Out an Entrepreneurial Niche in the
Competitive Music Business and World of Drummers
© 2001 Bruce Shutan. All rights reserved
Mayer couldn't believe his eyes (and ears) when he first saw
Alex Van Halen perform on monster drum kits in the early '80s.
"I'd be fascinated by this enormous array of drums that he
had set up," he says.
thinks about approaching him nearly every day - not simply
as an admirer from afar but to hand his favorite drummer a
unique, handcrafted snare drum. Although the lesser-known
Van Halen brother has been associated with Ludwig throughout
his career, he might be interested to know that the gift Mayer
has in mind is equipped with Puresound snare wires and nickel
Mayer is no ordinary fan. He's also the owner of Mayer Bros.
Drums in Los Angeles (www.mbdrums.com).
And while he may not be rich and famous, Jack Mayer is a helluva
lot like Alex Van Halen in two respects: He plays the drums
and is in business with his brother.
he's not alone. There are plenty of others like Jack Mayer
who've been inspired by heroes and heroines to pursue their
dreams not only as musicians but also as music business entrepreneurs.
And in the current economic climate, inspiration is needed
more than ever to spark the kind of ingenuity and entrepreneurial
spirit to sustain a career in the increasingly competitive
For Mayer, it isn't easy staring down the likes of Drum Workshop,
Yamaha, Pearl and Ludwig, his favorite drummer's favorite
name brand. "The competition is pretty strong right now,"
he reports. "Not only do you have a lot of major manufacturers
who are putting out a lot of great gear, there are smaller
high-end companies doing the same."
The Mayer brothers try to distinguish themselves in this crowded
marketplace by personalizing customer service. "When people
call up they're actually dealing with the folks who will be
designing their drums," he notes. "Half the time, people in
customer service [at the large drum-makers] aren't even drummers."
undivided attention doesn't end with a sale. Mayer often shows
up at his customers' gigs. "We take an active interest in
every one of the drummers we deal with," he says.
It's also important not to bad-mouth the competition. "What
sets us apart from every other drum company is our attitude,"
according to the Mayer Bros. Drums Web site. "Most companies
tell you why the other drum companies are inferior, but the
truth is that there are many top quality drums being made
he was about 13 years old, Mayer begged his parents for drum
lessons on a daily basis. He started with a pair of sticks
and practice pad, which led to a beginner drum kit and eventually
his first rock band whose rehearsals were held in his house.
on, Mayer would tinker with the look and sound of his drums
- always refinishing and modifying them until he was satisfied.
He'd match sounds to the thickness of each drum shell and
study the differences between metal and wood toms and snares.
"The more gear I collected," he explains, "the more I understood
the instrument and sound and got deeper into it."
two years ago Mayer approached his brother, who is a wood
craftsman but not a drummer, about pooling their brainpower
and woodworking abilities for a project that would allow them
to hang out in their workshop and have fun. At the time, Mayer
was earning a living in construction, woodworking, furniture
repair and antique restoration. After spending tons of money
on tools and materials, the idea for Mayer Bros. Drums finally
took shape in January 2000.
describes his customer base as serious drummers who've reached
a sophisticated playing level. "They're looking for an affordable
kit they can be proud of that sounds and looks a certain way."
Mayer Bros. has sold and rented drums to a wide range of professionals,
including Matt Laug, who played on Alanis Morissette's groundbreaking
"Jagged Little Pill" and has pounded out rhythms for everyone
from Christina Aguilera to Slash's Snakepit, as well as Ronnie
Crawford, who has drummed for Lisa Loeb and Jeffrey Gains.
Poli, whose versatile drum style has led to gigs with artists
in the genres of female power-pop, R&B and hip-hop, Delta
blues, adult contemporary, country, eclectic rock and cover
bands, approached Mayer Bros. "in search of a specific sound
from a snare, not really knowing what size, type of wood,
or thickness would yield that effect. After explaining what
I wanted, they knew exactly what to build. This drum is precisely
what I asked for, with a grade A finish and sharp-looking
course, it helps to be headquartered in the Music Capital
of the Universe. "L.A. is the best place for being in a band
and having a small drum company because there are so many
musicians and high-end drummers who are playing gigs here,"
Mayer says. He recalls checking out former Journey drummer
Steve Smith with his latest contemporary jazz band at a small
club in Hollywood. "There were 20 people in the club and I
sat with him between sets," he recalls.
has been playing in bands for about 14 years and for the past
year has been drumming for Pillow of Wrongness. "The most
exciting part to me when it comes to music making is recording,"
according to Mayer. "I have more fun recording than playing
live. I like to try and duplicate the sounds I hear in my
As a semi-professional drummer, Mayer may be part of a disappearing
breed. A recent front-page article appearing in The Wall Street
Journal warned of a drummer shortage taking hold in the music
industry - alluding to the careers of high-profile drummers
Phil Collins and Tommy Lee, both of whom moved from behind
the kit to front their respective bands. Also cited were statistics
from Music Trades, an industry magazine in Englewood, N.J.,
showing that drum sales doubled between 1996 and 2000 to 172,970
is, many drum teachers report that most new students are adults
who play around the house for their own amusement rather than
join bands because of the low pay and low profile (i.e., few
drummers seem to capture the limelight).
fact that drum sales have gone through the roof the past four
years means there obviously have got to be some new drummers
out there," Mayer observes. "I can think of handfuls of drummers
who always are searching for a full-time gig. There might
be some folks who are reluctant to gig because the money isn't
good, but it's not a serious issue."
Mayer believes the bassist - not the drummer - is the true
Rodney Dangerfield on the musical food chain. "They don't
get the same glory as the front man," he says, "and remember
that a drummer can't make major mistakes and cover them up.
When the drummer stops, everyone stops. Their importance is
probably beyond what they realize."
the Author: Bruce Shutan, an L.A.-based freelance writer,
has been playing the drums since 1970. He has performed and
recorded in numerous bands. firstname.lastname@example.org