will remain solid overall, especially over time. Covid will turn out to be just a blip that disrupted the business of music for a while. Studios will close, but new ones will open.

But, if studios aren’t going away, why is remote session work the future?

Good question. There are two answers. The first is that the recorded music business is actually quite healthy.

The Music Business is Growing Significantly

And the bottom line is that as of this writing, things are looking up. Report Linker sites some research on the global growth of the music market. See the article here: “Recording Market Impact and Recovery”

Here’s a short quote from the source of the report, The Business Research Company:

The global music recording market is expected to grow from $54.22 billion in 2020 to $57.05 billion in 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.2%. The growth is mainly due to the companies rearranging their operations and recovering from the COVID-19 impact, which had earlier led to restrictive containment measures involving social distancing, remote working, and the closure of commercial activities that resulted in operational challenges. The market is expected to reach $74.11 billion in 2025 at a CAGR of 7%.

Pretty significant, right?

And the second reason that online session drummers and other studio musicians can be optimistic is the following.

The Amount of Music Being Created and Released is EXPLODING

Arguably the most significant factor of all is the rise of technology.

The technology has crushed the barriers to entry into the music market. And that means that the floodgates have been smashed open.

How so?

First consider streaming. In April of 2019 it was announced that almost 40,000 tracks were being uploaded to Spotify every single day. That is an astounding number. Here’s the article: “40,000 Tracks Added to Spotify Daily”

But wait! If you think that number is impressive, get this! Even more recently, in February of 2021, an updated number was announced. The new number is 60,000 tracks per day. “60,000 Tracks Uploaded to Spotify Daily”

Remember that before streaming or downloading was possible, and before CD Baby, BandCamp and other indie friendly outlets existed, the barrier to entry was massive. You could not get your music out to the world unless you had a record deal with a significant record label. You just couldn’t do it. But now….ANYONE can release music and make it available to the world instantly.

The result is that a massive amount of music is getting released to the public; more than ever before in history. For session musicians, this spells opportunity. Not all of those making this music are going to feel comfortable or have the funds to rent out “real” recording studios. Many of these people are doing things on their own. Perhaps in a basement or bedroom.

And therein lies the other technological development of major significance for session players.

Anyone Can Make Pro Level Recordings At Home Now

No one has to go to a recording studio to make their music at a professional level anymore. Technology has made it possible for any of us to make great sounding music from within our apartment or house. The technology is astounding! I’m NOT bad mouthing the traditional studio. Far from it. I love recording in big recording studios. Having great gear, a great engineer, and a great sounding room obviously can make a big difference in the quality of the music produced.

But that being said, you don’t HAVE to do it that way anymore. It used to be that the only way to make your music was to go rent a studio. There were a limited number of places that owned the equipment necessary to record quality music product. With all the DAWs, audio interfaces and plugins that exist now, you can make incredible sounding music at your home studio. And people are doing that.

Conclusion

Online session work certainly looks like a growth industry to me. And the future is bright in this way for any musician–not just drummers–who want to get a slice of this ever-growing pie.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments or via email.

Switch Your Pro Tools Mix to Mono by Twisting Just One Dial

How to Program Drums with Pro Tools

Introduction: Why Would an Online Session Drummer Want to Mix in Mono Anyway?

Why should you care about this little shortcut I’m offering you? Why would you even want to quickly change everything to mono? That’s a good question. As I’ve been learning how to program drums, especially mixing, one interesting concept I stumbled upon is that of mixing in mono. You can find a lot of information online about the theory behind this, but here is a short explanation of why you might consider it.

How to Program Drums with Pro Tools & Switch to Mono

When everything is in mono, every layer of sound and every instrument is occupying the same audio space simultaneously. When you pan things in stereo, you create more space by literally putting instruments in separate physical aural spaces. It’s easier to make your mix sound good when you’re in stereo. Why? Simply because there is more space.

