Re: Todd Sucherman here!
Play as much as you can on the actual instrument----a real drum. Mesh heads can supply even more "fake" rebound that will disappear when you get to a drum. I use a mesh head backstage more for the silence factor so I don't piss anyone off. 40 minutes on a regular practice pad can get on the nerves of those you share space with. But play on all surfaces. Even a bed (mattress). I can still pull out the fast stuff on a no rebound surface. It's a matter of spending time doing it. It's hard to really suggest anything without seeing you play. But keep at it.
I'm not a fan of the weighted sticks. There was a study I heard about with baseball players who use the weighted bats to warm up with---and they actually slowed the swing compared to those who warmed up with the bat they use for the game. I can't substantiate this, but if it's true, then there's your proof.
I've recorded (and still do) all the ways you mentioned. As mostly a hired side man, I do whatever the artist/producer requires of me. It's special to have a whole band play at one time, as long as everyone is good and on the same page musically. It can be a drag if there's a weak link and someone is messing with the time/feel. But I'm completely comfortable in doing it both ways. I'm thinking about getting a good take which means: playing the song, shaping the song with dynamics, responding emotionally to the lyrical content, maybe creating some thematic simple parts, making sure any or all fills not only fit the musical moment but that they all make sense in a collection of fills throughout the piece, playing good time and making every bar feel good--and making every note count. I want to play the truth, you know?
I have an idea of what will work because I've been doing this so long. But sometimes I'll hear a playback and something wasn't quite right, whatever it is, and I have to identify the problem and fix it on the next take. As far as what I'm hearing---I'm hearing whatever is there as far as musical information and a click if one is being used. (Most times it is.)
I have no interest in a signature drum. I like lots of drums. But it would be nice to have a solid sterling silver shell, engraved, and encrusted with rubies, diamonds, emeralds and sapphires. But then most people, including myself, couldn't afford one!
Thanks, man. You know, both have their charms. I have a double sided 22" up in my studio now. It's cool to have some different options. A single might have a touch more attack and a touch less lows, and a double is more like a big floor tom with some extra resonance from the bottom head. It's a little fluffier. I dig them both really.
Thanks for your questions, guys.
Cheers from Baton Rouge,