Australian made steambent drums (feat. Beau Haldane)

I first met Beau a few years back when I was visiting my good friend Helen Svoboda, who happened to sharing a roof with Beau at the time. At the time I was only aware that Beau was a great local drummer and had no idea he would soon be creating some of Australia’s best steambent drums.

It’s always a privilege to interview local musicians from Brisbane and share with the online community what’s going on here. In this case, I’m more than pleased to share with you all this particularly interesting interview feating Beau and his experiences as a drums craftsman.

Enjoy!

Has your relationship to the music industry changed now that you’re working full-time as a craftsman?

Yes it definitely has changed obviously now I have less time to be focusing on my playing and going out to gigs, socialising being a part of the scene which is definitely a huge part of making it as a full-time musician definitely as a result of me taking more time to make drums. I’m not around as many gigs, I’m not as social with the musicians that I once was like the guys and girls I went to uni with.

It’s also changed my relationship to the music industry in the sense that I have a different relationship to drummers than I did before, in that now I’m not just another drummer. When I come across drummers I often have lengthy conversations with them about the drums I’m making my business. A lot of people are really interested in what I’m doing and now I’m in this position of trying to make products to suit their needs which I feel like I’m in a fairly, not unique position to do it but, maybe more unique then some companies would be, in that I haver been in the position fo trying to make playing my full time vocation. The expectations I have of my gear and the quality that I expect for the money I want to spend on that gear gets a little bit difficult sometimes when I want to make a certain type of drum and I have to reconcile whether or not I would purchase that if I was in the customers shoes. More often than not the answer to that question is that I problem wouldn’t spend that money. So that could be seen as a positive or a negative. I’m constantly refining the things that I’m trying to offer and finding different ways to entice drummers into what i’m doing.

What have been the biggest challenges of running a business for such a niche market?

That kind’ve goes along with what I was just saying about making products that fit the price range that people expect for the quality of that product. For instance someone would expect a low quality drum to be cheap and a high quality drum to be expensive and the challenge is to be able to differentiate yourself/myself my products from other products that already exists to the point that someone not only trusts my product but they’re willing to pay the money to play it.

Aside for the other obvious challenges of marketing and making people aware of what I do and trust my brand, that’s really the biggest one is finding the right product market fit and it’s something that I’m still navigating. I think the plans that I have for this year I’m hoping will lead me to a better place in terms of having a product that fits the right market. For instance at the moment I’m making drums that price range wise, could be considered high end but the actual quality and the differentiation from what else is on the market they don’t stand out a whole lot. The main factor for that is people don’t understand, particularly in Australia, what steam bent drums are and they don’t understand the value of them.

So that’s the constant challenge for me is trying to educate people of what that is and why you may want that. Without coming across as though I think that they are the best of that they are better than anything else. That’s definitely not what I believe, it’s just that the product that I’ve decided to make it steam bent drums. So trying to educate people on what the product is and why it’s worth what it’s worth is the hard part. I don’t have the economy of scale behind me. I’m making everything one piece at a time. It takes a while to make, it takes a lot of effort, a lot of expertise. A lot of people don’t expect that. They don’t want that. They want a low price and a good quality product. Those are the kinds of people that I’m not trying to serve. I’m trying to serve customs who understand the value of a hand made product.

The problem that I’ve been constantly facing is that I have these drums that for all intents and purposes other than the drum shell kind’ve a mid range-is maybe mid to high end product. For instance the hoops, the drum heads, the snare straightener is not that far off from a drum that you could pay a lot less money for. So the solution in my mind is to go further down the high end route in terms of bring the production of those parts either in house or locally source them which is a major part of my business model.

To locally source parts and make as much of it in house as much as possible. So that’s definitely the plan moving forward is to push further into the high end of the market and see what happens. It’s always a risk but if I was to continue in the current fashion I think it would be a major grind and I’d either have to lower my prices to where it just wouldn’t be worth it for me to do, or just kind’ve wait around and see what happens which is not necessarily something I want to do either. I’m willing to take the risk and push it down that route and see where I get to

Are you still performing as a drummer or is your focus solely on drum making?

