Drum Teching at Summerfest

The ins and outs of working as a drum tech at Summerfest.


The temperature outside is rising, and Summerfest has arrived. It finally feels like summer!

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I'm a percussion instructor here in the Falls and have been teaching for over 30 years. Throughout this time, I've experienced how quirky the music business can be. You never know where its many paths will lead you.

Paul Newlin is another former student of mine who plays drums professionally. He's in a group called "The Heroes Lie." They're playing at Summerfest on Friday, July 8, as an opening act for a band called "Sevendust." The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and will be on the Rock Stage.

Remember that "quirkiness" I mentioned earlier regarding the music business? I'm not playing at Summerfest this year, and haven't in the past. But I do have a "gig" there this year. Not playing in a band, but as Paul Newlin's drum tech!

Paul sent me a message just a few days ago, apologizing for the short notice, but mentioning he needed an experienced drummer to help him out at The Heroes Lie Summerfest gig. Now, I haven't played at Summerfest, but have played hundreds of gigs elsewhere. I thought, Let's get this kid off on the right foot at this very "big for him" gig. "Sure Paul, let's do this!"

As Paul's drum tech I'm charged with ensuring that, in regard to his drum equipment, everything comes together for him without a hitch. For example, the drum set will be "close mic'd", so the drums need to be tuned properly, as anything improper in the sound will be magnified tenfold through the sound system.

Because Paul wanted a complete set of new heads on his drums for this gig, this can take a couple hours, as tension throughout the entire drum must be equalized so the drum will be in tune with itself. Bass drum and hi-hat pedals must be checked and rechecked. I know I wouldn't want to finish one of my gigs without being able to use the bass drum pedal.

Small things, like cymbal tilter wing nuts, must be checked for tightness. I've had one of my cymbals suddenly tilt downward on it's own in the middle of a song before, rendering not only the cymbal, but the drum that it was now resting on, useless. Try playing a piano concerto and suddenly having 10 keys disappear. You get it. On the less glorious side, this job also requires me to haul and help set up the equipment. Hey. One's got to suffer a bit for their art, right?

Once the equipment is in order and set up, I will need to help ensure the drum set will be heard properly through Summerfest's PA system. I'll work with the sound professional provided to ensure that each mic is working and placed correctly. I'll be up on the stage, hitting each drum and cymbal, while he or she is in front of the stage, within the audience seating section, adjusting the mixer and ensuring all mics are on and producing a proper sound through the house system. This is called a "line check." Usually, when a band is playing within a "line up" (one band after another), the line check will need to be finished in just minutes. In this sort of compressed time line, cooperation from all is very important. It's best to be cool and calm during this process.

While this is all going on, the band itself will usually be going through final details regarding the show. This could be anything from warming up to ensuring all band members have their set list together with personalized cues written in the margins (like, remembering to thank the folks who sponsor the stage you are playing on). Guitar tunings need to be checked. The band may even go over some details with the sound professional who is mixing the band. Some band members may even take this opportunity to get to know some fans in the audience.

As always happens, the show's starting time seems to come up quickly. At this point, I'll ask Paul if he needs anything at all. Water? Are extra drum sticks  available? How are the nerves? Breath deeply! Rock on, Bro!

Once the show starts, I'll absolutely enjoy the music. Paul's an excellent drummer, and the band puts on a great show. But, I'll also be ready if Paul needs a hand with anything. Occasionally, drum heads have broken during a gig. Good thing I'll have brought an extra snare for him to quickly switch out. Point is, probably nothing will go wrong. But, I'm sure you're familiar with Murphy's Laws.

Once this sure-to-be awesome show ends, it's back to reality. The band needs to get out of the way, and fast, for the next group, "Niki Barr." The headlining group, Sevendust, takes the stage at 10 pm. For those keeping track, Morgan Rose is their drummer. They are a major touring group signed by 7 Bros / Asylum Records. To accommodate the other performers, I'll need to move the pieces of the kit, while still set up, to the back of the stage, and disassemble it there. I'll pack it up, place the drums in their cases, and load it up in to the van. For good measure, I'll probably help load other musicians' equipment as well. Teamwork, right?

Because I'm taking care of this tedious task, the band can now focus on a very important aspect of the music business: building a following by talking withtheir fans. This will usually happen at the merchandise table that is set up near the stage they've just performed on. Hopefully, at the "merch" table, the artists can also sell some CDs, T-shirts, posters, stickers or other items that will help support the band's endeavors. Recording can be very expensive. Not to mention travel, lodging and food costs.

I'll sure have my work cut out for me this Friday, but it will be well worth the time and effort. I'm so privileged to have this kind of relationship with many of my former students. I'll be viewing Paul's success firsthand! He's worked hard at his craft and deserves this.

I hope to see some of you there at the show this Friday. The Heroes Lie is a talented group, and I promise, it'll be a great time.

Thanks for the opportunity, Paul!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sue Newlin July 07, 2011 at 02:22 AM
Thanks, Jim. Thanks for encouraging him and being such a wonderful teacher. All this would not be possible without first some great teaching experience. I am forever grateful for all that you have done. Sue
Jim Kube July 07, 2011 at 03:34 AM
Rob: Thanks for the comments. I'll be sure to write a follow up piece. Jim
Jim Kube July 07, 2011 at 03:40 AM
Sue: Thanks so much for your kind comments. You are so welcome! Paul is such an awesome person. As you are, I'm proud of him as well! This was such a fun and easy story to write. My hopes are with Paul that he has a great gig Friday night. He should - he's worked hard enough :) Jim
Awake! July 11, 2011 at 01:50 PM
Jim...I think they should put your articles on the front page as the headliner story and the poitical drivel to an "also mentioned" place on some hyperlink hidden in the corner somewhere. I have much more fun reading your articles and actually walk away feeling better afterward. What a great experience it must be to have been called on to be the drum tech for Paul! I'm sure it was alot of work, but the reward must have definately outweighed the tasks. Way to go on your successes Paul, hope you made a bunch more fans knowing that your equipment was in good hands with my bro (i know how meticulous he is with his own equipment). Jim...Another home run with another great article. I can see and feel everything you experience through your writng...Great job!!!!
Jim Kube July 11, 2011 at 02:52 PM
Dave: Thanks for reading my post, and for all the wonderful comments! Paul did a fabulous job playing at Summerfest, as did the rest of The Heroes Lie. Thanks for sending him some encouragement! Jim


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