Donny Gruendler – Exclusive InterviewMartin Osborne
Donny, welcome to OnlineDrummer.com and thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
You are quite welcome. I always enjoy speaking with you, Nate and everyone at onlinedrummer.com
So Donny, what have you been up to lately?
I am very fortunate to keep busy. I have been recording records for Rhett Frazier Inc and a new (still un-named) artist that will be released on Universal Music Group. As for the Rhett stuff, it will be out mid-year and I am very proud of it. I performed on it, co-wrote the songs and it was recorded in my studio as well.
As for education, I have been busy writing curriculum for Musicians Institutes Ensemble Programs, articles for Modern Drummer and a set of Play-along charts (and lessons) released on Hudson Digital (a division of Hudson Music). The Hudson thing is pretty interesting as it is Internet only downloads in the style of iTunes. The series is entitled Popular Playalongs: Radio Hits and each lesson is in the style of a popular band such as Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park, Justin Timberlake and No Doubt (to name a few). Each download comes with a PDF lesson that includes a chart and embedded video footage that discusses the appropriate drumset sound, articulations and various drumset techniques that need to be used. Lastly, there are three mp3s – a full mix with drums, minus drums with a click and minus drums no click.
You have a DVD out at the moment called Creating and Performing Drum Loops. It seems like you had a lot of fun making it. Tell us about it!
From a content perspective, I imagined myself 10+ years ago – when I was seeking out this information. What did I need? What did I want to find out? Then I made the DVD from this perspective.
With this in mind, it’s a DVD that walks the viewer through the entire process of track programming, equipment wiring, and modern pop performance to prepare them for any commercial gig. I use clear, step-by-step explanations (including performance lessons, demo software, and companion session files) and present the viewer with four songs each featuring a different programming method, equipment setup, and performance strategy. Therefore, creating and performing drum loops, click tracks, predetermined backing tracks, multi-channel backing tracks, manual loop triggering, and acoustic drum triggering are all presented in great detail. There is also live performance footage, featuring songs from Rhett Frazier Inc. The DVD-rom portion of the disc includes Ableton Live and BFD demo software so that the student/viewer can follow along with each and every lesson as well.
As for producing the DVD we filmed it all in my home studio. We had cranes and tons of cameras and I am alive to tell the tale! It was quite interesting (and stressful) as I produced the entire project myself from start to finish. I wrote the script, hired the film crew, selected the sound mixers and had it pressed into a finished product. I then licensed it to Carl Fischer for distribution. I learned quite a lot about that side of things and I ended up really enjoying that side of the creative fence. I hope to create more products in the future….
I have to admit that I found watching the DVD really inspiring and very educational. The delivery of the information was of a rate that allowed me to digest what you were explaining. So for the layman, what actually is a drum loop and how does it aid today’s drummers?
Thanks for the compliment. I really was striving for a straight forward and easy to understand lesson plan – so the viewer could learn something from the DVD. I think that when you purchase an educational product, you should be able to take away something of value from it. Whether it’s learning a new technique, or learning an entirely new subject. It should be clear, well laid out and concise.
Drum loops themselves are repetitive patterns. The term loop comes from the old style way of recording to tape. If an artist wanted a repetitive drum groove back in the day– they would cut the tape and make a circular loop out of it. As it played back on the tape machine– it “looped” over and over again. Now that we record into computers the term is used for a repetitive 1, 2, or 4 bar pattern that does not have any variation. This style or recording technique has been featured on countless radio tunes over the last 10-15 years.
With this in mind, I think loops help drummers to play more consistently and put the song (and groove) first by helping to analyze groove, momentum, sound, texture and feel. Loops have a particular feel (straight or swung), beat placement (ahead, middle or behind the beat), a certain momentum and a signature sound. Thus, we have to take those attributes into account when performing alongside a loop. If we ignore them – we as drummers will not sound musical. Therefore, loops do not only help our technique of playing; but they aid us intellectually with note choice and proper listening skills as well.
Can any drummer work well with a drum loop?
Yes they can. My goal has been to get drummers to stop resisting technology and embrace it. Loops and programmed tracks are all over the airwaves. Many student drummers need to realize that music on the radio is vital and as aspiring working musicians, it deserves our attention. Today (and tomorrow’s) job requirements are present in today’s Rock, Pop, R&B and Hip Hop radio hits. Therefore, grooving consistently with these loops (and genres) should be mastered. These new-found skill sets will not only expand your groove, broaden your feel and widen your sense of time, but they will also increase your odds of getting work as you develop from student into a seasoned pro. In addition, heaps of current radio hits will be tomorrow’s standards and fair game on your future gigs!
