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The Mission Statement
The pitch for Drumming Upstream, refined
Given the recent influx of new readers and the introduction of Substack’s Notes, I’ve written a new version of the Drumming Upstream mission statement that I hope will explain what I’m doing, why you should care, and how you can help if you feel so inclined.
Who am I?
My name’s Ian. I’m a drummer and a writer. I’ve played drums for 20 years total, and 10 years professionally. I’ve toured the United States with a number of bands (Bellows, Gabby’s World, Sharpless, & Shalom) and recorded with even more as a session musician. I’ve written about music for publications like Vice, Kerrang!, Decibel, Brooklyn Vegan, and I was the editor-in-chief at Invisible Oranges for a year.
I also write and release music under the name Lamniformes, hence the name of this newsletter.
What is Drumming Upstream?
From 2014 to 2021 I Liked 484 songs on Spotify. I am learning how to play each and every one of those songs and writing about them as I go. Each entry of Drumming Upstream features two “sides”. On Side A I write about the song’s historical context, my personal relationship to the music, and what led me to Like the song in the first place. On Side B I dig deeper, using what I discovered by learning how to play the song to examine the music on a technical level. Finally I measure the song against the others I’ve learned to determine exactly how much I still like it, add it to the Leaderboard, and delete it from my Liked list.
Why you might find Drumming Upstream interesting:
I can understand if this seems like an obtuse and myopic way to write about music at first glance. I promise you however that the form is more appealing once you get a look at the content. In the first 30 songs I’ve learned so far I’ve written about some of the biggest names in music and covered gems buried deep in Spotify’s collection. Every new entry is a chance to discover a new song or approach one you already know from a fresh angle.
While Drumming Upstream may be of particular interest to drummers, non-musicians shouldn’t feel intimidated. I think of the drumming portion of the project as a way of “showing my work”, proving that I’ve spent enough time with the song to back up my critical conclusions. You won’t need to play a paradiddle to get the gist of what I’m getting at.
Consider also that this project draws from a specific stretch time. As we round our way into the 2020s, Drumming Upstream gives me a chance to make sense of the music, culture, and culture of music in the 2010s. What I see might not always be pretty, but I can assure you that it will always be worth the look.
What you can do to help Drumming Upstream:
If you’re a habitual reader of Drumming Upstream and you’d like to see me eventually reach the end of this admittedly ridiculous project, here’s what you can do to help.
First, you can share this newsletter with someone who you think might enjoy reading it. Encourage the drummer in your life to subscribe. Debate the merits of my takes in public. Debate them loudly if you want!!!
Second, if you’re really committed, you can subscribe to my newsletter for $5 a month. Paying subscribers get access to a variety of bonuses, including twice-a-month collections of recommended tunes, footage from my recent gigs, and new Lamniformes music before it is officially released1. I know that asking for the equivalent of a large iced coffee every month from everyone that reads this newsletter isn’t realistic. Luckily, I don’t need everyone reading to pay me. By my math I only need 27 more paying subscribers before Drumming Upstream pays for itself. Hey, that number isn’t that big! And with your help we can make it even smaller!
How I make Drumming Upstream:
I’ve noticed that when I talk to strangers about Drumming Upstream they ask me questions that start with “what” and “why”. When I tell my friends about Drumming Upstream they ask questions that hinge on “how”. If you’ve made it this far into the letter you are at least being friendly, and might also be interested to know how I make Drumming Upstream.
I want to start by outlining my expenses per month, and then explaining the roles each of these costs play in the workflow:
Rehearsal Studio Rent: $180
Bandcamp Purchases: $10-$15
iTunes Purchases: $1-5
My rehearsal studio is where I rehearse, record, and film the drum covers. It’s also where I store my gear and where a few of the bands that I play in rehearse. There’s a line in Jon Fine’s book Your Band Sucks that goes something like “every story about New York is a story about real estate”. The story of Drumming Upstream is no different.
The Bandcamp and iTunes purchases serve the same logistical purpose but are motivated by different philosophical approaches. In order to create an audio file containing both my playing and the original song, I need an mp3 of the song in question. Every Bandcamp Friday I buy ten songs from my Liked list on Bandcamp. Most tracks average out to a $1, though the occasional European track will cost more due to conversion rates. Since many of the artists on my Liked list do not have their music for sale on Bandcamp (alas, brucespringsteen.bandcamp.com is not real) I reward myself for finishing an entry by buying an mp3 of the next available song on iTunes. Following these two methods, I compile all of my mp3s along with their corresponding Logic Files into a folder that I can pull from when I’m at my rehearsal space and ready to work on a song.
All of these purchases are made according to the order that I Liked the songs on Spotify. My processing for learning, recording, and writing about the songs are less rigidly tied to chronology. To keep myself from getting stuck on (or worse, bored of) the song at the top of the list I let myself learn songs in any order, with a few caveats. If I have multiple songs by the same artist in the queue I only allow myself to work on one at a time. Otherwise, anything is fair game. However, I do keep the written portion of the project in chronological order, so that the next entry is always whichever finished cover is closest to the top of the Liked list. This creates what I call *~The Chronological Imperative~*, which demands that I always focus on the earliest additions to the Liked list so as not to exhaust my backlog of videos.
From there every song requires something different. Some are taxing physically or require me to develop a new technique. Others are taxing mentally, challenging my memorization and my very concept of the instrument. But I’ve gone deep enough in the weeds already, if you want to know how I learned a song, and what I learned from learning it subscribe to Drumming Upstream!
If this last bonus appeals to you in particular, you might want to subscribe ASAP.