‘Crash’ Course: Representatives from Five Major Players in Cymbal Manufacturing and Design Discuss the State of the Market

by Victoria Wasylak • in
  • Survey
• Created: November 9, 2017

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How would you characterize the current cymbal market?

Gabriel Harris: Compared to the same time last year, Meinl has had a dramatic increase in cymbal sales and most of that is concentrated in our high-priced Byzance series.

Tom Shelley: The cymbal market has had significant changes over the 41 years I have been in business. In the ‘70s there were only a few high-end lines (and entry level cymbals). Today there are dozens of both high- and low-end cymbals from Asia, Turkey, Canada, and the USA.

Andy Morris: Our sales were up 25 percent worldwide as of August, so cymbal sales for Dream, with its unique price point to value proposition, are great. While most of our lines all have the same price, our more expensive Dark Matter series is also doing well right now despite the slightly higher price point.

Victor Filonovich: The market seems fairly flat from our perspective. While we are hearing of more interest in acoustic drums in general, we do not believe that sales of acoustic drums and cymbals are increasing by much. Our sales are healthy, especially at the upper end, and we believe most of the gains are increased market share. Our L80 “Low Volume” sales are helping the overall numbers, as it’s a new category, and our mid-priced S Family introduced in 2016 continues to do well.

Luis Cardoso: Sales in 2017 were roughly the same, with higher-end cymbals doing very well. This has been a great thing for sales of our pinnacle Artisan and Artisan Elite cymbals. This trend has also helped XSR, our mid-high B20 cast series.

What’s your brand’s “hottest” cymbal at the moment?

LC: From a series point-of-view, our HH and HHX lines are doing very well. In terms of specific models, some of our hottest sellers are HHX Omni, AA Holy China, HHX Legacy, Artisan Light, AA Apollo and XSR Monarch.

AM: The 14” Re-FX Crop Circle and the new 14” Re-FX Naughty Saucer, both made from recycled cymbals, are selling faster than we can make them. The new Dark Matter Eclipse ride introduced earlier this year is building a lot of steam now that it is hitting markets. Our Dark Matter 16” and 18” crashes are also seeing a nice boost.

VF: K Custom, including the K Custom Special Dry (introduced this past January) is very hot. Considering the relatively high price point, that’s a good place to be and tells us that consumers are willing to pony up for a compelling product.

TS: Out hottest line of Wuhan cymbals are our new 457 and 457 Rock sheet. These are hand-hammered sheet cymbals at prices that are well below the other name brands.

GH: There are a few cymbals that I continue to hear a lot of talk about. Those would be the Byzance 18” Dual Crash and the Byzance Big Apple Dark Rides, with the 22” and 24” being very popular.

How important are artist endorsements/relationships for your company?

VF: We highly value our family of artists. These drummers are the face of our brand. They provide invaluable exposure to our products through concerts, advertisements, TV, and social media. And what has become very evident is that access to social media channels has made artists popular among drummers that the general public may not recognize at all. On top of that, the product feedback and suggestions that our artists provide are invaluable.

GH: Of course our cymbal artists are very important to us because they play a large role in developing our sounds and key models. A good example for this year has been the Artist Concept series, which are unique and specific sounds that reflect those artists and the personality they bring to the drum kit.

LC: Extremely important. Our artists are who our customers aspire to be. And while the whole endorsement arena has changed drastically over the last few years with the advent of YouTube and other online platforms, endorsers remain important − whether they play on arena stages in front of tens of thousands of people, or whether their videos are watched by millions online.

AM: Artist relations are a huge component of our Family. While only a small proportion of artists who apply end up with a deal, everyone who applies is a potential fan and customer and we do our best to develop those relationships, too. Artists play a critical role in defining a brand and building awareness, especially in new markets. Our approach to artists is somewhat different than companies of generations past, simply out of necessity and size. Artists are always connected to a dealer for any purchases and to complete the circle between dealer, artist/customer, and Dream.

TS: This is an interesting question. When I purchased the Wuhan brand from Paul Real, he had major artists using and endorsing the Wuhan brand including Neal Peart of Rush, Jeff Hamilton (jazz legend), and many famous rock players such as: Doan Perry of Jethro Tull, Mike Terrana, et cetera. When I took over Wuhan, my goal was to make high quality cymbals that drummers can use… for less! Most of the drum and cymbal companies support very few clinics. In my opinion this is a strong indication that very few endorsements increase sales like they did in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Have you noticed any practices – display, promotions, et cetera – on the parts of dealers who do exceptionally well with cymbal sales?

TS: Dealers who display our cymbals next to the other name brands are our best customers. A drummer who compares a Wuhan crash, splash, ride, or China can hear and see our great-sounding line of cymbals for a lot less than the other name brands.

GH: The stores with the best selection and depth of our lines, like Byzance, have typically sold more cymbals than stores with a very limited selection. The problem for local retailers is that they often have a limited amount of floor space to devote to cymbals and they have a limited amount of customers who may visit their store. However, online dealers can offer an entire catalog and sell to virtually anyone, although its not the same as walking into your favorite drum shop and finding “that” cymbal. I have encouraged independent dealers and drum shop owners that when a customer has made the investment to drive to their store and look at their selection, that is the time to capitalize and make the sale happen. One of my goals is to continue to build up and support dealers at the local level to have the right cymbal selection and be able to offer Meinl cymbals so they can be “the spot” for that drummer in town that loves cymbals.

AM: The simplest way for a dealer to have success with Dream is to stock a selection from each line and put them out next to their most expensive cymbals from other brands. The second thing is to participate and promote the recycling program, which drives customers into your shop and costs you nothing but a bit of time. Stick to MAP. The dealers with the best turnover and growing sales are absolutely also the ones who are monitoring MAP and stick to it. Finally, if you don’t have a good website that manages sales, start listing on Reverb. com. Nearly all of our top dealers without strong websites of their own – and even some that do have great sites – list our product on Reverb and do well with it there.

