It’s almost midnight on January 3, 1959 in the over-crowded and smoke-filled Birdland Jazz Club in Manhattan. The Miles Davis quartet is running through their set with Coltrane on the tenor sax and the great Jimmy Cobb on drums. Sitting at his usual table close to the front is Phil Grant, the Gretsch Drums Brand and Artist Relations Manager at the time. You see, Miles had recently called Phil and had asked Phil to hook up his new drummer Jimmy with a Gretsch kit. Phil obliged but also wanted to check in to make sure Jimmy was holding up his end of the bargain on stage with Miles. By this time Phil Grant had cornered the New York jazz scene by signing Gretsch endorsement deals with guys like Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. He was also busy scheming up plans for what would become the greatest drum recording of all time: Gretsch Drum Night at Birdland.
When Phil Grant left Gretsch in the early 70s, there was no doubt that he left big shoes to fill for future Gretsch Brand and Artist Relations Managers to come. Steering the reputation of such a brand steeped in tradition is a difficult and thankless job. Fortunately for Gretsch Drums, Andrew Shreve is carrying the torch today and is one of the best in the business. He is an industry veteran and an active drummer himself, and someone who lives and breathes Gretsch drums. Watching Andrew perform his job is like watching a grand wizard perform a juggling act in the way he handles the demands of the current endorsers and navigates through the nuances of future marketing campaigns and product design.
We caught up with Gretsch Drums Brand and Artist Relations Manager Andrew Shreve to talk Gretsch drums and to find out what exactly he is looking for in a Gretsch endorser today.
Lucas: You are the artist relations manager, which means you are responsible for endorsement deals. What exactly are you looking for in a Gretsch artist right now?
Andrew: There are many factors we look into. First and foremost, are you passionate about Gretsch and is Gretsch deep in your heart the brand you really want to play? How active are you as a player and to what caliber are you playing? Are the shows and sessions regional or international? Our roster is so strong (and manageable) so we are quite restrictive with signing artists. Because we have to be selective, it’s important to ask these questions. If I could sign more artists I would, but in signing too much talent, you place a heavy strain on the staff and our ability to maintain our high level of artist service. This strain really limits our ability to provide backline support. When Summer touring season is in full swing in Europe, my colleague in the UK gets so many requests and we sometimes stress out wondering if there are enough cartage kits to support so many touring acts. This aspect of the job is not a cake walk, believe me. There are many active players who also have incredible facility behind the instrument but we just can’t sign them all.
Lucas: Throughout your career have you ever had a kid ask you for an endorsement deal which you turned down, only to see him playing successful stadium tours several years later?
Andrew: I’m sure there are as every company has run into this. You kick yourself for missing this but it happens to many scouts. Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round… (I had to go there, sorry, I’m a native New Englander).
Lucas: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Andrew: Well, scouting and staying on top of so many artist applications is truly one of them. There’s a very strong buzz with Gretsch Drums and many drummers want to proudly endorse these beautiful instruments. The other is the challenge of having to focus my attention from the AR side to the brand management side in a snap. I might be working on a detailed project for sales or marketing and then I get a call from Vinnie Colaiuta, and then it’s like sorry sales, you’ll have to wait!
Lucas: Is it difficult dealing with so many different personalities among the Gretsch artists, or do you find that they all have a similar personality profile?
Andrew: I never have an issue with that. I consider myself to be a fair person who gets along with the wide range of personalities that our roster has. Yeah, there are flashy rock artists…yeah, there are conservative veteran educational artists…but at the end of the day, I don’t want to be the type of AR Rep who makes an older generation Top Jazz artist uncomfortable. And I don’t want to be the type of AR Rep who gets offended because a top country artist cracks a joke about my bright yellow shirt. At the end of the day, it’s all about drums and music and we need to embrace the joy we get from it.
Michael Miley, Andrew, Gergo Borlai, Mike Johnston.
Lucas: What’s the one endorsement deal you absolutely regret having made?
Andrew: HA!!! So many drummers ask that and I’m just not going to go there, sorry. I’ve had a couple over my long tenure in this biz but you live and you learn.
Lucas: You’ve been with Gretsch drums now for several years, can you talk about your prior work experience and how that prepared you for this job?
Andrew: Before joining the Gretsch Drums team, I worked for Paiste America for 15 years. I started as their customer service/product specialist, eventually moving into managing marketing and artist relations. As their customer service rep, I worked with their customer base which gave me firsthand experience on how the retail side of the business worked. I was fortunate to establish relationships with many dealers with whom I still work today. Since marketing and artist relations are so tied together, these positions significantly expanded my understanding of the MI business. Artists are the #1 marketing tool for most companies in the percussion side of our business, so they are deeply tied to advertising, social media, and various consumer and trade shows.
