Tom Whittaker has been a recording engineer since 2009 – and a musician nearly all his life. He has worked with clients of all types in the studio, as a live sound engineer and recording interviews for radio. He plays the drums, but has a passion for all things music and the benefits it can have on everyone. Based at the TCR Hub, in Barnard Castle, Tom offers high quality music sessions – whether recordings, lessons, band practices or anything in between – to people who would struggle to find them elsewhere

How did you come to play the drums – and do you play other instruments?
I started playing drums in a lunchtime club back when I went to Teesdale School.
The club was only on for a couple of weeks before the older student teaching it decided to focus on his studies instead but that was long enough to get the drumming bug.
I’ve also learned a small amount of clarinet and keyboard through school, but didn’t find the same love. It did give me a decent understanding of music theory.

How does learning to play the drums differ from tackling other instruments?
In most aspects it is very similar. As with all instruments, if you want to progress it takes dedication and practice.
However, in my experience, it is one of the more accessible instruments to be able to grasp the basics of. It is also much more physical than a lot of other instruments.

What makes a good drummer – is drumming a difficult skill to perfect?
I completely agree with Brandon Khoo’s philosophy on this, that a good drummer “serves the music and not themselves”.
You have to play appropriately according to the type/genre of music you are playing and listen to what the other musicians are doing and reacting to that. Practise always helps.
My wife regularly tells me I drive her round the bend by drumming along when I’m listening to music.

What is the drummer’s role in a band – and how easy is it to form a good rhythm section?
To over simplify, the drummer’s role in the band is to keep time. However it goes much deeper than that.
As a drummer you are not just sitting at the back hitting things in time, you are playing a musical instrument.
You need to react to the musicians around you and play accordingly. This almost becomes as much about the personal and working relationships you have with the other musicians.
Forming a good rhythm section is the same as anything else in music, it takes practice.
It’s very easy for musicians and non-musicians alike to tell if a band is well rehearsed or not.

Do you have a preferred style of drumming (jazz, rock funk etc)? If so why?
I have rather eclectic music tastes both to listen to and to play. I would say the genres I feel most natural playing would be rock, blues and funk but I’m happy to play anything.

As well as drumming, you also teach music technology – what does this involve?
It generally depends on the student as it covers a wide range of applications.
I can teach live sound (sound for gigs and festivals); studio work (recording and producing bands in the studio); sound for radio, television and film including sound effects; and also the basics of writing and recording scores. 

When and how did you first come across The Hub?
I got involved with TCR while it was still based at Birch Road. I originally had lessons with Richard Levett and then took over teaching from him when he left.
I taught at the Birch Road site and continued teaching at The Witham when the studio site was sold off. I was aware The Hub was being built and followed its progress, but due to moving away for university and work, it was roughly eight years before I came back to work there.

What makes The Hub such a creative place for young musicians?
The main thing is the access to a space with such a great array of professional equipment both for studio and live use alongside the fact we provide as many opportunities to use it as we can. Before the current restrictions, it was also a great place to hang out.
You didn’t have to be booked into an activity to come down and use the pool table, grounds, cafe, or just sit and listen to some music on the sofas. Hopefully we will be able to safely get back to that in the near future.

Do you still enjoy playing live (lockdown notwithstanding)?
I definitely do enjoy playing live still, although the amount of time I have to do so has reduced a lot since I was younger.

How have the events of 2020 affected you?
Compared to many others in the music industry I have been quite lucky.
The entire events, arts and entertainment industry has struggled with little to no help from the government.
I, of course, have seen a drop in working hours but currently it has just about been sustainable. The support I have received from Rachel and The Hub has been invaluable.

What’s next on the agenda for you?
Hopefully 2021 will see a return to something resembling normality and I will be able to continue to expand teaching at The Hub and getting back to putting on more events and gigs and providing opportunities for the community to get involved with music.

Where can we find out more?