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Featured Teacher: John Favicchia

John Faviccia

I recently sat down with New York-based drummer John Favicchia. Many of you have asked me how to get involved with clinics and how to secure endorsement deals. I thought John’s perspective would be very relevant to many of you.

While he is certainly one of the top players in New York, (he has performed and/or recorded with such greats as Steve Khan, Tony Levin, Chieli Minucci, Lonnie Plaxico, John Benitez, Harvie Swartz, Larry Coryell, Dean Brown,Chris Geith and Bob Malach), most people know him from leading his own band the Dharma All Stars, which blends various styles into a powerful blast of fusion that spans the extremes of the dynamic range.

He has built a successful teaching practice, landed every endorsement a drummer could want and has become an in-demand clinician. Most importanly, he’s done it through his own efforts, without being in a platinum selling group. Increasingly in demand for drum clinics and festivals, John has recently played such major events as:

I hope you’ll find some inspiration in John’s proactive, no quit attitude. I know I did!

Can you fill us in a little bit on your current projects and what you’re up to?

Well it’s pretty intense these days; I seem to be doing a little bit of everything. The thing that I’m really enjoying doing these days is my band the Dharma All-Stars which is for lack of a better term a jazz-fusion band, you know we play all kinds of music but it’s instrumental, no vocals. We’ve got a lot of hot players that come through the group. My favorite cat, and one that I grew up listening to, Chieli Minucci from special FX, he’s been playing with the band now for about seven or eight years. (As an aside, John keeps the band working and is able to attract New York’s upper echelon players by maintaining a high degree of flexibility in personnel. The band frequently uses different members based on who is available and he has several players ready to go on each instrument. His list is pretty impressive and includes Mike Pope, John Scarpulla, Carl Fischer, Don Harris, Bill Heller and several other well known New York based musicians.)

How did you get a name player like Chieli to join your band?

In everything I do, I’m a catalyst. Everything I do I push at, and everything I do I kinda go for it and it’s all self motivated. I don’t sit home and wait for the phone to ring. I make things happen. From the beginning I was always proactive. If I like a player, I get to know them. When I was younger I would send them CDs and tapes of my playing, and go see them play, etc. With Chieli, he had his band Special EFX and they had a couple of blow away records from the GRP days, selling tons of CDs – I just loved his music. Being so close to New York City, I would stop in when he was playing and say hello. Then one day when my first CD was out, I gave him one and said “I’d love to play one day with you”. He called and said he liked it and that’s how it started. As a bandleader, I think he appreciated that I put together a project like that.

Dharma All Stars is effectively you, and whoever you decide is on that gig. How do you handle the different schedules and how do you decide who is on what gig?

Once again, it seems like it’s me doing it all! But, it all comes with being the bandleader and it’s important to me that I get to play with a great sounding band and show myself in the best light. It used to frustrate me when I was playing in groups as a sideman and I would show up to the gig to find out that the main bass player was not on the gig. Then people would come to check me out and the band was only playing at 80%. How frustrating. So having my own group I made sure I was always heard in the best possible situation. Since I’ve been doing the band for so long, NYC musicians know what we’re doing and want to come and play. I have a first string of guys who really know the music inside and out, I have second string who know it almost as well, a third string I can call who have played the stuff and even a fourth string if I have to. And I have this on all five instruments. There are charts for every chair, and I have amazing players who can come and sight read the gig if necessary.

How do your band, side gigs, and teaching, tie into your clinics and endorsements?

It all comes down to meeting people. You get students, you meet musicians, and your schedule gets filled up. I think the clinics are a little more tied in to a student base, because it’s drummers you’re playing for and they want to get better and learn something from you. When you play a club, there may be only a couple of drummers in the audience and they might already be studying already. For me it’s been an interesting thing with students and clinics. The more clinics I do, it seems the more advanced students I get. So I’m teaching more advanced students as a result of the clinics. And I enjoy that more because they are semi-pros and professional drummers, and the lessons are a bit more fun for me as well.

Do you teach any beginners any more?

Not right now.

You’ve got a lot of real estate covered on your bass drum head. How did you go about securing your endorsements with all the companies?

It’s funny with the endorsements. It’s a result of relationships growing over time….again it comes back to being a catalyst. I was associated with a few of my companies already and when I started doing the clinics a few more jumped on board. And I think that actually helped my stock rise with the companies I was already with, because I’m able to perform more of a service for them as I’m able to get higher profile clinics where I can speak about their products to a targeted audience. It’s funny, the way our industry works, if you play with Elton John in front of 20,000 people each night, you get free gear. But, there may not be very many drummers in the audience. I think the companies are into clinicians because we talk to a targeted audience.

Let’s talk about how you got started doing clinics and how you built it into what you’re doing now. Let’s assume that anyone reading this is a great drummer, how did you go from being another great player to someone who has a busy clinic schedule?

