It’s Always Better To Have Friends Than Foes

A couple years back, I was standing at DRUM!’s booth at the Winter NAMM show when Modern Drummer’s editor-in-chief Bill Miller passed by. I said hello, he stopped, and for the first time in our shared history we enjoyed a substantial conversation in which I learned that Bill is a very nice, soft-spoken guy. The vibe was so good that toward the end of our chat I proposed an idea to plan a dinner at the following NAMM show for editors of drumming magazines from around the world.

Although it turned out that Bill ultimately couldn’t make it, I went ahead and broke bread with editors of other American drumming magazines, as well as a sizeable group from England, Germany, France, The Netherlands, and Australia. It was an incredible experience because even though few of us at the table directly compete with each other for readers, we all must dip into the same pool for advertiser revenue. This might make us peripheral competitors, but you would never have known it judging by the camaraderie in the room.

We shared war stories, gossiped about the drum industry, formed newfound friendships, and strengthened old ones as we stuffed our faces on all varieties of dangerously deep-fried foods. But perhaps the most important thing was that we established a network of colleagues. So now I can call Marc Rouve at Batteur if I’m looking for a photographer in France, or Ian Croft at Drummer if I need a phone number of a British drummer, or Frank Corniola of Drum Scene to learn more about Australian newsstand distribution.

This lesson extends beyond the magazine trade. There’s a lot of value in having a strong professional network no matter what you do for a living, including being a professional drummer. The most obvious benefit is the opportunity to find work. For example, if you are friendly with a number of good drummers in your area, they might tell you about choice auditions or call you as a sub when they can’t make a gig. Of course, you should reciprocate whenever possible, in order to show your gratitude and keep the bond strong.

But that’s not the only benefit. I remember an occasion when my band opened for the Tommy Castro Band at a theater in Northern California. As I set up my kit for soundcheck, I discovered to my horror that a tilter on my cymbal stand had disintegrated, and I couldn’t find any of the missing parts floating around at the bottom of my trap case. Fortunately I was friendly with Billy Lee Lewis, Tommy Castro’s drummer at the time and a regular DRUM! contributor who now writes our Road Worrier column. He surely couldn’t miss the panic on my face as I asked if he had any spare parts that I could use. With his help and a little duct tape, I was able to MacGyver my cymbal stand well enough to survive our set unscathed.

There’s one last thing to consider. None of us can know everything there is to know. Friendly drummers tend to trade tips and techniques that can help your career. It’s not unlike the night when all those drumming magazine editors sat down at the dinner table together. I believe we all walked away with ideas to improve the quality of our respective publications.

It’s up to you to decide whether to treat your competitors as friends or foes. But in case you’re tempted to choose the latter, do yourself a favor and try to explain exactly how you’ll benefit by creating animosity between you and your peers. I think you’ll find that there’s very little to be gained and much to be lost.