How Mark Schulman Is Motivated By Life
"If you sit down to the drums and your attitude is, 'I'm gonna be of service, and I'm gonna make everybody else's job easier, and have as much fun as I possibly can, that is gonna be reflected in your behavior, and then will reflect in your playing."
(about PINK) "[Her energy and her voice]....She works harder than anybody that I know, and she's more giving than anyone on the planet . So you combine all those things together, and you have a formula for the greatest artist on the planet."
July 28, 2018 By Abbe Davis
Some people are a force because, well, they showed up here that way. This is Mark Schulman. Speak to him one time and you are on a ride, or a journey, so to speak. He is very alive, his energy is contagious, and he has a lot to say. I've met many drummers, some are quiet, yet most of the ones I know are sheer energy, as if they cannot be any other way. This is the group of guys Mark knows he is about: energy, force, support, and the ability to simultaneously kick the kick, hit the hat, mix it up on toms and snare and bass, while breathing it all in. Drumming is alive through these guys in ways that happen even when they are not even at their kits. That force resonates beyond the drums. It is a way of life.
Mark Schulman looks dynamic, with bleached, spiked blonde hair, like those artsy, New York guys you see at a museum in the city. Patterned shirt, distracted, ready for anything. Although he has toured throughout the world as a top-notch pro drummer (PINK, CHER, Foreigner, Velvet Revolver, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, to name some of the people he has shared a stage with in support), he will tell you how the drums chose him.
Schulman was, by his teen years, a classically trained cellist. In fact, he was also buddies with Grammy nominated Guitarist, David Becker. Maybe his words of wisdom in the speaking engagements or drum workshops he does comes from having already achieved great things with tremendous focus and discipline at a young age. He wants you to go for it, too.
He is currently finishing up his tour with PINK, and some other things to know about Mark. You can hire him to do motivational seminars, or for a drum clinic, or to do your drum production, no looped drums, no studio costs. If you are lucky enough to go hear or see him play, you get it. Passion and creativity, and precision. This is a drummer you can rely on at any moment, and this is known about him out there in the industry. A reputation like that comes from work and care, and it shows.
He is a passionate artist of the drums. He adores working for PINK with the utmost admiration and respect, and he also has good things to say about other top artists he has worked for. What else would any artist want in a pro drummer, if not professionalism and a positive attitude like this? We begin:
AD: (knowing this guy, I have heard from a staff member, knows the Yiddish slang of German, I decide to mess with him) Halloh, is this Mahhk, oy, Vey, I am the secretary to Abbe Davis, so vhat are you doink, is dis Mahk, I vannah talk mit you.
MS: Um, yes, this is Mark Schulman, is this, eh...
AD: (laughing hysterically) Just kidding! It's Abbe Davis, how are you doing? I thought I would mess with you.
MS: Oh, well you got me good. You got me. (laughing)
AD: I'm glad this didn't annoy you.
MS: Yah, well I'm playful.
AD: Yes, I've heard, or I wouldn't have done it. I know you've been a pro for a while, but what is one recollection about starting out? How did you learn to be more professional.
MS: Well, I decided very early on, that it's much better to be a pro than a con. (laughing)
AD: (laughing) I like that! OK.
MS:I was very single-minded on purpose because I believe the drums chose me. I had just such an extreme interest in the drums since I saw Ringo and the Beatles (at a very young age on the Ed Sullivan show on TV at home). Something resonated deep inside. Of course drums are loud, and my mom said, "Can't you play a nice instrument like your brother Randy, he plays violin?" So I ended up playing cello for a few years, which developed my musicality, but my parents could deny my passion no longer. When I turned 9 years old they got me my first drum set, my first gig was by age 12 and by the time I was 14, I was playing every weekend.
I had parents who were professors, so the last thing they wanted was this damn drummer, plus they kept telling me how high my IQ was. Plus, I ended up dropping out of college, after two years. The irony of it is, now I do executive seminars with a Bachelors Degree.
