The Drum Exchange Turns 20
Lifelong drum advocate Ed Hartman first moved out to Seattle in 1979. He had finished up his music degree at Indiana University after leaving his hometown near Chicago and was looking to get a start on his music career. He served as chapter president of the Percussive Arts Society and produced different drumming events, most notably the well-known “Days of Percussion” festival which eventually evolved into the World Rhythm Festival at the Seattle Center. He opened a percussion teaching studio in friend John Avinger’s music shop, John’s Music, in the ‘80s. John’s Music focused mainly on World Percussion, so Hartman decided to look into rebuilt drumsets, cymbals, and hardware. In 1992, he officially opened his own shop, the Drum Exchange.
In the years since, Hartman has expanded the shop and proudly organized a variety of clinics and events with world renowned percussionists (Carmine Appice, Dave Samuels, Mark Walker and more have all worked with him). Last year, Avinger retired and closed John’s Music, leaving Hartman and his wife, Candace (who organizes displays, purchasing, and manages the store while Hartman is teaching) to expand into all types of percussion as they head into 20th year in business. MMR spoke with him over the phone about the milestone.
MMR: What really brought you out to Seattle in the first place?
Ed Hartman: I looked on a map and I thought, what’s the farthest place I can go from where I am in the United States? [laughs]. That was ‘79, and I started to teach immediately. I found myself in the center of activities. I started a music co-op that lasted a year or so, putting on concerts and things. I started a composer’s series and helped premier music with orchestras. I got to know Alan Hovhannes when he lived out here at the time, and wound up premiering some of his music that had never been performed.
I wound up meeting John Avinger, who started John’s Music, back in the 1980s. He allowed me a full-time space to rent in the back of his. That store eventually moved to where we are now, in Wellingford. I was still just teaching through John, subleasing. Eventually, as he decided he didn’t want to deal with the drum set side of things, retail-wise, I started to pick that up.
MMR: What has your involvement with the Percussive Arts Society been like?
EH: As far as PAS is concerned, at some point I got to know the chapter presidents and it’s something that everyone can do for a few years. So I did my time. That’s kind of the other side of this. I started these Days of Percussion events that got pretty big, to where we were having five or six national clinicians coming in and we’d be doing them in different parts of the city. John Avinger got involved adding all the hand percussion right at the boom of the men’s movements. We combined with what he was doing and that became what is now the World Rhythm Festival, which is a huge thing to this day.
MMR: What’s the Drum Exchange’s role in all of this activity?
EH: We try create an educational resource for people to buy, sell, repair, learn to play, and to define themselves in percussion, whether they’re doing it for fun or for profit. Because I have a little more of a background in a wide variety in percussion, I work well at putting most people at ease and not intimidating them. Anybody can come in and I can show them how to hit pretty much anything and be successful right off the bat. That’s key!
I teach here with a full studio – in the back of our studio is my teaching studio. There’s another teacher here – Vance Nurkala, who’s been with me almost back to the beginning. As the store has finally evolved back into hand percussion and drum sets, mallets, Western – my personal philosophy of basically “hitting stuff” is finally equalizing with the store itself. I’ve always felt that as long as the store is doing just half of that, it wasn’t really complete for me. So there’s kind of a unification that’s happened.
MMR: Did that early experience at John’s Music help with sales skills?
EH: I’ve never considered myself a salesman. I show customers equipment and how to deal with it and it’s up to them if they want to do anything. I feel very guilty selling someone something if it’s unclear to me that they’ll know how to deal with it.
MMR: What’s been the biggest challenge lately?
EH: The problem of MAP violation is getting huge. I was just dealing with a jobber yesterday from whom we’re buying probably five different companies’ products. For one of the suppliers, we looked online and saw the item we were buying from them was under MAP. I emailed the supplier and said that we’d love to get this item but we’re not going to unless they take care of this MAP violation. Now, realistically, they may look at us and go “We don’t care about this guy. We can make a lot more at Amazon.” And that’s fine, but I think that’s our best way to fight this. We just won’t buy from companies like that. If everyone does that – all the small businesses and brick and mortars – that might be one way to combat this thing.
Some of the stuff we sell – the World Percussion especially – the exotic stuff – you really have to hear that stuff in real life. You can’t even get it online half the time. I think those are the items that will be the best for us in the long run.
MMR: What can a brick and mortar drum shop offer that can’t be found anywhere else?
EH: When we sell a drum set, we set it up, we align it, show people how to organize it and set it to their height, talk about muffling – little additions like falam slams on the bass drum to keep it from wasting quickly. We teach them a little about tuning heads so they don’t wreck the heads in the first ten minutes. Cymbals are all different. There are no two alike. You just can’t buy a cymbal online. I’ve seen people spend a week trying to pick a cymbal in this store. Crazy stuff!
We also do a lot of vintage and used instruments. We have a good variety of vintage snare drums and beautiful museum instruments to see. And those sometimes attract attention online and they’re sometimes easier to deal with because there’s no real competitive pricing for something like that.