BY AJ DONAHUE
Not long ago, we ran a quick interview with Dan Bailey, the California-based studio and touring drummer best known for playing with Father John Misty. We touched on gear, sound choices, and preparation for both recording and touring in a brief discussion packed with valuable information.
Bailey has a lot of strong, heavily considered opinions about gear and tracking, and a seemingly endless well of insight into the hows and whys of curating sound. So, it came as no surprise when he announced the production and release of his first video masterclass, The Bailey Method (officially available as of today), which addresses those very subjects.
In Bailey’s two-hour program, he covers individual tuning and setup for two toms, a bass drum, and snare drums in real time, which not only makes the process incredibly easy to follow, but also allows him room to drop in little anecdotes or bits of wisdom.
He also dives into a couple of mic setups, and then shows us his process for tracking three different songs with very distinct feels: one with vintage drums, another with modern drums, and a third with a slim, four-mic setup.
Throughout the class, Bailey is candid, unscripted, and conversational. It’s a truly refreshing take on the instructional video format that makes the viewer feel like they’re just navigating a regular workday with a true professional.
After watching the class, I reached out to Bailey for a little feedback on what went into producing The Bailey Method, and why he opted for such an uncommon approach.
What made you want to put this project together?
I’ve been doing these Instagram Q&A’s since they put that feature on the app, and people seemed to keep having the same 8-10 questions: How do I get drum sounds?; What’s my process for setting up a kit?; Do I think different about drum sounds live or in the studio? It kind of told me there wasn’t a really good source of information about how a working pro gets drum sounds.
Why did you choose to focus on tuning, gear, and mic placement specifically?
I wanted to make something with a focus on the things a drummer can control when they show up to a session or a gig. There’s a lot of great engineering info for live and studio sound engineers, but basically nothing talking about how your drums should sound when you show up to work. Honestly, the gear rundown and mic placement sections are really only there to give context for what the drums sound like. Getting the drums to sound right is the point, the studio gear is just there to show you how my tuning process sounds in a working environment.
The spoken sections are very loose and seem extemporaneous. Did you prepare any kind of script, or were you only focused on addressing key points in an organic way?
I had a pretty good idea of the topics I wanted to hit, but it was just kind of off the top of my head. Every educational product I spent time with growing up was the most sterile and fake-sounding thing. Reading a script and making it feel personal is basically impossible. I wanted to just share some real-world experiences, and kind of speak from the heart more than anything. If I’m not giving people something real, then why am I even doing this?
If I had to summarize your themes for the program, it seems like: Here’s a simple way to start getting good sounds. Don’t get too lost chasing perfection, and trust your ears. Is that accurate? If so, why do you think that approach is valuable today?
Yeah, thats pretty close. I think a lot of younger drummers try to get things sounding like what they think a finished studio product sounds like when they’re in their room practicing. That leads you to over-deadening your drums. It’s important to know what a microphone hears, because it’s different from our ears.
It seems like you put this project together incredibly fast. Do you feel like you missed anything?
If anything I think we stumbled on some more things as we were doing it. The “recording philosophy” section wasn’t originally slated, but it felt like it gave the project some weight. Having your mind right when you’re creating is as important if not more important than the playing itself.
As far as the creation of it, my buddy Jon Ramirez, who shot and edited it, and I have been talking through the concept since I was on the road in the middle of 2018. Because of how we shot it—lots of long takes without edits—it came together fast. We shot it over the course of a week, spread out over November 2018 to January 2019. I definitely wanted it to be informal, and that production style lent itself to that.
Any plans for a second volume? If so, what you like to cover?
I don’t have much of a rough sketch for V2 yet, but given people’s interest in this so far I imagine I’ll be making a follow up that goes a little deeper into getting more specific drum sounds. With V1, I really wanted to start with some middle of the road, everyday drum sounds that can work on most any project. The only difference in the drum sounds between the tracks I play on is drum selection and adjustments in my playing. You should always be able to make changes at the drums, rather than trying to engineer them differently—to me, at least.
Ongoing streaming access to The Bailey Method is available now at drichardbailey.com for $150.