Women In The Drum Industry

Women In The Drum Industry

Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s December 2000 Issue

All right, so the drumming industry isn’t as flooded with men as some other sectors of the economy, such as the National Football League or a lumberjacks’ association, but the women who work in it are definitely outnumbered. Like the guys who labor behind the scenes in this business, the female executives, webmasters and technicians who help manufacture rhythm really only want to stand out for one reason: being excellent at what they do.

Still, as part of this special issue, DRUM! Magazine knew that the insight of some of the women in the drumming industry would provide a unique perspective on this mostly unseen world. So we sent them each a list of questions, and asked them to answer whichever ones they wanted. In telling about their personal experiences, the women who responded offer an interesting snapshot of the business of drumming today, as well as some great inspiration for anyone who thinks they may also want to get involved.

Kelly Brady, Artist Relations Director, Brady Drum Company. Goals. Firstly, the Brady name will never leave the hands of the Brady family. Ideally, I’d like to see Brady with a medium share of the high-end market, product awareness heightened dramatically and Brady products available around the world through a select group of reputable dealers. Worst part. The occasional misconception that a female in the industry is naturally unknowledgeable and merely nothing more than a 9:00 to 5:00 “sales chick,” a decoration — or, God forbid — a “token female.” It’s rare that I’ve experienced this, but one representative’s ignorance weighed heavily against his company when we decided on supply contracts for Brady. However this is quite uncommon, almost everyone in the industry has been very supportive. Best part. I have two equally top parts. Number One: Being able to create exactly what drummers have been looking for. Number Two: The enthusiasm. Every drummer I’ve ever met plays drums simply because they love doing it, and it’s very contagious


Carol Calato, President of Regal Tip. Biggest challenge. To help keep music alive in the schools. As a company we have made it our policy that any donations will be made strictly for the promotion of music education. Best part. What better industry than the music industry? And the drumming end of it is the best. Drummers are some of the most interesting and flamboyant people you would ever want to meet. It amazes me that drummers in general are always so interested in how the product is made. And they’re curious and anxious to learn. Is there any other category of musicians that gather annually to hold a convention to learn from each other, teach each other and, in general appreciate each other? Advice. Get an education. There are now many colleges offering courses and degrees in the “Music Industry.” We’re always looking for young, industrious people with this kind of educational background.

Caroline Chiang, Co-Owner, Fever Drum Company. Getting started. My father, Florentino, plays drums and he invented a new, patented design for drum shell construction. We began showing our drums at trade shows and conventions and our business has taken off from there. Best part. I enjoy meeting musicians from all over the world. Being a musician provides you with an international language that leads to great conversations. Also, the whole experience of watching my company grow brings challenges to overcome and much satisfaction. Worst part. The drum industry is comprised predominantly of men — no, I’m not a man-hater, it’s just that among certain men (on the corporate level) competition is at its peak. Luckily, they comprise only a percentage. Advice. Pursue a job in the drum industry only if your heart is truly in it and trust those you can but don’t rely on anyone but yourself.

Debbie D’Amico, Co-Owner, D’Amico Drums. Getting started. My husband Gene decided in 1990 that he wanted to create a business out of his passion for drums. I borrowed $3,000 from the IBM Employees Credit Union and we were in the drum business. Biggest challenge. Like many “bricks and mortar” retailers we are struggling to compete in the dot-com world of retailing and manufacturing. People will use our cymbal tryout room and then buy it on the web for five bucks less. Most influential woman drummer. In my little world it is Dawn Richardson. We have a lesson studio at our store and because of Dawn we now have as many female students as we do male students. Dawn is a great instructor and role model for the young female students we have. She is disciplined, hard working and successful. If I won Lotto, I’d… Buy another drilling machine and more tooling for more drum parts.

Tracy Firth, Executive Vice President, Vic Firth Inc. Responsibilities. I supervise production and shipping in our Dedham, Massachusetts, facility and work closely with our heads of Sales/Marketing and Product Development. As the person common to these four areas, I coordinate production and shipping with whatever Sales/Marketing is cooking up, as well as oversee new product development as it relates to each department. I am also responsible for Human Resources. At first. My sister and I put elastic bands around pairs of drum sticks as Vic pitch-paired them on the cellar floor. I was probably five or six years old at the time. 20 years from now. I think it’s impossible to predict where the internet will have taken the industry 20 years from now. The impact has been so huge just in the last five years, it’s mind-boggling to think where we’ll be in 20.

