More than once over the past 15 years we’ve had a reader stroll into our office, glance around, and ask something like, “Where are the printing presses?” They clearly imagined something like the Daily Planet office building from Superman comics, with cub reporters scurrying around a sea of desks while the presses hum in the background. Instead they saw a couple people sitting nose-to-nose in a cramped room, typing quietly.
Reality almost always trumps perception, but it hit me squarely in the mug like the world’s sloppiest cream pie when I moved to Los Angeles in 1980 to fulfill my dream of landing a gig with a world-famous rock band. I actually did get a gig on my very first day in town, although it was neither with a rock band nor destined to make me a world-famous drummer. It was at the height of the Urban Cowboy fad, and I found myself playing with a country band five nights a week, four sets a night, to a practically empty Mexican restaurant across from Los Alamitos raceway. It wasn’t a very glamorous job, but work is work, after all.
Believe it or not, we haven’t yet gotten to the perception/reality part of the story. One night, the bandleader announced that we were going to have a special guest sit in — a guitarist from a well-known country rock band that I actually listened to when I was in high school. I remember being excited and a little nervous. I wanted to play my best and catch his attention to hopefully establish a good, solid contact in L.A.’s big-time music biz.
The show went well, and a few days later my bandleader invited me to go over to the guitarist’s place with him. Of course, I gladly accepted and expected to spend the afternoon in a sprawling house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Instead we pulled up to a semicircle of ramshackle cottages in a rather seedy neighborhood. His unit was a studio apartment with one room, an adjoining bathroom, and a microscopic kitchenette. It struck me that my apartment was actually bigger than his. Sometime during the conversation, the guitarist told us that he sold his gold records years ago because he needed the cash. My perception of his career was shattered forever. It was a hell of a lesson to learn.
Here’s one last example. Guess which drum company enjoys the highest gross sales of drum kits worldwide — it’s Roland. Not the name you expected to read, was it? Study that statistic a little more closely and you’ll see that it doesn’t actually suggest that Roland sells more drum kits than Pearl or Tama does. On average, Roland’s kits are more expensive than Pearl’s, but it’s likely that more drummers buy Pearl drums. Reality strikes twice, in quick succession.
So what does it actually mean when a company claims it is #1 in its field? It could mean a number of things. Perhaps they sell more units than their competitors, but does that actually mean they are perceived as the leader in value and quality? Not necessarily. And should you feel a little skeptical the next time you respond to an ad for a band seeking a drummer that brags about having record company interest? Oh yes, you most definitely should.