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The Business of Drumming: How to host Drum Event or Clinic

Article by Sean Mitchell // September 04 2013
The Business of Drumming: How to host Drum Event or Clinic

The second installment of "The Business of Drumming" covers how to host a drum event or drum clinic. Drumming events like drum clinics or drum days take a mass amount of planning and are often not money-makers, but are incredible ways to inspire young players. In this installment, Jayson Brinkworth, Murray Creed and I talk about the realities of putting on a drumming event and how dedication to the art of drumming and your own community are a must!

If you want to start a drum event—a festival, drum day, or perhaps a clinic—there are a few tips and tricks and some stuff to know before you go ahead. Both Murray and Jayson have hosted world class drum events and continue to do so, attracting thousands of drummers worldwide.

AS ALWAYS THIS VIDEO HAS BEEN TRANSCRIBED BELOW FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE.


Jayson, making contact with a name artist, what is the best way to go about that for you? 

Jayson Brinkworth:  I’m kind of fearless and a bit naive about it, but I think it works to my advantage. Anyway, there’s been guys I’ve contacted on Twitter, Facebook, email through their website, through industry. I try not to use industry very much. I try to do it on my own. Industry is the last resort for me because they have other things to worry about other than me getting then to find a player. If I can’t find them then that just means I need to try harder. If they say no at first, it doesn't mean no; it just means try harder. Really, a lot of them have a personal website and they have a contact on there. They want to be employed; they want to be hired—they do this. It’s getting to the point now where the players don’t solely take care of it but they will pass it along to others and recommend it or say,“Hey, get a hold of this guy." So now I’m starting to see that people are actually getting ahold of me and asking about the camp, or asking about the festival or something. That’s what I thought may roll around and it’s already starting to. But one of the guys I’m just waiting to confirm on was a message on Twitter.

Same question for you, Murray. At your festivals you've had quite a few big names on the bill. What is your preferred method of making that initial contact?

Murray Creed: I’ve gone out for the last couple of years to the Montreal Drum Festival and I’ve seen amazing players play, and I’ve been lucky enough to be in the right circles that I’ve got to meet these players and talk to them. I tell them about the festival and let them know I’d love to have them out to the festival sometime. I then track them down—I’ve already made that initial contact with them. So far every person I’ve had at the festival I’ve actually met and then invited them to come. There are a lot of drummers out there that would love to come and play a festival. Sometimes you don’t know who you are going to get as far as personality is concerned. That’s a really big aspect to what I want to do for my festival. I want to have people come to Victoria to play the festival that I actually want to hang out with, that I want to spend time with, that are great people-persons.

Case in point—Scott Pellegrom, this guy is absolutely amazing; he’s an incredible drummer and an even nicer person. That was the kind of vibe that I picked up from him when I saw him in Montreal and I went, “I’ve got to have that guy at my festival." Same idea, I contacted him through Facebook. He got back to me and said, “I’d love to do it." Dom Famularo, I like to think of him as my mentor. For me to contact him is an easy call.

Other players that I’ve brought in have been through mutual associations with other drummers I know and, like Jayson said, sometimes through industry. For instance, a company I work with might call and say, “Why don’t we send so-and-so out,” and I’ll say, “Yeah, that sounds great." So there’s a lot of different avenues for getting the artists for the things. The Kenny Aronoff thing that is happening for me just next weekend was something that Yamaha Drums contacted me and said, “Hey, would you like to put on a clinic with Kenny Aronoff? And by the way it is on B.C. Day long weekend, so it’s in the middle of summer and a long weekend." I said, “I don’t care, it’s Kenny Aronoff; people love Kenny Aronoff! I’d be pleased and proud to put on a clinic like that." So sometimes companies reach out to us and sometimes it’s tracking down those artists.

We should note to the readers that both Jayson and Murray are Yamaha endorsers, and when they approach a company it is a little different than if you don’t have an endorsement. They have friends in the company and know the boundaries they can push. I don’t recommend contacting a company first, contact your artist or their agent first. 

It’s also important to point out that if you want to put on an event with someone who you consider a mentor. If you are offering it, then you are employing them and they are totally open to that which leads me to my next point. Once you have contacted said artist and you’ve decided you’re going to put this on—this is the reality—their fees aren’t always low. More often than not they’re quite high. Let’s talk about the financial realities of bringing someone like that. This is not always a pay day for us.