Jo-Ann Gatzen, Co-owner, Creative Music. Biggest challenge. Getting more people, young and old, involved in music. We have to make it exciting to get people to actually give it a try. Playing an instrument isn’t easy. We have to show students that it is worth the time and effort they have to put into learning the instrument. Best part. I love the enthusiasm when drummers come into the store with a CD their band has just made, or stories about their experiences playing. Changes. In a perfect world, the emphasis would be back on the music again. I don’t want to sound too negative, but a lot of the fun has gone out of the business because of corporate attitudes. I know many, many people who are under so much pressure that they don’t have time to practice or play. It is sad since\ they are in the industry because music is their first love.

Pam Gore, President, DrumsOnThe-Web.com Responsibilities. Everything! Goals. To offer a safe and respectful venue for well-known drummers and percussionists to take their solo/side projects directly to the public. The artist has complete control over his or her music on our site. He or she chooses to offer free sample clips, or sell the song download, or offer the song download for free. Most of the artists are doing a combination. Worst part about working with drummers. Time is a concept only on the drum kit! Off the kit — mañana, mañana. Advice. Treat the drum industry with respect and professionalism. There is a great need for professional women in this industry. Look around — there are almost no women in top positions. Most are assistants to some guy. Why? Let me assure you that it is not the fault of the industry. Women with knowledge and professionalism do move up, just like the guys. So gals, where are you?

Kim Graham, Percussion Artist Relations Manager, Kaman Music Corporation. Responsibilities. I oversee Kaman’s Artist Relations program in support of Gibraltar Hardware and Toca Percussion with a main emphasis on direct contact with our endorsees. Additionally, I manage the artist budget; oversee product ordering and distribution of products to artists and cartage companies; coordinate our clinic program; and work with our advertising agency. New skills. I would love to learn how to play congas. I’ve watched the best players and it always amazes me the sounds that they are able to get out of the drums, their speed and dexterity. Best part. Drummers are down to earth. In comparison to other musicians that I’ve worked with, I have found that drummers are friendlier towards each other. It’s as if they are part of a big family. They seem to be willing to help each other out and give each other advice and tips.

Catherine Herrera, Publisher, Drum Essentials; East Coast Artist Relations Representative, LP Music Group. Drumming background. I’m a mostly self-taught drummer and have played in and out of bands in New York City over the last 20 years. Getting started. I began working in the drum industry after working several years in advertising. So when the opportunity to work for LP came up, I was prepared (being fluent in Spanish was also a plus). The position combined my passion for drumming with my professional business skills. I couldn’t ask for a more perfectly fitted job. Best part. Working in the drum industry is fun. Everybody knows each other and whenever possible, we try to work with each other to bring the world of drumming and its benefits to people from all walks of life. Hobbies. I still drum from time to time when the mood hits and time permits. I love travel, concerts, and theater and practice karate.

Susan Hunt-Wallace, Web Administrator, Percussive Arts Society. Drumming background. I started in High School in the marching band. I played bass drum and then tri-toms. I bought my first hand-percussion instrument about three years ago, and have been adding to my collection, and attending drum circles ever since. New skills. I would like to learn to deploy XML technologies on a large scale, and more about the capabilities of MIDI in a web-centric environment, to the extent that we can create online learning experiences that include music without a lot of overhead with plug-ins and the like. Favorite CD. Mondo Beat, Masters of Percussion — it was the first CD I ever saw on a shelf that actually had world percussion on it. If I won the Lotto, I’d… Build a house on a piece of land that is not too far from the city, but where I could have weekly drum circles and not worry about the noise bothering the neighbors.