AD: We will get to that, now what about the Beatles, when you saw them on the Ed Sullivan show, what struck you?
MS: I was about 3 years old, but I saw something that, it literally stirred me deep inside, I was paralyzed with joy. I recall, I was standing in front of the TV, and my brother was telling me to move. I also saw all of those screaming girls and I always loved girls, since a young age, so I was in man, that was it. It was something about the drums. From that point on, I always noticed the drums. I remember sitting at a drum set when I was 5 years old, and I could just play, I knew what to do. I wasn't a prodigy but I knew what to do.
MS: I can actually believe it was one of these predestined things. My daughter is 9 and she has always had the same interests she's always had. It's kind of like we are born with certain predispositions. We either cultivate and nurture them, or we negate them. I didn't wanna do anything else.
AD: Let's talk about that. I think my son came out of my womb tapping. He still is that way, so how would you recommend I, or anyone begin with having their kid learn? Whats the earliest age and how do you get your kid started?
MS: The best way to get your kid started, is to get him a teacher right away, and to let your kid explore the instrument. You can get electronic drums. I give my parents credit cause my room was right next to there's and at 9 years old, until I left the house, there was hours of drumming every day. They were incredibly tolerant.
AD: No electronic drums then.
MS: No, and I love electronic drums, and I endorse Roland electronic drums, and they are fantastic. I still get the biggest high from acoustic drums. Before I got a drum set, I got a snare drum, cymbals, hi hat, and then a toy drum set and I'd put the toy drum set with the real drum set, and sort of forced to build it up.
I really promote improvisation and freedom. The thing that I look back, and it angers me, the naivete of my teachers, even with Cello, I wanted to improvise, and they wouldn't allow us to improvise because it was a Classical instrument and they come from the schools of reading music.
AD: Those stuffy people.
MS: It doesn't matter what instrument it is, a kid or an adult, anyone should have the chance to just sit at an instrument and explore. Equally as important, learn all of the fundamentals of the instrument.
AD: Right. So your first lesson or...?
MS: Well, I was fortunate in that my godfather, my uncle Ben, was a teacher at a local middle school, and he had the basic knowledge of all instruments. So he sort of gave me a drum lesson at the end of every cello lesson.
To kind of prime me or ease me into it. My parents knew drums were inevitable, so they were very supportive. I wanted a drum set by age 7, but at least I got one at 9. I kept playing cello as well, and when I got into middle school I played in the orchestra. You learn a lot when you play in any ensemble and I tell musicians to do that. Get in a band as soon as you can with people who are better than you (laughing) cause you learn more.
AD: Oh yeah. Do you feel, cause I try this with voice and instruments, do you think it's best, to work on what is difficult first when you practice, and then you get to do the fun stuff you know at the end? How do you feel practicing works best?
MS: I always say, "Do the things that you need to work on first, and then at every practice thing, do the thing that you like or love last, cause then your mind associates the practice session better, and you don't dread it so much, cause you know that you have something to look forward to, at the end of the practice session."
AD: Yep, get that biscuit.
MS: I usually do a little bit of both. Like when I go into my studio to practice, I usually kind of play for about 5 minutes, just mess around, and I might get into something specific that I'm working on, and I still study drums. I study with Bruce Becker, who's been one of my dear friends since we were kids. He's the greatest drum instructor on the planet, in my opinion. When I am done working on the road I wanna get back to working with Bruce because he's all about fundamentals. I'm always working on the fundamentals because I start developing bad habits. Especially being on the road that much. He helps me move beyond the bad habits and re-adjust.
AD: Wow, here you are a pro, and yet, that child like wonder of working on your instrument still, keeps you as the pro that you are. An openness to learning more. To be polished and seasoned by being open.
