DRUM! Writer’s Guide

The best preparation any writer can do before submitting a query or a manuscript to DRUM! Magazine is to sit down with several issues of the magazine and analyze them. Carefully. We are a special-interest publication. Literally 99 percent of our readers are drummers and percussionists. They read the magazine chiefly because they want to learn to play better, they want to learn about the techniques and equipment of artists they admire, and they want to learn more about the instruments themselves. Please note how often the word “learn” crops up here. Although we strive to be entertaining, DRUM! Magazine is fundamentally an educational experience.

What We Look For In An Article

Content is the most important criterion for us in evaluating a query or a manuscript. We want to know if the material will have something useful to teach our readers, and if so, whether it will be sufficiently important to them to justify making room for it in an issue of DRUM! Magazine.

Professionalism is something else we look at closely. For us, that breaks down into two areas: expertise and craftsmanship. Is the writer knowledgeable about the subject? Is he or she sufficiently conversant with the music, or the techniques, or the historical background involved so that the key points are brought out and communicated accurately to the reader? Are there any gaps in the information, indicating that the writer has missed something through ignorance or carelessness? Second, is the writing clear, expressive, and well-organized—or would the piece need a lot of editing to bring it up to our standards?

Given the nature of our coverage, there are times when we’ll buy a less-than-superbly-written manuscript because its writer is an expert on a particular subject. But we won’t buy a well written article that is lacking in substance.

How We Do Business With Writers

Like most magazines, we would rather get a query letter than get a manuscript sent on speculation. (Unless time is really of the essence, we prefer email to a phone call.) It doesn’t take long to read a query, so we’re more apt to read it carefully. And if we decide we like something the writer wants to do, but we’d prefer a slightly different slant, it’s easier on the writer simply to write to our requirements in the first place than it is to do wholesale revisions on a finished manuscript—or to throw the manuscript out altogether and start from scratch. We also like to see samples of the writer’s previously published work.

We prefer to receive assigned articles via e-mail. Our editors work on Macintosh computers using Microsoft Word and Quark Express software.

Payment

DRUM! Magazine pays upon publication for editorial material. We generally pay between $50 and $300 for feature articles, depending on length and content. We pay the most for cover stories, nearly all of which are written on an assignment basis. Photographs are also paid upon publication. Payment for photos ranges between $25 on up (most cover shoots are assigned months in advance). Contributors who have produced satisfactorily for us before are paid fees that are slightly higher on the scale. Allow up to eight weeks to receive payment after you’ve sent us a story.

Length

Short pieces in DRUM! Magazine may run between 300 and 1,000 words in length; a cover story may be as long as 4,000 words.

Deadlines

When we assign a deadline for a piece, we expect it to be observed. Editorially we are always working at least three months ahead of our publication dates--and even longer for special issues.

Contracts

Writers are requested to sign and return a standard Enter Music Publications Writer’s Agreement form when submitting a manuscript. The form specifies which rights are transferred to Enter Music Publications when we buy a story, and which rights the writer retains. A sample is available on request.

Some Pointers On Writing For DRUM! Magazine

The following are guidelines that will be helpful in preparing copy for DRUM! Magazine.

Because DRUM! Magazine is geared toward serious musicians, rather than just toward music fans, a story lead should immediately and solidly establish a reason for musician/readers to get into the article. Will it teach them something new about the instruments they play? Will it improve their grasp of music principles? Will it satisfy their curiosity about a favorite artist? That kind of information needs to be up front.

People should always be clearly identified within the context of their music. Not all readers will know that Slam Stewart played bass or that Yngwie Malmsteen is a metal guitarist. When mentioning musicians’ names in stories it is essential to be specific about who and what people are.

When a manufacturer, instrument builder, repair shop, or other business is named in an article, the company web address should be listed at the first reference. (Readers may want to write for more information.) When a record album is mentioned, we like to see the label included. These details also should be cited in any discography. (Articles about artists or groups should include discographies as a matter of course.) Spellings of the names of people, companies, places, instrument types, and so forth should all be carefully checked.

Some Thoughts On Interviewing

Interviews in DRUM! Magazine typically follow a narrative format, in which the interviewee’s responses are woven into the fabric of an article, or occasionally in a Q/A format, in which the interviewer’s questions and the interviewee’s answers appear together. In either case, the interview article opens with introductory narrative material.

As a rule, the Q/A format should only be used when the dialogue offers a particularly lively exchange between the interviewer and the subject. Routine background details--such as the subject’s date and place of birth, early influences, and so on--should be relegated to the introduction, unless there is something especially colorful or revealing in the subject’s response to a background question.

The flow of an interview should be smooth from beginning to end, with related topics grouped together and presented in a coherent order. This may require careful editing on the writer’s part. Word-for-word transcriptions of an interview tape rarely are satisfactory from the standpoint of logical progression: Interviewees often jump from topic to topic, or take off on unexpected tangents when responding to a line of questioning. And statements that may seem to make sense within the context of the face-to-face interview, when body language is part of the message, are apt to come across as gibberish when printed word-for-word.

Generally, interviews should be free from inside jokes, exchanges of a strictly personal nature, or anything else that might tend to make readers feel as though they were outsiders. The interviewer should function as an extension of the reader’s curiosity, rather than as an obtrusive intermediary. In our opinion, the best interviewers keep a very low profile, though, as always, there are exceptions. (A rare exception: artist-to-artist interviews, where readers will be interested in the ideas and personalities of both people involved.)

It’s important to press for specifics when the interviewee is talking about a musical concept. So far as is practical, drum charts and playing techniques should be diagrammed--or at least explained in detail. Drum setup diagrams are a mandatory ingredient with all major DRUM! features.

