It is safe to say that Michael Schack has brought the use of edrums to a whole new level, and audience. He won the “E-drummerOfTheYear” award in 2014, 2015 and 2017. He is not just a drummer, but a full-on one man band and showcased this to great effect during his November 2018 drum clinics in South Africa. Michael hails from Belgium and is a Roland artist by heart. We caught up with him during his drum clinics to talk about his choice of Roland gear, how he prepares for clinics and the tools he uses to keep things fresh and exciting.
MP: You’ve become known for your energetic clinics and shows. Was this a conscious decision or have you always been on the wilder side of life?
Michael Schack: Even when I was a very young drummer, I had my cymbals and toms kind of highly positioned compared to my body size. So the energetic, big movements came naturally. The fact that I’m also a bit of a workaholic and more extrovert than introvert doesn’t help in keeping my movements smaller and energy lower once on stage or in front of a camera. I simply love playing live on stage and that triggers some extra adrenaline.
MP: Tell us about the gear you use.
Michael Schack: I’m using Roland V-Drums, combined with Tama hardware and Tama drums, as well as Meinl cymbals and some hybrid gear like Roland Triggers connected to a TM-6Pro module. Whenever I play, both acoustic and electric, I always combine with a Roland SPD-SX as well. I also play VIC Firth drumsticks.
MP: Does it differ from stage to studio or for smaller venues?
Michael Schack: Yes, in smaller venues or smaller stages, I will maybe just play a kick, snare, HH, one floor-tom and 2 cymbals instead of tom and extra floor-tom. In a studio, I always play at least one tom up and one tom down. I used to add a second snare drum, but mostly don’t add that one anymore.
MP: You have a unique setup with your V-Drums, could you tell the us more about it?
Michael Schack: Like with my acoustic setup, I always play one tom up, two toms down. That also turned out to be the standard configuration of the TD-50KV flagship model today. Even on a TD-17KVX I use this kind of setup. What I always do, whenever I play acoustic or V-Drums, is to at least add a SPD-SX.
MP: Where do you draw inspiration for your own compositions & mash-ups?
Michael Schack: My vinyl and CD collection, the radio, Spotify playlists, the charts. When I really take time to listen to music in my studio, at home or in my car, I usually end up miming or voice recording some new idea. Afterwards I will listen to it a couple of days later and when I still kind of dig the idea, I will start working on it.
MP: Tell us about the work you do with and for Roland?
Michael Schack: First of all, I’m an international product artist. This means I’m a touring drummer/demonstrator and an artist who uses V-Drums also with the artists I play with. I’m also a contributor to the Electronic Percussion Design department at Roland Japan, both as a consultant and sound designer.
MP: How did the gig (with Roland) come about?
Michael Schack: I started being a Roland Drum Demonstrator at the end of 1992, with the release of the TD-7. I received a call from a Roland manager in the Benelux office who had been following my progression. He was looking for a new artist to do drum demonstrations in Dutch and French. He invited me to try out the set on the condition that I could also do a possible demonstration in French.
MP: Where is the greatest scope of development for e-drums?
Michael Schack: Low latency combined with a realistic playing feel. The ultimate challenge is to give the drummer the same feeling of control of any electronically generated sound. It should feel as tight and close to as dynamic as playing on an acoustic drum kit. Playing any electronic or combined acoustic/electric sound will then feel as inspiring as it can be.
MP: What does your personal wish list (for e-drum development) look like?
Michael Schack: Some of those wishes are already out now, like the TM-6Pro for hybrid drumming and the TD-17 as a “TD-50 Lite” version of all good things TD-50 in a more affordable option. Next up, well I can’t say. I need to respect my non-disclosure agreement here 🙂
MP: Do you enjoy the technical side of e-drums? (Working with Roland on the internals / brains)
Michael Schack: Yes, immensely. Technology is always evolving and so will e-drums. We’re a long way off from the end of possibilities! Being involved in the developing stages helps me to understand the challenges the engineers run into. It also helps them to overcome any bottleneck situation by being able to assist them in making the right choices. Everybody wishes e-drums to have a zillion features, but an e-drum module is still a computing device. This means that you still need to take the power of the CPU or processor into account, its development cost, and especially the price-tag people are willing to pay for it! And this of course triggers the necessary knowledge and information background while answering all those questions from the end users and more importantly, challenge the ranters with some 100% factual arguments instead of reacting emotionally as a pure Roland V-Drums fan. Also, by seeing everything evolve during the development stages, you also understand the competition better and build some knowledge to counter them.
