Ep. 38: Band Music on Both Sides of the Ocean: Dirkjan Van Groningen

Episode Description:

Dirkjan van Groningen is a professional, drummer, percussionist, composer and arranger from The Netherlands. He’s the owner of Percussion Books, Show & Marching Music and Band Music Center.  We had a really great discussion about the differences in band music between Europe and the United States, as well as what he’s learned as someone working on both sides of the ocean.

Featured On This Episode:
Dirkjan Van Groningen

Dirkjan van Groningen is a professional, drummer, percussionist, composer and arranger from The Netherlands. He’s the owner of Percussion Books, Show & Marching Music and Band Music Center. 

Episode Transcript:

*Episode transcripts are automatically generated and have NOT been proofread.*

Dirkjan, welcome to the podcast.

Thanks a lot, Garrett.

So you are a percussionist, you’re a publisher, you’re a performer, teacher, you kind of do everything.

How do you describe yourself to your contemporaries in the music business?

What do you say that you do?

Mostly, when I introduce myself, I say I’m a professional percussionist, educator, composer.

And recently, I added actually the title musical entrepreneur, because I’m trying to sell the things I write.

So there must be something like an entrepreneur in a musician to make his music available online, or any bands who wants to play it, or percussion ensemble who wants to play it.

So that’s the entrepreneur in me, I guess, because there are a lot of good musicians who are writing, arranging, composing music.

But then they give it to a publisher like you, or a publisher like me, and then their story ends.

And then there needs to be some goofy people like us who wants to publish it.

And they are the entrepreneurs, I guess.

I think that’s probably the best way of describing the audience of this podcast, is goofy people.


I think you’ll feel right at home here.

You are based in the Netherlands, and we’ve had some conversations via email.

And I thought it would be a really interesting conversation to talk about just the differences between band music, marching band music, instrumental music in the US versus Europe.

Educational publishing is a cornerstone of the music industry here in the States.

I’m sure it’s a similar thing in Europe, although the way everything is organized, is quite different.

So could you talk about what you’ve seen as somebody who works in Europe, but also in the US, just how are bands and music education ensembles, how are they organized differently in the two places?

Yeah, as I understood that the most of the bands in the US are school bands, and most bands in the Netherlands and in Europe as well are community based.

So kids are getting music education in school, but not that big as it happens in the US.

So we don’t have a school band, we don’t have a school choir, we don’t have jazz bands in school.

Maybe there are some schools who are doing that, and they have the US as their example, but there may be in the whole country here that are 10 or 12 schools who are doing this like that.

And the other kids are getting music education after school.

So I teach in a so-called music school, where kids are who wants to learn a percussion, they’re getting private lessons from me.

And then if they reach a certain level, they can choose what community band they want to join.

Because in the city where I teach, we have like five or six community bands.

And one of the bands is more like a concert band, they don’t march.

And then we have like two bands who are marching bands.

And the other ones, the first one is more like a core style marching bands with high tension drums and all the image we have of a drum core.

And the other band is more traditional marching band with saxophones and flutes.

And more traditional English drums.

And we don’t only have a wind band, but we also have a phenomenon that’s called fanfare band.

And they have like instead of the clarinets, they have flugelhorns.

So the clarinet parts are played by a flugelhorn.

And there are also no flutes in a fanfare band.

So I think that’s a specific kind of band.

It’s similar like a brass band.

I think a brass band is well known in the US.

So this is another different variation of a band.

So everything is more organized from the music school.

And if they reach a certain kind of level, they can join a band or a percussion ensemble or whatever.

And that’s all community based.

So it’s not done through the schools, but it is done through organizations that set up facilities for this to all happen, right?

An after school program, essentially.

After school program, yeah.

Is it comparable to sports, would you say?

I mean, are the sports also separate organizations or is that part of schools?

Yeah, they have gym classes in school, but when you want to do a competition like soccer, which is really big in the Netherlands and Europe, you have to go to a separate soccer group and do your thing and play the competition and all that kind of stuff.

So it’s really similar with music and sports.

Yeah, you’re correct.

Is band music in Europe, is it as competitive as it is in the States or is it more for concert purposes?

Yeah, we have usually a competition in the fall and some competitions in spring.

So we have in the Netherlands, which is a really small country, and we have 12 regions, but every region has its own organization who is organizing things for bands and percussion ensembles.