MC: It shouldn't be the goal to make money. We’re fortunate enough that we have jobs where we get to play drums for a living. So how do we go about inspiring our students and the drumming communities in our cities? It’s about putting on these events and it’s about putting on a festival (a festival because that’s just like a multi-clinic). You’re getting lots of different artists in and everyone’s going to come to this thing and have a great day. It’s all about inspiring and I think if you think you are going to make any money off of this, don’t bother even trying cause it’s going to cost you money. It costs me money every year and I’m quite happy to spend that money. In the throngs of the 2013 festival I know how much money this is going to cost me, I know how much money I’m bringing in, and I know how much money I’m going to lose. Somebody said to me “Why do you do this? You’re losing money." I said, “Well, I could go on a vacation or I could put on a drum festival." And they went, “Oh, that’s a pretty special thing to do." Sure, I go on vacations too but maybe I’m not going to go on that other vacation that I might have. It’s about taking what you have, putting it out there to get people to be interested in it. Once you've got that happening you start developing a scene, and when you have that scene, people are saying, ”I’d like to go play the Victoria Drum Festival." Victoria in the spring time—it’s incredible, right? People are going to want to come to Victoria and do that. I think that it all boils down to inspiration and the financial part of it. Yeah, it’s going to cost you a bunch of money.

Let’s talk a little bit, Jay, about hosting someone who’s a popular personality in the drumming industry, like Rich Redmond or some of the guys you've had. What are some of your dos and don’ts as far as making that person feel welcome? To what extent do you go?

JB: I got lucky. The whole thing started—doing clinics—back in 2004, a couple of local things. In 2006 I ventured out and was going to bring Billy Ward to Canada, so fly him up from New York. This was my first time doing this and he was super patient with helping me out. I planned on doing the clinic in December in Saskatchewan—which is a really smart idea (laughs)—so he flew to Minneapolis and the flight got cancelled, so he had to go back. You lose money when that happens. We tried again in February; he didn't even leave New York that time, so lose a bit more money. Then we did it in April and it actually happened that time. I think by going through that the very first time I learned a lot about what to do and Billy was super, super patient and helpful in that. I learned about booking the hotels; making sure the transportation for them is covered, the cabs to and from the airport; making sure that they know what they’re getting paid; making sure they know the company’s they deal with (what they’re paying them, how the breakdown is)—just making sure that there’s no grey area when they get to this other country in this foreign place they've never been to, that all of a sudden there’s not all this confusion. For example, that’s not the gear they need. There’s a lot of little things that go into it. You’re hosting this person that will hopefully be someone that can pass along a good word about your event. You just sort of take care of them—you babysit them. I love that part of it, as a fan of the player but more so as a fan of just the fact that they’re playing drums and you’re working together to put this on.

Expecting a lot of money from a player's endorsers isn't a realistic goal. Drum, cymbal, stick and drum-head companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on advertising, marketing, promotion, festivals, clinics and a multitude of trade shows, etc. What’s the best way to go about approaching the player’s endorsements?

MC: I think that you have to create relationships with all those different companies and then when you put on a festival you end up crossing paths with different ones: stick manufacturers, skin companies, cymbal companies, drum companies, percussion and accessory companies. You have to create that relationship so that you can call on them and ask them to support this artist by helping out with some funding and perhaps some type of prizes. It’s really all about your people skills, being a positive person, and letting them see what they are going to get. What are you going to do with it afterwards? I know you do this, Jayson, and I do the same; we videotaped the performances and we put it out there. We promote the heck out of it because we are proud of the event we put on. We want people to see that and we want those companies to understand that we’re putting their logos out there and we’re really making them look good. That’s what they’re interested in being involved with.

That’s a good point too and I've got to commend both of you. When you have a company that sponsors and supports you, the signage, that’s important. People think that’s just a little thing but it’s important. 

JB: It’s their advertising budget. It would be like taking out an ad in a local paper and paying a bunch of money and you get the back corner where you’ve actually paid for a half page. That’s what people need to see and players need to be aware of. I look at it as a fortunate thing because I’m not in the retail side—I have no desire to be in the retail side of things, for my own reasons—but there’s no conflict of interest where I’m representing a product, it doesn't matter. If the guy plays this and that’s the product and that’s great … put it out there. Let’s put it in the program. That’s important to the companies. The company wants to be involved in my event, the least I can do is pay it back.

