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He Fell in Love With the Drum Art
By bill ketzer

How Jim Feck turned a chance meeting into a thriving business designing logos for drummers

What are you waiting for? asks the intro page to Jim Feck’s DrumART Web site. “You know you want one!” And it’s true. I want one. I want custom bass-drumhead art, and I want to support a local business. Problem is, I’m not exactly an idea man. In fact, I can never even think of anything good to be for Halloween. But on the day before we sit down at Feck’s headquarters in Altamont, it occurs to me that a drumhead depicting an aerial view of myself in a huge bird’s nest, bursting out of a pterodactyl egg, would be funny. And I would be stricken with terror as my Cretaceous caregiver descended with a stomach full of swamp carrion to barf into my mouth.

Feck, Web director at Union College by day, layers the digital shot I send of myself and superimposes it over other images culled from his bottomless library to complete the scenario and sends me an e-mail that evening with a near-finished product attached. The text of his message says it all: “AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Let me know what you think. Jim.”

It is perfect. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says of his handiwork when we meet for a step-by-step glimpse of how DrumART works. “It really is one of the reasons I love to do this, because you get all of these requests that sound ridiculous, but once you get working on it and it comes together you’re like, ‘Oh my God, now I totally understand where they’re going with that.’”

Apparently, drummers go everywhere. Feck’s portfolio of more than 750 designs ranges from Van Gogh’s Starry Night to Ben Franklin with liberty spikes. “Oh man, we’ve even done heads as boobs . . . like a big set of jugs,” he recalls with a chuckle. “This one kid Drew, his mom had this picture of him taking a jump on water skis, so he’s midair and we put this big DREW! across the bottom as if it were the ramp he’s launching from. It was hilarious.”

Feck’s laughter is contagious, and as he clicks into his editing software for some minor adjustments to my head we break up again, because the details—the nest, the broken egg fragments, the hay-bale font—work so well with the ludicrousness of my image. “The reaction I get from people is awesome,” he says. “I also love getting the photographs of the heads when they put them on the kits. Before-and-after pics, live pics, group pics. . . . It’s like looking at baby pictures. Every head has a story.”

The DrumART story began in 1997, when the Voorheesville native played in a local cover band touring the Lake George circuit. By chance, he met a designer who worked in a Watervliet sign shop, and Feck appreciated the classic “shield” heads he fabricated for local jazz drummer-instructor Ted Mackenzie. This got him thinking about designs for his own drums. “About a year later I called this guy up and we started working on a few heads for me,” he explains. “That’s when I started thinking about building a business, and I found that there wasn’t enough local demand to support this type of thing, not even enough regionally. But since I’m a Web developer by profession, I knew that with the Internet, the whole world is the market. So in 2003 we went into business as a partnership.”

Feck describes his early attempts at making heads as “pretty rough,” the finished product sometimes not completely centered or with small air pockets between decal and head, but as he tried to make good on a product that came out less-than perfect, he was shocked to learn how little people expected from businesses. “I would always offer free stickers and other stuff if a job didn’t come out a hundred percent, and the worst anyone ever said was, ‘Thanks for the stickers!’” he recalls. “People should expect more, so now I try to raise that expectation.”

With fellow musicians always in mind, Feck developed a removable logo technology for working drummers who play in multiple bands, a patent-pending innovation that gives him a significant advantage over competitors. “Other companies offer removable logos, but they only work once; the decal is destroyed the first time you remove it,” he says. “No one else has our capabilities. With our method, it sticks like iron. You literally have to dig under it with your nails and pry it off. Plus, the decals themselves are virtually indestructible.” With that, he stretches a sample of the material across his chest, crumples it into a little ball and tosses it on his assembly table. The sample snaps back into shape immediately. “I think I even spilled beer on this one and you can’t even tell,” he proudly declares.

As word got around the Internet, the business slowly began to flourish. Staying true to its core beliefs, DrumART built a solid reputation for quick turnaround, quality product and customer service, and when the fledgling operation’s first Christmas season arrived, it was flooded with orders from all over the country. As Feck saves my design to file and sends it to the printer, he describes the catalyst that soundly established DrumART as an industry leader. “We got hammered, totally overwhelmed during that holiday season,” he explains. “Modern Drummer did an article on us in November of 2004, and after that it just got nuts. It’s funny because we still don’t advertise much. We’ve only recently started putting ads in the drum magazines, so it’s still by-and-large word-of-mouth.”