MS: Here's the thing- I'm so busy with being on the road, and running a full-time speaking business with my management, and having a wife and my child, and wanting to spend quality time with my child; being gone so much from her, that when I practice, I look at it as a privilege, cause I rarely have time to do that. It's a luxury to be able to practice. That's what I tell my students, "When you sit down, instead of looking at it as something you have to do, look at it as something you get to do, you get to play drums, you're the luckiest person on the freakin' planet."
AD: I agree. It's awesome. Now, is it true you grew up knowing THE David Becker, the guitarist?
MS: Yes, that is Bruce's brother. Dave was my best friend in second grade. They moved away, then moved back in Jr. high school. So one day, Dave comes up to me and says, are you Mark Schulman? And I said, "Yes," and he said, "You were my best friend in second grade." Dave was playing guitar and trumpet, and Bruce was playing drums. We have always been friends. Bruce and I were competitive. Bruce studied with the greatest drum instructor, Freddie Gruber; Buddy Rich's friend. Why Bruce is such a great instructor is he studied with Freddie for so many years and he has taken Freddie's greatest philosophies and expanded upon them. Now Bruce is one of the stars on DRUMEO because he is so brilliant at understanding the mechanism of the body and how to really get the most out of everything you physically do. To refine your technique.
AD: How do you stay in shape, cause you are in great shape, so how do you channel that into the drums?
MS: I work out, I keep myself healthy, I watch what I eat. I just lost 10 pounds because I went gluten free. A dietitian said I had the worst Gluten allergies he's ever seen. I'm doing a thousand push ups this year, I do a lot of push ups each day.
AD: Wow, you're kidding!
MS: I work out with bands in my room (athletic bands) and I work on upper body, I do the treadmill, running for 45 minutes. When I run, I practice my corporate script in my head.
AD: Isn't that better than running outside and practicing air drumming? You might get some looks, right?
MS: I love it, I've seen drummers driving, and playing drums on their steering wheels. Drummers are a great bunch. We're very willing to share our ideas with each other. We tend to be outgoing and boisterous. Or not give a shit if somebody's watching, so to speak.
AD: Yes, I notice that, from drummers I know, it's a great thing. Maybe because you guys are doing so much at one time anyway, it's sort of the way it is?
MS: Part of the package, ha?
AD: Top 3 things you think a drummer needs to be conscious about?
MS: In not any particular order, I'd say, first, an internal sense of time/meter, being steady and control it. Then, your attitude about yourself and about the people you play with. We can't always control what happens to us, but we have the power to control or shift our attitude about what happens to us, and our attitude is what drives our behaviors. Behaviors determine the consequences of our lives.
If you sit down to the drums and your attitude is, "I'm gonna be of service, and I'm gonna make everybody else's job easier, and have as much fun as I possibly can," that is gonna be reflected in your behavior, and then will reflect in your playing. Choosing your attitude when you play, and more globally, when you get out of bed, cause we can shift our attitudes at a moment's notice, but it's really critical. That's at the root of my success.
I miserably failed at an audition with Bad English, and that is at the start of my first book, and it's caused me to become obsessed with an immaculate internal sense of time, which has been one of my strengths.
AD: What happened at that Bad English audition
MS: I came highly recommended by a friend, and I was overwhelmed with stage fright and nervousness, and I didn't have control over my meter, and I didn't know that I didn't know, and that was the ...I didn't realize that I had to work on my meter. So I spent the next couple of years working diligently on my meter. I worked with Tom Mendola, who worked with the Jamie Fox school of music; Dick Reed, who is now deceased, but uh, Tom is a master at developing great meter; that school was for everything.
The third thing would be to have really big ears. Listen as much as you possibly can. That was also one of my faults. Mistakes I've made is how I know this. As a kid I just wanted to play chops. Then when I began leading my own band I realized how the simpler I played, the better it sounded, as a team player and not just about myself.
AD: The backdrop is attitude and a team spirit.
AD: Music is emotional, yet there must be some people out there who have a tough time. Musicians have to channel emotions, do you work on this with seminars?
