Individuality, Intimacy, and the ‘Sound’
Signature Series instruments – product tied to, and usually designed with at least some input from, a specific artist – have unique appeal. If an aspiring player is a fan of a particular high-profile musician, it stands to reason that he or she might be interested in owning the gear associated with that individual. As we’ve noted in previous articles on Artist Series instruments, direct association with a “big name” performer can mean increased sales (usually at higher price points, as well), tie-in opportunities, and an aura of prestige.
Our survey of drum & percussion dealers on the topic of Signature Series drums (see page 50), however, indicated that Artist Series drums are a whole different ballgame from, say, similarly marketed guitars. End-users seem less driven to purchase a drum or drum component with a well-known musician’s signature scrawled somewhere on the surface. As a result, some drum and percussion suppliers offer less blatant forms of “artist-specific product,” or shy away from such gear, entirely.
What are the reasons behind the disparity between the realm of Artist Series drums and other Signature instruments? There’s no one, single, obvious answer, but it’s possibly because a drum kit is, on average, more expensive than (again, for example) a single guitar and most players only own one set. While guitarists would surely take offense at the notion, a number of the suppliers we spoke with expressed that the greater degree of “intimacy” within the drummer/instrument relationship and a desire to impart one’s own individuality may come into play, as well. The theory being that, if a guitarist has multiple guitars and one of his or her collection happens to be a Signature model, that doesn’t infringe too terribly upon that player’s ability to feel they have their own identity expressed through their gear. Signature drum sticks (as reported in the November, 2009 issue of MMR) would also seem to have broader appeal than actual drums, as well, and are a big selling point for both suppliers and dealers. Again – cheaper, easy to replace, less ‘intimate,’ less infringement upon sense of individuality…
All that being said, Signature Series kits, cymbals, and components still have a powerful pull and, when exploited effectively, can represent big upside to both dealers and suppliers.
MMR spoke with a handful of heavy hitters in the field to learn about what’s new in the world of Artist Series drums – what’s the appeal, how do these instruments help retailers, what’s new on the horizon in this section of the market…
John Palmer, Gretsch Drums Product Manager, KMC Music
Throughout our 127-year history, Gretsch artists have been closely intertwined with Gretsch drums. Iconic drummers who endorsed Gretsch in the past were part of Gretsch drums branding and advertising that dates back to the 1930s. But our support for Signature products goes beyond our company traditions, especially since historically, Gretsch did very little in the way of offering artist Signature product.
We know that drummers at every level are inspired by a myriad of reasons to play a specific drum brand. The artist endorsement roster is an influencing factor, no question. America’s thirst for pop culture exists for a reason and pop icons drive pop culture. We continue to carry on the tradition that Gretsch endorsees play a significant part of who Gretsch is and what Gretsch represents in the market.
By stocking a Signature artist product, the retailer becomes the bridge that deepens the consumer’s connection to music by directly connecting the artist to the consumer. The retailer is sending the message that they support the intricate connections that music has to offer – from a broad societal scale down to the most intimate personal connection. The retailer is reinforcing the message that they understand their consumer base and why music is important to them at a personal level. To me, that’s something that is invaluable.
Since most of our artist Signature products are offered in the USA Custom Series – our flagship and most expensive series – Signature product does not represent a significant sales percentage across the entire Gretsch drum spectrum. However, within the USA Custom Series, we have seen some product catagories where Signature product ranges between ten to twenty percent of a specific product group.
We have been able to successfully work with Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Ferrone, and are happy to recently add Stanton Moore to this group. We are currently working with Mark Schulman on a snare drum concept that we plan to release in January, 2011. We also have a couple of other things in the early development stage, but it’s too early to discuss at this point.
