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My Roland V-Drum Dilemma

For the past 3 weeks I've been playing in a band 2-3 times per week that performs in venues where it is required to play the house Roland V-drums. This is a fun cover band whose members I get along with great, both musically and personally. The band makes good money and the music allows me to be creative while still retaining the essence of the songs, and I don't feel pressured into playing everything like the record. However, I'm ready to quit this band. You see, the band is currently only playing in clubs that have Roland V drums (referred to generically as E drums from here on out) as a house drum kit. This poses some major issues which I'll dive into below. I also get into reasons WHY I think these clubs have chosen to go all in with the E drums. Stay with me and I'll tell you my thought process behind it all.

Let me go on record to say I have no issue with using E drums as part of a hybrid kit or as an add-on to acoustic drums. I myself own a Roland electronic multi-pad and use it whenever it's appropriate for the music I'm performing. It's fun. It adds to the music and it allows me to create sounds and soundscapes that I wouldn't ordinarily be able to have access to.

The truth of the matter is playing and E drum kit (pertaining to ANY brand of electronic drums) is detrimental to my hands. You see, I'm experiencing PAIN in my hands, wrists, and forearms after I perform a full 4 hour show on the E drums. Shooting pain, spasms, and sometimes throbbing. It normally lasts about a day. Now, as a pro drummer who prides himself on having great hand technique and facility, I NEVER experience pain in any other playing situations and I never have until I started this gig. So I know for a fact that it's the E drums that is causing this pain. I don't know what it is about the make or design of the E drums but they don't feel like real drums when I play them (despite what they advertise) and the sticks don't behave the same way in my hands. The sticks vibrate differently in my hands and it's very hard to describe or pinpoint. I imagine it has something to do with the "give" of the E drums that is different than real acoustic drums and cymbals. The vibrations from the E kit are absorbed into my fingers, hands, wrists, and forearms. On an acoustic kit, this is not so. It is my belief that these E drums were not ergonomically designed to be played on for 4 hours straight. Lord have mercy on you if you're doing doubles or triples on these kits! I couldn't. I imagine seeing a lawsuit of some kind happening in the near future if a drummer knew a good lawyer.

I'm not exactly sure why the club management decided to procure these E kits and implement them on all their stages, but there are a couple of reasons I'm thinking of. Let's get into the WHY a club would make such a huge investment in something that really creates more problems than it solves. One of them is the most obvious.

Very often, in small clubs (like the ones I'm playing) the drummer is playing a real set of acoustic drums and he or she is playing WAY TOO LOUD for the room. Why this happens is a great topic for another blog which I haven't written yet. Although, you CAN read about my opinion of drum shields and their use in trying to cut down on the stage volume from the drum kit here. Accordingly, to bring down the stage volume, drummers are now forced to play electronic kits. This way, all of the sound and volume is completely controlled by the sound engineer. But what are the REAL results of this decision? A couple of things.

The band is now completely at the mercy of the sound man/woman for anything related to volume and dynamics, and tone and EQ for that matter. The drummer no longer can control how to hit a cymbal or drum as there might be only 2 sounds he/she can coax out of the E drum pad. The cymbal and hihat pads are especially bad. There's no nuance. For a drummer who has spent a lifetime developing my touch and finesse on the drum kit, this is a special kind of hell.

Maybe the club owner wanted to save time in between sets on the change over when one band finishes and another is coming on stage. Drummers typically have a lot of gear to set up, adjust, tune, etc. even when a house kit is provided. On paper this makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately in practice, this reason doesn't hold up either. The E drummer still has to make the E kit ergonomic to the player (which is different for everyone), Angles, heights, placement, pedal adjustments, and sensitivity all have to be adjusted, and that's if everything is functioning! Then the E drummer has to find a patch in the E drum brain that will work with all 4 hours of the set because the drummer is technically not allowed to change the patch once sound check is complete due to there being inconsistencies in levels between the kits. There are over 100 kits, or patches, in the E drum brain, which are different at each venue! I have found myself frantically scrolling around the kits trying to find something that will work for the bulk of the type of music we are playing. This is a huge time waster!

