Omar Hakim

A Passion for Music

Omar Hakim (Photo)

A legendary drummer with a career that includes recording, touring, and production with an impressive number of major artists, Omar Hakim has embraced music technology for years. Omar’s commitment to his craft along with his ability to evolve and adapt in the music business has kept him in steady demand. We recently spoke with Omar, and he commented at length about his career, V-Drums, music technology, and why an open mind fueled by a passion for music is a key to success.

Omar, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. First of all, why don’t you bring us up to date on your current musical activities?

One thing that I’m doing is a jazz trio project with an amazing pianist named Rachel Z. The band is called “The Trio of OZ” — “O” for me and “Z” for her. In March 2010 we débuted the band at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. We are planning on touring a lot this year, as well as releasing a CD soon so look out for that! It’s so much fun! She’s an amazing player, and the people who may have seen her play with Peter Gabriel (and others) who are not familiar with her work as a jazz pianist, are going to be surprised and shocked by what she does at the piano. Not only is Rachel Z a super player but she’s also a brilliant arranger and orchestrator! I’ve also been doing some production projects here at my studio for some new young groups, and I’m putting the finishing touches on a solo album that I’ve been working on for a long time. The goal is to complete and release the album this year. And that band (on my solo album) is also getting some offers for live touring at festivals this coming summer and fall.

And, I’m still quite busy with session work, but not typical session work where I’m going to a lot of different studios. I get a lot of people sending me files to my personal studio, and I either use the V-Drums or my acoustic drums, record the tracks and post the files to a site (for the clients to grab). I’d say that 70% of the session work that I get is done that way.

Since you were first introduced to the new TD-20SX, and now that you have had the opportunity to use the drums for several months, do you have any additional impressions or observations about this new kit?

Absoulutely! In fact, I did a really fun recording session in Los Angeles in January 2010 with saxophonist Dave Koz. The producer was my dear friend Marcus Miller, and he knew I was going to be in town for the NAMM show, so he said “If you’re coming out, I want you to play V-Drums on the session.” Marcus actually requested V-Drums for the recording date on the majority of the songs. I did use acoustic drums on a couple of things, but it was primarily V-Drums. It was fun in the studio, man! I mean, this kit - the tweaks to the shells, and in particular the bass drum, have just made the playing experience even more solid. The new rack is super strong; super steady, and I think as a result of this additional stability, the triggering is even more accurate.

That’s an interesting comment. When asked about specific design changes to the mesh pad design, I explain to people that once you play the kit, especially with the extra “mass” in the overall design, they will really notice a difference in playability. So it’s great to have someone of your reputation and experience confirm that statement.

There is no question about it. As I mentioned, the bass drum is just fantastic to play, and the overall experience has definitely been enhanced. Once again, thumbs up to Roland for a very good “tweak” to an already pretty awesome kit!

I understand that Marcus Miller was so impressed by the TD-20SX, that he wants to get one for his studio?

Not only does he want to get one, but he actually took the loaner kit that I used at the Dave Koz session! We had his tech pack it up when the session was finished. Marcus and I have been talking about this for quite awhile, and he had mentioned that he was finally ready to get a V-Drums kit, so the timing worked out perfect for him with the release of the new TD-20SX. He does a lot a film work on top of record production for many different artists, so I think that set is going to be very busy at his place!

You have years of experience with V-Drums. Do you have a method or formula you use when programming sounds? In other words, do you program before the session? Or, does the situation, the music, or the arrangement dictate the editing? Or both?
Omar Hakim (Photo)

What ends up happening most of the time is the programming is on the fly for me, because I’m always trying to design a kit based on the music — the mood, the vibe, the style. All of these factors really determine my choices when I’m programming and designing a kit for a song. There are times when I can pull up a stock kit and get it done, but invariably I end up tweaking on the go. Another thing that I always do when I’m recording is I capture the MIDI data and the audio simultaneously. That way if want to go back and edit when I’m not playing, I have the option to just pull the module into the control room, play the MIDI data into the module and actually just sit there and really get very, very detailed with my tweaks to the TD-20. And I really like to do that the most.

And that’s the beauty of the V-Drums interface, in that it makes it really easy to dig in and start doing sound editing.

