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Rick Drumm: Seizing the Day

By Published: May 28, 2012
AAJ: That's an awful lot of guitar strings.

RD: In the interview, Jim D'Addario said, "You've made a career turning these companies into multi-million dollar businesses; if we hired you, how would you manage D'Addario?" I said I'd run it like a 20-million-dollar business, because one of the things that happens in larger companies is that there are a lot of levels of bureaucracy, and you start to lose touch with your employees, and more importantly, you start to lose touch with your customers. The first thing I would do is just flatten out the organization as much as possible. That is what he wanted to hear. Part of my responsibility, along with managing the company, is mentoring the next generation of D'Addarios to become the future managers.

AAJ: Do you think any of the skills you learned playing in different bands are transferable to running a business?

RD: Absolutely. Now that the recording industry has changed so much, if you want to be successful then it's just not enough to be a talented musician; you also have to be an entrepreneur. Everything I have learned as a musician I apply to the business side. If you think of all the great bands down through history, without exception what it comes down to are people, and how you mange those people and how you get the best out of those people. Look at Miles Davis and [drummer] Art Blakey
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
; how many great musicians did they have go through their bands? First of all, you've got to have an eye for picking out that talent, and then you have to have the ability to manage that talent. You've got to be able to bring together something musically that is greater than the individual parts. That's what those guys were able to do, and that's what I try to bring to management.

I remember walking around the factory with Remo [Belli, CEO and founder], and Remo and I used to classify people in musical terms: "See that guy over there? He's you're lead player. That guy over there's a section player; that guy's your improvisation guy."

AAJ: That's an interesting analogy. Coming back to Return from the Unknown, 25 percent of the profits are going to the non-profit organization Strike a Chord. Could you tell us about this organization and why you chose it to benefit from the CD sales?

RD: Strike a Chord is actually an Australian- based charity that now has a U.S. chapter. It was actually started by a gentleman who worked for our distributor in Australia and who had cancer himself. While he was going through his chemotherapy, he came into contact with a lot of kids. Music helped this guy get through his cancer, and he thought that if he provided music to kids going through their battles with cancer and other serious illnesses, it would help them. It's not actually easy to provide this help because of all the different laws to protect kids. In many cases you have to go through social workers to contact the families of the kids. Bringing the guys together for this album really helped me get through my ordeal, and I saw what John was doing in Australia, and it was something that I could really relate to. I wanted to help in some small way.

AAJ: It's a very worthwhile cause, indeed. Are there any plans for a follow-up CD or gigs with this lineup?

RD: We'd like to do some live gigs, though the challenges are geographic, as well as fitting it in around general life and business. Everyone has their own projects going on. It's tough to get everybody together, to find a time when everybody's schedules can come together. I've got my own situation managing a national company with 1,200 employees [laughs]. We hope to do another CD sometime soon.

AAJ: What has your experience battling cancer taught you above all else?

RDL We get tied up in our day-to-day activities; we all do. When you get the news that you have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, you know that if things go the wrong way then your time on this Earth could be shortened dramatically. It's a life review of what is really important [laughs]. Of course, we divert back to family first. I've maintained a fairly high level of music even though I've been managing these companies, but I'd always put on the back burner some creative aspirations, things that I really wanted to do. The cancer made me re-look at the priorities list. I knew that if my life was going to be shortened, I wanted to have this opportunity to play with the people I really wanted to play with and leave something behind that was a part of who I was. That's what this project meant to me.

AAJ: You must get a lot of satisfaction from providing strings and other musical accessories to millions of musicians around the world, no? That's a vast, lasting legacy.

RD: We have a lot of very good musicians at D'Addario, and it's what got us here. A lot of us are driven to provide products that we ourselves want to play. Part of what brings me to work every day is the opportunity to create the products to try to provide better services for musicians. I love sharing that passion and passing it along to the next generation. I got that from my father. He's 78 years old, and he's teaching music at a Montessori School, grades three through eight [laughs]. Bless you, Pops! He still enjoys giving that gift of music to the next generation, and I think that's important. It's a big part of what D'Addario is about.

What I appreciate about the D'Addario family is that they recognize the fact that it's important for me to play. We do that because it's part of our DNA. It's part of who we are. I have the ability to go out and play with my customers, and my fellow musicians are my customers, and I have a good connection to everything they're going through in their lives right now. Having gone through this CD project, it has given me a real-life perspective on what everybody is going through right now in the world of music: what it takes to create the product, to promote the product and to try to sustain it. It's different to how it was 10 or 15 years ago.

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