You have to be willing to give. These events aren't something you’re going to get. It’s a give thing; it’s something you’re going to do for the industry to promote the industry, to promote the artists, to promote the companies. You’re not always going to get a yes the first time, which is a reality. That’s okay to just let it slide. Once you've got the festival and you’re dealing with these people, how important is it to not burn any bridges in this industry?

MC: I don’t think that you should do that in life, let alone in the industry. You can’t be that type of person—if you are, don’t even attempt to put on an event like this and ask people for help.

JB: My motto in the music industry is good new travels fast; bad news travel faster. And it’s true.

MC: It’s got to be positive, positive; and it’s the same thing you know when you have an opportunity to meet not just an artist, but a rep from the company. They’re going to be your partner in crime who's going to help you put this thing on. You need to be sort of friends with that guy from that company as well as that drummer. It’s all about relationships and being positive.

JB: It’s a business thing. Once again, it’s a business approach that the business gets stronger if it’s treated properly and the industry supports itself. Like this—the three of us sitting here talking like this and going through the motions—is just going to help the industry in our country get stronger with our collective resources.

Maybe you’re not at the point that you can reach out to Kenny Aronoff or Steve Gadd but maybe you’re at the point where the best drummer in your town is accessible. What is the best place to start? 

MC: That’s the way I started out. The very first Victoria Drum Festival (2010) I had a guy that’s a great, great drummer, Ron Thaler. He’s from Victoria originally, lives in New York and I knew he was going to be here. So I based the first one on him being in town. I just got local guys to be on the bill as well. That was the first one and it was great. People and companies sort of saw that and said, “Oh, that’s sort of interesting." They didn’t really get behind it at all—I wasn’t even expecting them to. The next year we kind of grew and we had another local drummer, Pat Steward, who played with Bryan Adams. This guy’s huge and lives in this area. So we bring him in and get some other guys and we just kept growing it and growing it from a grassroots thing, originally, to now we are starting to be able to bring in international and national artists. So, it definitely is a growth thing and yes, starting too big could be a disaster as far as your pocket book and relationships. You have to start somewhere and just grow it.

JB: The festival that I’m doing was a three-year business plan and so was the camp. The one-off clinics have been going on for a long time and that built up to get it to where it is now. There’s some contacts that I’ve established. One of the most important things I think is that you need to keep a local flavor to the event always. When you start looking past that and not having people in your own community be involved, it will die. As much as you want it to be huge and be the biggest thing ever, if you let go of that idea, unfortunately it’s over.

MC: And there’s lots of great local talent. So we’re very fortunate and we can draw on that. I think that the student component to it ... having your students being involved in it in whatever capacity. We do a drum solo contest. We do a fastest drummer contest; we do all these different things where the students actually get to be on stage and perform. I think that that’s a really big thing. They get to go home and say, “I was on stage with Dom Famularo,” “I was on stage with Mitch Dorge."

Let’s talk about the day of the event. You've got to know how to delegate because the day of, your brain can be mush. Let's talk about the importance on that day having your team in place and delegated. What are you doing? What are you not doing?

MC: I think organization. If you have it organized ahead of time, there really shouldn't be anything—barring the artist has gone to the washroom when he’s suppose to be on stage. It should be all organized and totally taken care of. It should be quite a comfortable situation. Having said that, I don’t sleep for a couple of days leading up to it. You don’t know exactly what’s going to happen but you also have to roll with the punches. If for some reason you’re going fifteen minutes over on that artist, you go fifteen minutes over on that artist. We have gone at least an hour over every year, maybe more, because it’s such a good time; everyone’s having such a good time and you don’t want to cut it short. As long as you've done your organization ahead of time, you should be actually able to enjoy the show. I actually play at the show. This is also one of the reasons that I wanted to do it cause I love to do clinics; I love to get up on stage and play drums. Obviously, I like to do it with bands to—I play with a bunch of bands—but I like to do it for drumming sake, for drummers. This is my avenue to do that as well; to get up on stage and actually perform at the festival and to be in the finale with the likes of the world-class drummers that we've brought in. To me, that’s one of the reasons I like to do this as well, I like to be involved in it. So performing at it as well as running the show, MCing the show, organizing the show. If you don’t have it all done ahead of time, you’re going to sink. So organization is key.

