Behind the Drum Kit Blog #1

Playing for your fans

Often when I play live drum set with a band and need more inspiration,I try to imagine a famous drummer or musician I admire is out there in the crowd listening.

It’s a simple mind trick. It refocuses me on my core mission to perform at a high level. I play fewer notes and fills that way, too. I try hard not to overplay and really pursue locking in tempo/timing first and foremost. No errors.

But when you really think about it, we all mess up and we’re never going to perform at a gig where Steve Gadd or Stevie Wonder are present, either. We’re performing for our fans, whether there is 50 or 5,000 people in attendance. I’ve had the honor to perform music live – my life’s passion – in front of both crowd sizes. There’s no difference in my mind.

“If they aren’t dancing, you’re not really drumming.” That’s my mantra. Like no other instrumentalist on the planet, drummers are charged with the crucial task of providing good groove for both your band AND for all the fans in attendance. That starts with solid preparation and practice and extends right through the entire gig.

So how can we inspire or excite fans who need some prodding? How do you attract large groups of listeners to get involved in the music you’re performing?

Beyond the expected standard that your drumming is prime time ready, there are a few proven strategies I’ve been fortunate and blessed enough to develop and share over the past few decades. Here’s my top 5 tips:

1 – Follow their moves: I routinely “tweak” my live tempos to match the perceived timing of fans’ foot stomps, nodding heads, hand claps and even buffet table fork drumming prowess. We find a happy medium together. This is my number one tool. I constantly scan the audience and adapt to their collective groove.

2 – Make your snare crack: If there is one drum that should be hit with more intensity, this is it. All your fans are essentially trained by the various mix engineering approaches of today to accentuate the snare. Given most songs fall on two and four for snare hits, it is silly not to give your fans what they are accustomed to hearing. Crack it.

3 – Check dynamics at the door: Band stage levels and overall sound affects everything heard by fans. If you can’t hear other musicians playing around you, you’re too loud. Period. Time to adjust. The other motivation to consider is fans definitely want to talk about and sing your tunes to each other while dancing and clapping. Give them that opportunity because we all know good band dynamics all begins and ends with the drummer.

4 – Know the song sections; Leading your band into that next song section or phrase with a fill or cue is equally as important to your fans. They listen for song changes, too, as that does impact how they dance, clap and fork drum on the buffet table. If they seem confused on the dance floor, try re-directing them with a simple fill.

5 – Make eye contact: If you’re looking down at the drum kit or up at the open sky, you are totally disconnected from the reality of your fans. They will tell you what they enjoy and don’t with their eyes. Look at them.

  • Tim Kane is a full-time music educator, drum set and trombone musician, and world beat percussionist living with his wife and two sons in Massachusetts. Learn more at