Recently I did some dates opening for Def Leppard with my new band Trapper, and something struck me as I was busy with the daily equipment fun of unpacking, setup, play, and quickly getting gear off the stage and packing it up, often in less than ideal lighting. I’ve done this for many, many years, and every drummer has their take on this subject, certainly I’ve seen a few articles written about how to prepare for tours and shows. But I realized that this has all become so automatic, and I probably don’t think about this as much as I should, and it did take me some time to learn how. So here’s my take on this, and and opportunity for me to revisit all this for myself in the process.
Many of you may be in a similar situation as I was, you don’t have a drum tech, probably because there isn’t the budget, (and perhaps not enough seats in the van…) so all this prep and work falls on your shoulders on top of preparing yourself to perform with the band you’re playing with on stage. There is a tendency to simplify this: bring extra bass drum pedals, snare drum, and cymbal felts. But there’s far more to this in my view.
First, let’s start with the most important piece of gear. Yourself. For those of you under the age of 30, you’re not as invincible as you might think. Before a tour, make sure you’re physically and mentally ready for the rigours and challenges of touring, getting sleep, eat well, exercise, (stretching!) before heading out on the road is a really good idea if at all possible. This may seem silly, or even obvious, but I’ve failed on this one quite a few times and paid for it. It can go a long way to helping you acclimatize to less sleep, perhaps less than ideal food choices, and stress. If you’re older, this will make an even bigger difference. Which brings me to the next thing, mental preparation. Being super worked up about your playing and whether you’ll perform well doesn’t really help. Once you’ve rehearsed, done all the playing you’ve needed to prepare, forget about it. Clear your mind, and get ready to have fun. Sounds obvious? Sure. But it’s amazing how easy it is to forget this, and have seen others give themselves neck pain from the stress, not to mention being more susceptible to colds and flus. If you make sure you’re physically and mentally prepared for a tour, you’re in far better shape to deal with disasters should they occur. And they happen! It’s all in how well prepared you are, and how you deal with them.
Now for your actual gear. It goes without saying that if you’re aware of any weaknesses, don’t let them go. I can guarantee you, it will get you at some point when you least expect it. Check over your whole kit for any problems, and address them. There’s nothing like having a hi-hat stand pedal drop from the linkage snapping in the middle of a set, because you never checked and found that it was nearly ready to break.
Depending on the shows you play, you’ll need spares of a number of things. Bass drum pedals, snare drums, hi-hat clutches, are no brainers to have as extras. Don’t even think about not having a spare of these. I’ve also always put at least one spare head for the bass drum, snares (top/bottom). For my last tour I also packed a lighter version of a hi-hat stand and snare drum stand, a lighter duty version in excellent condition can really save your skin when you’re way out in “no-music-store-for-miles-ville”, believe me, and won’t take up much more space. (No, don’t pack that 40 year old hi-hat stand that barely works!)
The next thing, buy a small tool box, a reasonably small light weight nylon box is great, and go to a music store, and get anything you think you may need. I personally will store a few extra tension pins (it’s amazing how that bottom snare head pin falls out and you don’t notice it until the next show…) plenty of felts, more drum keys, extra snare bed/straps/wires, extra cymbal nuts, anything you can think of. You can’t be over-prepared, believe me, so stock up! And here’s another small tip that has saved me a few times. Get a few pipe clamps. You know, those small metal bands with the screw on it usually found in the plumbing section in any hardware store. One that you can put on a pipe (like, a snare drum stand section…), because if a tightening nut on a stand suddenly snaps at soundcheck, you can quickly use it in a pinch to securely set it. Then just use some duct tape to secure the section from spinning. So, make sure, you have duct tape too. (and guard that roll ferociously!)
Now you should be fairly well prepared for most calamities that can befall you on your kit!
Now here’s my final tips. When you’re breaking down your kit, quite often you may be in less than ideal lighting, and things may be quite chaotic. Even though you may be pressured to do it quickly in cases where you’re opening for someone, and we all know how getting your gear off the stage quickly is the golden rule (DON’T ever break this one…) remember to relax, and keep your wits about you. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen drummers leave things like cymbals and other pieces of their kit from all the confusion. There’s nothing like loading in to the next gig in another city, and discovering you have no cymbals! Have a system, number your cases, whatever works for you. And last, but certainly not least, one I feel strongly about when you are breaking down your kit, retighten your wing nuts (etc.) before you put them in your stand case. Many times I’ve had others ‘help’ break down my kit and though they mean well, (and I appreciate the help immensely!), I have lost important wingnuts off my stands because it was hanging by a thread when it was tossed into the case. You don’t need to retighten it all the way, but just spin them in a bunch of turns to make sure they won’t fall off. Trust me, that will help you!
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