Next, since there is literally no stage volume, the drummer is forced to use in-ear monitors and set up a monitor mix in the headphones. This can take a lot of time! Without getting too technical, every instrument and microphone on stage needs to be adjusted to his/her liking and comfort during this sound check. Once again the musicians are completely at the mercy of the sound engineer, his/her talents, and how quickly they work. This is not good. As a professional who has been performing for 30 plus years, I shouldn't have to be completely reliant on some 22 year old kid straight out of mixing school (if they even attended that!). With real drums and acoustic instruments, in ears are not required to hear the instruments and mics as you get the acoustic feedback from the sound source right there in front of you. You can "mix yourself" right from the stage, and you don't need the PA system to amplify, monitor, and hear each other. The end result is that using E drums is not saving any time at all in between band slots. It's just complicating things.

You might think that maybe the club owners are trying to save money by not having to buy new drum heads all the time for an acoustic kit, and paying someone to come in weekly and change them out and/or tune them. Drum heads aren't that expensive (buy in bulk!) and neither are these services. These E drum kits can run up to $5000 per unit. Now imagine how often they need to change out the pads, cables, connections, etc. I finished a gig the other night and the sound guy started unplugging the whole kit. I asked him why he was doing that. He said it was the club policy to unplug the kit and remove it from the stage each night. I couldn't believe it. Do you know how much unnecessary wear/tear that creates on all those cables, connections, and wiring? A lot. What a waste of money.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, these E kits are doing a disservice not only to the musicians who have worked so hard to get here (Music City!), but to the audiences who have traveled so far to come and see a LIVE band (emphasis on LIVE) perform in Nashville, TN, many of which hardly ever get to SEE a live band in their hometown. It's no wonder we'll be playing our heart and soul out on a song and when we finish, hardly anyone even claps or notices the song is finished. There's no air moving in the room. People are listening with their eyes. The volume at which the band is mixed is too soft. They aren't reacting because there's not enough sound to create a reaction. It's like having a small boombox playing music and expecting an audience to clap when the song ends. They're not FEELING anything. We are wallpaper up there on stage. Example, the other night we were watching another band finish their set before it was our turn to take the stage. From about 20-25 feet away from the stage, we could hear the guitar player's voice singing his background harmonies acoustically OVER the top of the volume of the band! That's how soft the band was being mixed. So sad. How can you expect to win over a roomful of people with no air moving in the room? No amps. No drums. No cymbals. No soul. It reminds me of the animatronic Chuck E. Cheese band just posing and going through the motions. I read recently that even THEY were replaced with a robotic DJ. Sacrilege!!

Speaking of DJ's. Another club trend I've noticed is when the live band is done performing and the DJ set begins (typically later in the night), the DJ is allowed to BLAST their music at 100db's and more. Management is okay with this? Why is that? No one can even talk to each other. I saw it all the time when I lived in Las Vegas, and I'm seeing it here in Nashville too now. It's the band that should be mixed louder than the DJ, not the other way around. Pet peeve. But I digress.

These club owners and managers will do anything to try and create an "experience" for the audience. They'll hang cars or trucks on the wall and over the stage. They'll spend enormous amounts of money on decor, vibe, aesthetic, giant wall size TV screens and digital video walls, lighting rigs, rooftop bars with heaters and A/C, etc. But will they spend a dime on some acoustic design (like Audimute) that would not only make their venue sound amazing but also cut down on the ambient crowd noise and give their venue a completely unique appearance? Nope. They'll blame the musicians for playing too loud and castrate them by forcing them to play E drums and plug directly into the PA system (no amps). Then they wonder why they're not selling drinks, no one is dancing, and everyone is just sitting in their chairs looking indifferent while staring blankly at the giant ESPN wall.

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