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The typical indie band showcase has 2 or 3 bands on a bill, and it usually makes logistic sense to share a backline (drums, bass amp, and maybe guitar amps). Some stage managers, or entire festivals, will even insist upon it.

As a drummer, this means I am walking into a performance where I have very little control over the quality of the instrument I will be playing. There are stylistic considerations (I prefer a pingy snare, tonal toms, and light cymbals) and there are general repair considerations (working snare lever, felts on cymbal stands, kick drum that doesn't creep away).

When sharing a kit like this, what components make the most sense to bring along? How can one get familiar with a new kit during sound check? How do you tactfully tell the kit's owner that you would like to tune his toms for him, or some other little fix?

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Good question! Welcome to the site :) –  Matthew Read Jul 8 '11 at 18:53
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

My experience in the UK and europe is that it is fairly standard for bands to share a backline, in terms of a drum kit the term "breakables" gets used quite frequently, this refers to

  • snare
  • bass pedal
  • cymbals

As in each band brings their own breakables and there will be a basic drum kit (bass drum, at least one rack tom, one floor tom, hi hat and 2-3 cymbal stands and a throne)

So if you use lots of cymbals for example, its probably worth bring a few stands, if you are particular about your throne being a certain height/shape, it could be worth bringing one.

Aside from all of that, some general advice before a gig I always go up and speak with the drummer whose kit is being used, firstly make sure its ok to use the kit, thank him/her and get any advice on any nuances the kit may have.

Then after the performance, if the drummer who is providing the kit is around I'll offer to buy them a beer as a thank you, you never know when you might need a favour down the road and its a good opportunity to "network" or shoot the breeze about drums.

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This is a great answer, and is consistent with what I encounter in Canada. Cheers. –  lukecyca Jul 28 '11 at 23:26
    
Same goes for the Netherlands, as far as I've experienced. Personally I always bring my own snare, cymbals, kick pedal and a few stands just in case. –  Erik van Brakel Sep 9 '11 at 11:33
    
This is pretty much how it goes in Finland as well. It's been brought up in other answers, but I can't stress enough how important communication is. Get in touch with whoever provides the backline as well as the stage manager, if there is one. You want things to go as smoothly as possible on the day of the show. It helps a lot if everyone knows beforehand what's happening and are familiar with each other / on friendly terms. –  Timo Häkkinen Oct 23 '12 at 5:57
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Will approach this from the standpoint of drums, but the same advice applies to amps and other backline equipment.

Communication

The best way to handle this would be for the stage manager to get in touch with the owner of the drum kit and clear adjustments ahead of time. If you know who these people are ahead of time, some emails and phone calls can go a long way towards clarifying these issues. Perhaps the toms are particularly touchy, or the cymbals. (For example.)

Perhaps you'll find out that the drum kit is quite similar to what you're used to, or tuned much the same way.

Next, talk to the stage's audio engineer and ask the same question. In addition, mention that you're planning to bring some of your own pieces and warn them that they'll be facing a swap or two. If anything here will cause problems from an audio standpoint, you'll hear about it here.

(Of course, if your music is tom-heavy, or you need a double bass drum and none will be provided, that changes this advice.)

Finding out more about the backline kit

If none of this is possible and you have to use the provided kit, see if you can practice ahead of time on the kit you'll be using. Even a few minutes will be better than nothing! (Failing that, observe the bands before you, or talk to those drummers.)

Which pieces to swap out?

Which pieces should you swap out? Personally, I'd want my drummer to be using their own snare and cymbals (including the hi-hat) if possible. Depending on the size of the room, the snare is likely to be the percussion that changes the audio picture the most.

If all else fails

If you can't even do that, you'll just have to tough it out. Look at your set list and start with songs that have more conventional drum parts, moving to the more complex stuff as you go on.

(Also: Out of all the amps, most guitar platers are more sensitive about their sound than bass players. If you can only swap out one amp, make it the guitar player's amp.)

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"If you can only swap out one amp, make it the guitar player's amp" +1, because it clearly goes to eleven--which is one louder than ten. Let's see a bass amp do THAT. </foolish-banter> –  Jduv Jul 10 '11 at 17:57
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Great answers so far! I want to add something in regards to bigger cymbal set-up: bring your own stands.

It is a great deal faster to swap the stands with cymbals on them, than to swap cymbals and carefully readjusting, possibly every repositioning, everything. With 3-5 cymbals it's still doable, but not with 10+ cymbals. There might not even be enough stands to begin with. Bring your own.

I would recommend arriving early enough to set up your stands with cymbals on them. You don't even need to do this on stage if you're familiar enough with your set-up. Then simply store them out of the way, but close enough to the stage. When the band before you finishes, help them move the provided stands with cymbals on them and put your stands on stage. You're good to go very quickly with minimal readjustments. Communicate with other drummers that this is quicker and thus helps everybody. They can take their cymbals off the stands when they're off the stage and they don't need to rush. When you're done, move your stands out of the way quickly and help the next drummer set up.

Just make sure the microphone cables are placed "under" the cymbal stands and not over/around them to begin with, otherwise you will waste a lot of time.

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@neilfein's answer is excellent. I've got something I'd like to add, because you specifically asked about how to tactfully approach the kit owner about changing the tuning or making other tweaks to their kit.

I think the most important thing is to establish that you understand and respect the fact that it is their kit, not yours, and that you're grateful for them allowing you to share it - even if really, it's a piece of junk. Showing up with your own snare and cymbals allows you the ability to control important pieces of your tone, but it also shows that you respect their equipment sufficiently not to risk damaging expensive pieces of it. They're less likely to think that you're some hooligan who's going to thrash their pride and joy to pieces while they watch horrified from the wings.

Secondly, I've always made a point of quietly grabbing the kit owner and asking them about the kit - how it plays, how they like to tune it, and importantly, whether they have any advice for you about playing it. (It also doesn't hurt if you offer to help them out during setup, even if it's just clearing up cases and bits and pieces while they go.) This establishes a relationship between you as drummers and equals, and is likely to make them much more receptive to any requests to make changes. You're also likely to find out if the tuning is the way it is because they like it that way, or if it's because they just haven't paid any attention to it.

Addressing another one of your questions: which kit to bring/swap out? I like to bring my throne: it's the biggest factor in how relaxed and comfortable I am while playing, and that has an enormous effect on how well I play. After that, my stick bag is probably a good idea. Snare, sticks, cymbals and throne isn't a lot to bring, and takes only a matter of seconds to swap out.

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