So they have small regional competitions, and there’s even a national brass band competition, national wind band competition, national percussion ensemble competitions.

So there’s a lot going on.

Well, and I think you are right in characterizing things in the States.

At least for band music, I don’t necessarily want to put a number on it, but the vast majority of it happens as part of schools.

There are community bands, but those are typically either for adults who want to keep playing, or it’s a temporary thing.

We’re going to get together students from these different schools and give them the chance to play together.

I mean, that sort of thing happens a lot, but the center of it is within the school system.

I wonder, do you think as a composer or as an arranger, do you think it’s easier to sell music to the community bands or to the school ensembles?

Does it make it easier to get your foot in the door with the community?

That’s a tricky question, because I’ve been selling my music for 20 years to community ensembles, so I don’t know any better.

Well, I’m just wondering, because in the US when you’re selling to schools, you have a lot more of just administration and other departments of the school and budgets and that sort of thing.

I’m just wondering if maybe it’s simpler when the whole school is focused on music.

Maybe it’s easier to get in touch with the right people as opposed to being part of a larger system.

Yeah, that’s actually the benefit of what I do for 20 years already that I know a lot because the Netherlands is relatively small, and I know a lot of people who are conductors at the groups or conductors at the band, and they know me.

And I think that’s what your experience is as well.

If you know a lot of people, they will find you and buy and play your music.

I think that’s true.

I think the personal connections are probably the most important thing.

Do you think word of mouth is still the most important way that directors discover new music, or have things changed in the last 10, 15 years, because it’s so much easier to look online for that stuff now?

I think word of mouth helps a lot, because I experience that if one band director in a certain kind of state is enthusiast about your music, then the word spreads, of course.

But I think you can do a lot with what I do the last couple of years with email marketing and getting good reviews from people who are working with your books or working with your sheet music.

And that helps a lot.

And recently I’m working on getting band directors who are working with my music try to convince them to make a video review.

And I’m looking for ways to implement these in my marketing.

And of course, that’s also a certain kind of way of word of mouth, isn’t it?

But I think those are really good.

If you have good reviews, I think that’s really important.

And I also had the experience, I sent in a couple of tunes a couple of years ago for the Texas PML.

And last year as well, suddenly there’s an order from Texas with someone I didn’t know, and he’s just ordering my pieces.

So I think that helps a lot when your music is on a certain kind of list.

Yes, I mean, I think it’s good and bad, right?

There’s some states where you have to purchase from the list, you know?

So if you’re not on the list, you’re out of luck.

Or that’s just where people go to and they don’t spend much effort beyond that list.

In general, though, I think if you’re looking at getting your music discovered by music education in the US.

It’s reading sessions at education conferences.

It’s the festival lists.

And it’s, again, just the word of mouth, finding people to champion your stuff and get it on programs.

Because we’re all looking at everybody else’s programs and what people are performing.

And we’re always kind of, I say we, I’m not a director, but I am still looking at everybody else and what they’re performing.

Do you find that the way you write music for European bands translates to the US?

Or is the style of competition make it necessary for you to change or to write differently for one or the other?

I think when I’m writing, the percussion stuff I write is pretty suitable for any middle school percussion kind of ensemble.

And I think that’s similar because what I do in Europe, I also have the I’m providing distribution for a roll off and tap space with my European company.

And a lot of European bands and percussion ensembles are playing those titles as well.

So I think in the percussion kind of view, it’s the culture is similar, the ensembles, the size of the groups.

And I don’t have to make big adaptions when I publish something in the US or in the Netherlands.

And I think the marching culture is like a bit different because the bands in the US are way more, way bigger than in the Netherlands.

So I think when I need to make some changes then in with balance and all.

But I think my concert percussion pieces are doing pretty well.

So you have a separate website for your European customers and then a separate website for your American customers.

Can you talk about why that was necessary and what have you learned from having to market to and distribute to those places?

First of all, copyrights.

And maybe that’s a recognizable point for you, because my experience is the last couple of years, it’s getting harder to get arrangement licensed.

And sometimes I’m able to license an arrangement for Europe and not for the US.

So that’s a big reason.

And the second reason is that on my European website, I have all the stuff from the other American publishers I’m distributing in Europe.

So I think that’s not interesting for the Americans, because they know where to buy it at their own favorite dealer or JW Pepper or directly.

And also for the price range, because when I’m importing music from the US, I have to pay for shipping, I have to play for what’s happening at the border.

