Music Trades Feature Article

Hudson Music: Spurring Market Growth

hm_musictrades-1(Music Trades 2005)Drumset unit sales have grown an average of nearly 16% over each of the past seven years. For 25 years Rob Wallis and Paul Siegel, founders of Hudson Music LLC, have helped propel this market-expanding wave, ever inspiring and motivating drummers to keep drumming. In the late ’70s Siegel and Wallis were among the very first to explore video instructional media for musicians – especially drummers—and they have since produced hundreds of titles whose production quality, use of cutting-edge technology, and, most importantly, stimulating insights into their featured artists’ greatness, have continued to set the industry’s standard.

Paul Siegel had been attending the Drummers Collective school in New York for a year when Rob Wallis enrolled in 1979. Through working parttime in the Collective’s office to help pay his tuition, Siegel learned that the school’s owner, Rick Kravitz, wanted to sell the business. When Siegel mentioned this to Wallis incidentally over coffee, Wallis’s wife half-jokingly suggested that the two buy it. The humor came from the fact that Wallis, living off the club dates he was able to get around New York, had “no money whatsoever,” and Siegel, also playing for a living, was only slightly better off. But at the ages of 25 and 30, respectively, Wallis and Siegel were at a stage in their lives that they were considering alternative careers, and Kravitz was eager to unload the financially fragile Collective and move his family back to Boston. Recognizing that they were “just two drummers” with virtually no business experience or investment capital, fortune— and lack of fortune—called for a considerable leap of faith.

Part of it was naiveté,” Siegel admits,“but the timing was right, and we felt intuitively that the school had a lot of untapped potential. Rick had only started the Drummers Collective in ’77. By ’79 it was still essentially just some rooms with guys giving private lessons.” The two borrowed money from their families and worked out a monthly installment loan payment to Kravitz, purchasing the school in 1980 “basically for the cost of the instruments.”

Over the next decade they enlarged the faculty, moved the school to Greenwich Village and expanded it to include The Bass Collective and Keys/Guitar Collective, eventually renaming it simply The Collective. But even in its first very lean years Siegel and Wallis were able to attract respected artists to present master classes to the students. As musicians they immediately recognized the value of these sessions and began exploring how they might preserve them for use by other drummers. Wallis recalls that neither he nor Siegel owned a VCR, a product that had only recently been introduced for use in the home.

“We didn’t even know anyone who owned one, but it sounded like such a good idea, we thought that one day everyone would have a VCR in their house.” With help and equipment borrowed from some friends, lights duct-taped to the ceiling, and “absolutely no video experience,” they began videotaping such celebrated artists as Bernard Purdie, Lennie White, Yogi Horton, Ed Thigpen, and John Scofield (then a member of the Collective’s guitar faculty).


hm_musictrades-2“My first instinct,” Siegel recalls, “was that we had to document these great performances by musicians we knew would have a lasting impact on music and the thought processes behind their creativity. From the very beginning we knew it would have a broader audience.” Wallis adds, “It didn’t take long before it occurred to us that if students in New York wanted to see these videos, so would students in St. Louis, Dallas, and L.A., and even students in Madrid, London, and Paris. We thought that the school and the videos would reinforce each other.”

They were encouraged when they saw small classified ads in the back of Modern Drummer magazine offering $79.95 videotapes of Ed Shaughnessy clinics. Soon after Wallis and Siegel followed suit, and it wasn’t long before they arrived at their office to find checks in the mailbox. At first the checks came in more of a trickle than a flow, but getting paid for doing what they were passionate about was “really gratifying,” and it motivated them to incorporate the video business as a separate entity under the banner of DCI Inc.

While its focus was always on drum and percussion videos, at one time DCI produced a number of guitar projects starring such luminaries as B.B. King, Carlos Santana, John Scofield, Steve Morse, and Albert Lee, as well as a number of bass players. One of their most important documents featured the late Jaco Pastorius, whose technical mastery influenced the way the electric bass was played bassists of his generation and those that followed.

“That project, which we did in 1985, was very simple in terms of production,” Wallis remembers. “Jaco was living in New York, spending a lot of time hanging out at The Collective and doing some teaching there; guys were driving in from all over the East Coast to take lessons with him. He was really focused and in good spirits at that time, and he took the video project very seriously. Thank god the stars all lined up for that, because it was only a couple of years later that his life tragically ended.”

hm_musictrades-3Wallis and Siegel agree that The Collective was important to their video ventures on a number of levels. First, it exposed them to many different drummers, musical styles, and approaches. “It was natural for us to talk to a rock drummer or jazz drummer about how they may have been influenced by Latin music,” Wallis explains. “The Collective was like a laboratory where drummers could experiment, and I really believe that over the years that process helped solidify and evolve certain drumming styles and techniques. Seeing that happen day-to-day was also very helpful to our role as producers.

Further, the fact that they are both drummers and educators reinforced their reputation for being true to the music, helping them earn the trust of artists whose performances they wished to present on video.

DCI Music Video received crucial support in the mid-’80s from Ron Fry, head of International Music Publications, which was then the European distributor of Warner Bros. Music Publications. Fry recognized the fledgling line’s value and agreed to distribute it throughout Europe. “Ron helped us at a point when almost no one else in the music industry understood what we were trying to accomplish,” says Siegel. Fry now runs Hudson Music’s U.K. office.

Encouraging headway in the ensuing years helped win further support from CPP/Belwin President Sandy Feldstein. A fellow drummer who, like Fry, shared Wallis and Siegel’s vision, Feldstein backed their longtime ambition to create a high quality book label targeting the needs of drummers. Specifically, they sought to present modernized editions of book and audio packages with authentic looking charts and more sophisticated covers and design. In 1990 Wallis, Siegel, and Feldstein launched Manhattan Music Publications.

