J-Pop Taiko Experiment: Utada “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence”


The biggest change from the past three recordings (Rich Chigga, BLACKPINK, and Japanese Breakfast) is the addition of a few microphones. I now have a Beta 57A on the Shime, SM57s on Chu and Oke, and a Crown PCC-160 for the room. Add this to the original setup (Beta 52a on the Floor Tom, SM57s on the Shime and Snare, and AKG414 Overheads) gives me a total 8 microphones to work with.

There were many things that didn’t work with the Indie Pop Taiko Experiment, but the biggest one was that the playing was just too boring. It wasn’t very eye or ear-catching. I suppose it accomplished the initial goal to be more melodic, but it just wasn’t interesting enough.

Recording Methods

I changed the placement of the drums so that everything is to my right. This allows me to place all the mics where they won’t be in the way. I also placed the Beta 52a slightly off from the center, and slightly pointed it at the shell instead of directly at the head.

One of the advantages of having individual mics is panning. Moving sounds to the right or left allows the drums to sound from their own individual locations.

Performance Methods

One of the challenges from the Indie Pop Taiko Experiment was that my playing was a little too boring. I want there to be consistency so that people can focus on the vocals. On the other hand, I obviously don’t want to be boring either. Therefore, for this recording, I tried to strike a balance of consistency and variety. I want the listener to appreciate the colors the percussionist brings, but not to a point where it distracts from the singer.

I also threw in a Chris Dave lick that I got from The 80/20 Drummer YouTube channel.

Mixing Methods

I think you can hear the additional mics make a huge difference. This mix is much cleaner than any of the previous ones. With the individual mics, I’m able to mold each sound a little more, and being able to pan them also makes a huge difference.


I’d like to explore getting a little more variety with this setup.  In particular, the tumbao pattern could use some variation here and there to keep the listener guessing.  Also, my shaker playing goes out the window when I have to do something with the left hand.  It’s soooo inconsistent and I want to be able to do it better.  Those improvements aside, I would call the J-Pop Taiko Experiment a success.

Personal Story: My First Failure as a Music Critic

Let me share a story before I dive into the J-Pop Taiko Experiment. Back in 1999 – wow that’s almost 20 years ago – a friend of a friend debuted from a major label. This actually wasn’t too uncommon. A lot of friends that went to international school in Tokyo were the sons and daughters of entertainers. In almost every case, they would get their shot and fizzle out after 2-3 years.

Having been in the music business for a few years myself, I was absolutely convinced her CD would not sell.  Her voice sounded frail and unstable.  Music during the time was getting faster and faster, and her song was a R&B ballad.  I also couldn’t imagine someone from an international school background having the skills and discipline to make it in music at the age of 17 or 18.  According to my “expert opinion” she’d be out of music in a few years – just like so many of our friends.

Later that year Utada’s “First Love” became, and still is, the highest selling Japanese album.