Mark Schulman

Dressed to Kill with Roland’s TD-30KV V-Drums

Mark Schulman

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mark Schulman has enjoyed an enviable career as a first-call drummer for world-class musical artists. His résumé reads like a who’s who of international rock royalty, including acts such as Foreigner, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Destiny’s Child, Billy Idol, Pink, and many others. Music is not Mark’s only driving force; he was the chairman of Create Now!, a non-profit organization to help change troubled children’s lives through creative arts mentoring, and his love for inspiring others is also shared through keynote speaking at corporate seminars and other activities.

Mark is currently drumming with Cher on her Dressed to Kill Tour, his third touring stint with the iconic singer. To cover her diverse range of material spanning five decades, Mark is employing a full TD-30KV V-Drums set right alongside his acoustic kit. During a brief tour break, the busy drummer talked with us about the very important role the TD-30KV plays during the sold-out arena performances he experiences with Cher night after night.

How long is the current Cher tour scheduled to last?

As long as she wants. [Laughs.] They could add dates and we could be out for three years if she’s still having fun. She just turned 68 and she seems to be having fun. It depends on what she wants to do. I did her [last tour] tour from 2002 to 2005. By the time we were done, it was six weeks shy of three years. She just fills arenas. She’s got the most diverse fan base I’ve ever seen. Generations of people: grandparents, parents, and kids. She’s got a very big gay following. And we’re selling out arenas. She’s amazing. The amount of people that we’re entertaining is extraordinary. 15,000 to 18,000 people per night, four shows a week.

The band is slammin’. It’s a really good time for everybody. I’m quite proud to be in it, because it’s the highest quality entertainers and advanced people on the planet. We’re having a ball.

Describe your gear setup on the Dressed to Kill Tour, both electronic and acoustic.
Mark Schulman

Of course, most importantly, I have the full TD-30 setup. One of the floor toms, the second floor tom, actually becomes a suspended pad off to the left. And I have my ride cymbal over my hi-hat. But other than that, it’s a pretty standard TD-30 setup. It’s to the left of me. To the right of me is my Gretsch Brooklyn series kit and a whole lot of Sabian cymbals. I use X55B Vic Firth sticks.

Do you switch back and forth between the V-Drums and the acoustic kit when you’re on stage?

I am a swiveling maniac. The drums are set up in a V formation. I’m using the Roland rack, but it’s attached to my Gibraltar rack, and the drums come to a V. So the acoustics are to the right, the electronics are to the left, and I swivel back and forth. Sometimes in the middle of songs I’m actually using both kits. Other times, I’m using the TD-30 to augment the acoustic kit, [but] still leaving my position toward the acoustic kit.

In those instances, are you playing the TD-30 module with triggers on your acoustic drums?

No, I’m actually using the pads from the TD-30 to my left while I’m playing the acoustic kit. I’m not doing any actual triggering [from my acoustic drums]. I do have that [BT-1] rim trigger in-between my 8-inch and 12-inch tom, but I also will just hit the pads while I’m playing my acoustic kit.

You mentioned earlier that you’re using some of the TD-30 pads in an unusual configuration.

Yeah. The ride cymbal is over the hi-hat. And in lieu of the second tom trigger, I have a smaller pad trigger, a 10-inch versus an 8-inch, and a 10-inch pad trigger above my hi-hat to the left.

Why do you have those positioned that way?

Because I have a lot of different snare drum sounds and electronic backbeat sounds that I use. I may have three different snare drum sounds in one song. So it’s easier for me to have left-mounted triggers to be able to access those sounds than it is to have a second floor tom to the right.

What kind of non-traditional drum sounds are you using from the TD-30?

On the Cher tour, we’re trying to emulate the sounds on the [latest] record, and there are a lot of pretty standard dance-type sounds, [such as] 808 and 909 kick drums and snare drums. We’re emulating a lot of that, because with a lot of these dance songs, they try to have the kick drum and the backbeats as standard claps, and a lot of them emanate from the original Roland 808 and the 909, which is exciting. So it’s pretty easy for me to just tap right into some of the factory sounds.