Linda Kerner, Co-Owner/Business Manager, Fancy Pans Steel Drums. Drumming background. I am a member of a family steel drum band. Me, my husband and our two oldest children started playing together almost six years ago because we knew that in order to promote our steel drum instruments we had to be able to play them ourselves. Playing together has turned out to be one of the most rewarding life experiences for all of us. Other best part. The many people we are able to touch. It is always rewarding to see someone come to the steel drum for the first time and find that they like what they hear. Changes. I’d like to see a special focus on craftsmen (and craftswomen) who are out there hand-making instruments. It’s where everything has its roots. Someone had to think it and then create it, and that someone was a person, not a machine


Louise King, Editor, Rhythm Magazine (UK). Best part. The challenge of putting together an exciting and informative mix of interviews, news, gear reviews and features each month is one part of my job that I love. Another, of course, is interviewing drummers. Drum industry. It’s a small, close-knit and friendly industry. We find ourselves very much at the center of everything that is going on, because we work closely with so many different branches of it: the manufacturers, the drum stores and the players. Everyone I've met in the industry has always made me to feel very welcome. If I won the Lotto, I’d... Probably still carry on doing what I’m doing now because I love my job. The only difference would be that interviews and photo shoots for Rhythm would be conducted at my private island in the Caribbean over a chilled glass of champagne, rather than in some dingy dressing room backstage, over a lukewarm bottle of beer.

Marla Lawton, Owner, Lawton Percussion. Drumming background. By fifth grade, I’d saved up enough for a drum set. I bought my first set of congas when I was 18 years old. It was hard to obtain instruction from any players. They didn’t take me seriously. I did find one guy in Sacramento named Gus who taught me the rudiments of congas. I share all of my knowledge with anyone who has the desire to learn, because I know what it’s like to ask when someone won’t share. Drum industry. If I’m not playing, I can’t think of anything better than creating new percussion instruments, improving standard ones and providing them to the industry I love. All the percussionists I admired are now playing my instruments! It’s a trip! Mentor. Harold Chang from Harry’s Music in Hawaii. He’s a fabulous drummer/percussionist who played with Arthur Lyman through the 1950s and ’60s. He really taught me how to play all styles of music.

Stacey Montgomery-Clark, International Promotions Manager, Sabian Ltd. Best part. The people. Both internally at Sabian, and externally in the industry. People at Sabian enjoy working here and it makes for a positive and healthy environment to be a part of. Drumming background. I’m not a drummer; however, I did take lessons for about four months. It gave me a new perspective and appreciation for the talent, but it was not something that I had a desire to continue. Getting started. I was in the right place at the right time. I graduated from university in the spring of 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Sabian had placed an ad in the local paper and having grown up in the area, and wanting to remain in the area, I was determined to get the position. Favorite CD. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication. I’ve always enjoyed their music.

Feeny Lipscomb, President/Founder, All One Tribe. Drumming background. I started drumming in the early ’80s for meditation and journeying. I’ve benefited greatly from drumming and have many drummer friends, but I’m definitely no virtuoso drummer or performer myself. Getting started. After a painful experience using the hard rawhide handles on the traditional shamans’ drums in 1991, I designed and patented an adjustable sheepskin, leather and Velcro handle, which would be comfortable to hold for long periods. The business sprang up around that handle and the vision for unity — hence the name. Impact of technology. It’s unbelievable. We’re a small but global company operating from Taos, a pretty remote place in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. Our web site is ever growing and changing, thanks to our whiz kid, Joel Roney. I can no longer imagine operating without it and e-mail. Best part. The drum’s spirit and beat draws some of the most interesting, delightful, conscious people I’ve ever known.

Teresa Osborn Peterson, Publications/Marketing Manager, Percussive Arts Society. Goals. My goals are the same as my co-workers and director: To keep growing our PAS percussion family through contact in our publications, web site, PASIC convention and word of mouth from our members and friends. Education is our primary emphasis and I believe the society does a wonderful job of furthering that mission. Favorite CD. Roots of Awakening by Layne Redmond. I like the experience of this CD, and in general, music that puts us in touch with ourselves, and those around us. Most influential woman drummer. I would say they’re all influential. Whether marimba, marching percussion, drum set, world or any level starting with grade school through the university level or on stage, women are reaching out to other women at this point by merely the presence of what they do.