Scott Emmerman, Director of Marketing & Sales, Hohner USA
From a business perspective, when developing new products, the manufacturer’s goal is to identify and offer new, compelling features that will connect with the target market. The more direct the connection, the better the performance of the product in the marketplace. In the world of acoustic drums, the introduction of revolutionary new features are few and far between, so one way to differentiate yourself as a manufacturer is to align yourself with a famous artist and build products in conjunction with their preferences. This is most effective when the artist plays a drum kit that is unique in some fashion. The closer the Signature product is to what the artist actually plays, the more credibility the product will have. In order to be successful, the market demands that the Signature product has a deep connection to the artist that translates into a sound, feel, or look that they can identify with. The manufacturer’s hope is that drummers who are fans of the artist and his or her music will create “buzz” and an instant demand for the product.
From the retailer’s perspective, they are trying to use the market buzz that hopefully surrounds a Signature kit in order to bring customers into their store and subsequently increase sales. Of course, we all have our heroes; many store-owners and buyers are personal fans of the artists, themselves, and may have a personal connection to a Signature product. Most music store owners dream about products that will draw customers into their stores and they all desire hot products that customers will ask for.
I would guess that Signature drum products make up ten to fifteen percent of total market sales. If you include drumsticks in this calculation, the percentage of Signature products grows exponentially.
We had great success with Sonor’s Steve Smith Signature Beech kit that was introduced in 2008 and we introduced the Phil Rudd Signature kit in 2009. Phil plays large, oversize drums and we found that these appeal to a smaller market. Snare drums, in particular, appeal to drummers, so that they can customize the sound of their kit and Sonor has introduced a number of Signature snare drums that are all unique: Danny Cary (bronze, 14 X 8″); Phil Rudd (chrome over brass, 14″ X 5 &1/2″; and recently Gavin Harrison (9 ply North American Maple 12″ X 5″); and Dave Langguth (9 ply North American Maple 14″ X 5″) model Signature snare drums.
John Sorenson, Director of Sales Planning, Zildjian
Why do we bother with Signature Series cymbals? Well… We don’t! In the words of Armand Zildjian, “The cymbal’s bigger than all of us.”
We will do a cymbal and refer to it as “designed in conjuntion with” so-and-so, because that’s, in all actuality, the truth. An artist may come to us with an idea, but it’s a collaborative effort. He or she may have a concept, but that person doesn’t know how to make a good cymbal.
So we do not release any Signature cymbals, though we do release Signature pads and sticks. It’s just something philosophically that we do not adhere to. In fact, one could argue that [Signature cymbals] could work against you. You could have a product that won’t be considered by the consumer because of the connection to the artist. If they don’t like the artist in question, they may not check out what could be a perfectly good and suitable instrument.
We love and respect and work closely with our artists, but we just don’t do [Artist Series cymbals]. Drums and cymbals have a different level of intimacy with the player than, for example, sticks. Sticks… you can have a whole bunch, they’re inexpensive, you can use a whole ton of them, et cetera. This is a longstanding Zildjian value, and company philosophy. Guitarists often have many guitars, but most drummers have just one drum set.
Terry Bissette, Tama Division Manager, Hoshino USA
Signataure Series drums promote the artists’ affiliation with the brand. The finished product is usually a special offering that produces a specific sound and/or a unique function that the artist is looking for. All too often you can go to a show and see a famous drummer playing a certain brand of drums, but in many cases they are playing a “boutique” snare drum. It’s my opinion that if the artist wants something unique, I think their main drum company should provide it. And if it ends up being something that may have a broad appeal, the brand should attempt to market it as such.
Case in point: it’s no secret that Kenny Aronoff used to travel to a session with 80-100 snare drums. Of course, this became a very expensive process. So Kenny came to us and said, “If you can take the best of this and that concept, and come up with a drum that I can use that will give me what I want and make the engineer happy as well, I can leave all those other drums at home.” That was the challenge, and after a couple of years of prototypes, the Trackmaster was born.
Why bother with Signature Series drums? There again, it represents a partnership with the artists. Some artists consider their snare sound an integral part of their sonic identity. If you think about it, in one second Copeland, Bruford, Aronoff, Van Halen, and Bonham come to mind. Their snare sound is immediately identifiable and easily recognized, along with a number of other artists. It’s one more sampling of their musical personality.