In the DVD you explain the importance of the Fundamental Four in such a way that even my 3 year old Nephew Jack would understand. Do you use these same techniques whilst teaching at the Musicians Institute or do you adopt a different approach away from the camera?
Again, I try to always have a clear and concise message. Using overly flowery prose, or rambling on about something for far too long can cloud up the “message” and created a confusing lesson. As an instructor, you need to use information and real-world examples together in a step-by-step fashion – in order to form a well-rounded and educational lesson. So in saying that, I used the same exact approach on the DVD as I do at MI. In fact, I imagined many of my students in the room – as I filmed the dvd! (It was quite difficult to give the lessons to just Joe the camera-man!)
I know it’s explained heavily in the DVD but what does the average drummer need to make their own drum loops?
It is quite simple actually. I would suggest using your computer that you are using to read this interview and go to ableton.com. Download the free demo of Ableton Live and use the included tutorial lessons. You will soon see how fun and simple it is to make your own beats, loops and songs. You cannot save from the demo version; but it will get you started.
If (after trying those steps) you really enjoy making loops and beats – I would suggest purchasing and then following along with my DVD. It will help you to lay out a programming and drumset performance strategy. If after this step you still really enjoy it – then you can go out and buy a dedicated music computer and all the gear goodies!
I love the way you manually trigger the loops, how expensive are the extra pedals and pads in addition to the cost of a drum kit? Also, are they easy to purchase?
As with drum sets, the prices range quite dramatically based on the build quality and features of the units. My favorite trigger pads and pedals are the Drumkat series of controllers, which are available at alternatemode.com. They are more expensive than other manufacturers; but everything is upgradeable on the unit. Thus, if a pad, input jack or cable breaks – you can replace it. You can also upgrade the system software and processors as newer versions get released. Therefore, it is really hard to make the Drumkat obsolete. I have had both of my Kats for 10 years. I have replaced the pads and upgraded the software/processor chip twice! Furthermore, they also hold a high resale value. So if you find electronics are not for you – Kats always sell high on ebay!
Roland and Alesis make more affordable units as well. So in the end – I suggest that you investigate all your options.
In a live situation, do drum loops aid the drummer or take something away from the playing? Do you use drum loops live or only in the studio?
I use loops both live and in the studio. I love that they can bring a funkiness both feel wise and sonically to a composition. However, and like all technology — it can be used for good or evil! Loops can help a song and drummer – or if over used they can also inhibit a song as well. It really depends on the situation.
Acoustic drum triggering to me, before watching your DVD, appeared to be a cop out for making a bad drum kit sound better, but you explain the reasons behind it very well, without giving the game away, how would you defend acoustic drum triggering to the skeptics?
All popular songs have a signature hook, lyric and melody. Many have a signature guitar sound too. In addition, some songs today even have a signature/unique Kick and snare sounds as well. For these songs, it is imperative to replicate these in a live setting. Could you imagine playing when the levee breaks without reverb on the kick and snare? How about 50 ways to leave your lover without deep and dead toms? Well with triggering you can augment your kit with these sonic signatures without compromising your traditional kit sound too. Ultimately (and if done correctly), the triggered samples can be blended together tastefully with the acoustic drums — and the audience will not even notice.
You also have a book out at the moment called Playing With Drum Loops. Was the book easier to write than the DVD?
They both had their difficulties. The book was easier in the sense that I was not on camera and I could choose my words extremely carefully without a fear of fumbling. However and with that being said – it can be more difficult to write a detailed thought in paragraph form (rather than just speaking it.) This is especially true when trying to detail a particular concept and practice method – for which you will never be in the room with the reader to explain (or clarify) further… For example, I have this concept that I call drop outs. They emulate DJ culture and stutters from a turntable on the kit. In 5-6 pages, I needed to detail the concept, background, lesson, notation and practice strategy so that a 15 year old and 65 year old can both understand it fully. That is a challenging job.
I learned much of this from a wonderful man named Sandy Feldstein. He was a great man, mentor, author, editor and most importantly my friend. I always say that I got my doctorate degree from Sandy because I learned so much about writing, editing and detailing my thoughts from him. He was a perfectionist about editing you and teaching you to do it yourself the next time – so you could become self-sufficient and he had to edit you less! I will be forever indebted to him for those lessons. I would have loved to work on the DVD with him. I miss him.
Now some very straight forward quick questions…..
1. What is the most played album on your iPod?
That’s actually really tough! For this particular week it is Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. Last week it was Al Green’s Greatest hits….Add Zeppelin, DJ Shadow, N*E*R*D, John Coltrane and Miles Davis – and you will get some insight into my listening habits.
