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Meet Chris Stankee

Meet Chris Stankee

As SABIAN’s Director of Artist & Public Relations, Chris Stankee leads the charge in shaping and nurturing the company’s artist program on a worldwide scale. His responsibilities span from talent recruitment to artist development and support, all while playing a pivotal role in product development and elevating SABIAN’s presence across social media platforms. We caught up with Chris and chatted through his long history with SABIAN.

SABIAN Blog: Where are you from originally? 

Chris Stankee: A little town of 800 people in Eastern Iowa called Wheatland. I caught the drumming bug from watching the older players in the pep and concert bands. These weren’t your average bands because of our well known and respected Band Director August Knoll who taught at this same school for I think it was 44 years before he retired. Long enough to teach my parents before me!

SB: What’s your musical background? Are you a player? A record collector? How did you end up in the industry?

CS: I went to Berklee in Boston. That exposed me to so many experiences and new music. The first student drummer I saw play at our orientation was Abe Laboriel Jr. I realized I had A LOT to learn and tried to soak up as much as I could. There were so many great student players there: Joe Travers, John Roberts, John Blackwell, Taku Hirano, and Johnny Rabb are just a few. Oh, and my future wife [Juels Thomas, the Director of Marketing and Artist Relations at DW Drums] who attended at the same time, though we wouldn’t actually meet for another 10 years.

SB: Tell me about how you arrived at SABIAN. Were you hired to work in A&R specifically, or did you move through different parts of the company?   

CS: After Berklee I took an internship at YAMAHA Drums in Grand Rapids, MI. I was kept on as a product specialist for a time and was able to observe and work with some of their artists like Dave Weckl, Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Gadd, and David Garibaldi. I was also teaching and working part time at R.I.T. Drums. I loved learning about all the craftsmanship and nuts and bolts of all the equipment that companies were offering. The pull of performing was too much though, so I hit the road with a band for the next 3-4 years. And I mean hit it HARD as I think we played 270 gigs around the country in 1998 alone. I wouldn’t trade any of it, but that will wear you out. It did me anyway. I met and saw some fantastic drummers along the way like Carter Beauford, Brendan Hill, Gregg Bissonette, Mike Portnoy, Derico Watson, Tyler Stewart, Daxx Neilsen, Dylan Wissing, Jeff Sipe and the great Dom Famularo who I learned so much from. I was lucky enough to endorse some of my favorite companies, Sonor, Aquarian and SABIAN, and was doing some clinics at high schools and colleges in my spare time for a program that Dom spearheaded with our current SABIAN Education Director Joe Bergamini and Stacey Montgomery-Clark who then was the Clinic & Events Manager, now my boss as our VP of Sales & Marketing. Another mentor David Vai who was the Director of Artist Relations when I was at Yamaha was now at SABIAN at that time too. So, when my time with the band ended these nice folks offered me a job working at SABIAN, bringing me back to Boston briefly before moving me out to Los Angeles now more than 20 years ago.

SB: You’ve been with SABIAN a long time. What keeps you passionate about what you do?

CS: I think it all starts with music appreciation. A friend of mine would always say, “What’s the difference if you don’t know the difference?” If I can’t relate, how could I understand these relationships? Everyone’s journey is unique, but having an understanding of what these drummers have gone through to get to where they are is meaningful. Fundamentally that starts with knowing the music and the drummer’s style to suggest what instruments are likely to be a good fit. The more you love the music, ALL kinds of music, I think the better you are at that. Just because I love Meshuggah doesn’t mean I can’t love The Meters. Alice In Chains AND Ani DiFranco. Rush and Rachmaninoff. Styx and the Stones! You get the idea… I love drums too of course! I have some ‘60s Gretsch kits that I restored. You might notice these in some of our videos on social media. I also love my Sonor Designer kit from the 90’s and I just finished restoring my wife’s 1973 Ludwig Vistalites that belonged to her Dad. He is a drummer too and he picked them up right from the factory in Chicago.

SB: How do you approach building and nurturing relationships with artists? 

CS: That’s a deeper question than it might seem because no 2 relationships are the same. The simple answer is that I like to meet young players whose talent and careers are still developing and help them find their sounds and their place in the drum community by introducing them to other players, companies and mentors as was done for me. It may seem cliché, but “welcome to the family” means something here and we strive to treat everyone that way. With 100’s of artists worldwide that isn’t always easy, but we have a great team who tries every day. That includes all the many artists who introduce us to new talent AND the actual family! Our President and Chairman Andy Zildjian is always in touch with artists as was his Dad Robert (RZ). Sally Zildjian’s daughters Bess & Mina Teague are both gaining experience working in artist relations. Bess is coordinating endorser orders and deliveries, so she sees any and all of the cymbals every endorser is using. Mina makes sure you see all these endorsers using those cymbals in our marketing & social media content and projects.

SB: In what ways do you see (or have you seen) the role of artist relations evolving in the industry?

CS: Social media obviously changed everything and now we have an entirely new category of endorser. We want to show support for the younger players in our community and those whose popularity may not have come from walking a traditional path to success. This has been a learning experience for me and hasn’t come without its growing pains. Yes, I would rather watch a video of Virgil Donati or Jojo Mayer play something that’s out of this world instead of a kid banging out a Green Day playthrough in their parents’ basement. BUT, if there was a complete history of someone’s development from the basement to the big stage how valuable is that going to be for future generations? What if social media was around when Miles Davis was recording Bitches Brew? Some of the greatest artists in jazz history, all very young, finding their voices and creating a new genre of music. Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham, Lenny White and Don Alias all set up playing in the same room with Max Roach just hanging out. I’d want to see some posts from that! Some of the same people rolling their eyes at social media are the same people sending me videos of Steve Gadd playing with the Army band back in 1970 or JoJo playing with a big band when he was a teenager so let’s keep an open mind and be kind.

SB: What does a normal day look like for you in this role? 

CS: There’s never a shortage of email and texts about artists needing cymbals. I might have to contact some distributors or backline companies who help us with endorsers overseas. Work on some product development with an artist or our R&D team. We always have 3-4 different projects with artists working on new products. Could be a big name signature product, limited edition or just a new sound someone needs. I devote some time to finding or creating new content for us to share from our studio in Los Angeles. I review clinic/event support requests and plan for larger events like PASIC, drum shows, festival sponsorships and charitable requests. We get requests for product placement in film/TV so loans are arranged for all types of situations. I will review new artist applications and spend some time communicating with those potential endorsers. There will be 2-3 visitors to my office in Los Angeles almost every day. Artists looking for new sounds, techs or backline companies picking up or dropping off cymbals. Or I may be doing the dropping off at a venue meeting with an artist at their concert. I attend as many as I can. Did I mention online meetings?

SB: Could you share a particularly memorable or rewarding experience you’ve had in this role? 

CS: Working with Neil Peart & Mark Love to develop the Paragon models was right up there. As was spending time motorcycling with Neil on tour with Rush. Working with Dave Weckl on Legacy and the Royalty Ride with Dave and Chick Corea are just a couple more of the special experiences working with so many of my heroes.

SB: If you could leave folks with one thought about SABIAN and the work that you do, what would it be? 

CS: It’s not lost on me that I have one of the best, most exciting gigs in the industry. The SABIAN family has been so kind and supportive the last 23 years and I’m truly grateful to be able to work with so many great people and artists. I am proud of all of them and the instruments we create are 2nd to none. It’s all too easy to be passionate about!


This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.