Lucas: Can you talk a bit about your own drumming career and what style of music you like to play? Which kits do you play?
Andrew: I’ve been playing drums since the age of 13 and was very serious about the instrument throughout my youth. I served in the Navy as an aviation fire fighter on a flight deck, and I was very fortunate to sit in with different bands when we were on liberty. There was about a two-year time frame in the early 90s where I wasn’t playing music but that quickly changed around 1995 and since then I’ve been very active with local bands and studios around Southern California. I currently play in a fantastic 7-piece soul band, Boxcar 7 and freelance with other bands. I have a USA Custom, Broadkaster, and Renown that I usually play but since I have A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder) when it comes to drums, I am always trying to mix up my set on every gig. It’s been a long-standing challenge with the lead singer in my band. I’ll use a different Gretsch snare and always mix up my cymbal set up…. Yes, I know… I need help!
Lucas: Do you have a family? If so, how do you balance playing drums, work, and family?
Andrew: I have a very loving and understanding wife who knows how addicted I am to drums and playing music. It can be a challenge to balance these three sides of my life and sometimes she reminds me that I need to take a step back and enjoy the leisure side of life instead of being on the go all the time.
Lucas: What are the challenges of maintaining and nurturing such a large global network of artists?
Andrew: The biggest challenge is finding the time to keep in touch with them all, even when they’re traveling into Los Angeles for a show. The one benefit of Los Angeles traffic is that I get the chance to catch up with artists on the phone while sitting on the freeways. I’m so fortunate to have a world-class team to work with globally. My colleague David Phillips (Gretsch Drums Artist Relations & PR in Europe, based in the UK) and I talk almost every day regarding potential artists, current artist activities, and more. He’s a senior veteran in our industry for over 18 years. I also work very closely with DW/Gretsch’s VP of Marketing Scott Donnell and we’re always discussing current or potential artists and Gretsch marketing campaigns. I always bounce ideas off and receive council from him.
Lucas: Do you ever feel limited or weighed down creatively by the fact that Gretsch is such an old and established brand? Can you talk about balancing tradition and innovation in your branding process?
Andrew: That’s a great question. I actually don’t feel limited or weighed down from a creative standpoint thanks to our world-class marketing team. Most of our clients, customers, and end consumers are well aware that Gretsch Drums is a brand highly recognized for its history and heritage in the MI (musical instrument) business. This awareness allows us to fuse new and contemporary styles of marketing that reach a different target of drummer by being unique in our creativity.
In 2016, we created “The One” Snare Drum campaign which featured a variety of new artists such as Michael Miley and Gary Novak alongside long-time veterans that have endorsed Gretsch for many years like Joe LaBarbara and Steve Ferrone. We had a variety of 17 snare drums, some classic models, others new. The premise was that each of the eleven artists evaluated each snare drum and if they could walk away with “The One” they had to have, which one would it be. It was as creative a campaign as I’d ever seen. I give credit to my friend and colleague Scott Donnell for that one. It’s still talked about when we exhibit at various drum shows (Hollywood, Chicago, PASIC).
Last year, we launched the successful “Mic It, Like It” marketing campaign at Southern Ground Studio in Nashville featuring four top artists, (three country artists and one rock music artist, all of whom are also very active in the studio scene). The theme highlights our strong tie with the recording side of music and our deep roots in Nashville.
We’re about to launch a new campaign that is going to tie in the history of Gretsch like no other campaign has since my tenure with Gretsch…stay tuned!!!
Lucas: If the entire music industry suddenly disintegrated by an act of God, what line of work would you enter?
Andrew: Ah, I’ve heard people say that I should really do voice-overs. That would be fun. Gosh, ya know? If there’s a job out there where someone needs to map out trails in the wilderness…I’d jump on it! Although I don’t hike often enough, that would be pretty cool to me. Until the bears have me for a snack.
Lucas: What kind of surprises can we expect from Gretsch Drums at NAMM 2019?
Andrew: We’ve got new finishes coming soon, new models to be released, and a few other goodies. You’ll just have to see in January!
Lucas: Well, on behalf of the Gretsch family and the worldwide Gretsch community, thanks for all that you do for Gretsch drums.
Andrew: Thank you!
Andrew, Stephen Ferrone, and Director of Operations Paul Cooper.
— Lucas von Gretsch
(Gretsch Generation 5)