Imagine helping Ringo Starr choose cymbals for his drum kit. Or advising other top drummers on their cymbal choices. Ronnie Vannucci of The Killers likes large, thin, dark cymbals. Drumming legend Dennis Chambers loves crisp hi-hats and fast, dark crashes. Other artists have their own cymbal preferences, whether it’s a tight and fast sound, or bright and clean. The cymbal expert advising these drumming pros? Sarah Hagan of the legendary Zildjian cymbal manufacturer, one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the United States, founded in the 17th century. Hagan, 37, a drummer herself, is director of artist relations for the Norwell-based Avedis Zildjian Company Inc. Her top priority is showcasing the Zildjian brand on stage. She works with 2,500 artists worldwide and is constantly scouting and signing new performers to endorsement deals. Hagan also represents the company at music trade shows, drum festivals, and awards shows. The Globe spoke with Hagan about her beat.
“I still have my first Zildjians, my old hi-hats and ride cymbal. They are beginner level, but I still can’t part with them. Cymbals are really essential to a drum kit — they help maintain a steady rhythmic pattern. Cymbals add color. You can get tone out of them or crash, ride them, or stack them for a new sound.
“The Zildjian name meant a lot to me as a young drummer. It was my goal, and the goal of all of my drummer friends, to have a set of Zildjian cymbals. The logo is iconic, and the tagline, ‘The Only Serious Choice,’ resonated with me. I started snare drum lessons at around 10, became marching band percussion captain, and played in a lot of cover bands.
“Growing up near the factory on the South Shore, I really wanted to join the company. When I first came to Zildjian, I knew a lot about the cymbal lines — we have over 600 different items in our catalog — but I didn’t know anything about the manufacturing process. Making a cymbal from the Zildjian alloy is a very skilled process and involves the work of many master craftsmen. Our cymbals are made out of copper, tin, and silver, and the cymbal passes through 15 sets of hands as it’s hand-crafted. The factory and offices have a bit of a museum quality as there’s a lot of memorabilia, including drum kits from Travis Barker, Ginger Baker, and Buddy Rich. We also have an artists vault, where we keep thousands of cymbals in stock.
“I’m always supporting artists, whether helping to replace a broken cymbal or providing loaner cymbals. Or maybe they’re going into the studio to record and need a different sound. Some might need video cymbals that don’t make any noise while filming. Or I’ll be overseeing Zildjian product placement in TV or movies, like the shows ‘Empire’ and ‘Nashville,’ for example.
“But even though I’m always on the run, do I find time to still drum myself? Definitely — every day. Whether it’s on my home kit, testing cymbals in the drummers’ lounge, or pre-show at a venue, I take every chance to pick up a pair of sticks.
“Lunch breaks here are fun — sometimes employees get together and have a little drum jam. And if you’re wondering what cymbals Ringo Starr chose, it included a set of Avedis cymbals. They have a vintage sound and are like the original cymbals he played back in the Beatles days.”