Nashville Session Drummer. The Loft.
Publication: Modern Drummer
Author: Dawson, Michael
Date published: November 1, 2010
South African-born/Nashville-based session drummer Nick Buda, whose recording credits include country star Taylor Swift's hit 2008 album, Fearless, and singer-songwriter Jewel's recent Sweet And Wild, owns a beautiful house in a quiet, reserved neighborhood just south of the city. Inside, there's very little clue to what Buda does for a living, with not even a single drumstick in plain sight. "The one thing I knew I wanted was to not see drums whenever I'm not working," Nick says while walking us up a staircase leading to a single door that conceals his studio, the Loft, from the remainder of the house. "I wasn't going to put the drums in a bedroom. I wanted a space that was set up just for them.
"When my wife and I first moved into the house, this space was completely unfinished," Buda continues after opening the door and revealing a clean and compact tracking room, complete with hardwood floors, a drum riser, and a gorgeous Gretsch kit. "The space was open to the rafters, and there weren't any baseboards or anything. I put in a double subfloor to help minimize vibration underneath, and I framed out the room. It's only about 230 square feet, but the ceiling is slanted, and it goes up fifteen feet at the highest point. It's just enough space to get a really big drum sound. But from the outside you wouldn't guess there's anything behind the door."
Buda spends most of his time tracking demos and masters in big commercial studios around Nashville, but he's been using the Loft for independent projects, overdubs, and his own productions. "It's fun to produce, not just thinking about drums but also thinking about the big picture of the song," he says.
To prepare the room for recording, Buda let common sense and his well-tuned ears guide him. "I built baffles that I hung on the walls," he explains. "It's actually a very live room, which is a great problem to have.
It's very hard to liven a dead room, but it's not so bad to deaden a live room. I built two more baffles that I can put in front of the drums if I want a deader sound. But the room sounded good right off the bat. The ceiling slants on top of the drums, so I thought I was going to get a lot of cymbal reflections. I put a little foam on the ceiling, right above the cymbals, which helps a lot. It sounds good to me, so I'm sticking with it."
One thing we noticed about the Loft is that it isn't overrun with the latest, greatest recording gear. There are just a few choice pieces that Buda feels he needs in order to get the sounds he bears in his head. "I learned from Taylor's engineer Chad Carlson that you don't need a lot of expensive gear to get a great sound," the drummer says. "I've seen him use Shure SM57s on everything but the kick drum, and it sounded awesome. So I know you can get the sound you want without having to spend ridiculous amounts of money on mics and pre's. The biggest purchase I made was the API 3124, which has four channels of A-grade 512C pre's. API is very popular around Nashville. They make my drums sound big and fat, like what I'm used to hearing when I go to a big studio, which is obviously what I'm competing with.
"But I'm not a gearhead by any means," Nick continues. "I'm about playing drums and not about geeking out on mics and gear to ensure that I have absolutely perfect tones. If it sounds great, that's all you want."
When discussing what it takes to be a top session drummer, Buda offers the following advice, starting with how to choose a snare drum for a particular track. "There's always a little bit of randomness with everything," he says. "I'll listen to the song first and decide if it needs a snappy sound or a dead Fleetwood Mac-type tone. If it's an up-tempo song, I won't use a snare that's too deep. In country music, there are so many layers of instruments that you don't want the snare taking up too many frequencies. So I'll usually use a 5x14.
"Choosing between wood and metal just comes down to the moment. I have favorites that have gone in and out of fashion for me over time. If it's a slow 6/8 tune, I usually want that super-deep, slightly tuned-down, padded vibe. If it's a mid-tempo shuffley thing, I'll go for a 6½xl4 Black Beauty tuned a little above medium. A lot of the sound is how you tune the drum and what heads you use. Some producers are going to be more specific about what they want, so it's up to you to provide that sound. As drummers, we know that the spectrum of snare drum tones is endless. Producers are usually looking for one of four or five possibilities, so you should at least have those covered. But I'm not one of those people who says, 'It sounds good, but could it possibly sound better?' Ultimately, you have to acknowledge that you're looking for a great sound. Once you find one, know it's great and stick with it. Otherwise you'll drive yourself crazy.
"The same idea applies when I'm tracking drums. I'm comfortable doing just a few takes and feeling good about what I've played. I'll give clients two or three passes that I think are right on, so they have options for different fills and things. But I'm all about the emotion. I'll sometimes let a couple weird things go if the vibe is right.
"It's also important to focus on building the song," Buda adds. "You want to make sure the first and second verses have something that makes them a little different from each other. You want the song to progress in some way. But the vibe-how it feels-is the be-all, end-all for me."