If the artist is a “high profile” artist and consumers are interested in capturing or duplicating their snare sound, this is a “win-win” for both parties. Of course, this also depends on the pricing of the instrument. If it’s way too expensive for the market, sales will be slim. If it’s somewhat affordable, sales will be quite strong as long, as the artist is visible and active. When a new record is released, or a new tour is announced, sometimes we do see a spike in sales for Signature products.
The overall share of the market is quite a bit smaller than you might expect. But I’m thinking this is the result of the price; not the artists’ popularity. Also, drummers that are open to purchasing a signature product (some are not) need to see, hear, and understand what the instrument brings to the table. Sometimes it’s just a specific sound, but other times a unique function is recognized. An example of unique function can be found on Mike Portnoy’s snare drums. The throw-off is quite unique compared to others. And John Blackwell’s snare has three removable air vent plugs. Again, a unique function that directly affects the feel and sound. You might also be surprised to know that some consumers buy the drums as a collectible, almost like a souvenir. They may or may not ever actually play the drum.
All of our Signature artists have been successful to a degree. Some models sell stronger than others. There are many factors that affect sales, but I think price and uniqueness have a lot to do with this.
Andy Zildjian, President/CEO, Sabian
We don’t really do Signature product any more. We used to – where we would have the player’s name on the front of the cymbal. Since it was that person’s taste, we figured it was a great idea to know and show that this cymbal is “from” this person. What happened, though, was that we started hearing from stores and drummers who said they didn’t really want to play a product that had another player’s name on it. So what we said was, “Great, we’ll put these cymbals in our Vault Line, it’ll still have the artist’s feedback, and still be his or her cymbal, but the signature is now on the bottom and isn’t as visible. It doesn’t have the same prominence as it had before, so people who like that person’s sound can still get it, but without feeling like their sacrificing individuality.
Specifically for cymbals, cymbals are so personal. It’s the sound that you have selected for yourself and you don’t want somebody else’s name on “your sound.” But we still value our artist input – any drummer who is making a living by playing a musical instrument is going to have a lot more insight into what’s needed or missing. A lot of times we’ll get some great ideas from our drummers and then go back and forth on developing product. Other times, artists get very involved in the design and creating the sound. We always want to know what’s relevant, what are we missing, what should be different – that’s the appeal of those artist relationships.
Signature product is still valid; it just doesn’t have the same cache for drummers as it does with, for example, guitarists.
Jim DeStefano, Vice President, Sales, Drum Workshop, Inc.
As a rule, we don’t offer Signature Artist product at Drum Workshop. We’re very fortunate to have a strong family of endorsing artists that have served our brand well and over the years we have shied away from creating proprietary Artist product. That’s partially because we realize the industry puts out a significant amount of these products, but primarily because we’re truly a custom manufacturer. We make high-end, highly customizable drums that are tailored to each customer. So in general, an artist model doesn’t fit the “profile” of our company.
We understand that some high profile artists have the ability to influence the sale of products, so we understand why other companies choose to offer artist or Signature Series products. That said, we’ve heard from many of our dealers that, in many instances, offerings have been over-saturated. I don’t know if it’s done in an effort to keep an artist’s relationship copasetic, a marketing angle, or maybe manufacturers feel that an abundance of Signature product is essential to their line. Either way, it isn’t something that we feel fits our business model.
Because we don’t offer “Signature” products, we don’t tend draw that comparison between our “normal” line and artist-branded instruments . Even our drumstick brand, 3 Drumsticks, is free of Artist models.
Even though we don’t offer Signature product, artist visibility has been a pivotal part of our success over the years. Our presence on TV talk shows, award shows, sporting events, and other broadcast medium has enabled us to brand ourselves in a way that continues to benefit us greatly. Not to mention, touring acts and enduring recording artists that have waved the DW flag for all to see. Some mainstream names that come to mind are Neil Peart, Tommy Lee, Sheila E., Mick Fleetwod, Max Weinberg and Dave Grohl, but there are a host of other working drummers and DW family members that are always preaching the DW gospel. We very fortunate to be associated with such great musicians and without them we wouldn’t have such a tremendously loyal customer base.
