BY AMY JAYNE
It’s a familiar scene for drummers: walking into a venue carrying just the essentials, craning your neck to check out what type of backline kit you’ll be playing on. We do our best to ride the uncomfortable wave of playing an instrument that, at best, might blow our own set out of the water, and at worst, well, might just completely fall apart. Playing on backline kits can be feel like being in a live music horror flick—and it’s up to us to make sure the band makes it out alive.
Overcoming these obstacles builds character, whether you’re having to use material from bits of a car seat to create a dampener for the bass drum, or you’re using one of your friends as a cymbal stand because the venue told you to “only bring breakables”—which, to them, included stands. Here are five terrifying-but-true backline drum set horror stories you may be familiar with, and how to manage similar problems when “the show must go on.”
1. Child’s Play
Not everyone is the same size, and the same goes for instruments. Drums are a physically demanding instrument and drumming involves a lot of movement. The pieces of a drum set need to be in the right place in order for us to play all parts of it with the speed and dynamics that the music needs. If you’re in a situation where the kit doesn’t quite fit your frame, take the time to adjust everything to make it at least playable for the gig (another reason to always have a drum key with you at all times!). You might need to think outside the box and consider unconventional setups. You also might need to sacrifice some tone for playability, and rethink some of your song parts if the kit is missing some of your usual components. But sometimes there’s not much you can do, and you’ve got to just roll with it and make it work. For example, I played played a show once where the promotor had managed to source me a drum set; the bad news was that it was a child’s drum set. In the end, I played it, because it was the only kit there. I must have looked like a huge bear with doll cutlery murdering that tiny drum set.
2. Frankenstein’s Monster
Sometimes you’re faced with a situation where one look and you just know the neglected, beat-up old house kit won’t last through one set of your powerful playing. Maybe sound check became a game of chase-the-bass drum because the legs had perished, and the hole that houses the bracket that the toms attach to had for some reason been filled. If you find yourself in this situation, as I did, you may need to awakening your creative side. After assurance from the promoter that the kit was now condemned, I figured I could do what I wanted to it. So, I found a thick piece of wood, super glued it to the bass drum, then hammered a metal rod with a bracket into the wood. Using a length of bunting, I was able to tie the toms onto the metal rod with a little super glue to hold them in place. Most venues will have a shed or storage room, and it’s amazing what you can find in there. This was a pretty extreme makeover, but you never know what can come to life with a touch of madness!
3. Jekyll & Hyde
Another perilous situation you may find yourself in won’t necessarily be caused by the drums themselves, but more so by the owners. One memory that chills me to the bone involves precisely this. After agreeing that the bands on the bill could share the drums, the backline kit’s owner started withdrawing bits of his drum kit as the show (and the drinks) went on. By the time I got on the stage I had a bass drum, a hi-hat stand, and a snare stand. Luckily, the venue had some broken cymbal stands I could borrow. I couldn’t play my dramatic rolls around the toms because there weren’t any. In these situations you have to get creative with your playing. It will undoubtedly change the feel of your set/music but sometimes, this can spark other ideas and tactics of playing. Practicing occasionally on a minimal kit can really help with these situations as it’ll get you prepared, and preparation is everything when faced with the unknown.
4. The Legend of Bigfoot
When the bass drumhead is broken due to a drummer’s big foot, unless there’s a spare you’re out of luck—show’s over, right? Maybe not. When a situation like this happened to me, the drummer who had this unfortunate accident got to work immediately and showed me how to bandage up a bass drum ASAFP using cardboard and duct tape. He placed one piece of thick cardboard inside the drum over the hole and carefully attached large strips of duct tape over it, followed by another piece over the hole outside of the drum. He used duct tape over this piece but to avoid an uneven sound he used four long, even strips and criss-crossed them across the head (in all honesty this will weaken the sound but it will definitely get you through). He was like some kind of drummer field medic, and finished the job in three minutes. His tip was, “Thin strips of wood are better, but thick cardboard is okay.” It turns out he had already used all of his thin strips of wood on the other five bass drums he’d damaged during their tour.