I do still perform as a drummer. Definitely get a fair few less calls than I used to. I think the consensus or the opinion of the people I used to play with is that maybe I;m too busy making drums which is fair enough because to be honest most of the time I am. That’s not to say that my focus is solely on drum making and that’s something that I’ve had to reconcile within myself is that, when I started the business I really hoped that it wouldn’t take a toll on my playing and the amount that I was playing, but inevitably it did. It’s something that I resisted a lot at first but now I understand that it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I’m here specialising in my area. It’s much more of a natural fit for me to be making things in the workshop. Designing parts and products to sell to drummers rather than being in the practice room grinding away for hours which you know, some people quiet enjoy. It;s not my most favourite thing to do. Definitely performing a lot less and focusing a lot more on making drums these days.

Has making drums changed the way you listen to music or drummers in any way?

It’s interesting. I have this kind of idea in my mind of the kinds of drummers that I want to play my drums and I have no idea if that’s even something that someone would be able to tell from the outside from the drums that I make or if that think these are just drums for people who like high end drums or whatever. It’s changed the way that I listen to those particular drummers that I’m into and that I pay particular attention to types of drums they use. The sizes of those drums,. The configurations that they’re playing.

I’m a particular fan of a very effect type drums although I haven’t really delved into that very far. So that’s really the only way that’s it’s changed the way that I’ve listened. It’s more paying attention to the gear people use. I suppose I listen to drummers differently in the sense that when I[m having a conversation with them I listen to things that they would tell me about what they like and dislike about their gear and take a mental note. They’re some products I have in the pipeline that are particularity focused on improving the experience of being a gigging drummer rather than just improving drums themselves.

Things like making it easier to load in an d out of gigs. Being able to play drums that are very high quality but also aren’t extremely heavy or difficult to load in or out. Things like that if I puts myself in those shoes which I have been if I think back to the time when I was playing quite a lot I would definitely enjoy those kinds of products. I suppose that’s how it’s changed how I listen to music and drummers.

Can you expand on what you mean in regards to this statement on your website “Haldane Drums was built on the belief that we could create something that no-one else is offering’?

When I looked at the Australian market for drums one of the things that I noticed, this wasn’t by my own observation. I have to give credit to my teacher Dave Sanders for that. I noticed their was no one offering steam bent drums in Australia first and foremost and secondly their wasn’t really anyone pushing the boundaries of custom drum building in the sense that some companies would in the U.S, like Love custom drums or Cherry hill drums. Cherry hill drums being a major inspiration for me. He hand makes all the hardware for his drums. He also crafts the shells himself I kind’ve started formulating this business I’m still working towards.

It’s like a goal where I get to this point where I have a drum where every single part is a part that I designed. Even down to the screws that are down to the shell that attach tot he shell. I’m working towards having a series of drums that are 100% Australian made. That’s kind’ve the next frontier with me. That goes along with the concept of pushing further in the high end. Ive designed a snare strainer. I’m going to be hand making the snare wires. The lugs I already have a source of those. I’ve designed those and I’ve got a n altered design for this particular series of drums. The badges are already made in Australia. The tiber is obviously all Australian timbres. The wood finish that I currently use is made in Australia. I’m just slowly ticking off item by item and leaving absolutely no stone unturned in creating a drum that is 100% made in Australia.

That goes hand and hand with this idea that I want to push further into the high end than I will be truly offering something that no one else is. I suppose currently I still definitely am and that’s what that statement means on the website. I’m offering something that no one else is because there’s no one in Australia making steam bent drums and there’s no one in the world with access to the tibres that I have that is making them in a steam bent format. So the shell alone is a very unqiue item and an integral part of my business. So pushing that further and pushing the boundaries that the thing that I’m going to do in order to further differentiate myself from other drum builders. Particularlyin Australia. It will definiately mean a price that some people might find cost prohibitive.

Which is fine because there’s many other companies around the will be able to offer those people a drum that fits their price bracket. Currently there’s no one in Australia offering drums at a calibre that I plan to make so that’s where it’s headed.

