As head honcho of SJC Custom Drums, Mike Ciprari obviously wants to know all he can about his customers. Rather than scour the metadata, he figured the best way to learn was down in the trenches as a drum tech where he could see first-hand the challenges a player faces day to day in a live setting. We spoke to him while he was touring with New Found Glory, where in a sleep-deprived state he gave us the play by play of this experiment – including trying to locate a dentist in an emergency.
A few years ago Brandon Steineckert of Rancid asked if I would tech for him on the Rancid/Blink 182 tour and obviously I couldn't turn that down. It was a great opportunity to meet a lot of drummers. My creative juices started flowing more than ever because I was on the road again. And this summer Jimmy Eat World’s Zach Lind joined our family of drummers and he asked me if I would tech for them in a bunch of festivals in Europe. So again, I couldn’t say no. Jimmy Eat World’s one of my favorite bands. And then when I came home Cyrus [Bolooki, drummer] hit me up and asked if I would come on tour with New Found Glory. He was one of my heroes growing up.
We pride ourselves in customer service where I can do a quick turnaround for a drummer on the road who needs something or has a wacky request. Me being on the road, I am on the other end of the spectrum, watching the problems that would happen or seeing other drummers or what was the difficult thing [for them] so I can capitalize on the good parts and fix the bad parts, if there are any at all. So it’s a little bit of R&D for sure, where I’m in the shoes of a touring musician. And I can go back to the guys and have a meeting and say, 'Let's make this work better or invent this.' Right now we’re designing our new NAMM booth and I’m getting inspiration from all the venues and seeing how I can incorporate that into our booth. Daily I’m writing down ideas and sending them back to the headquarters.
Part of what keeps SJC going is staying connected to our humble beginnings working in my grandma’s basement, working 19 or 20 hours a day for weeks on end to get the orders out. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty, and if I was, what kind of leader am I? This sort of thing should be cool, and it is a cool thing. Techs that work with the drummers we work with, me being able to understand what they’re talking about is very important to me. [Teching]’s not the funnest thing. You go to sleep at 2:00 or 3:00 o’clock after load out and we get up 9:00 or 10:00. We were in San Antonio [the other day] and at load in it was already hot as heck out – just in a cement parking lot, kind of like Warped Tour. Right after that I do phone calls or hop on my email because I am three hours behind everyone [at SJC’s factory] in Massachusetts.
During the show last night the drum monitor fell off the subwoofer onto my head and broke my front tooth off and cracked my iPad in half that I was using to get Go Pro footage of Cyrus and gave me a slight concussion. The sound guy didn’t strap the monitor down so I was in harm’s way because of that! Unfortunately another part of teching is getting the job done. So I had to pack up last night and get on the bus to Voodoo Fest today in New Orleans. I found a dentist in Orlando who will work on me Monday. This is mostly me being stubborn and not wanting to let Cyrus down. He insisted I get it done ASAP but I’m going to wait. Part of the job, in my eyes!
What allows me to do this – leave the shop and live on a bus and only have internet five or six hours a day at the venue – we hired a COO to run the company while I am gone and I talk to him everyday. The coolest part on this tour is that we just hired a brand manager to help me with marketing and promotions and we’ve built a huge contest giveaway package around this tour. So every show we give away tickets, do a meet and greet, sound check party, a Drum Tech For A Day [contest] where a kid can come on up and help me. It’s just a hands-on one-on-one experience for everyone involved.
I was in a band on Nitro Records called No Trigger, a punk band we had been in since I was a kid. Right out of high school Dexter [Holland, singer The Offspring] signed our band. I had these great opportunities right in front of me. I said why am I going to pay $30,000 a year to go to school when I am already doing it. Real life experience to me is better. Having a drum company is not something that everyone can have – not that being in a band is easy – but I want to be home. I have a company that is starting to be a success – I need to put everything into it so I can make it a success. I will hopefully be able to retire off of it. Being in a band is a 40/60 shot that you are going to make it – and then what? I looked at the long term, I wanted to have a company so I left school, left my band, and focused on the company and didn’t look back.