A simple lesson in defaults from Blink 182’s drummer

Early in my journey as a budding drummer, the friends who’d roped me into buying a drum kit and joining the band had also introduced me to what would become another interest: all forms of heavy rock music, and all its various subgenra.

As a result, I’d begun studying metal drummers who did the things I wanted to learn to do. And like so many young folks who are eagerly jumping into metal drumming, this pretty much meant one thing: I wanted to learn the secret to being able to play high-tempo (and maybe accurate, even) 16th notes on the bass drum.

There had to be a cheat code. How is he doing this? Double strokes? Heel-toe? Heel up? Heel down?

The cheat code, as any experienced person in any discipline will likely tell you, is always practice. But that didn’t stop me from learning as much as I could about the art, and the tools used to create it. If someone was talking about, say, how X pedal line stacked up next to Y’s offering, where they put their spring tension, what type of drive, the shape of the cam, how they tuned their bass drum or any of the other odds and ends, I was taking notes.

One of my favorite broader takeaways from all of my digging into the craft came from an interview Travis Barker did with one of the drumming magazines. I’d say it’s pretty common for interviewers to ask about bass drum pedal settings, because someone in the audience will always want these details, actually-useful or not.

This Q&A (I think it was an old Modern Drummer cover story?) was no exception. And when asked about his pedal settings, Travis essentially said that he doesn’t like to toy with his pedal’s factory configuration out of the box, because if his pedal breaks, and he needs to knock the shrink wrap off a brand new one right in the middle of a show, he doesn’t want to have to fuss with dialing in a perfect spring tension, beater angle, pedal height or whatever else. This resonated with me – if the manufacturer’s products are that consistent right out of the box, and critical to your performance, why not at least consider leaning on that?

I can’t say I went the same route in my own drumming, as I’ve always customized my double pedal to be about as stiff and heavy as the hardware will tolerate. But it’s always been in my mind as an added perspective to consider, and my own personal computers are where I’ve found myself applying this idea of minimal customization in the interest of quick re-entry.

Since reading that article, enough of my system refreshes (either a new computer entirely, or formatting a system/reinstalling an OS) have been in response to disaster that I began to adopt this philosophy for much of the software I use in my daily computing. I’ll inevitably do some sort of tweaking over time, but it’ll be things like fonts, colors, shell aliases and other things that aren’t going to melt my brain if I have to do without.

It’s not like I don’t customize them at all. In some cases, it’s almost unavoidable – Sveltekit’s somewhat controversial change in routing layout comes to mind as an example where I pretty much had to hunt down the setting that makes working with multiple files more sensible.

As with most things, all users are different, and spend varying amounts of time in different apps. Someone who spends the majority of their day on the command line will certainly have much stronger opinions about colors, fonts, aliases and specific behaviors that they’re simply looking at for far longer than a software engineer who’s on the command line to fire up a local development environment, commit code, and maybe install a package that supports a new feature. But I think it’s a worthwhile perspective to keep close, especially in lines of work with deep toolboxes.

©2024 Joe Castelli