Musicians are notoriously protective of their instruments and rely on specially trained technicians to care for and maintain their gear. A drum tech, like a guitar technician, must be highly skilled and reliable to earn the trust of the musician and cultivate a lasting career in the live show production industry.
On a touring concert or theatrical production, the drum tech is solely responsible for drums and other percussion instruments and related accessories. He or she is tasked with loading in instruments before show and building the kit to the specifications of the musician; this includes miking the kit and tuning the instruments. Backstage, the drum technician installs and operates an electronics rig generally consisting of power conditioners, an audio interface, synthesizer modules, a sampling module, and a headphone amp. Audio software like AudioDesk, Propellerhead Reason, and other plug-ins are run through a CPU and/or laptop computer. This rig is rack-mounted in two or more road cases that live offstage with the drum tech’s workbox, which carries replacement instrument parts, tools, and expendables.
During sound check, the drum tech will work closely with the monitor engineer and front of house engineer to set appropriate levels for the kit and percussion instruments, and make any last adjustments to the rig as directed by the musician. Drums may need to be tuned or tweaked more than once before a show, as humidity can rob a kit of tension in just a few hours. In any downtime, the tech tends to repairs and regular maintenance, and may be placing calls to order parts while trolling the craft services table backstage. While in show, the drum tech’s attention stays constant on the electronics rig and musician on stage; if a drummer breaks a head or hardware jumps loose, the tech must be Johnny-on-the-spot to make the repair and get the show back on track. After the audience has left the building and the band returns to the tour bus, the drum tech packs up the gear and strikes the instruments.
Skills & Education
It is not necessary to be a classically trained musician, but the ability to play the drums is required. More than that, the drum tech must have an acute ear for tone and pitch, and be capable of quickly diagnosing the cause of a sour note. If you didn’t know that drums could be tuned, then perhaps you should start studying now. A college degree in music is beneficial, as are courses in live show production, electrical engineering, and computer science. The drum tech must be familiar with the qualities of various models of microphones, instrument hardware, and drum heads, as well as audio software and electronic accessories.
What to Expect
There are essentially two ways to cultivate a successful career in this field: One is to hook up with a fledgling group, usually friends or local musicians, and ride their wave of success from dive bars to stadiums (if they’re lucky enough for that to happen). The other popular path is to jump from band to band, climbing to increasingly higher status based on your positive reputation and the word-of-mouth of musicians and other crews. Rarely will you see a job ad for a drum tech on a touring concert; drum techs rely on personal referrals and networking to get a lead on a gig. Well-established bands often carry the same instrument technicians for several years, as they come to rely on and trust their work. It may be easier to find work initially on theatrical productions, which do list job vacancies in industry trade magazines and on websites. Experience in local theater companies can help you begin to build your reputation and circle of contacts. Further opportunities exist for an individual with experience as a drum technician at instrument manufacturers, in recording studios, and with orchestra companies.
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