So I need to change my prices just a little bit.

And of course, I’m doing a lot of stock.

So that also takes some money.

So for the price range, that’s also important.

Yeah, I think those are the two main reasons.

And on my US website, I only have the pieces I publish myself.

I think it’s even better, because recently I started adding practice tracks to all the percussion ensemble pieces I wrote.

So a full recording with a click and separate recordings from every single part in the piece.

And then I also make, everybody’s laughing about it, but I also make karaoke tracks without the xylophone or without the marimba.

And they’re all downloadable, available.

And that’s the great thing of the American website, because I can focus on that.

And on the other website, I have a lot of stuff from other publishers as well.

And it’s not that easy to focus on those great benefits.

I’m going to come back to the practice tracks, but I’m interested in what it takes to be a distributor for someone else’s music.

Can you talk more about that?

What are those conversations like?

How are the deals structured?

The logistics of it?

That’s a difficult question.

I’m doing this for such a long time already.

I really need to think about it and translate it in my head to English as well.

Or we could say it this way.

If I wanted you to distribute my music in Europe, what would need to happen?

What are the conversations that we would have?

We need to have a separate Zoom meeting.

No, but most of the time, you contact the other publisher and try to make a deal out of it.

If he’s able to give you some discount on the regular sales prices, and most of the time, it starts with a bigger order.

Although with the companies I work with, you make the agreement that every piece, which is new, and when it’s coming out, you take it on stock.

And you have to make sure that everything’s on the website afterwards when everything comes in, and make it available, and inform your own dealers again, so they need to know that there are new pieces from Mr.

Breeze or Roloff or TapSpace or whatever.

So, it’s a lot of work.

And this is all, just to clarify, this is all still physical print, right?

The traditional model?

The most US publishers are still in print sheet music, and I understood that this is really important as well, because when you’re performing a piece, you need to have an original score, if I’m not mistaking.

Am I correct?

Yeah, if you’re talking about festivals where you’re giving your music to an adjudicator or a judge, they basically want to make sure you actually bought the pieces instead of photocopying them, and so that’s why they ask for the original scores.

Yeah, I understand.

And that’s what’s going on here as well, if you go to a festival or if you’re going to a competition, you need original scores for the judges as well.

So we’re still getting a lot of big boxes with heavy paper.

And the boxes are getting a bit smaller already because a lot of publishers are working with a download code in the score, so they don’t have to send the parts anymore that you can download the parts.

And sometimes you’re getting the scores.

But that’s with every publisher, that’s different.

Because I have like two publishers who are sending really big boxes and the other one is sending smaller boxes because of the score.

The parts are downloadable.

Well, I mean, you teach middle school.

Imagine what it would be like if every one of them had a tablet and how often they would drop them and break them and lose them.

I mean, I do think digital music is coming, but that part of it still just makes me shudder a little bit.

Yeah, I was at a convention a couple of years ago and then there was a company who offered a complete system with tablets for all students and a master tablet for the director.

And every tablet were connected with each other and when the conductor skipped to the next page, the pages of the students were also.

And I think it’s awesome, but I think it’s too early maybe.

And especially with small kids, because the youngest ones are getting in at 8 in my private classes.

And at that age, they don’t have a phone or they don’t have a tablet and they need a printed book or printed sheet music.

When you come to the States, you mentioned you’ve been to a couple of conventions.

What is the reception like?

Are people interested?

I mean, are you like the exciting European composer that everyone wants to talk to?

Or is it hard to be an outsider and make your way into those conversations?

Yeah, so far, I think it’s hard to be an outsider.

Yeah, because last November I went to BASIC and maybe you know that’s one of the biggest percussion events on the planet.

And then I was a guest at Steve Wise Music because they’re selling my stuff in their online catalog.

And I was there with my flyers and being enthusiastic about my own music.

And I sold a couple of tunes during the fair, but I expected more afterwards.

But I think it’s hard to be a European that no one knows about it, no one heard about it.

We’ve talked on other episodes of this show about submitting music to publishers, submitting a single piece.

What do you do differently if you are trying to get a distribution deal and you’re submitting, I don’t know, 30 pieces?

You’re trying to get a publisher in the States to carry your music as a distributor.

How is that approach different?

Or is that not how it works?

Is it kind of, you know, you start with a test, one or two pieces and then expand?

I mean, like, the distributors like JW.

Pepper or Steve Weiss.