LC: Partnering with dealers on social media promotions for specific products has been a great avenue that’s been a huge boon for both shops and consumers. Case-in-point: our SABIAN Sound Kit SSKIT promo. Dealers loved the way we could target a specific market segment to drive them to their shop and make the buy − and it’s easy for us as a manufacturer. Also, dealers that have a designated, well-trained drum staff – either one person full-time or multiple people part-time – will do best. It seems that having crossover staff between departments is inevitable, but given a choice, customers will seek out shops that employ actual drum talent. It helps develop longterm relationships with customers, thus driving future sales. And of course, we also know that dealers who host a SABIAN Day Sale have been very successful!

VF: Online sales continue to grow in importance, and dealers that have appealing websites with compelling content are benefitting. In-store displays that incorporate cymbals with drum sets, showing cool combinations, stacks, and that are playable, seem to help dealers increase sales. We have seen that especially with dealers that display our L80 cymbals together with a drumset with low-volume heads or mutes.

Are there any trends of note that you’ve been observing in the market?

GH: When we introduced the Pure Alloy line this year a lot of drummers told us that they had been wanting or looking for a brighter cymbal sound, which Pure Alloy fits. However, we see a lot of drummers blending Byzance and Pure Alloy cymbals on their kits, and Byzance is still growing, too, which signals to me that having diversity in sound and texture is the new cymbal trend.

VF: We haven’t seen any major changes in cymbal trends over the past year. Thin cymbals and larger diameters are what is “in” now.

LC: We’ve noticed that big drums and big cymbals continue to be back in a big way… it’s just like the ‘70s! Think John Bonham: 15” hats, 20” crashes and 22” rides are very popular still. Also: stacks, stacks, stacks. Effects cymbals are every popular, which as a manufacturer known for our innovation and sounds, we are personally quite thrilled about.

AM: Yes, but I would rather not share them to be honest. Some cymbal companies are trendsetters, others are followers. Most are followers.

TS: According to import statistics there are now record amounts of cymbals being imported and sold in the USA from China and Turkey.

Do you have any recent or upcoming product introductions you’d like to alert our readers to?

LC: Yes, but if I told you about them, I’d have to… well, you know how that line goes. All we can say is… stay tuned!

TS: In early 2018 we will introduce a new line of durable brilliant sheet cymbals that are made from a strong, carbon-based alloy. Drummers will be able to buy our new Wuhan Heavy Metal cymbals for about the cost of an entry-level sheet cymbal.

VF: We marked the 25th Anniversary of the A Custom series with a stunning 23” limited edition Ride. We only made 1,000; each one had a unique serial number; our CEO Craigie Zildjian hand signed the inside of the bell of all 1,000 pieces; and we developed an incredible package with a certificate of authenticity, for each cymbal. It’s truly a collector’s item, a functional work of art. This cymbal was one part of our marketing campaign around the 25th anniversary of A Custom, one of the world’s most popular and iconic cymbals, for many years.

AM: The Dark Matter Eclipse ride, a half-lathed ride currently in 21” configuration, is really growing nicely and is only just on shelves in the last few months. Also, Scott Pellegrom’s new Re-FX Naughty Saucer is taking off based on the incredible versatility of those effects. It is the ultimate analog/digital drum effect for those that want the sound without any wires. I guess you could say it is a wireless drum effect.

GH: We introduced two new Artist Concept stacks this summer for Benny Greb and Matt Halpern. First, the AC-CRASHER for Benny Greb is four 8” cymbals (three of which are Byzance) stacked together to create a shaker or an electronic hi-hat sound and includes an auxiliary hi-hat arm – street price $499.99. Next, the AC-DOUBLEDOWN for Matt Halpern includes a 17” Byzance dark crash cymbal and an 18” Byzance dark china that have each been lathed on one side only. This stack is meant to be reversible producing both a sharp  attack or long sustain depending on how you stack the two cymbals – street price is $599.99.

Finally, what are your expectations for cymbal sales in 2018?

VF: 2018 will mark Zildjian’s 395th year. We expect to see further growth in 2018, further market share gains, and reinforcement of our great market-leading brand image and reputation.

AM: We expect growth in the 30-60 percent range in the coming 12 months as we expand our reach into new markets while improving our ground game in North America. We have hired Kent Aberle, an exceptional clinician and drummer, as a sales rep/clinician/product specialist. His experience selling Dream at the retail level combined with his musical prowess makes him a valuable asset in our new approach to dealer relations. He helps put a consistent face for many of our dealers to relate to.

LC: We believe that we’ll continue to see an increase as more churches migrate back to acoustic drums. In addition, we’re so honored to have a large family of loyal SABIAN customers. We have made a commitment to continue exceeding their expectations, while turning some heads with great new instruments in the coming year. We’re looking forward to 2018!

GH: There are some things in life that will always remain special. For cymbals, there is nothing like playing a handmade cymbal that has been crafted and shaped by a skilled artisan using only the simply tools of a hammer, anvil, and a blank piece of metal. For that reason, I believe that our growth as a cymbal manufacturer will continue as more drummers get to experience playing our Byzance cymbals for the first time – hopefully at their favorite local shop!

TS: We are expecting a growth of at least 25 percent in the next 12 months. Drummers need to know that Universal Percussion is the exclusive importer of all cymbals from the genuine Wuhan factory into the USA. We are in a partnership with the same factory (three generations old) that made all of the Wuhan branded cymbals that Neal Peart used in the early ‘80s. The Wuhan factory has over 130 workers. Others who import cymbals from China are made by very small factories that are not related to the genuine Wuhan brand.

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