MS: There's a beauty in that, that is why there are many tastes, styles, and so many bands. Being authentic means you will attract a similar attitude. There's no right or wrong. I'm not a big fan of RAP, but I appreciate it. In the 80's the hair bands weren't my thing. I was more into Prince and R&B. Groove oriented stuff. We resonate with what we like. I met a bass player who was into Zappa and got into that.
AD: Zappa is great, and don't you think that it's good to venture way out of the box?
MS: Zappa's way out of the box, and rhythmically, by far the most challenging music I've ever had the chance to learn and it was beautiful. My playing ranges from Buddy Rich to this kid called Jacob Collier who is the most evolved musician I've ever heard. He's like 24 years old, and he's from England. Or to Motown hits, or 70's pop. I was listening to Billy Joel yesterday. We were in Vienna so I had to put on Vienna by him and that album, the Stranger. Brilliant. Liberty DiVito, a friend of mine.
AD: Love him, you guys are both amazing.
MS: You've written books, you do speaking, and speak about motivation. ..
MS: I don't do seminars, it is about being hired by corporations to do keynote speaking and the multimedia, the book I wrote was, "Conquering Life's Stage Fright.Three Steps to Top Performance." I use metaphors (with Dr. Jim Samuels) Clarity, Capability, Confidence. Clarity is to determine the skills you need to get there, Capability is once your goals are clear you are becoming proficient at those skills, the hours, and that is what leads you to the confidence. It's about a strategy to build top performance. Jim Samuels is a brilliant publisher and top selling author. He started a publishing company and got me to write the book. He was like, "Hey man, I want you to write a book for me." Then, my partner in my All Star band, my manager came up with "Overcoming Life's Stage Fright" and we changed it to Conquering Life's Stage Fright. Jim just thought it was the coolest title ever.
Your mind goes where you tell it to. In the book, I interviewed 50 top performers. I fused my 3 concepts and theirs, and at the end of each chapter, there are exercises. I talk about clarity in all different forms. It is a short, easy, content-rich read. The next book will be all about attitude, behavior and consequence. In this second book coming out, I'm interviewing top performers in businesses.
I draw on Rock 'n Roll and my drumming, but I've done a lot of philosophical study, and inner-work, so to speak. I have a lot of knowledge but I like to base it on what I know the best, my success in drumming. Music is a great metaphor for top performance.
AD: I have a question. How do you motivate somebody with talent who might not believe in himself? They hear you speak, and then maybe at some Q&A session and the person stands up to ask, "I'm told I have talent, but you know, how do I get motivated and have confidence?" What would you say to someone like that?
MS: Motivation is the beginning but action is what matters. So I'd say, "First of all, have as much fun as you possibly can, create that. Use it as a source of joy and drop the other goals to begin with, fall in love with the instrument again. And that's a great place to start.
AD: What if they say that they would enjoy it, but "I hear things in my head, and I can't do what is in my head, so Mark, that's not enjoyable."
MS: Well, then I would say, "Slow it down, because if you can play anything slow, then you can play it faster, and there are APPs, programs for transcribing what the pros do. Look at it like, "I get to do this, as a privilege and have fun doing it. Just because it's hard work doesn't mean that it is fun, we as musicians don't work instruments, it is that we PLAY instruments.
I decided that every single note I play, matters. I attach a sense of purpose to every note, and then I become passionate about it. Passion nurtures purpose and passion, a ripple affect.
AD: On the road, what are 5 things that you have to have on the road?
MS: 5 things that I GET To have on the road. (laughing)
AD: OK, 5 things on the road that assist you in playing your instrument.
MS: Are you talking about tools, or...
AD: Drumming, nutrition, health and being on the road?
MS: My attitude, I create that, so that is a must cause I don't wake up in a great mood every day, I work at it.
I have a good computer, and phone, so communication. Brilliant gear that makes me happy every time I sit behind my set. I love my drum tech Gary, the best drummer on the planet, has worked for Peter Erskine.
AD: One of my favorites!!
