The drummer is the most important part of your band and here's why:
1. You can't build a house without a good foundation.
2. A good groove is like rose-colored glasses for most people* if the rest of your band sucks. (aka isn't technically very good)
3. A good drummer is better than a backing track because they can artfully push and pull the beat to breathe some humanity into the groove. In a lot of ways this is more exciting and versatile than electronic drums.
4. How many times have you asked someone why they like a popular song and they go "it's got a good beat!"
5. Drums is the most effective way to A. provide structure and B. change/grow the energy. The second you open up that hi hat, it's like whoa. The second you go into half-time, it's like 'oh shit!'.
*I'm talking most people who like music and like going to shows. Generally not us musician judgemental asshole types.
More evidence drums are the most important - not a cause, but an interesting corelation.
1. drums get the most microphones
2. drums have the most gear
3. drums are first when recording (multi-tracking)
So what makes a good drummer?
Here are my favorite traits:
1. Pays attention to the band in performance and when writing.
If the beat didn't come first, a good drummer will choose patterns that work with what the rest of the band is doing. Lines up the kick with the bass line (or artfully chooses not to), adds little open hi hat flares in dead spots, doesn't put a crash on top of an important vocal line.
2. Knows how to read cues from the band
Being in a band is a special kind of relationship. You have to communicate without words and without hands. There's a few ways to do it - eye contact, with what you're playing (ex. guitar gets chunkier and louder), and if you're a mobile member you can jump and kick and stuff. A good drummer can read the rest of the members and what they want and what they're going to do with all of these methods.
3. Knows how to give cues
A good drummer will help the band out by letting them know clearly when the next section is coming and when to stop. If the drummer doesn't make strong choices about the structure, you're gonna end up playing a mid-tempo blues song for literally hours (okay, fine, that was everybody's fault).
4. Gives feedback on song structure
Drummer starts and stops songs. Drummer cues change sections. Drummer should be involved in creating structure.
5. Has a strong start and strong stop.
Makes strong choices throughout; does not hesitate. If you can't confidently stop the song by yourself or by giving the band a cue that you're about to do it, I will not trust you and think you a cowardly despot. It is your job as drummer to start and stop songs and to keep time in between.
6. Likes to figure out new beats and tricks.
Doesn't settle into the same tempo or the same beat for every song. You could seriously have a song with the same 4 chords but different tempos and beats and not many people would realize it. Just listen to Top 40 radio.
7. Has a stage personality.
Drummers are often the most fun to watch in a band because they are doing SO MUCH STUFF! And it's stuff non-musicians understand (HITTING STUFF!) A drummer who can hit all that stuff while rocking out and having fun makes us all have fun.
8. Keeps time no matter what.
Simplify fills if you can't make it to the downbeat in time. Your band needs you. Practice it by yourself.
And now to the really fun part - what makes a BAD drummer?
Here are my no-so-favorite traits:
1. Tries to be too fancy.
I don't care if you *can* hit all the toms in that fill, you *aren't* right now and it's messing the rest of us up. Cut it out.
2. Doesn't participate in songwriting.
The drummer is just as capable of starting a song as the rest of the band, or changing the feel of it throughout. You are the director more than you know. Share your tricks with us. The most popular producers are beatmasters. There's a reason for that.
3. Doesn't hit the drums hard enough.
This is true for many beginners. In the words of Gina Schock, "you gotta hit the drums hard". You want the snare to crack, and the kick to punch. Attack it.
4. Hits the cymbals too hard.
Cymbals are piercing and have a long release so they end up taking over everything if you hit them too hard. They are very difficult to control when recording and mixing live because there's a lot of bleed with the rest of the kit (and everything else on stage). Be dynamic with them.
5. Requires an enormous kit.
Unless you're endorsed by Ziljian you don't *need* that china cymbal or that tiny splash. Have fun but good luck being in a band. Sell them. Buy new heads instead. A good drummer can make rock and roll happen with a kick, snare, and hi hat. Basic kits have 1-2 rack toms, 1 floor tom, a ride cymbal and a crash. Anything other than that and I'm checked out.
So if you're reading this and you're like "my band can't start or stop songs and all our songs sound the same and i can't hear my vocals because of the china cymbal" it's probably time you got a new drummer.