MP: Brands often get asked by musicians how they can become endorsees. What would your advise be?
Michael Schack: There’s no better start than playing in a band or get a solo career as an on-stage performer. Brands want to see if you actually reach an audience they would like to target with you as an intermediate or medium. Studio drummers who have been recording for years with zero online presence are simply not valuable as endorsees. Also, it doesn’t always have to start with original music. I know some very successful drummers who only play covers, but then they do have a style or personality WITH an audience, not “with an audience to come from being endorsed”. You first have to milk the cow before you bottle the milk and sell it. Many drummers seem to forget that endorsements are not there to help you become a better drummer. They’re there to help branding of the instrument and synergise with the reach of audience. I can easily spot drummers who just want some free gear and possibly a couple of drum festival bookings. They usually don’t last very long.
MP: Has the advent of social media had a change or effect on how you market / present yourself to the public and / or sponsored brands?
Michael Schack: Yes, it certainly has affected my marketing of my music, sounds, performance strengths or touring in general. For instance, short intros are a must now. If you don’t excite the viewer or audience within the first 10 seconds of your video or on a live stage performance, you’re done. Also, don’t play long songs. The attention span of the audience has decreased, so you’d better keep them with you till the end of your song or performance. I don’t really think of the brands when I plan a new performance or video, I mostly think from the instrument. Branding come naturally when the performance is genuine.
MP: Who do you listen to (music / bands / artists)
Michael Schack: I listen to lots of different styles of music, even the ones I’m not particularly a fan of. Those might even be interesting, drumming wise. I check new releases, clips on YouTube and usually use the local charts of a country where I’m in, to familiarise myself to know what kind of music the general public likes. I do have some organised Spotify Playlists and usually also check all new singles released instead of just albums. I think albums are at their end of live. Individual track releases can be just as exciting in my opinion.
Regarding my ‘roots’: P-Funk, HipHop and crossover Funk Rock are definitely some of my favorite jams.
MP: Which drummers have influenced your playing the most?
Michael Schack: Definitely some live performing band drummers, like Stewart Copeland of The Police. And also Dennis Chambers in his younger Parliament Funkadelic years. I’ve never been a typical fan of the usual Jazz/Fusion drummers top 10, although many of those guys are absolutely amazing drummers. When I think of it, the amazing Michael Bland of Prince’s “Diamond and Pearls” studio recordings might be just that one guy who made me smile most in recent decades. Such a powerhouse!
MP: Most valuable piece of advice given as a musician?
Michael Schack: “Know how to make the people dance, whatever music style”. I never look down on a kick “On the One” and a snare on the 2 and the 4. I’ve always tried to “own” the 4/4 time signature first and then go further. You know, nobody really dances on a 13/16 groove, that’s mathematics in music. So when you get that 4/4 looping groove click-tight into your body, you can be sure your fellow musicians will see you as their favorite drummer to play on top of. But while nailing things musically, you should also nail things humanly and socially. Learn to speak more than just one language, preferably two or three, as it will broaden your culture. And always be on time, if not a little early. Musicians who show up late or non-prepared will in the long run always be beaten by the ones who do show up on time and are well prepared. When you are on time and well prepared, you have less stress and then you tend to listen more to what the other musicians are doing.
On a side note: dare to look the audience into the eye. Leave those sunglasses in the dressing room. Unless you’re Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles. And by the way, they would never enter the stage with Crocs either.
MP: Any particular work you’ve done that you are most proud of?
Michael Schack: Definitely being one of the first, if not the first, in those music styles by taking the V-Drums live on stage at some big summer festival main stages and kicking the dust out of the PA systems this way. It felt like being the underdog while making the people dance and react like crazy. So both the Milk Inc live concerts in the biggest arena in Belgium (sold out 27 times) and touring the world with Netsky Live in between 2012 and 2017 has been an absolute highlight.
MP: How do you warm up for your clinics? Does that differ for a show / performance?
Michael Schack: If I can, I usually warm up while doing the sound check. No particular warm up routine with carefully chosen exercises or whatever, and certainly not locking myself away in a dressing room. It’s more a warm up of grooves and locking in with the monitoring mix.