But by forcing yourself to make a mono mix, you have to use EQ and all of the other tools at your disposal to make the mix clearer. Of course you’ll begin by getting your static levels right, but there will definitely be more to it than that. You just don’t have the extra space in your mix that stereo panning naturally gives you. But consider the notion that if you can easily hear every instrument and voice on the track while in mono, your mix should be even more clear and spacious once you return to panning in stereo.

But here’s the kicker and it’s something that is often overlooked. Your listener won’t always hear the stereo elements properly anyway. How frequently are people using headphones or sitting exactly in the center of two balanced speakers? The exact numbers are not known, but you can be certain that a big chunk of listening does not occur in a way that allows the stereo image to be heard properly. Think about it: if you’re sitting in your car, you’re definitely on one side or the other–you’re never in the stereo sweet spot. And listening to the crappy phone speaker definitely doesn’t give you anything but mono. It just makes sense that a lot of listening happens in ways that don’t allow for a real stereo experience.

See the point? While you are learning how to program drums and create a finished drum track, you really HAVE to make your mix sound good in mono anyway. Lots of people are simply going to hear the music in mono. You ignore this at your own risk.

If you are interested in learning more about this, just Google “mixing in mono” and I promise you’ll find plenty to get you up to speed.

This Tutorial Video Will Show You The Stereo to Mono Trick for Mixing

And now; the video. Just watch and you’ll see a great way to easily switch your mix from stereo to mono without unpanning everything and then re-doing it. Check it out:

But for those of you who hate watching videos, I’ll spell out the details below. The reason that I wanted a way of quickly making everything mono was that I’d started mixing and done a bunch of panning already. Then, having already done all that work, I realized that I really should work in mono to make my mix better.

I got frustrated thinking that I was going to have to un-pan everything and then keep track of every panning setting I made and THEN redo all the panning after all of that. That definitely sounded like too much work to me.

So, instead, I did a little research and discovered that there is a free plugin in Pro Tools called “Stereo Width.” It’s made by AIR. If you simply put this plugin on your master mix bus and set the width dial to ZERO, your mix becomes mono instantly. That’s it. Just one little dial and you’re in mono. When you want to go back to your stereo mix you can remove the plugin or just set that same width button back to 100%.

Pretty easy right? I thought so too. You’re welcome!! 😉

Post Script: Why Pro Tools Tips for Beginners?

I want to explain why I even began this little series on Pro Tools. There are plenty of Pro Tools tutorials out there both in blog posts and videos. But what I’ve noticed, just like in a lot of the arts, many of the pros just don’t want to write about or create beginners content. My theory is that it’s too boring for them. Most great guitarists or drummers or audio engineers want to make content about the cool advanced stuff they know. And I think I understand why–it’s more fun for them to make that content. Perhaps there is a bit of ego involved. But the truth is that beginners need love too. Everyone was once a beginner and beginners need help. Thankfully, I’m not bored by it at all. In fact, at my blog about drumming, I’ve made a lot of content for beginners on that topic. You can check out some of that content here: The Drumming Blog

My point is that I’ve scanned the web and noticed that in “Pro Tools land,” there is also a shortage of content for beginners and those that need to learn how to program drums. I’d like to help remedy that, and thus, the “Pro Tools Tips for Beginners” series was born.

By the way, the first entry in my Pro Tools Tips for Beginners series can be found at this link: Beginners Pro Tools Tips 1: Why Does the Cursor Keep Jumping Back to the Beginning?

Thanks for reading!

Beginners Pro Tools Tips 1: Why Does the Cursor Keep Jumping Back to the Beginning?

Skip the frustrations of using Drum Tracks Online

Why Pro Tools Tips for Beginners?
In this series, I’m going to give you beginners some tips that I think might be helpful. It wasn’t that long ago that I was just learning Pro Tools, and I vividly recall many of the things that drove me crazy. I’m hoping that these articles will save you from some of the frustrations of using Pro Tools (and drum tracks online) that I experienced early on.

When I first started using Pro Tools, one of the things that made me nuts was that I’d play back a track or tracks and when I stopped the playback, the cursor would jump back to the beginning of the track automatically. That just didn’t make sense to me. My intuition told me that the cursor should stop and STAY where I left off during the play back.

