Up until today and ever since the early days, when makeshift kits, foot stomps and handclaps served as rhythm sections in churches, the beat has been central in every syllable, bar and phrase of worship music. Simply put: rhythm is instilled in each fiber of gospel as we know it.
The Gospel EZX celebrates just that: the power of rhythm and the legacy of a genre whose DNA over the course of history has seeped through to almost any facet of music imaginable. With branches arching into anything from R&B and soul to rock, hip-hop and fusion, gospel is the literal definition of width. With its four fundamentally different sets of tonal characteristics, this EZX covers the entire scope and paints an impressive sonic image – from the open-sounding tones of the early 1940s and the dry, muffled and tight ones of the 1960s to the punchy, distinct and crystal clear sound of today.
Add to that the ear and craftsmanship of Danny Duncan – seven-time Grammy Award-winning engineer/producer with a longstanding gospel merit – the breathtaking aura of the Paragon Studios A-room, the magic stroke of drummer Calvin Rodgers as well as custom presets, MIDI, percussion, handclaps, snaps and foot stomps and you have the ultimate gospel battery.
If words are the lifeblood of gospel music, rhythm is the heartbeat upon which they thrive. Welcome to a collection of drums that encapsulates the essence of one of the most powerful and uniting forms of musical expression: gospel.
After three decades of back to back work and with seven Grammy Award wins and over 500 albums under his belt, Danny Duncan is undoubtedly one of the top names in the industry. Aside from having a track record of producing sonically immaculate studio productions, Danny is also widely recognized for his ability to capture the profound magic of live music.
Q: You first encountered the world of audio engineering at your local church already at the age of twelve. Walk us through the story of how this came about.
A: It all started as curiosity more than anything. A teacher at my church was also the live sound engineer there, and one day I simply asked what he was doing behind that big audio desk during the church service. He invited me to watch as he mixed the music that day. Well, I was instantly amazed by how the audio could be controlled and he could see that I was captivated by that. So, for the next several months he taught me everything he could, and each week I would come with my list of questions that I’d thought of throughout the week. By the time I was thirteen years old, I was operating the controls by myself and even being hired as the sound engineer for conferences and weddings.
Q: Did you know then and there that this was your calling career-wise?
A: I knew even at the early age of twelve or thirteen that I wanted to make music, but I wasn’t sure what that even meant. I did love the ability to control the audio and sound as I had learned by this teacher at my church, but I had also taken music lessons from a young age. I played keyboards and several other instruments, so I simply knew that in some way I wanted to create music. After high school, I went to college as a music major studying composition and arranging. I also started playing in a band around this time and we decided to go and professionally record a few songs. I distinctly remember walking into an actual recording studio for the very first time in my life to record. I was watching the engineers and producers work, and recalling all of the training I had gotten early on at church. That is when it all seemed to come together and make sense for what I wanted to do. I really fell in love with being in the studio. It was far more exciting than playing live – it was a whole new world of being able to create and take time to craft sounds in a way that would bring a song to life and then capture that sound on a recording.
Q: Since then, you have literally worked nonstop on records and projects. What’s the greatest part of working with sound?
A: I believe in being able to bring a song or idea to life by the way it sounds or “feels.” What I mean by this is that there are plenty of ways to make music sound great, but there is a real art to making music sound like what the song and lyric is saying. Music doesn’t just have to sound great – it needs to communicate, to move us and to make us feel something. There is more to a great song than just a great melody and a great lyric performed by a great artist. The sound of the music and how it is captured must tell that story as well for everything to work together and to move the listener. This is what I really love about working with sound and creating in the studio.
Q: Throughout your career, you have accumulated an impressive seven Grammy Awards and several other accolades along the way. Looking back on your journey so far, what specific moments or productions would you say stand out for you personally?
A: I am very thankful to be a part of many great projects with many really wonderful people. Some artists like Michael McDonald and Kirk Whalum were really special to me because I had been such a fan of their work long before I ever got to work with them. But picking a favorite project would be impossible. What stands out are the moments that I have been pushed out of my comfort zone. I remember the first time I recorded an orchestra. When you have 50 or 60 people in the studio and you realize what an expense it is, there is just no room for anything to go wrong or to be delayed. Having never taken on that amount of pressure, it can be very scary. But someone pushed me and encouraged me to do it. I remember them saying “don’t think too much about it, just start sculpting the sounds and do what you would do and it will all come together.” Recording a large orchestra is now one of my favorite things to capture, but it was these types of moments that challenged me that stand out more than anything.
Q: Aside from making studio productions, you are also noted for capturing live sessions – often those featuring large choirs and many musicians, like you mentioned. Is there a big difference in how you approach a live project compared to a studio session?
A: There is a slight difference, but not so much in the way I mic the instruments. The way I approach capturing the individual instruments is very much like being in the studio. The difference is that on live recordings you have to make certain that the “whole experience” is captured so that the listener not only feels the songs, but they must also feel as if they are at the concert or event. So, this means that the sound of the venue itself, whether it be a concert hall, an arena, amphitheater or small club, it becomes an instrument as well and it must be captured as part of the sound.
Q: What’s the one project you haven’t yet done that you absolutely love to do? What’s at the top of your bucket list?