I think the first thing to do is simply become a clinician, and not worry about the endorsements. Be true to what you really want to do. Getting an endorsement is not a career path. It helps you when it’s a team effort and you have something to offer the company and they have something to offer you, but it shouldn’t be your goal as a drummer. Let’s say we tell a great drummer from Chicago “you now have endorsements with Remo, Sabian and Yamaha. Great. What are you doing tomorrow?” You still have to build your career. Work on building your career and the endorsements will follow. I learned a lot of this from hanging out with Dom Famularo. I learned so much from just hanging out with him, he’s so business oriented. If you don’t build your business opportunities, what are you going to do with all this talent you have? When you’re practicing you want to get better and better, but you have to be able to use it somewhere. So you have to create opportunities for yourself. I didn’t grow up with friends who became Coldplay, so I created my career myself. I started out by teaching at the Long Island Drum Center with an unbelievable staff (it included Dom Famularo, Jim Chapin, Al Miller, Rod Morgenstein, Bobby Rondinelli, Joe Franco and others) and you learn from that intense environment. So I learned not only how to play drums, but how to explain it to people and transfer the knowledge. The second thing I started doing with the teaching was master classes. I put them on myself and it started with my Elements concept that I use in my clinics now. (John’s “Elements’ concept is similar to the Rhythmic Alphabet described by Benny Greb in his DVD The Language of Drumming. For those of you who are enjoying that DVD, John’s book would make a good companion study guide to the printable PDFs found on that DVD). So I always tell guys who want to get into clinics, make sure you’re teaching well first, and then try some master classes. At first I did two a day with seven to ten students in each class. They were small, but there is still a different art teaching one student as opposed to a group. It was good for competition between students too. The next step would be to do some group lessons at a local drum store, and then do school clinics. Get some experience doing some local stuff first because doing clinics requires a whole different set of chops. There’s probably a million ways to get into it, but this worked for me. Go to PASIC, go to NAMM and you meet people. It’s the same as how you get into a band. Everyone knows everybody and you just start talking to people. I did my first clinic and I got asked to do a drum festival. It grows from there.

When booking your clinics, do you contact the store, the company, or do they contact you. How does it work?

As far as my companies work, clinics for the artists are only done through requests. So if somebody wants you, they have to contact the company. They rarely throw guys gigs. I thought that when I got endorsed I’d be getting gigs from them but it doesn’t work that way – at least not for me. There is some politicking that goes on for sure, but you still have to initiate. You have to be proactive. The companies will support you by sending product and information and eventually will notice what you’re doing. My second clinic I did at a club I play at all the time. We used my band’s mailing list and some drummers I knew wanted to come check it out and we had a great night. You build momentum. It’s a lot of work, it’s not easy but you get going. Your goal should always be to get asked back. Strive to be a great educator, not just a great player. Repeat business is how you build a good calendar.

How do you handle equipment for your clinics?

That part is where the endorsements make it easy. I have a rider that I send, and the companies get the stuff there. But in the beginning, I was carrying my own cymbals everywhere and sometimes driving my kit around. I feel like if I have my cymbals and pedals, I’m cool as far as being comfortable wherever I play. Now, Remo sends fresh heads, Sabian sends cymbals and I have my Vic Firth sticks with me. But I’ve had relationships with these people for so many years and it’s a real long process to get to this point. I’m affiliated with Yamaha which has very wide distribution, so it’s easy for me to have the drums there. It’s part of your business decision. Of course you have to love what you play, but there is also the consideration of “do they get this stuff around the world?”

So, you had the personal relationships with people before your deals with the companies?

Right, yes. It’s important that you develop your career, your networking skills, and your relationships all at once. They see what you’re doing. The artist relations guys know what’s going on. Just go play and build yourself in all that you do and they will notice.

Without getting into amounts, can you explain the finances behind these clinic tours you’re doing, and the scene in general?

There is no one particular way it happens. Some venues pay the artists, some don’t. Some rely on financial support from the companies. Some festivals pay your flights, hotels and part of your fee, some leave the fee to the company. That is a frustrating part of the business. It’s like booking gigs, there is no rule. Sometimes the companies have a budget, sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t even have to do with playing with the big groups. There are a lot of politics between the distributors, and it is a different situation every time. You just make it happen. I have a fee that I set for myself, but I don’t always stick to it. If I can get five clinics in a week at a little less per clinic, at the end of the week I wind up with more. Sometimes I get double my fee. I think I’m pretty good at all this from booking my band for all these years.

How much time a day do you spend in your office doing bookings, administrative stuff, etc?

Four hours a day. 8am to 12 pm every day. Between booking, request forms and all that, you also have the same thing with gigs and keeping the band rolling. Then when there is a little down time, I do some prospecting – looking for new gigs, reaching out to old friends and finding new places to explore for work. We run a business, and we happen to play drums. The reason why you do it is because you love what you do.

John is endorsed by Yamaha, Remo, Sabian, Vic Firth, LP, Samson, Beatnik Analyzers, Axis Pedals, HQ practice pads, Hansenfutz practice pedals and Factory metal percussion. He can be reached at www.johnfav.com

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