Drum Tracks Online
The “Blue Arrow” in Pro Tools

Here’s the little thing that I didn’t understand, and it’s really easy to fix.

What is That Little Blue Arrow?
First of all, you have to understand what the little blue arrow (real name: “play start marker”) means and does. Look at the image to the right. See that pink circle? Inside it is the “blue arrow” I’m talking about. Wherever that blue arrow is, that is where the the playback will begin. That is the default setting in Pro Tools, and why the cursor jumps backwards. It’s moving back to the play start marker. And that will always happen unless you use the tip I’ll show you below to make your playback work like a tape machine.

One Handy Shortcut: if you want that blue arrow to move to the beginning of your track, simply hit the “Return” button and it will snap back to the beginning immediately.

The problem I described at the beginning of the article (having the cursor snap back to the beginning of the song) happens when the play start marker is located at the beginning of the track (all the way to the left), but it can be just as frustrating when the cursor snaps back to the blue arrow regardless of where it is located in the timeline.
online drum tracks
As mentioned above, by default, the cursor snaps back to the play start marker. But I often want the cursor and playback to behave like a tape machine would; such that the playback will begin again where I left off when I stopped the last playback. I’m guessing some of you would like to make your playback work that way too. Read on.

Here is the Answer: Pro Tools Tip for Beginners #1
Have a look at the illustration to the left. That button inside the pink circle is the “insertion follows playback button.” In the image, that button is blue which means it is engaged. Simply click that button (you’ll know you’ve clicked it when it’s blue) and you’re good to go; playback will now “act” like a tape machine. Wherever you stop the playback is where it will begin again when you next hit the play button.

Simple, right?

And for those of us who don’t read user manuals, thank god for Google.

By the way, here are two other blog posts you might find interesting:

1) I’ve compiled a list of 31 useful keyboard shortcuts to speed up your workflow in Pro Tools. You can find my article about that here: 31 Pro Tools Shortcuts for Mac: a Cheat Sheet on PDF

2) I made a tutorial on being able to change your mix from stereo to mono with the turn of a single virtual knob. You can watch that video and read about how to do this here: Switch Your Pro Tools Mix to Mono by Twisting Just One Dial

Feel free to ask me any questions about drum tracks online or Pro Tools specifically.

31 Pro Tools Shortcuts for Mac: a Cheat Sheet on PDF

As competent as I’d become at using Pro Tools, there was a point about a year ago when I realized I was working much too slowly. I could certainly get the job done, but I was sure I could speed up my workflow. And after all, going faster would effectively mean that my hourly rate would go up, so I decided to look into speeding things up.

The most obvious way to do this was to learn some keyboard shortcuts. So, I studied, read, watched videos, and asked my producer and engineer friends. And I learned a bunch of them. But I had some trouble remembering them.

So, I created this little cheat sheet and I taped it on my wall right above my audio workspace. And now, I can’t live without this page. At some point I’ll have it memorized, but until then, on the wall it stays, because it’s a time-saver.

I also realized that this was the PDF that I really could have used when I first wanted to learn this stuff. Getting my hands on a “cheat-sheet” like this would have saved me some real time in the learning process. Instead, I had to spend a lot of time watching videos and reading articles. But the truth is that all I really needed was this one page.

You won’t have that problem. Here’s my cheat sheet with “31 Pro Tools Shortcuts for Mac.” I hope it makes your audio engineering life easier and faster.

Download the PDF: 31 pro tools shortcuts for mac

By the way, as I’ve learned more and more about Pro Tools, I began to compile some tips based on things that confused me when I started. The first of these can be found here: Beginners Pro Tools Tips #1

“Green River” with Evan Kremin, Jay Shepard, Gary Bristol and Mark Feldman

One of the producers I’ve been working for consistently is Keith Foley, out of NYC. He puts together a great crew of top-notch players (mostly based in New York) and in 2020 I got into the mix (no pun intended), doing my thing as an online session drummer to track for him.

