Inside The Secret World Of Drum Endorsements

Bobby Boos

What Else Can You Expect?

Sucherman says, “Life is short. I like surrounding myself with cool people, and I’m very particular about who I have in my inner circle. I want people I can pick up the phone and talk to as friends, as well as when I need something.” And Sucherman, who is on the road some 190 days a year, needs help to get his music made. “You call your people and tell them, ’I need a kit in Europe, in Japan for a TV show, a concert,’ whatever. Essentially what you’re trying to do is accomplish your gig. I only want what I need to do my gig.”

And the companies respond with some impressive logistics. Farriss says, “It’s not really about free gear. It’s about service. Let’s say a drummer gets a European tour, and he gets a free drum set from some drum company, and the kit is here in the States. He would have to ship his kit over to Europe and back. Suddenly free isn’t free anymore. With a company like Pearl, we can provide a kit in Europe for our endorsers. We often have artists from the U.K. come here to play in New York, and we provide them with a kit in road cases that we ship to them from Nashville. When the tour is over, they ship it back to us in Nashville. No charge to the band except shipping. It’s a lot cheaper to ship from Nashville than from the U.K.”

Many professional rehearsal halls also run a roadie-and-rental business, called “cartage” in industry lingo. Farriss explains, “Sometimes we provide gear to cartage companies in exchange for providing that gear to visiting artists. A visiting Pearl artist can get a rental-free Pearl kit from many cartage companies.” Does that constitute a freebie for the artist? Not exactly, says Farriss. “The cartage company has overhead, too, so the artist has to pay for the delivery service, but the kit is rental free.”

Howard relies on his endorsements to help him adapt to each new musical assignment. “The most notable gigs I’ve done are Gavin DeGraw, Regina Spektor, and now Avril Levigne. And those three gigs have been very different. What’s right for Gavin’s gig is different than what’s right for Regina’s gig, and very different from Avril’s gig. My whole drum kit has had to change for these gigs, and my cymbals, too. At one point I went from a 24" kick to a 20" kick, 5B sticks to 5A, thick cymbals to light, jazzy cymbals.”

The size of the endorsement companies, and their reach, can also impact the artist’s professional relationships. Howard often rehearses at a studio that rents Pearl drums. He tries different things there and files the results away in his mind. He can ask Pearl for these drums when the need arises. “On Avril’s gig, in particular,” he said, “I’ve needed lots of weird drums. She’s been quite adamant that every note that comes off that stage is played by human hands, so I’ve done quite a bit of experimenting to get the drum machine sounds live that are on the records, without using electronics. I’ve got three hats on that gig, a 13" tom as a kick in addition to my regular kick. Pearl has been very helpful with that.”

How About Clinics?

Clinic tours can be another potent profit-center that originates from the artist/company relationship. Sucherman, who managed to squeeze in about ten clinics last year, offers an example of how it works. “The store requests a particular drummer, usually through the drum or cymbal company. The company checks the date availability with the drummer. Let’s say Pearl has set up a clinic date for me. The Pearl rep for that area contacts [in Suchermann’s case] Sabian, Pro-Mark, and Remo. All the companies chip in with support for literature, swag sent to the event, and also the artist’s fee and lodging.”

There is no standard rate for clinics. “Fees are up to the artist, really,” Sucherman explains. “I recently did a college clinic for a reduced fee, because the educational forum appealed to me, and it was only two hours. It was fun to do!” It’s not about the cash anyway, Boos concurs … well, not directly, at least. “About 1987 we really got into the clinic thing as a way to grow Sabian. We have meetings every year where we get together and work with our artists on their presentation, the ideas, the good and the bad. It’s about educating people and giving something to them, inspire them, make them want to play music. Music is fun. We don’t want to have any clinicians who think, ’Hey, I’ll go hang out in a music store for an hour or two and make a bunch of money.”

Why Do Drummers Switch Brands?

Sucherman has endorsed other companies and says, “I don’t wish to speak ill of anyone. But sometimes people change at a company, and service may diminish. I don’t think I ask for much. I like to think I’m pretty easygoing, but I’ve been left in the lurch before. And sometimes, when you can’t get what you need, it’s time to move on.”

Boos says that politics can come into play. “Some people play the endorsement game as a leverage move. They change companies to get more, to follow the better offer, and sometimes go back to the company they started with, but likely at a better deal. We don’t like to play that way, so we keep all relationships on a one-on-one basis, everything aboveboard. If the relationship is not working, then fine, we’ll part ways. To us, it’s about quality, not quantity.”

Changes in the roster come from both sides of the fence. “Some companies do a housecleaning every year,” Boos elaborates, “and then the dropped folks show up at the NAMM show, looking for a new deal.” But Sabian thinks that’s shortsighted. “Musicians’ careers have ups and downs, just like life. If you’re having a down period, Sabian’s not going to say, ’We don’t want to talk to you anymore.’ Maybe we’ll call you ’inactive’ or something, but who knows? In five years you could call back and say, ’Hey, remember me? I just got the gig with Led Zeppelin.’”

And he bemoans the revolving door that characterizes today’s music industry. “Nowadays people can come and go before you even get to know them. Faster than a flash in the pan, it’s at the speed of the Internet now. One hit now, and next month they virtually disappear. That’s more normal than anything, nowadays. It’s heartbreaking, because these people have put lots of time and effort into their craft.”

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