BY PHIL HOOD
Pearl Drums announced this week a new electronic drum set called e/MERGE, designed in conjunction with Korg. It features a full library of high definition, organic, and minimally processed acoustic Pearl drums, as well as electronic, world, orchestral and specialty percussion sounds from KORG’s library. It also applies KORG’s Wave Trigger Technology from the popular Wave Drum and Pearl’s acoustic-like PUREtouch electronic pads. It’s the second of two new e-drum initiatives announced in the space of a couple of months, and I knew just who I wanted to talk to about where the company is headed.
Senior marketing manager Steve Armstrong is a drummer and 14-year veteran of Pearl Drums. He arrived there from MCA Records in 2003 and has never looked back. Today he works with product and marketing teams producing an ever-growing line of acoustic and electronic drums.
Despite the recent announcement of their new e/MERGE product line, and their decision to distribute the entire line of Keith McMillen Instruments, Pearl does not appear to have slowed down on the acoustic drum front. They introduced many new products including Music City Custom Reference Shell snares at NAMM in January. I interviewed Steve to go under the hood (I couldn’t resist) of how Pearl makes its product decisions and what we might expect in the future.
Drum: Pearl has shown great commitment to electronic drums since the first version of the e-Pro Live in 2010. You’ve come out with accessory packs of pads, the Mimic Pro, the malletSTATION. Now, you’re coming out with the e/MERGE and have established a relationship to market and distribute Keith McMillen Instruments, including the BopPad and presumably other products. Is electronics your future, or is it both acoustic and electronic drums?
Steve Armstrong: We remain fully committed to acoustic and electronic drums with dedicated product specialists in both areas. We will continue to strive to offer the best and most cutting-edge acoustic and electronic products.
Drum: The e-Pro live seemed to get a slow start in the market but grew over time. With the Mimic Pro, the buzz has been steadily good since before the first one shipped. Has it met your expectations?
Armstrong: e-Pro Live had a gradual roll out in brick and mortar stores but the house-of-worship market were early adopters from the very start. Our emphasis on real look, real feel, and real sound forced everyone in the electronic drum segment to up their game. We had very high expectations for Mimic Pro and it has far exceeded those expectations worldwide.
Drum: The malletSTATION is an incredible instrument that can fit education markets as well as performance. Which applications has it found its best home in so far?
Armstrong: While malletSTATION has been recognized with education-based awards its application goes well beyond that market. We fully expect to see one in the pit of every Broadway production and the performance opportunities are limitless. We have delivered early units to some DCI corps for use this summer and a handful of artists just received their malletSTATIONS. Dealers will start receiving units by mid-July, but we have had overwhelming response in all areas of performance, education, practice and composition. Drum set artists are even inquiring about getting them for use in studio and on stage.
Drum: All of these products are the result of collaborations. In some cases, some of the hardware and software is Pearl’s. In other cases it’s designed outside and is marketed and distributed by you. What does Pearl gain in each of these cases through collaboration? How do you see your customers gaining?
Armstrong: Let’s start with the last part of your question. The customers benefit from more technologically advanced products that do more things better and we put more control in their hands. Traditionally, everyone in the electronic drum game developed closed systems. We saw an opportunity to work with partners and change that up. While our projects are collaborations each of the Pearl products were heavily influenced by our product managers and engineers combined with uniquely talented teams from our partners. Obviously, the Keith McMillen products were designed by his team. The malletSTATION is the perfect example of our concept for the product married with their Smart Fabric Technology resulting in an instrument that is totally revolutionary.
Drum: The e/MERGE is a collaboration with Korg. You both are manufacturer/distributors. How does that work?
Armstrong: e/MERGE was spearheaded by our R&D Department in Japan because of their close proximity to Korg’s headquarters. Engineers from both companies brought valuable experience to the project. Components will be manufactured at factory owned facilities by both companies and final assembly and packaging will take place at Pearl’s Taiwan factory.
Drum: Importantly for the e/MERGE, where do you see that product fitting in your line of e-drums and in the market generally.
Armstrong: e/MERGE is at the top of our electronic drum lineup and positioned against the best products our competitors have to offer. We have two configurations, one with a traditional electronic bass drum pad that streets for $3,999 and a hybrid configuration with an 18” acoustic bass drum with internal electronics that streets for $4,199.
Drum: It’s going to be introduced in the US at summer NAMM. At what point will we be able to buy it?
Armstrong: e/MERGE will hit the stores in 2019.
Drum: As electronics, mobility, and ease of use invade the drum market, where do you see e-drums going in the future?
Armstrong: Mimic Pro’s completely new operating system and solid state hard drive with a full Steven Slate HD sound library, malletSTATION’s use of Keith McMillen’s Smart Fabric Technology and the Wave Trigger Technology introduced with e/MERGE clearly demonstrate Pearl’s commitment to embracing new science and bringing it to our customers.