Last summer we recorded Creedence’s “Green River.” I tracked it in my Aunt’s beach house on Cape Cod, where I was hiding out all summer from COVID. You can see me in the video; lower right hand corner. Doesn’t it look like a little beach house bedroom? It was!

One of the things I like about this track–besides that I think all the players are killing it–is that the drum sounds I got in this tiny room sound pretty damn good. That’s a good example of the notion that you can make great sounding records these days all “in the box,” as they say. That’s part of the fun of being a remote studio drummer–audio engineering yourself and working on getting great sounds.

Here’s the video. Listen with headphones if you can, because the sonics are great. It’s a clear, airy mix under the steady hand of Mark Dann, with JP Bowersock producing and Keith Foley Executive Producing. Me? Just playing drums!

Oz Noy’s “Steroids” Play-Along for Drums

One of the side benefits of putting my recording studio together is that my videos sound way better. A couple of weeks ago, I filmed and recorded a version of “Steroids,” written by my friend Oz Noy.

The first released version of “Steroids” is very different from what is represented in the video I made. “Steroids” first appeared on “Oz Live,” which was released in 2002 on Planula Records. You can check out this version at the Spotify widget on the left. I haven’t been able to find track by track personnel credits anywhere, but both Anton Fig and Keith Carlock play on the release and it sounds to me like Keith played on this live version of “Steroids.”

This new video version was made from a play-along that Dave Weckl produced and that you can buy on his website. The personnel on the track: Oz Noy on guitar (of course), Will Lee on bass, and me making a “guest” appearance.

You’ll find out by watching/listening, but what is so different about this new version is the tempo. It is much slower than the original. And interestingly enough, it works great. Funny how tempo changes can so dramatically change a song…

There are also some drum breaks near the end of the song, so stick around for that if you’re into that sort of thing.

Check it out below.

By the way, both Oz and Will played on my band’s debut EP that was released in 2019. You can check out a video from that release here: Mark Feldman’s LEVEL5 plays “Sybil”

The Most Powerful Music Producers 2021

the most powerful music producers 2021

I thought it would be really interesting to have a look at who the most powerful producers are. The obvious question you’ll be asking is “what does ‘power’ mean when it comes to music producers?”

Right.  I believe that if you look at the world the way it really is–not by thinking about any of the older paradigms–what creates the most power in music is reach.

These days reach is measured in terms of streams.  It’s not measured by Grammys or inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or even (gasp) positions on the Billboard chart. So…

Since Spotify has the largest market share of the music streaming services, it makes sense to look at total streams on the service. I see Spotify like the music equivalent of Google. No one comes close, so why not use them as a bench-marker? By the way, as of this writing, Spotify has a 36% market share of music streams.

What are the most streamed songs?

On Wikipedia, there is a “dynamic list” called “List of Most-Streamed Songs on Spotify.” That list is frequently updated (hence the title “dynamic list”), but for this article, I used the list that was published and visible online on February 25th 2021. The list is limited to 100 entries.

Interestingly, that list does not include the producer credits. To give you a sense of the producers responsible for the most streamed songs, I simply added the producers’ names to the chart, which you can find below.

That should give you an idea of who the heaviest producers are–at least based on streams. Check it out.