A: Well I’m always excited about new projects with brand new artists and being a part of helping them to “discover their sound.” Established artists have at least a bit of an expectation, a sonic thumbprint that is cohesive to who they are as an artist or a sonic identity that they (and their fans) expect to hear and relate to. While this is a very good thing, because it is something that is absolutely necessary to establish yourself as an artist, a brand new artist is often still searching for this sound. Working with a new artist feels like a blank canvas that you get to help create on, and I really enjoy that. It’s difficult to pick a bucket list project, because I believe that the most important project that I’ve ever done or ever will do, is whatever I am currently working on. For me, it’s a way to stay 100% focused. If someone has trusted me with their project, then I must put every bit of creative energy into it without considering anything else.
Paragon Studios is found in Franklin, just a short drive from Nashville’s famed Music Row. The crown jewel of this 22,000 square foot building is the A-suite in which the Gospel EZX was captured. The control room, which boasts a Solid State Logic 9080 K Series Console, connects directly to the magnificent A-room. With its main tracking floor big enough to host up to 30-piece orchestras and its perfectly treated acoustics, it provides a reverberant but far from overpowering natural decay.
“Paragon was the perfect place to capture this collection of drum sounds. You know, gospel music comprises quite a vast range of styles and sounds. So much music has influences based in gospel music and there certainly isn’t just one ‘sound’ that can be classified as gospel. Since I wanted to create a library that spanned as much of these flavors as possible, it required a studio that allowed us to be really diverse. Paragon played a major role in this collection and really allowed the diversity I was looking for.” Danny Duncan
With a track record that sums up touring and recording credits for the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Isley Brothers, Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp and many more, Calvin boasts a long career as an international touring musician, clinician and session drummer.
Q: You were born into a family of musicians and already as a young child got a glimpse of recording sessions, rehearsals and shows. What was that like?
A: It was literally the best time of my life. So many great musicians were either from Chicago, or passing through there often. I was a sponge during that time. Without question, this is a moment in time I wish I could go back to and share it with so many others. This was my idea of growing up privileged.
Q: Already at the age of fifteen, you performed on your first nationally released recording as part of the band on the Ricky Dillard and New Generation Chorale live album “Hallelujah.” At age fifteen, what was that experience like?
A: A part of me didn’t realize how major this was. I was just excited to be playing drums. I kind of wish I would’ve understood the magnitude of what was happening. This record will always be a part of my legacy, and I guess it can show how quickly I grew as a recording drummer. But I must say I cringe whenever someone brings this album up.
Q: From there, your career obviously took off. But if you hadn’t ended up making music and playing drums for a living, what do you think you’d do for a career? Who is Calvin Rodgers when he’s not behind a kit?
A: Unfortunately, I never had a plan B. This is not my advice, by any means. It just happens to be my reality. When I’m not behind the drums, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I’m a sports fan Football, basketball and boxing. I’m extremely introverted though. So when I have any time to relax alone, that’s what I do. Sometimes with a book or a good movie.
Q: If you had to identify some of the personal highlights so far in you career, what would the they be?
A: Working with Aretha Franklin would definitely be one. I toured with her for a little over a year. She was a joy to be on stage with. She was great for so many reasons, and it was undeniable as soon as she hit the stage. Writing a song with my dad would be another.
Q: You’re also committed to teaching and mentoring up and coming drummers and musicians. For all aspiring musicians around the world who don’t have you at an arm’s length distance, what would be your advise?
A: Let the music be your sole motivation. Please don’t go after this if you don’t love it. I come across so many aspiring musicians who are looking for things that really don’t matter. Followers, likes, subscribers, women, money…you can attain those things doing anything. But music is a healer. I think the making of it should be reserved only to those who truly love it.
Q: How would you describe your style of drumming?
A: I would like to think that my drumming is the culmination of solid time, great feel and heartfelt grooves. Studied and polished.
Q: To you, what makes a great drummer and a what makes a great groove?
A: A great drummer to me is someone who places the needs of the music ahead their own.
“This drum kit, the setup and sizes mirror my tour rig – and the drum kit that I play on about 85% of the gospel and smooth jazz albums that I track in my home studio. The kick drums are punchy, full of round tones and powerful. The wide range of toms allows for any style of fills, while the tuning lends itself useful in coloring melodically. The snare drums were carefully selected and tuned in order to fall in line with the wide range of toms and kick drums.” Calvin Rodgers
“This retro drum kit took me back to the tones I grew up listening to. They had a vibe! As soon as I sat down behind this kit, I knew we’d struck gold. A small kit, in theory, taking up tons of space. The drums are dry, fat and very focused. These drums have aged well – and they recorded even better. If you’re a fan of traditional gospel music by artists like The Winans, Andre Crouch or Al Green, these drums will take you back to those days and sounds.” Calvin Rodgers
“This drum kit was extremely fun to record. Being that I’ve studied and listened to gospel music for most of my life, this kit reminded me of the many types of musicians who have recorded gospel music. At first glance, you would immediately think of a jazz drummer. And you’d probably be right. However, many jazz musicians toured and recorded with gospel talent. These tones will be reminiscent of the days of Jubilee Showcase and The Original Edwin Hawkins Singers.” Calvin Rodgers
6 GB free disk space, 4 GB RAM (8 GB or more recommended).
A working EZdrummer 2.2.1 (or above) or a Superior Drummer 3.2.4 (or above) installation.