Yeah, like Steve Weiss sells your music in the States.

How do you convince them to do it?

I had to beg.

But it takes a lot of time and you have to show, you have to show them that your music is really good and it’s working with the ensembles you’re writing for.

And then it even takes, it takes a lot of time and I need a long breath.

Because I started this like in 2020, just before the pandemic.

And then I went to TMEA in San Antonio.

And I think that was, yeah, that was my first convention I ever did.

And I had big expectations of it.

And then the pandemic started and everything collapsed.

Well, that’s good timing.

I always say that’s a good timing for a percussionist.

Well, I keep bringing up the distribution thing because I think for a lot of composers, that’s not something they think about, especially for composers that are writing a lot of music.

Because typically if you’re a composer submitting to publishers, the amount of music that they take is relatively small, maybe two or three pieces a year.

And over time, you build up that catalog or that collection.

But if you’re somebody who’s writing a lot or has a lot of music, that distribution model is another way potentially of getting music into stores or in front of people.

What you say, I think it’s easier when you write some more titles a year, because then it’s also more attractive for a JW Pepper or another country to take it in their website.

And you’re more visible when you’re with seven titles than two, of course, a year.

Because I try to make seven, eight or nine titles every year, and not only written by myself, but sometimes I publish some for other Dutch or European composers as well.

And I try to have at least seven, eight new titles.

And then the amount of titles on the US website is, of course, is growing faster than if you’re only producing one title a year.


And it’s a lot more exciting for a distributor to say, look, we now have 50 pieces by Dirkjan, as opposed to…

Look at these two new pieces.

And you need to have some certain kind of luck as well.

Because like two years ago, I did like an arrangement of Boogie Wonderland by Erwin and Fire.

And that’s one of my best sold titles through JW Pepper at the moment.

So when someone picked it up and someone else saw it playing, and then there you go.

Which is interesting because that’s not exactly a new song.

No, but it’s a classic one.

You know, but it’s funny how that stuff works.

Yeah, it is.

So let’s get back to what you were saying about the practice tracks.

You have a lot of rehearsal aids, learning aids, other materials that you sell with your music.

You have practice tracks and the karaoke tracks, and you have a software that they can use to slow it down and all this stuff.

What has been most successful about that?

Is it bringing in new people because they find that and it’s interesting and different, or is it keeping the people who already know you happy because it just makes them love you even more?

I think both a bit.

I was talking to some of my new customers recently, and he was really enthusiastic that he could send a part to his students and send the recording.

He told me he has a rehearsal once a week, Friday morning, 9.15 till 9.45 for a percussion ensemble.

And I think there are a lot of band directors who are doing percussion ensemble like that, or maybe in their own time before school or after school, and they don’t have that much rehearsal time.

So how fun it is that you can send them a PDF at home before the first rehearsal and have their own part separately recorded and have a total recording with a click so they know where the beat goes and they come in a bit prepared.

They’ve heard the tune a couple of times, they know what to play.

Maybe they have a bell kit at home and play the notes a couple of times or just a practice pad.

And it helps tremendously, especially when you only rehearse for an hour or 45 minutes a week with your percussion class.

And I think those are the positive comments I get.

And in my own percussion class, I don’t have a weekly percussion ensemble, so all my percussion ensembles are on project base.

And what I experience if I tell them we’re going to do a percussion ensemble in a couple of weeks, and I send them the scores and send them the music and we do some preparational things in the private lessons, we can do a percussion ensemble concert in like three or four weeks, and then we can do a performance.

So it saves time.

And I understood that a band director is a pretty heavy job for most of them.

So I thought that would be a good contribution to save time and simplify their process.


Well, I think those types of things, practice tracks and so on, are more common in the choral world right now.

And so I think it’s smart to be introducing that for band musicians as well.

Looking at all of the different things that you do to market your music, you have the website, you have your email list, you have the freebies, you have all these different things.

What do you think has been the most successful in bringing new customers to you?

Most successful is like the Facebook advertising.

I do so now and then.

Meta advertising.

And it’s so intelligent at the moment.

They can find your audience you need.

It’s amazing.

And of course, the mailing list helps and the website helps.

But if you need to reach new customers, you can target on marching band.

You can target on percussion ensemble.

It’s amazing.

What kind of ads have you run?

Are you advertising specific pieces?

Are you advertising the website?

I’ve been running ads last year for a book I wrote, which is called Practicing Rudiments and Technique is Fun.