When I do warm up at a festival or for a drum clinic, it’s usually by taking a Red Bull out of the fridge and while drinking it, just some continuous paradiddling on a pillow or towel.
MP: Do you still find time to practice?
Michael Schack: I actually thought I didn’t have enough time anymore, which until recently frustrated me a bit. So while in Japan last summer, playing together with the KODO percussion group at their Earth Celebration Festival, I learnt about the philosophy behind their daily routine. It starts with getting up in the morning, like we all do, and after brushing teeth immediately go for a 1-hour practice routine before any breakfast, emails etc. So, lately, when I’m home, I’ve been doing this and it really works for me. I do a 55 minute, sometimes sweaty workout, with a totally fresh mind getting my daily drumming routine in before anything else. And that’s a very satisfying feeling.
MP: If so, what do you work on?
Michael Schack: I start out warming up and just jamming, mostly with a click, and when something comes along, I immediately try to record it on my smartphone. That then ends up being something I will work on more during the next practice session. So that could be a fill, a groove or a combination of both. I don’t really have any book or method in front of me.
MP: Outside of drummers and music, what do you feel inspires you most as a musician and human being?
Michael Schack: The rich urban culture of world cities like New York, London, Tokyo and Barcelona. Colorful streets and sounds which you can only really experience in all 3 dimensions when strolling along.
MP: What music (bands, composers or artists) have influenced your playing the most?
Michael Schack: Probably the P-Funk rhythm sections, with Bootsy on the bass and occasionally a very young Dennis Chambers on drums with Parliament Funkadelic. Also The Police, and the deep funk-rock riff doubling bashing drummers of Rage Against The Machine, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers and the likes… And then, there’s also Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers. Lots of Stevie Wonder actually.
MP: If you got stuck in an airport lounge and you could only pick three people from the industry to spend time with and / or to keep you entertained, who would that be?
Michael Schack: First choice would be Stevie Wonder. A kick ass drummer, keyboard player, singer and composer. I very briefly met him at the Roland stand at NAMM Show a couple of times, but never had the chance to really speak to him. Second, definitely Dave Grohl. I would like to have a very learning conversation with him about how talented fellow musicians and dearest friends end up being depressed, suicidal human beings, and how he coped with it. As a positive person, I simply cannot understand how success can make people so unhappy. And third, but not least, Bill Withers. An amazing singer/songwriter and poet with a very intelligent mind and without a doubt one of the most ultimate solo artists who has always stayed out of public spotlights and press attention. So I would ask him a zillion questions, as we don’t read much about his life and music. Position 4 would have been the uber talented and always young Avicii, who left us earlier this year. Position 5 would be Mike Portnoy for instance, asking him why he’s been such a disrespectful diva towards fellow musicians, drum festival organisers and monitoring engineers.
MP: Outside of drumming, what are your hobbies / things you like to spend time on?
Michael Schack: While traveling, I love strolling through cities. By foot or just renting a bicycle or scooter and strolling along with the usual daily traffic, acting if I would be living there. When I’m not traveling, I would still travel. As some world cities are so close to where I live, I’m fortunate some are within a short distance by car. Paris takes me about 3,5 hours, Amsterdam only 1,5 hours. When at home though, I love chilling with a Netflix remote control in one hand and some sweets in the other and this way also getting to know some awesome up and coming soundtrack composers or producers.
MP: With time to kill, what would you do?
Michael Schack: I rarely have any time to kill. But while waiting at a gate or at a soundcheck, definitely checking out social media posts or just watching something on my smartphone. I rarely open my laptop these days to start composing or remixing. I kind of leave this for decent studio time lately.
MP: How many days do you get to spend at home in a year and how do you manage to maintain friendships and connections with all you international traveling and commitments?
Michael Schack: Last year 2017, I was some 150 days away from home professionally. This year 2018 will end up being about 110, as I played more in Belgium and re-connected with and performed quite a few summer festivals in Benelux. So there’s still potential for more travels! I maintain contact by Whatsapp or just call my closest family. Facetime actually is an epic thing when you’re away! And when I’m home, I usually go out for the occasional dinner with best friends or family ties and confirms the more special bond you have outside of your professional life.