Songs on drums, not drums on songs!

(Originally posted on Worship Music Gear)

The Most Important Thing…

Shun Lee Fong is a friend doing a great work in LA with the film/creative industry.  I wrote this article for his website several years ago… “What’s the one thing artists need to know?” he asks. Wow, Shun Lee. No pressure, right? In my case, it is actually pretty easy to not only narrow down to a single concept, but also to remember when and where I came to be aware of it.

I have played the drums for over 30 years, professionally for about 15 of those. I left college where I was a Music Performance major to take my first full time gig with a worship leader who was a staff writer for Integrity Music at the time. I came out of college having spent 4 years learning about the possibilities of my instrument and working hard to eliminate any technical obstacles that might hinder my relationship to any of those possibilities.

That first gig was working for a songwriter who traveled the world and gave me a fair amount of responsibility. Great? Not so much. He was interested in songs; I was playing drums. About 6 months in, he gave me 2 choices- play his songs, or continue simply playing drums. One would keep me hired, the other would not. That was the very first time I was ever really confronted with what I was “doing to” the music I was involved in. I can honestly say that conversation changed my focus and started me down a path of re-prioritizing, re-thinking and to some degree, re-learning my instrument and its role.

Today, my favorite drum related quote is this: “Songs on drums, not drums on songs.” I spent most of my formative years as a drummer much more interested in what the subject (song) would allow from me on the kit when I should have been learning to discern what the subject needed from me in order to really communicate what it needed to. Songs are more important than my involvement with them!

I am NOT saying that technique doesn’t matter, but without a selfless, musical approach to that technique, I am just playing notes, not music. You are just painting strokes that don’t add up to a painting, writing words that don’t communicate a story, framing a shot that doesn’t result in a beautiful scene. Technique allows us to wisely steward our gifts and opportunities and is the vehicle that enables our subjects to come to life, but it can also be the obstacle which never allows our subjects to be seen, heard or read for all their worth.

Go work on your brush strokes. Learn to frame shots better- or to light those shots well. Perfect the way your body moves. Arrange words well. By all means, please drum well. Then, fall in love with what all of this can communicate beyond the stuff itself! “Songs on drums, not drums on songs.” God Bless.

Matt Tobias. Empty House Studio

MatthewMatt Tobias has over 35 years of drumming experience.  He has traveled nationally/internationally with numerous artists and played on hundreds of projects. In Omaha, NE, Matthew was the owner of empty house studio, taught in the Music Departments of two colleges and gave over 100 drum students private drum lessons during the past 16 years. Matthew has a passion for songs and the role the drums play in helping them achieve their fullest intended impact.

With 30 years experience playing on church worship teams, Matthew travels to churches to conduct workshops with their music teams and drummers. Matthew currently lives in Albuquerque, NM with his wife and their three children where he continues to do session work. He has a passion for Christians living lives aware of the grand scope of the Christian mission, and particularly for artists to realize their place in the restoration of the whole of Creation.