Andrew Shreve, National Marketing Manager, Paiste America, Inc.
Paiste collaborated with a few artists to create “Paiste Artist Inspiration” cymbals. The primary goal of these designs is to capture the spirit of the artist’s sound. The most important element behind these designs is to provide a cymbal sound that first and foremost works in the particular musical setting the artist plays in. Whether it is pop, rock, or metal, the cymbal has to function in that setting and comfortably translate to many drummers who play that particular style.
Our customers have told us that they have stocked these cymbals for the high quality of their sound, their very appealing looks, and the strength behind the Paiste brand. When you pair those three key ingredients with some of the most influential names in the drumming scene such as John Dolmayan (System of a Down), Stewart Copeland (The Police), Nicko McBrain (Iron Maidon), Joey Jordison (Slipknot), and Alex Van Halen (Van Halen), you will surely generate sales.
We’ve collaborated with John Dolmayan (Rude Eclipse Ride), Stewart Copeland (Signature Blue Bell Ride), Nicko McBrain (Signature Bell Ride), Joey Jordison (Black Alpha), and most recently Alex Van Halen (2002 Big Ride). All of these models have done well, but the Big Ride has recently seen the most success because it’s still fairly new to our program and the price point is more feasible in today’s market.
Kevin D. Packard, Marketing and Artist Relations Manager, Ludwig Drum Co.
In my opinion, it sends a message to the consumer. In theory, Signature products represent not only the feeling that the artist has given the product their seal of approval, it also represents a union between the company the artist represents and what they are playing.
In the case of Ludwig, the position of Artist Relations and Product Development are managed by the same person because the two go hand in hand. You can have amazing product all day long, but it takes a face in the public to put a spotlight on it. The artists are the ones who are playing this stuff every night, and experience helps them know what works and what doesn’t. In developing product, feedback like that is priceless, so Signature products just take it to the next level by stating that the artist had a direct hand in making this product.
I think there is a feeling that if Signature models are good enough for the artist, it is good enough for the player. A player may not buy a Signature product solely because it has someone’s name on it, but these items may show the end user that an artist who has earned credibility has had a hand in this product’s creation, and it may fit for them in their own situation. The two entities, artist and manufacturer, help each other in taking that message to the public, and I think retailers see equity in that.
There have even been times where retailers had a hand in creating Artist models. Dana Bentley from Bentley’s Drum in Fresno, Calif. had an idea for an 8″x14″ metal drum, which Ludwig had never done. We created some early prototypes and sent some to a couple of artists for testing; one of which was Rascal Flatts drummer Jim Riley. We were working together at the time to find something that was different than other models but retained “The Ludwig Sound.” Jim ended up loving the 8″ depth in Stainless Steel, and after putting a couple of tweaks in the mix, that became his Signature drum.
But we learned a valuable lesson in making that drum, and that’s that the product has to have something unique that ties it directly to the artist. You can’t just take any old stock item, slap some dude’s name on it, and expect it to sell.
Some of the first projects I got to participate in at Ludwig were Signature Snares for Alex Van Halen and Bun E. Carlos. The last Signature item Ludwig had done was with Buddy Rich in the ’70s, so we decided to try it for Ludwig’s 100th Anniversary. They sold instantly because of the legendary appeal of these artists, who are both famous for their unique snare sound. We have since done signature drum sets for Bun E. and Jason Bonham.
With the success of these projects, we have even gone slightly outside the realm of mere players and tied the artwork of LA Ink tattoo artist Corey Miller into a signature kit, which sold very well. Corey is a drummer as well as a tattoo artist, and his signature kit lead to Remo doing a series of drumheads with him.
One of the big happenings at Ludwig this last year was in the return of Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer. We are working together now on some signature items that may be making an appearance at NAMM 2011. We have also been working on some new projects with Corey, as well as a snare drum for legendary ELP drummer Carl Palmer.