RankSongArtistProducerStreams
(in Millions)
1Shape of YouEd SheeranEd Sheeran and
Steve Mac
2,725
2RockstarPost Malone feat
21 Savage
Tank God and Louis Bell2,124
3Dance MonkeyTones and IKonstantin Kersting2,105
4Blinding LightsThe WeekndMax Martin,
Oscar Holter,
The Weeknd
2,004
5One DanceDrake feat
WizKid and Kyla
NIneteen85, 40 and WizKid1,981
6CloserThe Chainsmokers
feat Halsey
The Chainsmokers1,952
7SunflowerPost Malone and SwaeleeCarter Lang and Louis Bell1,827
8Someone You LovedLewis CapaldiTMS1,783
9SenoritaShawn Mendes and Camila CabelloBenny Blanco, WATT, Cashmere Cat1,751
10Thinking Out LoudEd SheeranJake Gosling1,711
11God's PlanDrake40, Cardo,
Young Exclusive and
Boi-1da
1,695
12Bad GuyBillie EilishFinneas O'Connell1,691
13Say You Won't Let GoJames ArthurAlex Beitzke, Bradley Spence 1,651
14PerfectEd SheeranEd Sheeran, Will Hicks1,645
15BelieverImagine DragonsMattman & Robin1,625
16HavanaCamila Cabello feat
Young Thug
Frank Dukes1,582
17Lucid DreamsJuice WrldNick Mira1,552
18 PhotographEd SheeranJeff Bhasker, Emile Haynie1,547
19StarboyThe Weeknd feat
Daft Punk
Daft Punk, Cirkut,
Doc McKinney,
The Weeknd
1,520
20Love YourselfJustin BieberBenny Blanco1,519
21Sad!XXXTentacionJohn Cunningham1,519
22Something Just Like ThisThe Chainsmokers and ColdplayThe Chainsmokers1,486
23New RulesDua LipaIan Kirkpatrick1,476
24ThunderImagine DragonsAlex Da Kid, Jayson DeZuzio1,448
25Lean OnMajor Lazer and DJ Snake feat MOMajor Lazer, DJ Snake1,446
26XO Tour Llif3Lil Uzi VertTM88, JW Lucas1,425
27Bohemian RhapsodyQueenRoy Thomas Baker, Queen1,424
28Despacito (Remix)Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat Justin BieberMauricio Rengifo, Andrés Torres1,424
29SorryJustin BieberSkrillex, BloodPop1,419
30ShallowLady Gaga and Bradley CooperLady Gaga, Benjamin Rice1,413
31All of MeJohn LegendDave Tozer, John Legend1,405
32HappierMarshmello and BastilleMarshmello1,394
33HumbleKendrick LamarMike Will Made It, Pluss1,389
34Don't Let Me DownThe Chainsmokers feat DayaThe Chainsmokers1,387
357 RingsAriana GrandeTommy Brown, Charles Anderson, Michael Foster1,385
36Better NowPost MaloneFrank Dukes, Louis Bell1,370
37Jocelyn FloresXXXTentacionPotsu1,386
38Sicko ModeTravis ScottChahayed, Hit-Boy, OZ, Cubeatz, Tay Keith, Dean1,358
39Stressed OutTwenty One PilotsMike Elizondo1,356
40I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)Mike Posner and SeebMike Posner, Seeb, Martin Terefe1,352
41Faded Alan WalkerAlan Walker, Jesper Borgen, Mood Melodies1,350
42Let Me Love YouDJ Snake feat Justin BieberDJ Snake, Andrew Watt, Louis Bell1,350
43Take Me to ChurchHozierRob Kirwan1,348
44GoosebumpsTravis ScottCardo, Yung Exclusive, Cubeatz, Mike Dean1,344
45Don't Start NowDua LipaIan Kirkpatrick1,340
46CongratulationsPost Malone feat QuavoMetro Boomin, Frank Dukes, Louis Bell1,331
47LovelyBillie Eilish and KhalidFinneas O'Connell1,314
48Let Her GoPassengerMike Rosenberg, Chris Vallejo1,305
49Stay with MeSam SmithJimmy Napes, Steve Fitzmaurice, Rodney Jerkins1,303
50CirclesPost MalonePost Malone, Louis Bell, Frank Dukes1,301
51Treat You BetterShawn MendesTeddy Geiger, Dan Romer, DJ "Daylight" Kyriakides1,288