Mark Schulman

And then I will modify some of the sounds [with the processing tools inside the TD-30 module]: I’ll modify the decay times, and compress. I modified the hi-hats a lot; I compress them and I re-EQ them, because the dance sounds we’re trying to emulate tend to not be as clean. They tend to be a little trashy and a little more processed, and sometimes almost a little distorted. So the pristine, clean studio hi-hat sounds in the TD-30, I tend to want to mess them up a little bit.

As a studio owner, I’m very familiar with signal processing. I’m familiar with compressors, EQs, all of the components of the compressor with the attack and the decay time, the release time, things like that. So I feel very comfortable going in and manipulating the sounds. And rather than just simply changing the pitches of the sounds or changing the decay times, I find that with the use of the compressor, you can get some really creative sound manipulation inside the TD-30 that I wasn’t expecting to be able to achieve. So I use that stuff a lot. That’s what I’ve been finding very useful.

What’s the biggest advantage of the V-Drums on a tour like this?

You know, frankly, I don’t know how I would have done it any other way. For the Cher tour, because there is so much dance stuff, it’s a requirement to do electronics. I would not have been able to accurately emulate stuff that’s on the record if I didn’t have a TD-30. The TD-30’s allowed me literally to emulate the sounds, and improve upon them, frankly. [Laughs.] I have pretty acute ears, and I recognize how to actually make things better. In my opinion, I can actually expand upon some of the stuff. In the mixes, some of the drum sounds get buried or they get washed out, and I like to make them as fat and with as much attack [as possible]. In my opinion, in all humility, I’ve improved on some of the sounds.

Are there any other tricks that you’re doing with the TD-30 kit that you can share?

Every single pad is adjusted for a different sensitivity, and I’ll allocate specific sounds for different pads. I want [some of] them to be full out, like 127 on the sensitivity. Some of the pads I’ll have extremely sensitive because I’m doing stuff that requires dynamics and sensitivity. So I’m not using [the V-Drums] in a traditional drum set format, where I might have three toms. Like the Tom 1 position, that’s where I put my claps. So Tom 1 is always full out, because the claps are not dynamic; they need to sound the same every time. I can get really wild with stick tricks and slam that pad and I don’t have to worry about being slightly askew or being too quiet, because I’ve got it programmed to be loud.

The snare drum pad, on the other hand, it’s sensitive because I want sensitivity with some of the songs. And I’ll use the rims for certain things; I’ll have different sounds programmed on the rim, so it’s not just the rim version of that particular sample that you would normally have. I might put a completely different sound on the rim, because all these different electronic sounds I can choose from I find are very useful as well. Ultimately, I’m actually getting more sounds—I get two different sounds out of a pad rather than just having an expanded version of one sound.

So that’s my trick. I sort of make my own drum set setup in which I will have similar sounds on similar pads, but it might not be traditional.

Does the TD-30 module make fine-tuning and adjustments easy?

Oh yeah. Once you get inside the device, it’s so intuitive. There’s a learning curve like anything else. But we got through the learning curve, and now I’ll make adjustments during a set. I’ll go in and change the sensitivity really quickly in-between songs. I love being able to do that. My tech, John, he programs the hi-hat every day. He sets up it up for automatic sensitivity—it sets the sensitivity for you based upon how you play. So sometimes I like to go over and adjust something on the hi-hat, and I love that I can just go in and do it and it automatically saves. He just backs it up at the end of the night on a card.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about the Cher tour and the TD-30?

The interesting thing about this tour is that, with this particular artist, we’re covering five decades of music. Between my acoustic kit and my electronic kit, I can emulate everything. I can really accurately nail the period of a particular piece. I love that, because I’m pretty meticulous about trying to emulate things accurately, and improve upon them if I can.

If we’re doing a ’60s song that has these weird ambient toms and strange, echo-y snare drum sounds, I’m able to emulate that with the TD-30. I’d never be able to emulate that with my acoustic drum set, because there are limitations—you have only one snare drum and three toms, you really can’t manipulate acoustic drums that easily. Being able to manipulate stuff and save it and have essentially unlimited access to as many things that you need, as many kits as you’d ever use at any given performance, it’s pretty magnificent and it’s extraordinary. Frankly, I didn’t realize the power of it. I thought I was only going to be using the TD-30 for electronic sounds, and it turns out I’m actually using it for some acoustic sounds I can’t get out of my acoustic drums. So it makes me very happy.