Has the rise in digital drum companies and technologies effected the way you approach drum making in anyway (for eg: someone wants you to build a custom snare emulating the sound of a processed clap)?

Not necessarily actually. Surprisingly less than I hoped. I really like the idea of someone coming to me with a crazy concept for a drum and I’ll make that a reality. So if anyone out there sees this and they want to hit me up for some ideas I’m all for it. Yeah pretty much it’s been quite traditional drums that I have been making that people have been requesting. That would be a very interesting thing to do.

Do you feel it’s important for drummers to invest time into learning how drums are constructed? If so, why?

Probably not necessary for all drummers. It depends on how serious you are about your craft so I’d say further along you get it kind of becomes more and more important to understand the methods of building drums and how they each sound and whether you prefer them or not.

That just makes sense to me as someone if someone wanted to push themselves further down the path of becoming a professional drummer they would have an awareness of the tools that are available to them. So I suppose it’s important for some drummers yes but if you’re a beginner I don’t see any real reason why you would need to know what a steam bent drum shell. I just don’t see a reason why it would be necessary.

Given your experience as a musician, do you translate the discipline of practicing the drums to “practicing” drum making, or “practicing” the various skills you need to run a business?

Definitely. So when I started studying at JMI I had very little concept of the practice of practicing. It’s definitely a learned skill and something that I resisted quite a lot at first and then found intensely satisfying to practice regularly and in-depth and push myself to learn things and not only that but to realise that I could play things that I thought that I never could.

If I stayed committed and practice and pushed myself with some amount of consistency. When I started my business I didn’t know how to steam bend drums. I had not steam bent anything in my life. I just thought it was something I could figure it out if I applied the same persistence and consistency to figuring that out as I did to practising drums so I definitely translated that discipline and there were very real moments where I utilised that in a order to keep myself going when I was more or less ready to give up on the whole process. That’s a big yes.

Can you share roughly how long it takes you to build various drums and whats involved in the process (eg: snare drum, full set etc)?

I’ve had multiple customers where there orders have taken a lot longer than others to get made so that all has to do with the fact that I’m still setting up the business in terms of tooling and everything I need to create these drums. The first drumkit that was ordered from me, only then did I make the bending forms and the various other jiggs and tools that I need to create shells of different sizes. So naturallyt hat first drumkit took a very long time.

The customer was extremely patent with me which I am extremely grateful for. Even still I have customs that are buying snare drums that are utilising some part of this new plan of mine to make everything in house. So I’m making parts specifically for some of those orders for the first time. In those instances it takes a lot of time. For the purpiose of thise questions I’ll assume I have all the parts ready to go and it’s just a matter of running through the process. It would take roughly once the shell is bent it takes rougly two weeks or so to fully dry out and become stable.

The drum shell is then glued, laid, sanded and finished which would probably take another week. Then it’s drilled and assembled and shipped. So three to four weeks all things tolled if everything works out well. For a drumkit I’ve only actually made two so far and both of them took quite a long time because they were the first two. So that’s a hard one to answer. I’d probably say eight to twelve weeks if I had to guess.

Does Haldane Drums have any specific outcomes to you wish to achieve in the next 5 years?

The first and foremost one is to create a snare drum that is 100% Australian made. That’s probably going to be achieved in the next six months or so I’d hope. As far as five years the main specific outcome I’d like is to still be in business and also to have the trust of the market I hope to be serving. I would hope that the products that I’m creating are products that people who are interested in high end drums would like to buy.

I don’t tend to think too far ahead and too large in terms of my business. I like to just take things as they come and go one step at a time. I have an immediate plan. I have plans beyond just making an Australian made drum but they’re specific products so I suppose another outcome I’d like to have is to have all of the currents products I have designed in production and available for purchase but I don’t have any specific outcomes in terms of major goals like being the largest major drum factory or anything like that. I just want to be still in business and producing products that I’m proud of.

Thank you Beau for sharing your wisdom with the online community and Josh Batka for including your drumming footage of Australia’s first steambent drumset.

For more information on Haldane drums head to: haldanedrums.com

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