BY PHIL HOOD
Chris Hart is one of the most known and loved artist relations reps in the drumming business. As the director for artists and public relations worldwide for Remo, he rubs shoulders with artists, media, and partners all over the world. Musical artists are hugely important as ambassadors for the instruments they play. And as a drummer, the artist relations team is your connection to the company and the brand. I called Hart to find out how he views that mission and uncover some of the unusual aspects of his profession.
Like so many people in the music products industry. Chris has a serious musical background. He went to Cal State University Los Angeles to study liberal arts and marketing. But by his own calculation he took enough music and percussion courses to get a degree in music as well. “Lots of students and music faculty were shocked when they found out I wasn’t a music major, because I was in the music department all the time. I actually started at Cal State because I was a big fan of [former Los Angeles symphony tympanist] Mitchell Peters. But when I came in as a freshman he had just moved to UCLA. At the time I really wanted to be the next Emil Richards. I wanted to do movies and soundtracks.”
DRUM!: How did you get your foot in the door at Remo?
Hart: I really started in a data entry position. But my interview at Remo was beyond amazing. It went on for two hours and fifty minutes I think. I was interviewed by Bill Cowherd and [legendary Remo executive] Lloyd McCausland. I think I hit it off with those two because they kept asking me questions about who I knew and young artists they had just heard of. I would say “Yes, I know him,” or “I just ran into that person. He’s doing this or that.”
How did you move over to artist relations?
In the old [Remo] facility on Raymer Avenue in North Hollywood there was a product development area and a group of us would get together and play at lunch. We would eat for thirty minutes and play for thirty minutes. Often by the time I would get there someone would be on drum set so I started playing djembe. One day I was about to go to lunch and Remo [Belli, founder] said to me, “I need to talk to you.” I said “We can talk right now,” and he said “No, no no, you have your lunch and then we’ll talk.” I can tell you that was the worst lunch I ever had. I could barely eat. I thought he was going to fire me.
So after lunch I came into his office and he said, “We’re developing percussion instruments and world percussion instruments and I want to promote you to be the marketing manager over our world percussion instruments.” And, he added, “You’re going to be overseeing artist relations and marketing and R&D.” I looked at him like, Are you crazy?
After that I got promoted to marketing promotions manager, and then that led to me being in artist relations. Now I’m director of artist and public relations worldwide.
Everyone knows that artist relations involves signing and working with endorsers, giving out free gear for artists to use, and promoting the products through marketing activities such as clinics. How do you see your job?
It’s really a small team we have with Roger Johnson, Andy Rodriguez, and Valeska Thomas. My real job is to bring clarity. Roger Johnson does a great job with our artists. He does 99 percent of the signing. He manages the roster. I’m setting policies and procedures for artist relations for Remo. I don’t sign artists anymore. Rarely will I say I want you to sign this guy. I just oversee that what we do is in the mold of how we want things to be done.
What’s the invisible part of the job?
Invisible? We are the psychologists. Phil, you wouldn’t believe some of the conversations I have. I am a support system. There is no doubt in my mind I get calls from guys all over the world sometimes just to talk, just to share what’s going on. But sharing information with artists who are performing can end up being quite valuable to all of us in doing our job.
Remo is a family. And I believe being part of it is like nothing in this industry. So I love it. An artist looks up to me as the head of artist relations. I want to make sure that the family is good. If you need us to support you, I’ll show up at a coffee shop or at your gig at night. I care about you as a human being as well as someone who is an artist for Remo, Inc. You’re doing a lot for us and hopefully it’s reciprocated with you playing the product. We want you to think this is the best drumhead and that you are supported by Remo like no other company.
You’ve been doing this since 1992. What’s been the biggest change in that time?
Back 26 years ago the internet and social media thing did not exist. We used to base our evaluation of artists on how visible they were with records and tours. Having hits made you visible in the drumming music products industry. If your contribution to this industry was big that was important to how we viewed things. Now, there’s a different way to measure visibility. It’s on another level, not good or bad. We have to look at the changes and adjust accordingly.
You’re a new artist looking for an endorsement. What should you do or not do to work with Remo?
If you’re a new artist trying to become a Remo endorser, don’t lie to me. I will find out. Believe it or not, drummers talk. And if I find out [about something] down the road, that is even worse because then the trust is gone.
I want to know who you are, what you are about musically, and go from there. The worst thing I’ve seen a potential endorser do is say that they’ve been playing Remo for years. Then they send me a publicity package and in it is a picture where they are playing a competitor’s product. In a home studio! At that point they can’t lie about it. They can’t say, “Oh that was in a club and it was someone else’s kit.”
I’m looking for loyalty. I’d much rather have an artist say I’ve tried this or that product but Remo is best for my sound. That is what I want. Now you’re being honest with yourself. Once you as an artist sign a contract with us I don’t want to hear about you trying another company’s product. We’re [Remo] going to back our word. But if you hear that another company came out with new heads and you try it on a gig where people are taking photos and it shows up on my screen then we are going to have words. That has happened.
How about the reverse? How do you demonstrate loyalty to an artist?
A few years ago Brad Kaericher and I had a situation in which one of our artists didn’t feel connected to the company because they saw the emphasis we were putting on the new generation coming in. I guess he felt slighted. That’s a difficult situation. But we don’t cut somebody loose. We had to say, “You have done a lot for us. We are not putting you on the curb. We don’t kick you off the roster. You are family. You’re still going to be there.”
What’s the biggest challenge in a typical day?
One of the major challenges we incur is the artist who calls with a last-minute order. “Oh, I forgot,” they’ll say. But the tour has been planned for months. If I could be paid a penny every time I heard that I’d be a billionaire. We are lucky at Remo that we have competent distributors all over the world and we can react to it. One of our main benefits is that we can support people.
I’m really lucky that we have our own artists’ section back in the warehouse [a place that stores logo heads for bands and also universities and drum corps]. We aren’t getting mixed with regular stock.
I know that some artists are more influential that others in terms of their impact on sales of your products. Can you talk about who some of those drummers are for Remo?
Phil, I knew you were going to ask me that [laughs]. I just knew you were going to ask me that. There’s two things to consider. We have artists like Travis Barker. Whatever products we put out with Travis goes platinum. He is a big influencer. We have people like Aaron Spears and Gerald Hayward. They have done a phenomenal job in boosting the Remo brand. On the other end of the spectrum we have [Australian prog drummer] Stan Bicknell. Do you know who he is? He is not a household name. He’s in Australia. But he’s also very influential with certain drummers and promotes the product. So in a way it’s just certain drummers who really inspire others.
I’m looking at these pictures of you in the Remo conference room with that illustration of Remo Belli on the wall behind you. He helped put you where you are now. What did you learn from him?
The best thing I learned from Remo was to listen. I wish he was here so I could thank him for that. Remo was the best listener I ever met in my whole life. He let you talk. What I learned from Remo was to listen without interrupting. I want you to get it out. He listened. He didn’t agree all the time. He let you talk. He would repeat what you said. I took that and ran with it.