MS: Gary is as obsessed with what he does, as I am with what I do. I also love him, he's like a brother to me. I rarely have a tech that I don't like, but occasionally I have a tech that I just don't bond with, and that's a big thing for me. The people around me. I just adore the band and the dancers around me, that I perform with.
I'm so blessed. We don't choose to be together, we've been picked to be together. Auditioning, and we've all been in the band at different times, and we got lucky that we all just get on great.
If you don't get along well with people you work with, there ends up being a lot of concentration and inner work you have to do. It's rare for me, but along the way, it has happened in the past.
AD: If you don't like a tech, what would you do? What do you recommend, if you're touring and that goes on?
MS: I learned years ago, nothing has any meaning unless you attach meaning to it. Someone can be negative to you, but it doesn't mean that it has to affect you. You can still get on stage and have so much joy anyway.
AD: But what about a tech who isn't great with setting up your drums?
MS: At this stage, I've only had to let one great guy go. At this level it is the cream of the crop. The best of the best now. This is the real deal. PINK Is the top grossing female artist of the year, the biggest tour. Everyone has to be at the top of their game. I care about the crew and what they go through too, they work so hard, and they have to set it all up, they get like two hours of sleep. I have tons of respect for them. They are amazing.
AD: What is your drum setup now, how has it changed over the year, which gear are you using?
MS: I have had a similar configuration for a couple of years. I was playing with CHER a few years ago and it was more, TD30 Roland kit because I was doing lot of electronics, Gretsch drums, and then Sabian cymbals for 31 years, Dick Furth over 20 years, Reno and then Sennheiser, Roland, Cymbals, big fat snares, sledge pad, foam in my bass drum, Toca percussion; and designing a custom cowbell, with Gretsch.
AD: More cowbell?
MS: Of course!
AD: When you tour, what are some things or interesting stories about PINK? What about her appeals to you the most about her?
MS: She is, not only one of the absolute greatest vocalists on the planet, (it is just a stupendous instrument), the obvious is the aerial stunts that are life-threatening, that nobody attempts -cause she was a gymnast when she was younger, and she sings live while doing these aerials. She is kicking my ass every night, cause she is so damn good. She has to pay so much attention and do costume changes, and do so many things, but her dedication and actual real love for the audience; she really notices people and is so spontaneous and so loving and connected to them. She took 5 years off to have her son, 5 years off for an artist now is death. She came back stronger than ever. And she is a role model. She has an energy and strong social belief. Political opinions she is not afraid to be vocal about. She is just very intelligent, and sexy and strong and incredibly gifted. She works harder than anybody that I know, and she's more giving than anyone on the planet . So you combine all those things together, and you have a formula for the greatest artist on the planet. You could give her that title.
AD: Absolutely. When you first met, how did it go? How was that for you guys?
MS: We didn't know each other. Her manager also managed Cher. I did one sub-gig her drummer couldn't make, in 2005, last minute, and I didn't get to meet her. Then her drummer double-booked himself prior to doing her "I'm Not Dead" tour, so I came in for two weeks, and after that, she offered me the gig.
She calls me "Disneyland, the happiest place on earth." Everyone gives her good vibes, but she looks to me for that, and I think that when she sees the sheer joy on my face when I play, she gets energy from that. Ya know, we're all there to support her. We're all there to be of service, it's about her. I look at what I do as being of service, to her, to the audience, it's what I do and who I am.
AD: The team work makes it all happen, it's great. Can you share some things people don't know about her?
MS: She is very public about everything. It's impressive how she is a mom first. Her kids are on stage when we are sound checking. There's a posting of Jamison playing drums with me during soundcheck. Very family-oriented. She even took a break to put her daughter back in school. A dedicated mom. We do our prayer circle and her kid is there. We get together, gratitude, unifying our energies before each show, we even laugh, too. We go in her dressing room, we are joking around, then we say a prayer. Emotional, spiritual, all of it is great.
AD: How about with CHER, how does she do it?
