Interview by Kelly King
A successful career is no longer solely dependent on talent. Yes, talent is a requirement but these days this is simply the cost of entrance into the industry. You’ve got to be aware of the constantly shifting platforms which can properly promote your career and connect with an audience to rise above the din. The good news is that it’s often the artists themselves in present day who are in control of the direction and effort put into disseminating their work to the masses.
Canadian Jon Saldanha has taken this formula to the next stage. He doesn’t limit himself to being a force ONLY behind the drums. He has played with Grammy Award Winning artists like Ben Fielding and Henry Seeley, is a part of successful Canadian pop-rock trio Ark & Ocean (2.5 million streams on Spotify to date), and has worked with top producers like Ryan Worsley (Western Canadian Music Awards 2018 Producer of the Year) but what his drumming and his eclectic skill set clearly display is that Jon Saldanha is focused on being a team player rather than the star. As a talent manager, the drummer/entrepreneur is taking a decidedly different approach than most in the industry; one which is proving to be a winning template for Saldanha and those whom he works with.
DH: I feel a little odd starting a discussion about your career by mentioning Instagram but I feel like your IG account gives great insight to who you are as a player. I think that there is only one post that is solely drums and no music. Almost everything part is attainable, there’s no mass shredding of notes, yet your playing always feels amazing. I think it often feels like everyone is trying to do the craziest fastest licks but you are always about supporting the music and letting it be the focus.
JS: It’s often been said but, less really is more. If you feel like your playing is too busy, in most scenarios, it probably is. Serve the music first, not yourself. As my man Spiderman once said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ The more talented a musician is, the greater the ability they have to exercise and showcase their talent. Sometimes showcasing your skill or chops isn’t what serves the music best. Awareness is key.
DH: You’re a very musical player but you play very powerfully. There’s a bit of an Abe Laboriel Jr. thing happening with your approach in that it’s very understated yet drives the music and really brings an excitement level without a busy approach or blinding licks. What’s your process in approaching the music?
JS: I structure a lot of my foundational beats around the melody and lyrical structure of a song. Each song is a story. I always try my best to serve the story by producing dynamics that fit the story’s narrative. Playing with intention is also very important. You can be the most talented drummer on the planet but if you haven’t studied the song structure, you may leave the listener confused. Know the songs but feel free to put your own flavor into the music if given the opportunity; if it serves the song correctly.
DH: You’ve played with some Grammy winning artists and been a founding member of your own rock trio but you don’t relax and rest on that. You’re aware of what Social Media/online digital content means for a musician in the 2010s.
JS: More than ever before; being a drummer, musician or artist now also requires you to have the mind of a producer, since recording tools are more accessible than ever before. Similarly, with a great tool like social media, the cost for marketing/promotion has decreased significantly, allowing many people like myself to leverage our skillsets and grow our business from the ground up. I’ve learned over the years that the diversity of your skillset is extremely important.
DH: That’s a perfect “jumping off” moment to talk about another thing that truly sets you apart from so many other pro drummers these days. A lot of drummers are selling online lessons, online recording sessions, even “career coaching” but you’ve utilized your expertise in promotion and your vision to help other artists AND yourself.
JS: True. It’s not unheard of for a drummer/musician to also be a producer; I feel like my work representing other artists is another form of that. Over the past year, I’ve been working as an artist representative for pop duo HOFFEY. In 2018 we released their debut single and music video “Love Is Wild”, and a million streams later we got them their first record deal. All that being said; it’s crazy how interconnected the music industry is. A lot of the relationships I built playing music have paved the pathway to my success so far as an artist rep.
DH: Forgive me for interrupting but, you’re not limiting yourself to music.
JS: Ha. That’s true. I guess some of most notable is my work is with adventure photographer Ben Prescott (@itsbigben). I also represent him. Ben’s really become a recognized name in his niche. In addition to being a brand ambassador for companies like Eddie Bauer, he is working with Canadian and US tourism entities. I couldn’t do his photography justice by describing it, you just have to check him out. It’s like visual meditation. I’ve worked with Ben for a couple years now and am always passionate and excited about the variety of opportunities we get for him.
DH: Here’s the through line; that’s exactly how you play drums. You’re very focused, very passionate, and enable the artists you work with to reach a higher level. The reason I think it’s paramount to recognize this is that you are rejecting that myopic approach of so many drummers in thinking ONLY about drums. I don’t think there are that many rich and successful drummers out there these days. I’ll go as far as to say that most of the drummers who are creatively and financially satisfied nowadays are the ones who have multiple income streams which are somehow interwoven. Mark Schulman is a great example. When he’s not touring with Pink or Cher, he’s a corporate speaker who makes a great living applying what he knows about life and music to other situations to inspire other industries. It seems like you are the younger generations’ version of this outside-the box thinking. It’s professional evolution. I know you’ve personally worked as a brand ambassador for companies like Bose, Uber, Norwegian Cruise, even Irish Spring. The days when musicians pretend that they don’t do anything else is over, if they want to be financially stable AND pursue their artistic dreams.
JS: That’s entirely correct. I think that creating opportunity for yourself is all about leveraging what you are good at. In this day and age, so many people are talented at so many different things. With that being said, the marketplace for music and visual content is definitely saturated; understanding that is the key to being able to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Practically speaking, there will always be more talented people than you. I’ve come to the realization that the only way to be heard or seen in an oversaturated market is to pair that talent with a great business strategy.
The more talented a musician is, the greater the ability they have to exercise and showcase their talent. Sometimes showcasing your skill or chops isn’t what serves the music best. Awareness is key.
DH: And that doesn’t mean that making great music isn’t a part of one’s ongoing multifaceted career. You’re working on an album of your own original music currently.
JS: I’ve been playing music for so long and been a part of so many projects that I just felt it was time to do something under my own name. It’s going to be diverse, ranging from contemporary pop to emotional instrumentals. Versatility is important. As technology changes and continues to get better, so does the standard for everything we do. What is mindboggling is how something that traditionally took thousands of dollars (producing a song), does not cost a dime if you have the right tools in your home studio.
DH: Do you feel that the new generation of drummers such as yourself thinks about the music business differently than the one before you?
JS: I think with how the industry has changed, we are almost forced to think differently. Being versatile with the style of music you play, produce and promote are all important. To this day, I still watch drum videos from my favorite drummers Aaron Spears, Darren King, and Benny Greb. I’m also proud to represent and endorse brands that have had tremendous success in drums over the years; including Ludwig, Roland, Heartbeat Percussion, Big Fat Snare Drum, and 64 Audio. In this sense, the drummers of our generation and the gear we used are somewhat the same as our predecessors. The difference is that the pie and the size of the pieces don’t look the same as they used to. I want to keep playing drums with other great musicians. I also know that I can use what I’ve learned to help other artists and musicians achieve their goals; and in turn, everyone wins. The success of my career may not be defined the same way as a drummer from twenty years ago, but the satisfaction of it most certainly feels the same.