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I think George Orwell got it right, he was just 20 years out with his fine tome; “1984”.


“What has this got to do with drums?” I hear you ask ‘O gentle and sensitive reader (you are gentle and sensitive aren’t you? If not, go back to practising your guitar!), well I shall elucidate.


In this drummer’s humble opinion, the development and evolution of the modern drum industry is putting us, the tub thumper into a market not dissimilar to the Orwellian vision of a ‘communist-esque’ existence. There, I’ve said it – stop laughing at the back! When one factors in the proliferation of t’internet and the associated technological advancements that abound, along with the unstoppable monster that is globalisation, we are faced with a scenario that on face value, would appear to be of fantastic benefit to the penniless drummer – but risks future individual decision making.


After World War II, many social commentators, like Orwell saw the rise of communism as a bad thing. Remember McCarthyism? It was all a bit silly as like all utopian plans, as soon as you factor in the stinking primate (mankind) it usually goes A over T in quite spectacular fashion. But since the fall of centralised control in Moscow, the rise of capitalism has provided the former down trodden masses in that part of the world with a whole ocean going tanker load of new problems.


In th’old days, you wanted bread – you went to the bread shop. You wanted shoes – you went to shoe shop, well, actually, if you wanted BLACK shoes – you went to the BLACK shoe shop etc. Okay, it’s a flippant overview of what was considered to be State controlled and efficient supply of what the masses needed, but essentially you had one specific shop to buy a specific type of item. The short lived chain ‘Traktors We Is’ being the exception when they tried to sell a stretchy, leopard skin seat cover for the Trabant Maxi-Plough Mk2.


Imagine if you will, a situation where thanks to global purchasing choice via the domestic PC, the cut throat world of percussive supplies, ends up monopolised?


Our glorious leaders have always encouraged competition to benefit the consumer, but if one supplier, supplies so far below any other – a virtual monopoly exists on specific items. Everyone else gives up, then Mr Monopoly suddenly loses his motivation to undercut as there is no one to under cut.

Whilst the drummer benefits in the short term, the knock on effects could be harmful. In the same way many of us want the convenience of the corner shop for the newspaper, odd pint of milk, armoured personnel carrier with a lavender scented howitzer and other day to day household items, the immense, corporate retail, muzak infected, sterilised shed supermarkets are still the chosen place for shopping. The vast majority of drum related products are now coming from a small collection of manufacturing facilities and as the quest to offer the best prices approaches light speed in the UK, the risk of losing the drum retail equivalent of the corner shop is ever present.


If this ever happens, Mr Monopoly could charge whatever he pleases. A bleak vision, which many could, and probably will scoff at, but having observed the industry, talking to those involved at every level, I believe there is a risk, no matter how small that as the world becomes ‘smaller’, the choice for drummers will shrink proportionally.


The recent explosion in the UK of custom builders weakens the stranglehold on the market by the bigger corporations. However, success for the minnows only comes if they a) specialise in something unique or b) play the game and keep the consumer cost down, thus making the need for cheaper materials and faster production times imperative. Ultimately, the drummer could be the loser as the quality/cost ratio becomes unbalanced and expectations exceed product quality.


There’s no magic wand to resolve a situation like this, after all, all the industry has done is either respond to, or create the demand. Additionally, I’m not suggesting that we should take the retrograde step of only buying from our local drum shop (if we’re lucky enough to have one!). However, it’s worth noting that as long we continue to seek out the most cost effective supplier in the world, we also risk forcing the market to become a collection of specifically focussed businesses that will ultimately restrict choice.


Mike Ellis has been playing drums for over 30 years and has toured and recorded with numerous acts most of whom enjoy an unprecedented level of obscurity. If there are any points that you strongly disagree with, or you feel there is misrepresentation, then we’re just gonna have to step outside and settle this now, big man! You come here criticizing someone else’s hard work, just who the hell d’you think you are? You never buy anyone a drink; you’ve got no fashion sense and what kind of a haircut d’you call THAT!? Just get outta here and take your funny looking dog too.


November 2004

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