MS: Everyone is very different. CHER is wonderful. On the road with her you just don't hang with her. Occasionally we do an art night or a movie night, but she is more on her own. Whereas with PINK, she loves to hang out and stand in lines, comes to catering to eat with everyone and stands in line, and she hangs and talks to the crew guys.
AD: But do you think that's because CHER is older, she's been around longer, been there, done that?
MS: Yeah, and I know that when she was younger she would hang more. She is just really focusing in on her performance and her show. But we do a prayer circle with her, as well, and it gives us a chance to bond with her and share with her, and get our energies together. She's great. She cracks me up because she's 73, and she works hard and with CHER, if anyone made a mistake, instead of being pissed, she would laugh because someone else was making a mistake. With lyrics or...if someone messed up, she'd be like, "Ah, you made a mistaaaake.."
AD: (laughing) Ha!! Cute.
MS: That is what is really sweet about her. She's a nice gal. I've worked with some great people.
AD: Also Lou Gramm, he's great, too.
MS: Aw, Lou, yes, so great.
AD: Production wise, how can someone pay you to do tracks on their music? And then, should musicians play for free when they just get started?
MS: Many of the big studios are gone. I did a bit years ago, about "The Recording Studio" about how to set up your own business doing drum tracks for people. So I do that for people all over the world, if you send me your mp3, or 12 or however many they want. They send me a scratch drum track. One with drums, one without drums, and then, I lay down their drum tracks. And an hour later, they get 2 or 3 drum takes for the song, they get alternative verses, alternate choruses, samples, different fills, and I do thousands of those by now. And then I charge people per track. It's fun, it's easy, and I love doing it.
AD: That is great.
MS: Almost every session musician in L.A. has their own studio made so you can hire us on your tracks. (laughing)
AD: That's wonderful. I've been seeing musicians ask this a lot on Facebook recently, so here goes, do you think a drummer or musician should play gigs for free?
MS: I think that any amount of stage experience you get is marvelous. But if you play for free, and feel like you're being taken advantage of, I wouldn't do it. Yet, if you're playing with good musicians, and are having some fun, and you're going to get something out of it, 'cause you're gonna get experience and it's going to be fun for you, then do it! You get to play the instrument. Especially if you're starting out and need more stage experience. Man, get as much stage experience as you can. Every single gig, you learn something. Every song, you're gonna learn something. Subconsciously you're getting better at your craft.
But if you feel like the club owner is taking advantage of you, and you feel like you should be paid, then you say, "Can we at least get some free drinks, or a free meal, or something..." The idea is, you wanna feel good about whatever agreements you make. But once the agreement's made, you stick to it. You honor it with love, not with "I just made some other better deal."
AD: So true, important. Now, the rest of the year for you looks like what? And, when is your new book coming out?
MS: We don't have a release date because I've been touring and interviewing people. We're hoping to release the book by the end of the year. The PINK tour is ending soon. I'm doing quite a few speaking gigs, which is wonderful, and I'm excited about getting back into the studio to do some sessions, and to get back into practicing a little more. And, of course, spending some time with my family.
AD: Well we will look out for your new book on your website.
MS: My handle is always @markyplanet and I will be telegraphing it when it is out.
AD: (laughing) Excellent! Thank you so much for giving us your time while you are out there touring with PINK. I can't thank you enough for how generous you've been. Enjoy the tour, give her a hug from us, and thank you guys for the tremendous show you put on. It's really beautiful! This has been such a pleasure.
MS: It's my pleasure to share information.
Abbe Davis is the singer/songwriter of Hard Rock/Alternative band, Sordid Fable. She has also served as writer/editor of various Fortune 500 companies. Abbe has performed at festivals alongside of Buddy Guy, and along the northeast coast. Sordid Fable's new album will be released in Winter, with shows in 2019/2020. Her ultimate goal is to support new Rock music (having helped to also promote other bands, as well), and to preserve the legacies of Rock music.