Staci Stokes, Educational Coordinator, Pro-Mark Corporation. Drumming background. I studied percussion at the University of Oklahoma and got a Master’s in Performance in Percussion from Texas Tech University. I’ve also marched drum corps for five years (aged out of Santa Clara Vanguard) and played in high school. I still teach high school programs. Best part. Designing new products for teachers and students, and talking to the teachers to find out how they use the products and what can be improved. Worst part. I can do without the “honey’s,” “sweetheart’s” and “little lady’s.” I know it’s hard to believe that people would actually address a business contact this way, but it happens as soon as they hear I’m a female. It’s getting better. Mentor. Lisa Rogers, Professor of Percussion at Texas Tech University. I studied with her when I was at Oklahoma and worked alongside her at Texas Tech University. She pours so much of herself into the education of her students.

Millie Sunbear, Office manager/webmaster/graphic designer/finisher/shipper, Fat Congas. Drumming background. I consider myself a dabbler. When Rick was playing in a band, I wanted to participate, so I started playing the congas. My main musical aspiration is just to be able to keep time. I’m always beating out clave when I’m sitting around. When I “am” clave, and not “thinking” about clave, that’ll be achievement enough for me. Goals. To make quality instruments for musicians. It’s a ripple effect: We produce beautiful sounding and looking instruments that are a pleasure for the musician; the musician digs their instrument and plays well, and sounds great. The listener hears the combined efforts of the instrument maker and the musician, and their experience is enhanced. Most influential woman drummer. Sheila Escovedo blew me away in the 1980s when I saw her playing with her dad and brothers. The thing she does on the drum set with the huge drumsticks, wearing a slinky evening gown was awesome.

Christine Stevens, Director of Music Therapy and Wellness Programs, Remo, Inc. Responsibilities. Through developing information, programs and products for drumming recreation and life-enhancement and leading drum circles globally, I get to make it easy to experience drumming and learn about health and wellness through drumming. Drumming background. Fifteen years ago, I attended a drum circle organized by a group of psychologists who used drumming with an anxiety-reduction program with their clients. I was hooked by the immediacy of putting my rhythmical ideas out on the drum, getting a groove going, simply using my hands on the drumhead. It was one of those moments that changes the course of your life, and it did. Best part of your job. The continued joy of seeing a new player participate in a drum circle or seeing a person with Alzheimer’s disorder pick up a drum — within minutes, they’re smiling and playing along. Best part of the drum industry. Short lines at the women’s bathroom.

Lissa Wales, Drummer Photographer. Best part. Discovering a drummer just as the band is starting to tour and realizing what potential the band/player has. I have also been known to arrange quite a few endorsements, as I tend to see the bands before the manufacturing companies get wind of them. Learning curve. My first PASIC was great, but the photos are so flat and lifeless. I have learned a lot in shooting in the last 18-plus years — what film to try and how to use the lighting to my benefit. Basically, shooting events around my town and shooting a lot of golf has made my experiences shooting drummers all the better — a lot of trial and error too. Is this what you envisioned doing when you were a child? Hell no! I wanted to be a veterinarian or work in the microbiology arena. I even considered working in marine biology, but living in Arizona, it wasn’t feasible.

Rita Walters, Owner/Partner of Rockin’ Rita’s Recycled Drums & Percussion. Learning curve. It was definitely trial by fire. I wasted so much time in the beginning by not being able to prioritize things and rushing to get everything done. I still learn new things every day. That makes it fun. Worst part. Some people have unrealistic views about how a drum or stand should look after 30 or 40 years. Most people realize that this stuff is not new or perfect, but love it still the same! Most influential woman drummer. Sheila E! I loved watching her play the timbales. I never tried to do the stick flip because I would have probably put my eye out. Is this what you envisioned doing when you were a child? No, I wanted to be a veterinarian. About the closest relationship here would be the cattle it takes to make a drumhead. I guess that it almost counts as the same thing!

Craigie Zildjian, Chief Executive Officer, Avedis Zildjian Company. Worst part. I suppose having it constantly pointed out to me that I’m a woman, and one of the very few female CEOs in the industry. It sometimes feels as though people view me as a “novelty” or a “woman in a man’s job.” And I’m sure you’ll find that most of the female drummers feel the same way. Most influential woman drummer. Just because they’re women, female drummers don’t have different influences than male drummers. They are drummers first and foremost, and their influences are the same influential drummers (who all happened to have been men up to that point) who have shaped the instrument and set the standards in their respective fields. Advice. Anyone interested in working in the music industry needs to realize that a love of the instrument alone is not enough. It’s just as important to pursue business skills in the music industry as in any other industry.

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