Q: How do you tune your drums?
A: Until the thing’s about ready to pop. Because I discovered two things – first, the response is much better. And also, when you have the drums tuned to a high pitch, there’s still in that sound a lot of low end. Your ear responds to the high end, but the low end is still in there, and since it still exists, through equalisation of the PA you can can roll off a lot of the high end and roll on a lot of bass, and you can get that thick boom, but still have that attack, that cut.
You know, the classic scene of the soundcheck where you get the drummer checking each drum separately, with nothing else playing – Booom! Booom! Booom! – sounds great, and then as soon as the rest of the band kicks in, you can”t hear them. But tune them high, and they’ll cut through anything.
I guess it’s the same for the whole band: nothing happens unless it gets through the PA. The classic scenario is that while you’re playing the gig you have no idea if the PA mixer is doing his job or not, you only find out when your friends come backstage, you don’t know at the time. The monitor guy better have his shit together, because you sure as hell know how well he’s doing his job.
I tried using in-ear on tour and I hated it, would never do it again. Everything sounds small and undramatic and I like to feel it. I actually just use stage monitors and wear earplugs that just reduce all the volumes of all the frequencies down, but I can still feel it. The in-ear monitors, well, you”re right there, it’s clear but you just don”t have the feeling of magnificence, it doesn’t have the power.
Of course, you have to be careful. I’ve got slight hearing loss, I’ve got a notch at around 4KHz, probably right about where my snare drum is. Of course, my snare drum is tightened so tight, it’s tuned to bring a bird down from the sky. I always dread every soundcheck, the moment when I get up on the drum riser and…CRACK! Owwww! and eventually the mucous on the hair follicles on the audio membrane in my ears begins to freeze up. So now I wear these very fancy ear plugs. They’re custom-moulded to my ear canals and give an even attenuation of all the frequencies so I still hear everything, just not as loud.
In fact, sometimes I’ll come off stage at a gig and pull my earplugs out, the audience are still making a noise “OK, let”s give them one more” and I’ll forget to put them back in and count it off, one, two, three, four, CRACK! OWWWWW! And there’s blood gushing from my ear. But I”m very fortunate. Andy Summers has tinnitus, Jeff Beck has it, Pete Townsend has it, it really is a problem. Fortunately I don’t have it: I got away with it. Andy didn’t. But then his ****ing amplifiers were so loud…
Brief online video selection
Stewart Copeland at Modrn Drummer Festival (2006)
Stewart Copeland Drumming Close Up Live (The Police)
Stewart Copeland | Octobans