The hippest custom drums since 2000
For some, a trip to Grandma's house might include sitting on a comfy couch sipping tea and working on a large jigsaw. For brothers Mike and Scott Ciprari, a trip to Grandma's meant spending long hours building drums in her basement.
About 13 years ago the Ciprari brothers began their business of crafting custom drum sets. Using his brother's initials for the company name, Mike created the logo seen on thousands of bass drums worldwide. Since then upwards of 3,000 drum kits have been crafted, stamped with an SJC badge and delivered to the likes of Panic! at the Disco, Green Day, Justin Bieber and Nick Jonas.
"We see the spark, we see the drive and the passion in beginners and kids that maybe will never play the House of Blues, but they want to so bad, and I love that," Mike said. "You gotta start somewhere, and you don't know who will be the next Imagine Dragons, playing at the Grammys."
There is no discrimination when receiving an order, whether the kit is intended for pop, rock or punk. The goal is simply to create the best sounding, best quality instrument. But SJC Drums are special for another reason: they are essentially completely customizable. The drums are made exactly to the specifications of the player; whether that includes a Jaws-themed drum set, or a snare drum made from an old Jack Daniels whiskey barrel.
"A lot of my creativity comes from California, and the west coast," Mike said. "California was always a dream of mine as a teenager. The vibe out there is so different."
Indeed, the west coast represents a certain lifestyle, and is notorious for pumping out creativity. But despite the allure of sunny skies, Mike has good reason to keep business close to home.
Having grown up in Massachusetts, Mike is accustomed to the New England standard when it comes to doing business. His company's work ethic is strong, and his 10 or so employees are masters at working to deadline.
"I feel like it might be a New England thing. We like to hunker down and get the work done," Mike said. "It's in our blood, it's what we do."
He has traveled to many places around the world, and he says he hasn't seen the work ethic that his company possesses anywhere else.
"The culture in New England has really helped [the company] focus on work, because there are no distractions like going surfing or going to the beach," Mike said. "In the winter, I'm just kind of held up in my office or at home working for six months."
Eight years ago today, Mike decided to leave his band, No Trigger, in order to tend to his new drum making business.
"I was coming home to tons of orders and emails [for SJC Drums], and we didn't have iPhones or anything like that back then, so it was hard to even check my email [on the road]," Mike said.
Mike said he is okay with his old band finding another drummer. He is still able to enjoy his passion for live music by tech-ing for bands like New Found Glory and Rancid while on tour.
"[Tech-ing] still gets me out there, and I get to play a little bit. I love No Trigger, I love the band but I felt like I was holding them back because I always had to work."
He said that having a business is like having a baby. "You can't really leave it alone for that long."
Mike spoke about the differences of doing business out West, versus New England. Even though California is full of major music industry players, Mike has his reasons for keeping SJC Drums based out of Massachusetts.
"California is kind of the hub of music. Everyone wants to be out there, but dealing with bands or labels out there can be difficult," Mike said.
He mentions how it often takes a long time for people out west to return his emails or phone calls, which is not the way Mike has done business.
"The whole record industry basically shuts down [in California] from November to January because it's Christmas. Over here, [on the east coast] we are practically working on Christmas Eve," Mike said.
SJC Drums' website is a clear indicator of its attention to detail for those who have never seen an actual SJC kit. There is an obvious statement being made with their online presence. Mike feels strongly about treating his customers with respect, providing the best service possible.
Aside from the benefits that come with working from Massachusetts, Mike wouldn't necessarily choose to live in the cold year-round.
"Personally, yeah, I would [move the company elsewhere]. I just hate the snow; I'm kind of over it now, being 29 and having lived here my whole life," Mike said. "I just can't find it in me to move the company. The crew here all have families, and my family is here. We all grew up around here, so to up and move 10-plus people, is a lot. It would cost a lot, and shutting down for that long would take some time."
For now, he is content with keeping main operations for SJC Drums on the East coast. Mike mentioned that he has shopped around in California for warehouses and places for doing business, but the cost of business out West is simply too expensive.
"I'd like to move down South where its warmer, but then we miss out on the New York, New England hub," Mike said. "You have to think, if we move somewhere nicer, does our work ethic change due to all the distractions? Its kind of a double edged sword."
Mike has established a small satellite office in Huntington Beach, California, responsible for sales and Artist & Repertoire. He feels it is important to have at least some presence in California, and artists are able to visit the west coast office with any concerns or specific orders.
The local music industry has remained important to Ciprari, even as his company's name continues to spread across the globe. Mike is inspired by the young musicians in New England and hopes he is able to give back to his community.
"In Southbridge alone there are a ton of cover bands and indie rock bands that play down at this local bar. The music culture is definitely alive and well [in New England]. We are such a small-knit community, and there is a lot of downtime, being bored, so playing music might be the only thing to do," Mike said. "It's also cool over here because you avoid the hustle and bustle of New York or Los Angeles where you are always trying to one-up everybody else. There is this kind of connection in Massachusetts where you can be friends with another band, and not be as big as them, and it's okay. Out West, you can easily get jaded, or burnt out."
He says that inspiring young musicians is SJC Drums' main goal. He remembers growing up and having his parents drive him to the local VFW to watch local bands, and then putting on his own shows at the VFW.
He feels that many other drum companies wouldn't give an average teenage kid the time of day. Always attempting to inspire and create, SJC Drums makes an honest effort to promote local, smaller bands on their social media pages.
"I don't see other companies doing that. I always think if I was buying a SJC drum set when I was 14, what would I want to feel? We try and create that feeling," Mike said.
Looking forward, Mike has a lot in mind for his business, including free public educational programs for young musicians, as well as organizing meet and greets with famous musicians. "We want to be that link for younger musicians to be able to meet their favorite drummer or band because I would never have gotten to if I didn't make drums," Mike said. "Seeing kids make un-boxing videos of their SJC Drums on YouTube really inspires me. I watch them all, and that's what keeps me going. I never set out to make a ton of money, or make drums for Tre Cool, really, but I made drums for Tre Cool, and I'm making drums for kids too, and seeing the excitement online is really cool."
Not to mention he has plans to someday build a facility not unlike Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory to house the production of SJC Drums. He wants to include a gym, a bowling alley and a foam pit for the enjoyment of his friends and employees. He has come this far, so these goals are certainly not unrealistic.
"That fire and passion is always there," Mike said. "I am that kid; we are the people that were in local bands. I feel that as a company, we give those same kids more of a chance, more so than any other company."
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