A good sign-off for the session: “Is there anything else you’d like to add; or is there anything you’ve always wished somebody had asked you about your work?” Sometimes the second part of that question works well at the start of the session, to loosen up a self-conscious or uncommunicative interviewee.

The closing formalities also should include getting the interviewee’s phone number, so that fuzzy details can be checked later and follow-up questions asked. It’s wise to exchange numbers, so that the interviewee is free to call back with any important afterthoughts.

Occasionally an interviewee asks to see a copy of the transcript. Once it gets to DRUM! Magazine it’s our material. We discourage interviewees’ pre-publication reviews of transcripts and manuscripts, because every so often somebody wants to get involved in the actual authorship of a piece being written about them. That leads to press agentry, not journalism. As a courtesy, we sometimes allow interviewees to check stories for verification of facts; but we don’t guarantee that opportunity.

Questions We Like To Ask

Often when we get a freelanced interview in on speculation, we find that the writer has taken a line of questioning appropriate to a general-interest magazine. As we’ve already said, that kind of focus isn’t appropriate for DRUM! Magazine. Following is a list of questions that represent the areas we’re most concerned with in any interview with a musician.

We aren’t suggesting that the list be followed slavishly. These are, after all, writer’s guidelines. A good writer can sense what to ask, how to ask it, when to keep digging on a promising vein of information, and when to move on to new ground. (And a careful researcher will have learned ahead of time the answers to many of these questions, anyway.)

  • Personal information: Where born, age, currently residing where?
  • Did you come from a musical family? What parts of your upbringing prepared you for what you do now?
  • When did you begin to play drums? Was that your first instrument? What other instruments do you play? How did you learn--from teachers, other players, books, records, or just on your own?
  • What were your early performing experiences like? What was your first paying job as a musician? When did you become a professional drummer?
  • Who were your influences? (Specific artists, groups, records, and so on.)
  • Do you use matched or traditional grip?
  • How did your playing style evolve? Do feel that your technique is continually developing, or are there periods when it stays at a plateau? Does that bother you, and if so, why? Is there anything you do to regain momentum?
  • What do you think are the most effective areas of your playing technique? Why?
  • What techniques have you learned from other players?
  • Do you play styles other than the one for which you are known?
  • How did you establish your sense of tempo? Do you feel that perfect time is mandatory in creating a groove?
  • How do you see your primary role as a drummer within an ensemble?
  • How do you approach a solo? Do you have a starting point, an endpoint, a structure? Is it free from beginning to end? Do you always keep the beat going all the way through a solo? How do you structure a solo in terms of dynamics? How much of it is a conscious process?
  • How do you go about composing your music? What elements come first, and what elements are filled in later?
  • What kind of practice schedule do you follow now, if any? Do you incorporate any non-drumming exercises into your practice routing? If so, describe. Do you ever practice mentally--without your drums?
  • Do you use a metronome?
  • Do you warm-up before performing? Describe.
  • Do you ever have any problems with blisters or cramps on stage? How do you deal with them?
  • Do you wear earplugs?
  • I said, do you wear earplugs!
  • What is your drum set-up? What equipment do you use? (Drums, cymbals, pedals, drumheads, sticks, and hardware - include sizes to be used later for a drum diagram). Is your choice of a studio instrument any different from your choice for live performing? If so, why? Is there a particular repairperson who does all your work for you?
  • What kind of bass drum beater do you use? Wood, felt, plastic? Square or round? Do you play heels-up or heels-down? Why?
  • Do you mute your drums or tune them wide open? Do you have any formula for tuning? How often do you change drumheads?
  • Do you use any tuned or orchestral percussion?
  • Do you incorporate any electronics into your set-up? If so, do you trigger from pads or from acoustic drums? Describe your rack.
  • Do you prefer realistic sounding electronic drum sounds, or have you experimented with non-traditional sounds? Do you use sampled sounds, synthesized sounds, or a combination of the two? Are you ever asked to program drum machines in the studio?
  • What steps do you take to make sure your sound will be optimum in a performance? What kind of mix do you like to hear in your monitor during a live performance? How dependent are you on your monitor mix?
  • How do you handle the pacing and sequencing of songs within a set? What are the most important considerations in putting together a live program? A record?
  • What microphones do you prefer in the studio? What sort of studio drum sound do you prefer?
  • What are your feelings about studio work? Are there any special recording processes or setups that you favor? Is it easy to work with producers? What kind of latitude do you have? How prepared are you prior to going in the studio? How much of your recorded music do you improvise? Do you prefer laying down basic studio tracks alone or with an ensemble? Do you isolate your drums or record with the whole kit? How often do you have to play along with click tracks or drum machine patterns?
  • How did your latest tour or recording project come about? What interests you most about it? When will it be finished?
  • What other artists have you worked with? How did you get together with them?
  • What do you see as having been the milestones of your career so far, in terms of groups you’ve been with, performances you’ve given, albums you’ve released, and so on? (Date as accurately as possible.)
  • How do you feel about the various musical roles you’ve played--in terms of which were most educational, or most satisfying?
  • What sort of advice would you give to young players who wanted to pattern themselves after you? What essential first steps would they need to take? What would they need to watch out for?
  • Do you know of any other articles about you that are currently being written or considered? If so, by whom--and when are they expected to appear?

In Conclusion

So if we haven’t yet scared you off, please feel free to send us a query letter with some of your article ideas. Address all queries to Dave Constantin, Managing Editor, email: dave@drumlink.com.