You've played screaming guitar solos before the largest audience in entertainment history, tracked some tasty acoustic solos for a picky client named Jagger and survived the vagaries of the New York jingle business. What's next?
Rick DiFonzo's answer can be found by twisting up a narrow flight of stairs to the third floor of his Roselle Park, N.J., home. When he decided that touring with the likes of Roger Waters and Cyndi Lauper and commuting daily to Manhattan were taking too much time away from his family, DiFonzo took a look around and decided to settle in.
His project studio — which features Mac and PC, Pro Tools and Logic, all routed into a Mackie 32×8 console — is nestled comfortably in 500 square feet. He now composes about 20 pieces of music each month for the BRG Library, which is owned by Clear Channel, America's largest radio conglomerate. He's also the key player behind Discrete Drums, one of the best-selling sampled drum libraries in the business.
“Most of the rock libraries I heard were limp, and the one or two that actually rocked seemed to be swimming in reverb,” DiFonzo says. “Faster chips and machines with tons of RAM made me realize that multitracked drums were the way to go. Every Discrete Drums performance includes eight tracks of drums, like you'd find them laid out on a multitrack, plus a stereo mix. Each user can customize the sound of the kit and make it sit in a track just the way they want. The response to Series I was so good that we released a second, and we're just about to put out a third.”
Series I was recorded at Nashville's Hum Depot with Steve Marcantonio at the console and drummer Greg Morrow on the kit. Series II, recorded at Sound Kitchen, featured drummer Chris McHugh and percussionist Eric Darken, who is also spotlighted on the recently completed third release, along with Morrow.
While he books acoustic spaces for his drum library work, most of DiFonzo's composition career is based out of his studio. “I engineer all of my stuff, which I'm not thrilled about, but I'm okay,” he says. “Everything goes through the pair of Daking mic pre's. I also have a pair of Daking compressors, and both pieces are fantastic. I did a lot of jingle writing in the 1980s at a New York house owned by Louise Messina. Geoff Daking was her husband at the time, and he taught me a lot about engineering. Geoff was the drummer with the Blues Magoos, and he really had a feel for recording drums.”
For critical near-field monitoring of his mixes, DiFonzo chose the Mackie HR824s. “Like everyone else, I used to monitor through NS-10s,” he explains. “But I recorded the first Discrete Drums library down in Nashville, and it seemed like everyone had either the HR824s or Genelecs. The Mackies were cheaper, so I went with them, and added a JBL powered subwoofer to beef up the bottom end a little. I strap an A&D Compex Limiter across the console's stereo bus and mix down to a Tascam DA-80 Mark II DAT machine.”
Although he has found comfort and creativity at home, DiFonzo does look back fondly on his days as a guitar-slinging rock 'n' roller. “I recorded guitar tracks on Roger's [Waters] album Amused to Death,” he recalls. “That led to my appearance with him at The Wall concert that celebrated the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1990. It was just amazing. We played before almost half-a-million people at the site and a broadcast audience that included every country in the world except America and Albania! Thomas Dolby flew in on wires; there were marching bands and choirs and the largest stage — and crane — in the world! I'll never forget it.”
With his music-production and sample library businesses thriving from his home base, DiFonzo has found the time to watch his 16-year-old daughter's high school volleyball games, help out his wife with chores and tend to his family's dog and cats. But the fire still burns: “Cyndi Lauper's management recently asked me if I wanted to go out on tour,” he says. “The timing wasn't quite right, but there's nothing like ripping off a screaming solo in front of 10,000 people. I need to get that rush at least one more time!”
For more on Discrete Drums, visit www.discretedrums.com.
Gary Eskow is a contributing editor to Mix.