And I had a pretty short video where I played one of the exercises from the book, which was really, really groovy.

And I advertised that a couple of weeks, like three or four weeks.

And I think I sold 80 copies of the book.

So any suggestions for writing an ad that works well on Facebook?

Oh my, that’s really hard.

I’m still learning as well.

I think we all are.

I mean, I think nobody really knows quite how to do it.

So I’m glad to hear that you’ve had success with it.


Funny things are always helpful because I also wrote an e-book, which is called The 15 Biggest Percussive Mistakes I Made.

So I made a list with all the stupid things I did in my career so far.

And then I made a picture with this ad after a bunch of percussion instruments and with a bass drum melody in my mouth and the xylophone melody here and there and a crazy face.

And that one is working really well.

And a lot of band directors are downloading my guide.

So I think if you’re able to write a e-book about a subject which is really interesting for your audience, that’s the best beginning you can do if you want to be getting more involved in the business in the US.

And I think it works for Europe as well because that’s a really good one I got a lot of success with as well.

And also I shared this also in a lot of band director Facebook groups.

And there are some really strong communities who are really helping each other on Facebook.

And they had like amazing responses when I posted it over there as well.

So maybe that might be helpful for people who are self-publishing.

And I think you have a lot of self-publishing listeners on your show, isn’t it?

I think so.

And it’s the same in my experience.

I mostly write for choirs.

And the Facebook groups for choir are very active.

There’s a lot of conversations happening there.

In many ways, that’s replaced home pages of organizations and that sort of thing.

I don’t know.

It’s just easier to communicate quickly and throw a question on really fast.

That’s what it is.

Oh, one thing I did want to ask you.

You have band music, but you also have percussion ensemble music.

Is it hard to market to a more specific group?

It’s somewhat easy to say, oh, band directors, right?

That’s who I’m targeting.

But if you’re focusing on, for example, percussion, is it harder to narrow down your marketing to reach that specific group of people?

Yeah, you really need to know who you’re talking to.

Because what I did, that’s maybe interesting for the people as well.

I read a really good book about it, which is written by Donald Miller.

And I don’t know if you know the guy, but he’s the guy behind the website Storybrand.

And I think it’s really good for people who are self-publishing music to read that book.

So you need to think about your story.

Why do you want to sell choral music?

And I think it’s also important to think about what thing can I do different than what the other guys do.

And you just told me that it’s pretty common in choral music that there are practice tracks and sing-along tracks.

And so that’s why I made my demos in Finale, because I write the most of music I write in Finale.

And then I worked with a software which is called Virtual Drumline, and I found out that I could make the most amazing demos with it.

And I don’t need to work with professional musicians to make those demos.

And I also found out when I exported all my midis to Cubase, I could make even more great demo tracks and really realistic sounding demo tracks.

And I thought later on, I thought, why wouldn’t I mute all the tracks and just record the xylophone part?

And that’s where the idea came from.

And to do something just a little different than your colleagues do, and make a difference for the guys who need to work with it.

Because of course, you can, I don’t know exactly how it is in the choral world, but you can download a demo of a song and use it for practice purposes.

But I think for the altos in specific, it’s way easier if they have a recording of their own voice.

Yeah, absolutely.

Yeah, so and that’s why I was working about the last couple of years to get my story together.

And my story is now more than just sheet music, save time and simplify your process.

And that’s also what you see on my website.

And if you have your story together, I think that’s the most important thing.

Well, why don’t we end with that?

What is your story?

Yeah, that’s my story.

Do something different than your colleagues and make sure everybody’s noticing it.

And the most important thing is that what you’re doing is beneficial for a lot of music educators.

You don’t need to be different just to be different, but you need to find something to be different, what’s beneficial for the scene you’re working for.

Well, this has been really fun to learn more about band in Europe and just some of the challenges and the opportunities that exist working on both sides of the ocean.

Where can our listeners find you?

My American website is bandmusiccenter.com.

And I was amazed when I wanted to claim that domain that no one else did it, because I did it only like four years ago or something like that.

And there are all the freebies.

You can download some examples of my snare drum method book I wrote.

There are some other freebies you can download to get to know me a bit better.

And what about for our European listeners?

For our European listeners, they can go to concertandmarchingmusic.com.

All right.

Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today and wish you the best of luck in everything going forward.

Thanks a lot, I wish you the same.