By that time DCI Music Video had grown beyond Wallis and Siegel’s desire to manage the critical but less gratifying details of running the business—computer systems, shipping scales, warehouse space, and distribution—so they negotiated a deal to sell the label, along with their catalog, to CPP/Belwin. Their goal, says Wallis, was to “focus on the creative side, developing products that were meaningful to us and other musicians.” A five-year employment contract with Belwin ensured continuity of that goal, but very shortly after the sale was finalized in 1992 their plans were redrawn when Warner Bros. Publications acquired CPP/Belwin. Here again, Feldstein played an important role in influencing Warner to make the purchase. After a non-compete contract ended in 1998, Wallis and Siegel founded Hudson Music.

hm_musictrades-4Siegel and Wallis value their employment with Warner Bros. for the roughly 150 additional video and print titles the company’s resources allowed them to generate, but Wallis admits that he and Siegel “weren’t great at the corporate thing. We love the entrepreneurial spirit and the feeling of working for ourselves.”

Over the years they developed alliances with a number of distributors, “chipping away at new territories” to reach most of the major markets around the world. In 1999 they began a particularly effective partnership with Hal Leonard, which now distributes their products in the U.S. and Canada. Working with Hal Leonard has produced additional benefits. Though Wallis and Siegel will be forever associated with videos for drummers, their biggest commercial success to date was the Fender Presents Getting Started On Guitar series, a Hudson-Hal Leonard joint venture introduced in 2003. Aside from this non-drumming anomaly,” their top-selling video was Neil Peart’s A Work In Progress, released in 1996. Other successful Hudson DVDs have included projects with Steve Smith, Thomas Lang, Tommy Igoe, Mike Portnoy, and Victor Wooten. But Siegel points out that he and Wallis have occasionally produced videos they knew wouldn’t have great commercial potential. “Even the projects we’ve done that weren’t particularly lucrative were very gratifying because of their historical impact or because they meant a lot to a certain segment of the drumming community.”

Asked about highlights in their quartercentury career, Wallis and Siegel struggle to come up with a short list in part because of the considerable emotional investment they make in every project.“We and the artists sort of live together in the studio recording for a couple of days and then through the editing process,” Wallis explains. “We’re in such constant contact, it’s almost like we’re giving birth to a kid.” Separately they cite days spent with Carlos Santana and B.B. King; having “a ball with Chad Smith”; every project with Steve Smith and Neil Peart; interviewing Eric Clapton; and a pro bono project for the Rhythm & Blues Foundation that included performances by Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Sylvia Robinson, the Chi-Lites, and the Impressions. But together they instantly identify several projects featuring Steve Gadd as among their most gratifying, in part because Gadd has been such a strong influence on them as drummers. “The first video we did with Steve in 1983 was a real watershed project, and then we did another in 1985,” says Siegel. “Over the years we’ve done many different projects with him, and each was gratifying in its own way. The [2004 American Drummers Achievement Awards] tribute to Steve Gadd that we co-produced with Zildjian represented a culmination of a long, great relationship we’ve had with Steve, and it was definitely a highlight of our careers. We felt honored to share in the experience of honoring him.”

As drummers—and inveterate fans of drummers—are they ever tempted to feature personal heroes with no regard for the project’s commercial viability?“Sometimes it’s a temptation,” Wallis admits, “but we spend so much time and money on each project, we have to be very selective about what we release. Expenses for current-generation DVD productions run into six figures, and at four to six hours long, our current DVD programs are a mammoth undertaking. Also we’ve done so many programs over the years—it must be close to 300 by now—we have to make sure that we’re presenting a fresh point of view that we haven’t already covered. Over the years we’ve developed an instinct for what the market’s ready for at any given time.”

Just as VHS and home video were just on the horizon when Siegel and Wallis launched DCI, DVD was just on the horizon when they launched Hudson Music, creating new business and artistic opportunities. “DVD is a perfect medium for the kind of content we want to produce,” says Siegel. Chaptering gives the user nearly instant access to the material. A DVD-9 can hold three hours of very high-resolution material; the audio and video quality are so superior to VHS. In addition to those fundamentals there are all the bells & whistles: camera angle switching, foreign language tracks, and commentary tracks.”

As technology has advanced, so too have Wallis and Siegel’s resources as producers. Siegel attributes improvements in their videos to the experience and professionalism of a veteran team. In particular he and Wallis cite Phil Fallo, who has edited all of their projects over the past 15 years, DVD Developer Brian Brodeur, key production team members Dan Welch, Matthew Wachsman, and Sean McClintock as “key ingredients to our success.” On a more general level, Director of Operations Al Giordano has overseen several important aspects of DCI and Hudson Music for more than 20 years.

From their earliest projects to the present day, this respect for musicians and the mission to “document the thought processes behind artists’ creativity,” has been a hallmark of all Wallis and Siegel videos. These values shaped their editing and artist interviews and ultimately gave musicians insights into not only the“how’s” of musical virtuosity, but also the “why’s.” In 2000 Modern Drummer magazine presented them with its Editors Acheivement Award “in recognition of outstanding contribution to the Drum/Percussion Community.” A year later the Percussive Arts Society honored them with its prestigious President’s Achievement Award.

“There’s such a tremendous fraternity amongst drummers, and a willingness to share ideas,” Wallis observes.“Drummers are incredibly receptive to listening and learning from other drummers. I think that’s extremely healthy. DVDs are a great resource for disseminating a lot of information and positive attitudes about learning. In that respect, we hope that the DVDs we produce help perpetuate drumming and, in some small way, contribute to its evolution.”

REPRINTED, WITH PERMISSION, FROM THE SEPTEMBER 2005 ISSUE OF THE MUSIC TRADES