By Phil Hood
“I’m Sure It Will Be Ruined If A Big Corporate Company Buys It”
That’s the post I saw last summer when it was rumored that a leading boutique drum company was about to be bought by a major drum company.
We’ve heard the refrain before: Soul-less giant corporation buys hip young company and promptly ruins the products as bean counters take over for visionaries. And it does happen a lot. Right now people are wondering how Amazon will destroy Whole Foods and what has happened to the dozens of craft beer brew masters whose companies have been snapped up and reanimated by evil giants Budweiser and Miller. Or, closer to home for some musicians, it is a badge of honor never to sign a major label deal, and stay with independents. But that is sometimes a false choice. Indies may have deals with majors to co-promote or distribute. And as that independent record label, brewpub, or hand-poured coffee company gets more successful, it also can become more organized, more-process-oriented, and lose a little of the loose, ad hoc, soulful feel of its origins.
But I’m here to tell you not to confuse Acme Conglomerate with the music products industry. Yamaha Music is the largest company in the industry and its revenue is about one percent of Apple’s (the motorcycle division split off from music and sports equipment long ago). But Yamaha is huge by music products industry standards, and an acknowledged leader in everything from recording gear to clarinets. Its drum division is small and the decisions about which drums it will make are made by a handful of people in the US and Japan, driven by their own knowledge as pro drummers and the great endorsers they work with when designing products. Keep in mind that the next closest companies in the drum industry are tinier, even miniscule. Few of them employ as many as a hundred people. Their revenue figures would keep the doors open at Wal-Mart only long enough for you to read this paragraph.
And, when you know those people, they look just like you and me and the people who build custom drums and accessories in their garage. They are men and women who wanted a career in drums. Some were teachers, some ran their own music stores, some toured nonstop, and then one day they ended up working full-time for a music company. Their job is another way to express their passion.
Here’s the deal: There are industries that are big, like food or energy, and then there are industries that are influential, like movies. Music is tiny economically but highly influential in terms of its impact in the world. Pearl drums, Zildjian cymbals, Remo heads, LP congas, their logos are seen by billions over and over on stages around the world. But don’t confuse fame with fortune. Most any of the marketing and product managers I’ve met in drums could make more money working for the marketing departments of Citibank or Cisco or CVS. I know plenty of people at drum companies who are gigging every weekend and then driving hours to come home and get ready for another week at the drum company.
There are some junk products in the music products industry of course. And those are usually imported items designed to hit a really low price point as I wrote about here. But in every field you get what you pay for.
When I buy a custom product or a handmade product I love knowing I got something one-of-a-kind or has been meticulously crafted by hand. And I don’t feel bad about paying more than I would for a product that is produced in greater quantities. But when I walk into a music store and see those “big-company” products hanging on the wall, from the smallest drum key to the biggest cymbal packs I’m just as excited. Maybe it’s because I know how small some of those companies are and how dedicated they are to building drums, cymbals, sticks, and heads.
This thing we’re involved in called music is magic. The value it creates in the world gives people something money can never buy. And that’s true no matter what kind of instrument you play.
I like to hear them and sometimes share them and I give away gifts just for receiving them. This month you might be the lucky recipient of a DrumClip, the cool device for attaching stuff to your drum. Post below or vent to me at Phil@stringletter.com.
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