JB: With The Stickman Drum Camp, there are four of us involved in the business so it’s really organized. The festival is my thing and it’s getting organized. I have a really hard time with delegating and asking for help— that’s one of my own pitfalls, I've realized —so putting on an event like a festival where people need to get places and the running around that’s involved, transporting and everything, I’m getting better at it. I was pretty good at it last year but I’ll be real good at it this year, I guarantee (laughs). You have to be. Last year we had seven guys out for the festival and that’s seven people to get to and from a hotel at a certain time. That’s seven people to get to and from the airport at a certain time, and you can’t do that. Hopefully I get to see some of the clinics but there’s times when I’m watching and my phone will ring and, oh man, that reservation we had for dinner got changed by a half hour, so I’m writing stuff in this book. Every year I get a book and by the end it’s just gross cause there’s a lot of information that goes into it. Man, it’s crazy!

I find that I’m guilty of not being in the moment during the event. You’re doing so many things and then it’s over in the blink of an eye.

JB: You almost can’t just because there are things that need to be taken care of. In the two years of the festival I don’t think I've seen one guy’s whole clinic performance. It’s unfortunate but I didn't see it because there were other things being organized and other things being taken care of. They all like to have a good time and they’ll go back and pass the word along. But I’m always learning too. I’m always asking questions; I’m always tweaking things, trying to make a better judgement call on stuff. I think this year there’ll be more people involved so it’s going to be crazy … my book already is in shambles and it’s still a couple of months away.

MC: I was really impressed when I went to Montreal’s twentieth anniversary this last year, that Ralph and Serge were actually in the audience sitting there enjoying the show. I don’t know if this would be the first time but it was really cool.

JB: They have a huge staff. I remember years ago looking at it and going, “Man, look at all the people they've got doing stuff."

MC: I was amazed by the organization. It was really impressive that I was sitting there myself in the crowd watching this incredible drum festival and I look over and there’s Ralph. He’s just sitting there just watching. I went, “Wow, that is pretty cool!" You and I, Jayson, may not ever get to that point—we don’t live in Montreal or Vancouver, big cities where you can do that—but kudos to them cause they deserve it. After twenty years they deserve to be able to relax and sit back and watch their incredible work. That’s inspiring to me and I would like to be as lucky as to be able to do it for twenty years or more, that would be incredible. For me, coming up this is going to be the fifth year so I’m rather excited about that.

2014 is the next Victoria Drum Festival. This year you had Mitch Dorge, Larnell Lewis, Michael Michalkow from Vancouver. Next year ... any hints, Murray?

MC: No can’t tell you any—can’t tell you a word. I think it’s going to be a huge year 'cause it’s the fifth year. I’m really looking forward to this year but it’s often in the fall when I start securing the line–up. I definitely have people I’ve been working on for years that I would love if they could say “I can do that date." That’s one of the biggest aspects too because when you’ve picked that date there’s people you really want to have there but they just can’t be there cause they’re on a tour or whatever so then you’re like, “I may have that relationship with that person but I can’t bring him this year."

JB: Certain people can’t confirm until like a month out, so if you want to wait and take your chance, then you wait.

MC: Then that can really shoot you in the foot. Because you’re waiting and you’re waiting and then all of a sudden they say “no, sorry we can’t do that”.  You’ve got to have a strong line-up and make sure that if one person isn’t able to come that’s not going to make or break the festival. It’s exciting to put these things on, that’s for sure, and it’s definitely a labour of love. It’s not something – as we said earlier, we don’t make a lot of money doing this kind of stuff. If you added up how many hours you’ve put into that festival to put that thing on…the biggest thing is, don’t do it for money do it for the love of drumming.

You can check out the Victoria Drum Fest www.victoriadrumfest.ca. The line-up will be announced at some point. And, Jay, you’ve got one coming up right away here.

JB: Yeah, September 28 and 29. It’s our third one and it’s busy. I don’t know why I do a camp and a festival every year; so we’re looking at staggering—possibly next year starting to stagger the camp and the festival every second year do one just because it is a lot of work and like Murray I have a family and a lot of other things going on.

Who do we have this year at the Regina Drum Fest?

JB: This year we have Matt Halpern from the band Periphery is confirmed; we have Richie Garcia (percussionist from LA, he played with Sting and Phil Collins), Aaron Spears, Emmanuelle Caplette, Mark Kelso, Stanton Moore and Steve Ferrone.

And we can visit the Regina Drum Fest at?

JB: It’s on my website www.jaysonbrinkworth.com/regina-drum-festival-2013 and there’s links to all the years we've hosted with some video footage and stuff. The 2013 event will be in there. Tickets are listed and we have a hotel on board this year that is doing a rate for people wanting to travel. The information will all be there.




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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