March 25, 2022

pipes|drums: frequently asked questions

The online pipes|drums Magazine was launched in 1995 and has been solely internet-based since early 2006.

Even after several decades, we still get questions from readers. Our reader/viewership has steadily increased each year, and we’ve adapted to publishing trends. We’ve had no fewer than seven significant website and mobile properties redesigns.

We thought it might be a good time to answer the questions about which our readers might wonder.

Why do you do it?

Because you appear to enjoy it and we enjoy it. We recognize that you won’t like everything and won’t enjoy everything. It’s hard to report on the death of a friend or an association representative committing fraud, just as you won’t agree with everything. But, on balance, the scales tip heavily to the positive on both sides, which keeps us going. It’s always interesting to see people and organizations try to copy us. It’s aggravating and sad, but it also suggests we’re doing things right.

Who’s “us”?

That’s the editorial “we,” which comprises Andrew Berthoff, the editor, and many contributors. We have no staff, association, or company backing us, and we don’t sell anything except for subscriptions and advertising. We have no interest in anything except the good of piping and drumming. Independence and integrity are hallmarks of pipes|drums. That allows us to speak candidly and report honestly.

Is pipes|drums a full-time job?

No, but thanks for asking, because that might suggest that you think we’re of professional quality. In reality, pipes|drums is a hobby, or perhaps an avocation. As Seumas MacNeill said, it’s incredible how much you can get done when you turn off the television. The editor, Andrew Berthoff, is, in fact, the Chief Communications & Marketing Officer with one of the world’s major music industry companies. That was proceeded by 20 years in the communications consultancy world. Before that, about five years as a professional magazine editor with a publishing company. Time management skills have been honed over decades. Planning weeks ahead makes a huge difference.

What makes you think you know so much?

We honestly don’t. We’re the first to admit we don’t know things. That’s why we ask so many questions. We had a decent competitive solo piping career, a lot of fun with some outstanding bands, and learned a lot from some great teachers, but there’s way too much that we don’t know and probably never will. That is why we ask so many experts who are far more knowledgeable than us to contribute. We hope that we practice good judgment and are gratified when we’re told that we’re the most respected piping and drumming publication.

Do you ever take time off from pipes|drums?

Not really. We never stop planning, thinking and creating content, even on family vacations. There have been times when patchy or non-existent internet connections make it difficult, but we also work to anticipate and prepare for these. We were once on a Hebridean boat on vacation with our family, literally crossing the Minch, when we heard that Alasdair Gillies had died. The sun was shining brightly as the Isle of Eigg was in sight. We were devastated that our friend and giant of piping had passed. The following two hours of the “sail” were spent reflecting. But when we got to Mallaig and confirmed that the Gillies family had been informed, we immediately sourced a café with internet access, pulled ourselves together and set about reporting this difficult news. Times like those are by far the hardest.

You live in Toronto, so is pipes|drums a “Canadian” publication?

pipes|drums is for the piping and drumming world. We are country-agnostic. With Scotland the most active and populated piping and drumming region, content weighs in that direction. According to analytics, our readers’ locations reflect that of the piping and drumming world’s density: UK 35%, Canada 28%, USA 22%, Australia 4%, New Zealand 2%, Ireland 2%, France 1% and the rest of the world comprising the balance. It’s gratifying that our readership is so balanced because we strive to publish with the same balance.

Why do you ask readers to subscribe?

Most of our content is available to anyone who wants to read it. About 20% of the total number of articles is for subscribers who kindly pay about a nickel a day to gain access to everything. The subscriber-only articles are generally full-length reviews, more extensive features, and product reviews. They take more time and are more expensive to create. We believe that quality content is worth a small price, but we like the hybrid approach of free+paid. As they say, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Thankfully, our advertisers recognize the niche marketing value we bring to them. Our advertising rates are, we believe, lower than any other piping/drumming media outlet, and we have not changed the rates in more than 20 years, even though readership has increased substantially. We don’t need to charge higher prices. There’s enough money to sustain the publication. But we do hope you subscribe, and we always welcome new advertisers.

Where does advertising and subscription money go?

All money from paid advertising and subscription goes back into running the publication, most of which is for web hosting services, development and maintenance, and associated expenses. Whatever is leftover, we like to donate to worthy piping/drumming nonprofit causes and charities. We offer payment to those we approach for content because we believe they should be compensated for their expert work. They often decline, asking us to plow it back into the publication or contribute to a cause. pipes|drums has always been nonprofit. 

How do you pronounce “pipes|drums”?

We pronounce it pipesdrums. Some people like to call it “pipes and drums,” which is fine. But we created the name because we liked the parity of each five-letter word and that we could trademark it, which we have. We also own the trademark to the previous name, “Piper & Drummer.” We decided to move to pipes|drums in 2006 when we went all-online.

