The Percussionist and the DJ
True and funny story: I started a house gig for awhile at a chic restaurant where I played percussion with a DJ. It was a really fun gig for me. The restaurant made up some flyers advertising drink and food specials, and that there’d be a DJ accompanied by live percussion. Right before my first gig I was in the restroom and two drunk rednecks came in there as well (yes this is kind of like the beginning of a joke). One of the Drunk Rednecks began to read aloud what was written on the flyer while doing his business. “A DJ and live percussion…dramatic pause…Wow! Two things I don’t really need to hear!” Now some might be offended at this but for some reason it made me laugh to myself. After all, you can’t really take yourself too seriously!!!
There’s really no point to that story other than I think it was pretty funny and generally drunk rednecks never fail to show their ignorance. They never seem to disappoint in providing some comic relief. Haha!
I wanted to continue on the topic of my last post (yesterday) where I was explaining my DrumJockeys project as well as my affinity for electronic music. I’ve always had a lot of fun playing along with a DJ…I jokingly refer to it as “Percussion Karaoke!” For the particular gig that I mentioned earlier in the post, I was playing everything from traditional Salsa and Samba to House and Lounge and even some Pop music. The cool thing that really made it spontaneous was that there was absolutely no preparation. I had to rely on my musical senses and of course my ears. Basically the formula was; let the song begin for a couple of bars and jump in!
I’ve noticed over the past few years, and especially recently, that it has become more popular for a DJ/Percussionist act to be seen somewhere; especially in Vegas. I think the cool thing is that the percussionist adds a bit of a visual element to the music, along with some “live” ambiance which can help to make the music come alive a bit more. Some guys get really into the show aspect of it, bringing everything but the kitchen sink onto the stage and moving around as much as possible. Some also turn it into more of a “show” by working out parts and particular songs before hand to ensure more of a “polished” performance.
One question that I’ve been asked quite a few times is “How do I know what to play? Well, there are many ways to answer this question. First, I follow my own rule, which is to listen to a lot of music and at least be familiar with what I’m doing. I certainly have not known every tune that I’ve played, but I’m familiar with the particular style of music and what generally will sound good. For instance, if you’ve done any listening to House music, you’ll know that there’s always ‘four on the floor’ with the bass drum, and often times the bass guitar/keyboard bass is on the upbeats. Generally, the percussion (most House music has heavy percussion samples, usually with a lot of reverb on them) is varied but is always a pattern that repeats quite frequently. This brings me to my second “rule” of knowing how to play with a DJ. Be patient!!! To mimic or fit into the style of electronic music, one must be happy to play a particular pattern and stay on it for awhile. This might be part of why I love playing this music so much. It’s a good exercise in patience and endurance. Most guys’ propensity will be to jump back and forth between instruments, almost like Animal from the Muppets back there! This is not what you want to do. Save your energy – most of the music you’ll be playing is 120 bpms and up…times that by a four hour gig and this can turn into a sweat-fest! Finally, another way to look at the question of “what to play” is that there really are no rules. Quite simply, if it sounds good, do it! Even if you’re playing Salsa music. It’s just you and a DJ; you can’t cover clave, bongos, cowbell, congas, timbales, maracas, and whatever else! Just pick an instrument and play. If it’s more of a salsa feel with maybe a lounge groove or house beat under it, then absolutely anything goes. The cool thing about some contemporary stuff that the DJs are doing is that they are really adding in a lot of Brazilian and world music samples, which makes it even more interesting for the percussionist.
In conclusion, here are some other of my thoughts/observations about playing with a DJ. The main thing that you really have to get together is your time! Let me re-state that: get your time together!!! If you can’t play along in time with the music that’s coming up, it will be a long night. There’s only one remedy: the “old fashioned” get the iPod out-play along with lots of music type of practicing. Also learn how to mix your monitors or ear buds correctly. Get rid of the “more me” button! If you can’t hear the music over your timbales, congas, or whatever else you’re playing, then there’s no way you can play in time. Most of all, have fun with it! Getting this type of gig will be a very high-energy experience and leaves a whole lot of room open for creativity. Use the opportunity to open your mind to some new music, new experiences, and some different ways to approach your instruments in a very non-traditional way! Is there anybody out there with some other savvy advice on this subject?