With the help of the Internet, word of mouth can have a long reach. Feck has been tapped to produce heads for major-label acts like Seether, Chimaira, In Flames, Better Than Ezra, Dimmu Borgir, Lacuna Coil, even the (Grateful) Dead. “Most of them just do a Web search and call me,” he says. “The European metal acts are all managed by one company, so once they saw what we could do, they started calling for other bands.”

“My partner, I think he’d had enough after that season,” he continues. “He just didn’t have the time, so I had to decide whether I wanted to take on all that extra work and financial responsibility myself. But I figured, ‘What the hell?’ So we took a huge loan out on the house and bought that printer.”

Feck tips his head toward his Roland SolJet SC-540—humming with efficiency as it inks up a full-size print of my plight in the bird nest—with an expression between curiosity and awe as to both its capabilities and its price. The $25,000 device spans the entire length of his workspace (and looks like something reverse-engineered from alien spacecraft), but despite the investment, he maintains that DrumART is just a side project. “It’s a nice little side thing. . . . I don’t know if it’s anything I’ll ever do full-time,” he says, ripping my now bass-drum-sized image from the Roland, which automatically perforates its circumference as we laugh again at my screaming mug piece. “It would be nice, but I really like working at Union. It’s a great job, with great people, so this is just for fun. As long as I can keep doing both, I will.”

But that’s not all he keeps doing. An accomplished drummer in his own right, Feck remains busy on the live circuit, recently manning the drum stool for local metallurgists Great Day for Up, while still finding time for his wife Melissa and their two children. His secret ingredient? “I don’t sleep a whole lot,” he confides with a laugh. “But I never really have, so that kind of helps because it gives me more hours in the day. I get bored if I’m not doing a whole bunch of stuff, and I’m really having fun right now.”

Whipping an Aquarian 24-inch bass head from a utility closet, Feck reiterates what he calls his “kinda corny but sincere” goal to give back to music communities around the globe. “We’re a family business, so we keep costs low, and besides—this is no bullshit—we really believe in what we’re doing, and want to give back to fellow drummers,” he says. “I mean, we want to make money, and we certainly don’t want to lose money, but. . . . I’m a Web professional. I don’t have to outsource that. My wife Melissa is currently VP of human resources and was previously a VP of marketing at a local credit union, so she has incredible business sense and handles the shipping and accounting sides of the business. My dad is retired so he’ll do a lot of the assembly. We pass that savings on to the customer.”

Another thing they pass along is gratitude. When Hurricane Katrina rocked the Gulf Coast last year, Feck auctioned off a dozen heads signed by some of his more famous clients on eBay, raising more than $5,000 for the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, a nonprofit group that gives musical instruments to children in underserved schools (the company suspended its nationwide goals to focus on Katrina last year). “When Katrina happened, the music communities wanted to do something to help musicians,” he says. “So I thought some of our famous clients would be willing to reproduce and sign their custom heads and auction them off.”

He was right. Not one performer he approached turned him down, including members of the Dead, Trey Anastasio, Stewart Copeland of the Police and No Doubt’s Adrian Young. The Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann even donated original artwork for his two contributions. Feck then got the International Music Products Association (aka NAMM, an acronym for the group’s former name) to match the amount raised by the auctions. “The whole thing was incredible,” Feck recalls as he squeegees my image onto the head, still marveling at the finished product. “Kids going through such a disaster and being able to play music again, make new friends, lose themselves in music again. Also, I was completely humbled by the support we received. It makes you realize how much, at its core, music really is a unifying force. No matter what you play or how you play it, I think all musicians have a shared experience. . . . of learning their instrument and playing in a band.”

He holds my frightened, finished face into the air triumphantly. “We all share that, and it’s a wonderful thing.”

For more information regarding DrumART, visit online at www.drumart.com or call (877) DRUMART.


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