52Thank U, NextAriana GrandeTommy Brown Michael Foster, Charles Anderson, Ariana Grande, Victoria Monet1,271
53Uptown FunkMark Ronson feat Bruno MarsMark Ronson, Jeff Bhasker, Bruno Mars1,266
54I Don't CareEd Sheeran and Justin BieberKarl Sandberg, Karl Schuster, Fred1,264
55UnforgettableFrench Montana feat Swae LeeJaegen, 1Mind, C.P Dubb, Mike WiLL Made-It1,258
56Cheap ThrillsSiaGreg Kurstin1,256
57Girls Like YouMaroon 5 feat Cardi BCirkut, Jason Evigan1,248
58Too Good at GoodbyesSam SmithJimmy Napes, Steve Fitzmaurice, StarGate1,236
59Wake Me UpAvicii feat Aloe BlaccAvicii, Arash Pournouri1,229
60Without MeHalseyLouis Bell1,228
61DespacitoLuis Fonsi feat Daddy YankeeMauricio Rengifo, Andrés Torres1,212
627 YearsLukas GrahamFuture Animals, Pilo1,201
63Roses (Imanbek Remix)Saint John and ImanbekFallen1,191
64Can't Stop The FeelingJustin TimberlakeJustin Timberlake, Max Martin, Shellback1,188
65Counting StarsOneRepublicRyan Tedder, Noel Zancanella1.185
66I Like ItCardi B, Bad Bunny and J BalvinJ. White Did It, Tainy, Craig Kallman, Invincible1,182
67Can't Hold UsMacklemore and
Ryan Lewis feat
Ray Dalton
Ryan Lewis1,180
68StitchesShawn MendesDaylight, Teddy Geiger, Danny Parker1,179
69That's What I LikeBruno MarsShampoo Press & Curl, The Stereotypes (co.)1,171
70MoonlightXXXTentacionXXXTentacion1,170
71Cold WaterMajor Lazer feat
Justin Bieber and
MO
Major Lazer, Benny Blanco, Jr Blender, King Henry1,168
72I Fall ApartPost MaloneIllangelo1,168
73What Do You Mean?Justin BieberMdL, Bieber1,167
74The BoxRoddy Ricch30 Roc, Datboisqueeze, Zentachi1.164
75The HillsThe WeekndIllangelo, Mano1,161
76See You AgainWiz Khalifa feat
Charlie Puth
DJ Frank E, Charlie Puth, Andrew Cedar1,157
77RiptideVance JoyJames Keogh, Edwin White, John Castle1,154
78PyschoPost Malone feat
Ty Dolla Sign
Post Malone, Louis Bell1,151
79HeathensTwenty One PilotsMike Elizondo, Tyler Joseph1,150
80One KissCalvin Harris and
Dua Lipa
Calvin Harris1,149
81I Like Me BetterLauvLauv1,143
82RadioactiveImagine DragonsAlex da Kid1,135
83EastsideBenny Blanco,
Halsey and Khalid
Andrew Watt, Benny Blanco, Cashmere Cat1,131
84AttentionCharlie PuthCharlie Puth1,130
85Old Town Road (remix)Lil Nas and
Billy Ray Cyrus
YoungKio. Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross1,130
86Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix)Omi and Felix JaehnOMI, Clifton Dillon, Felix Jaehn
1,127
87DemonsImagine DragonsAlex da Kid1,125
88Youngblood5 Seconds of SummerAndrew Watt, Louis Bell1,117
89Taki TakiDJ Snake feat
Selena Gomez,
Ozuna, and
Cardi B
DJ Snake1,116
90SugarMaroon 5Ammo, Cirkut1,114
91Can't Feel My FaceThe WeekndMax Martin, Ali Payami1,112
92This is What You Came ForCalvin Harris feat
Rihanna
Calvin Harris, Kuk Harrell1,108
93In My FeelingsDrake40, TrapMoneyBenny, Blaqnmild1,105
94We Don't Talk AnymoreCharlie Puth feat
Selena Gomez
Charlie Puth1,104
95HelloAdeleGreg Kurstin1,102
96IDGAFDua LipaKoz1,099
97ChandelierSiaGreg Kurstin, Jesse Shatkin1,098
98I'm YoursJason MrazMartin Terefe1,095
99When The Party's OverBillie EilishFinneas O'Connell1,092
100Work From HomeFifth Harmony feat
Ty Dolla Sign
Ammo, DallasK1.092