2. What is your proudest achievement in music?
When I recorded with Rick Holmstrom and John Medeski on Hydraulic Groove. Both Rick and John were heroes of mine. I listened to Rick on his solo records for years – which taught me a lot about groove and shuffles. Now, John with Scofield and MMW — C’mon that’s funky.. What drummer would not dig that session and gigs?
3. Who would you most like to have a one on one drum-off with?
I would like to meet and groove with Steve Jordan. When I was at Berklee everyone was into the fusion of the day; but my guy was Steve Jordan. Tone, taste groove…He is a study in tasteful musicality. If my wish were granted, I would watch him and ask him a ton of questions. Then I would beg him to go to lunch with me so I could ask him more questions!
4. Which other drummers do you chill out with?
In LA, we have a little drum (and football watching) club headed up by John Good of DW. We call it the church of Monday Night Football. Any given Monday we all hang – Billy Ward (when in town), Tris Imboden, myself, Jake Jacobs, Denny Saraphine, the list is really too long to accurately describe it.. My other hanging drum buddies are Chuck Silverman and Fred Dinkins from MI. Really talented guys and great people…
Although, these days I like to hang with recording engineers to pick their brains on recording and mic’ing techniques.
5. You and your wife are having a dinner party at your house, and you can invite two more people, alive or dead, who would they be?
Well, I have two answers for you. You see, both my parents have passed on — and my Father never met my wife. Both my parents were also incredibly supportive of my life choices and music career. They are the reason that I am so well adjusted today. So I would love to have the four of us in a room together. That would be amazing.
As for music, I would love to spend an evening with John Bonham and John Coltrane. I would ask Bonham about drum stuff and Coltrane about how (and why) he created a Love Supreme.
6. Have you ever had a fan at a gig ask a strange request from you?
Not yet! Maybe after this interview?
7. What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
I grab a coffee cup, fill it and then check email. Once that is done – I head to the studio to practice. Then a shower. Soon thereafter, the next event is either teaching at MI – or working with an artist somewhere in town (or hopefully home in the studio – so I don’t have to drive…!)
8. What type of car do you drive?
Well I grew up in Detroit Michigan and my whole family worked for Ford. So even though I am in LA – I drive domestic. Hence my 2006 Ford Escape.
9. When not drumming, what else do you get up to?
I enjoy learning about recording techniques and reading biographies of interesting people – both music and otherwise. On the home front, I like to find fix-it projects to do around my house. Sprinkle in a fair amount of computer geek-ness too.
10. What would you best like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as a thoughtful person, good husband, accomplished musician and teacher. I really think that they all fit together to form me as a person. I also do not think I can separate one from the other. I would be really bummed to only play drums, or just teach –no matter how successful. They are incomplete without my family and friends.
Donny, many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Have you any final words of wisdom to say to the onlinedrummer community?
I would just like to remind all my fellow drummers that the fun of becoming a great drummer is through navigating the journey of learning, studying, and practicing. If you enjoy doing them each day – that is what will make you a better drummer. Hopefully, through that dedication of bettering oneself – it will also help to make your life more full and well-rounded too.
If anyone would like to reach me – please do so through the contact page of my website too.
Review of Donny Gruendler – Creating and Performing Drum Loops
I have been fortunate enough to watch and digest some very resourceful drum education DVD’s in the past and Donny Gruendler’s Creating and Performing Drum Loops is just one of those DVD’s. Donny puts his experience and tuition through the paces with this DVD and explains all there is to know about Drum loops for the average drummer. Before I watched the DVD I couldn’t comprehend why a drummer would want to use drum loops but hit the play button with an open mind. On appearance, the DVD was well thought out, well presented.
Donny’s explanation of drum loops and how they benefit a drummer were explained at a pace that aided any drummer of any abilities. I have to admit that I was constantly thinking that my perception of drum loops wasn’t too admirable and that I had written them off as a fad but Donny didn’t have to justify anything and didn’t. His DVD takes you through the process of creating drum loops, playing along with them, triggering them off and actually recording them and explaining the software behind drum loop creation.
This DVD is a must for the uneducated who want to learn drum loops. If you are not a fan of drum loops or are totally unsure how drum loops work in today’s percussion and drumming circles, then this DVD must be part of your collection.
Donny’s charismatic and tutorial advice make this DVD very enjoyable to watch and at the end of it I felt that the mist surrounding drum loops had been blown away.
– Martin Osborne on behalf of OnlineDrummer.com