There’s no question about it. When you consider all of the DSP processing power on top of all of the COSM objects or drum sounds that live in the module, there’s a lot of flexibility there. And it is a very different experience from tweaking samples. I have interesting talks with a lot of drummers about sample playback devices versus the V-Drums, which is more of a synthesis concept. When explaining it to people, I’m trying to just clarify the difference. There are some fantastic computer programs, plug-ins that we’re all familiar with that do an excellent job at playback and management of samples and the virtual ambience that goes along with that. But COSM or Composite Object Sound Modeling is quite different, and the idea is that you have an opportunity to get into sound design that is similar to synthesis and not just sample management. From that standpoint the experience of editing sounds for me is a lot of fun, and what I end up doing is trying to get the drum sound closest to the way I need it to be before I resort to using outboard processing gear. I try to do as much as I can in the TD-20X first, before I start reaching for other external processing. That way if I have to do a gig, and I’m asked to pull up a particular kit up, it’s going to be pretty much the same sound that was used on the record, because I did all the processing “inside” the module. The other benefit to the COSM engine is the level of playability. Latency in my experience with the TD-20SX is a non-issue!

Although I’m aware that you have been using music technology for many years, could you share with the readers how electronic percussion and other technologies are so essential in your work as a professional musician?

Sure! I was introduced to electronic drums in the late ’70s and early ’80s and basically I’ve played every brand that was available at that time through the ’90s. I’ve owned them all; I’ve used them all. When the V-Drums were introduced in the late ’90s, the TD-10 kit was the first electronic drum system that I owned that I was comfortable actually not bringing an acoustic drum set or augmenting acoustic drums with electronic pieces. Typically, I would always have the acoustic kit there augmented with these “other things.” With the V-Drums, that was the first time I could be comfortable with just having electronics on the gig. When I got my first V-Drums kit, I was still in Madonna’s band and I believe I was the first guy to actually take a V-Drums kit on the road around 1998.

I’ve been involved and interested in technology from electronic drums to music creation with the personal computer, sequencing, digital recording since the late ’70s early ’80s. In those earlier days of my home studio experience, I was of course recording to analog tape, and I used to improvise recording rigs with a dear friend of mine named Fountain Jones, who was a genius recording engineer from a very young age (and currently a technical director at CBS Television) and he is the guy that really got me interested in all of this technology ‘stuff’. As a result of his influence and good advice, I stuck with it and continued to learn and incorporated new music technologies over the years. As a result, this has been a very large part of my work, and because I got involved with technology, I’ve been able to maintain a very busy career, roll with the changes in technology; and having my own studio at home has increased my ability to stay busy. It’s really proof that it’s important to stay open-minded, to keep your mind open to growing. You definitely can’t rest on your laurels in this business; this business is about growing, morphing, changing and learning. It’s a never-ending process. It’s funny how in medicine, doctors call what they do “a practice,” but actually it’s the same for musicians we have “a practice” as well.

It can’t be stressed enough that it’s important, especially for up and coming musicians, to not only embrace and learn a variety of musical styles to become a well-rounded player, but not be afraid to jump in and learn the technology and use the different tools that are available.

There is no question about it. I would say that my career has been incredibly interesting because I didn’t limit myself to one style of music, or have tunnel vision about being a traditionalist in one form, or take the position that I’m only going to play acoustic drums — I’ve tried to always keep an attitude of openness, mainly because I wanted to have fun playing music. And that’s been my motivation really, that I would always have fun, and always have that part of my spirit engaged in the music — that part that got me excited about music as a kid — you know what I mean? And my goal has been to stay connected to that part of myself, the part that still gets excited with the magic part of making music and the joy of growing and learning music, still even at 51 years old.

If you were asked by an up and coming musician for advice or direction, and you could sum it up a in a sentence or statement, what would that be?
Omar Hakim (Photo)

That’s a heavy question! I don’t know if I could sum it up in a sentence, but it would probably be a variation on what I was previously speaking about, is to allow yourself to keep your mind open so that you can continue growing as a musician. Also, to wake up everyday and be grateful for the opportunity to be an artist and to have the opportunity to share your music with the world. Even if your world just encompasses your local community and you play in a local band. When I was first starting out, every gig for me was an important gig! Back then, every time that I stepped on a stage, whether it was a club, at the school gym, or at Madison Square Garden, my goal was (and still is) to bring the same level of commitment to every musical situation whether it’s in the studio or a live gig! It’s important to stay connected with that energy when you’re an artist. Not just as a musician, but as an artist. Because that attitude is really the thing that delivers you to where you want to be. It’s your commitment to your art and your faith in yourself, along with your hard work, that is going to deliver you to your goal. On one hand I could say (deliver you) to where you want to be, and on another hand I could say it will deliver you to places you that you never dreamed of.

Considering the visual appeal of the new TD-20SX kit, do you anticipate using this new kit on stage in a live setting?

Absolutely! With my band (the Omar Hakim Band) I’d say 50% of the record is V-Drums, so I’m going to have both acoustic drums and V-Drums on stage. As you know, over the last ten years or so, I performed live quite a bit with V-Drums, and I think that this new tweak to the V-Drums is going to make that experience more fun, more enjoyable, and more satisfying.