Why do you quote anonymous sources?

We wish that we didn’t have to and that all pipers and drummers would have the confidence to speak on the record, with their comments attributed to them. We have always willingly tackled contentious issues and taboos. To give these pieces context, we need input from others, and more often than not, they will only speak under the condition of anonymity. This is better than no contextual comments at all. We hope it changes as the piping and drumming world and associations, in particular, become more transparent and less spiteful. Quoting anonymous sources is a standard and accepted journalistic practice when reporting on sensitive topics that might get a source in trouble or even put them in danger. As we do, pipes|drums is simply hauling the piping and drumming world into the real world.

Why do you often turn off commenting on Facebook posts?

We generally turn off the ability to comment on Facebook posts simply because we don’t have the time to monitor them. Comments cannot be moderated in advance, so the possibility of libel exists, as the Australian courts have determined. While Facebook can’t or won’t be held responsible for comments because it and other social publishers are not officially considered “publishers,” those who own the Facebook page can be. Unfortunately, some people feel that it is their “right” to say whatever they wish on social media with impunity. This is not true. As usual, a few bad apples can ruin everything. We invite readers to express their thoughts on articles using our own comments feature, which is moderated.

My band did something amazing, so why didn’t you report on it?

Almost always, it’s because we didn’t know about it. Never assume that we’re aware. Err on the side of proactively sharing. It also helps a great deal to know about it before you plaster it on social media feeds, which have limited visibility and last a minute before someone’s on to the next thing. We can work with you to announce the news together and in sync. Just let us know what’s going on by sending us a quick email.

Can’t you copy it from ____ website?

We are committed to being 100% original content. Copying and reproducing from other sources is not what we do. We just don’t. Other media outlets can choose to do that, but it’s simply not part of our ethic. We rely on information provided by readers or develop it on our own.

Similarly, we won’t simply reproduce a news release or statement verbatim. That’s lazy and not journalism. We work to provide context, objectivity and various perspectives. One-sided statements from bands or associations don’t satisfy our commitment to our readers.

Why do you report so much on the higher grades?

Because that’s what most people are interested in. Grade 1 and 2 bands and professional/open soloists set the standards, so readers want to know what they’re up to. We might be compared with sports reporting. Generally, more people are interested in the Premier League than Division 4 or Major League Baseball rather than the Florida Rookie League. However, good stories are everywhere, and we’re always interested to know about them. Again, unless we know, we can’t do anything. So let us know.

How are products chosen for review, and how do reviews work?

It starts with us knowing about the products and helps significantly if the company, band or person whose product it is proactively contacts us. Contrary to popular belief, we are not mind-readers, and we don’t monitor the internet 24 hours a day. So, if we know about a product, we can then decide whether it merits a review. If it does, we get in touch with the product owner to get a review copy. pipes|drums then matches the product with a neutral expert to review it. We have always taken pains to ensure as much objectivity as possible. We never let the product owner know who is reviewing their product, and we ask reviewers not to tell anyone they’re reviewing it. Apart from tidying any grammar or clarity issues, whatever the reviewer writes or records is what we use. Advertisers never receive preferential treatment. They tend to be good marketers, though, so we often know about their products more than those of other businesses.

Why is pipes|drums sometimes critical of the RSPBA and other associations?

We are in favour of what is good for piping and drumming. That often means tackling contentious and taboo issues. We strive to be fair and accurate. If we are inaccurate, we will readily correct it. Associations traditionally have been detached from the actual members. We think this evolved from the Scottish aristocracy feeling that they have the right to boss around their competitors. Competing pipers and drummers until about 1970, were almost exclusively “working class.” Those “professionals” – bankers, lawyers, doctors, etc. – wouldn’t deign to do something as tawdry as competing for money. This created a tradition of subordination.

Just do what we tell you to do, and don’t argue. Today the opposite is true: you need to have a well-paying job or reasonably well-off family to support your piping/drumming hobby. But the vestiges of never questioning associations remain. Even the RSPBA understands that the RSPBA is not those who run the RSPBA; it’s the members. We know of two association leaders who have told their officials not to speak with us. (They do anyway.) They apparently hold a grudge because the truth was reported or didn’t like our opinion or sense of humour. They’re doing their members a disservice. Whatever. We’re not going away, and hopefully, they’ll outgrow their collective passive-aggressive man-childhood. But walls are crumbling, and, to paraphrase Bruce Cockburn, we’re pleased to have kicked at the darkness to bleed daylight for nearly 40 years now.

These are some of the more frequent questions we’re asked. If you have any questions yourself, we’re always pleased to answer them. Asking questions is a good thing, and we’ll keep our queries coming.

As ever, thanks for reading and stay tuned!





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