Tom Tom Magazine Celebrates Five Years—And Founds a Drum School

tom tom magazine

Mindy Seegal Abovitz started out like any other drummer—with guts, enthusiasm, and the drive to play.  Raised in South Florida, Abovitz was inspired to jam after swooning over punk idols like Bikini Kill and Tilt.  Abovitz’s best friend gave her a drum kit when they were still teens and the rest is history.  Since playing in bands including More Teeth, Taigaa, and Chica Vas, Abovitz has made a name for herself and fellow female drummers as the creator and editor of Tom Tom, a website turned magazine that celebrates its fifth year in print this month. I had the chance-of-a-fan-girl’s-lifetime when I sat recently to talk to Abovitz about starting the magazine, five years of Tom Tom, and the magazine’s exciting new drumming academy in Brooklyn.

EMILLY PRADO: How did Tom Tom magazine come about?

MINDY SEEGAL ABOVITZ: When I was 29, I was Google searching “female drummer,” “girl drummer,” and “ woman drummer” out of curiosity.  The results were really terrible at best. There were pages of “Can women really play the drums?” and “Top sexiest drummers of our time” lists then immediately after it would just go to lists of guy drummers.  Having been a riot grrrl since I was a teenager and having played music since I was 15, having worked in music all my life, and having thrown many shows at my loft house in Brooklyn (The Woodser), I was kind of shocked to see that the internet hadn’t caught up with the world of female drummers I knew.  I wanted the world to know we existed.  So I started Tom Tom as a blog with the intention to solely change the Google search results of those keyword searches.  I thought there would be someone else that was already running a magazine about women drummers and was so convinced that they were going to eventually email me to let me know that they were already doing it. Then within six months time, it became obvious that there wasn’t anyone else doing it.  Then because I had just made the statement that I wanted to do this, a shit ton of people started reaching out to me asking if they could help! That was a really welcome surprise. So after the first six months, we threw a few benefit shows and had saved around $1000. I then used that money to hire a coder to build us a legitimate website and buy the domain. Six months from then, I had enough money to put out a print issue, so I did.  It took about one year from our blog to website to the very first print issue.

Why did you decide to do print and what kinds of difficulties have you encountered with this format?

I felt, and still feel, that print would revere the female drummer in a way that online alone just couldn’t.  I also knew and still know that women drummers need as much respect as they can possibly get.  I thought that a website would be easy to dismiss but not as easy to dismiss as a print magazine.  Everyone else who was a fan of our website was asking me over and over again when we be doing print.  So it was a decision that we all made together.  Phase one felt like “let’s change the Google search results” and phase two felt like “let’s affect existing drum magazines and print media.”

How have you maintained funding for the magazine?

Well, in the first couple of years I didn’t know what I was doing.  My business model was never to put money into the magazine that it did not generate [itself]. For the most part, I said to myself that it will pay for itself and it still does.  I learned from day one that advertising is the bread and butter of a magazine.  I didn’t know how to get advertisers back then and advertisers don’t work with you if you don’t have a reputation.  So it has literally taken me this long to have nice relationships with a few advertisers who are sustaining us and I’m also building relationships with new ones. So our main source of income is advertising and we have events, the magazine which is sold in Guitar Centers and Barnes and Noble, and we just launched the Tom Tom Academy, a drum school, which will be another revenue stream for us. So I learned early on to have as many revenue streams as possible in order to succeed.

Can you tell me more about the Tom Tom Academy?

I’ve been wanting to open a drum school run by female instructors for quite a while now and finally found the right team.  Our tagline is “Drum schools reinvented.” We are a team of female instructors who are teaching boys, girls, men, and women—we’re gender nonexclusive and are based in Brooklyn.  We hope to branch out to other cities in the next six months to one year.  Our primary goal is to create a drum school that has the lowest barrier of entry for anyone.  That means girls and women but it also means ability, size, sexuality, age, skin color, and socioeconomic backgrounds.  So we’re building in as many different programs as we possibly can to invite anyone and everyone to come play the drums. We’re going to be multilingual and provide options of free courses, sliding scale, and the traditional $50-60 per lesson.  Our head instructor, Mickey Vershbow, is collaborating with our other instructors to design curriculum that is both traditional drum education and the idea of healing and therapy through music.

Inclusiveness and accessibility seem highly valued with the Academy and with Tom Tom in general. How do you make sure that magazine remains accessible to a diverse readership?

 The first way is that I’m working extremely hard to try and make the magazine free or lower the $6 price point.  We also make it available to read online for free and our website is of course free.  So we do our best to create as much free media as possible. I also challenge my staff and myself to continuously look further then our own friend group and community in order to find subjects to cover.  That means putting ourselves in “uncomfortable” situations in order to meet and talk with new people, hear their voices, and put their music and pictures in our magazine.  Rule number one at Tom Tom has always been: How do we cover as many people as possible with as different voices as possible?

How have you seen your own goals changed as Tom Tom has expanded?

I have changed so much as a person. My dedication to the magazine has affected my personality and I’ve almost done a 360.   I’m a businessperson now, which I would’ve never done if I didn’t believe in something so much.  I work with advertisers and marketing. Because of my desire to change people’s ideas and make this place a tiny bit better if I can, I’ve learned all a lot and molded my person to achieve success. 

Do you still continue to drum?

Barely. I get to do these really fun performances at museums and hotels that fuel me which has been really, really nice.  I’m not in a band anymore because I quickly realized that I don’t have the time. S­ometimes I get sad about it, but for most part I’m okay with it because I am fulfilling a larger life goal and helping others get on and stay on the drums.

How did you learn how to run a website, magazine, and everything else?

I went to school for media and studied audio production.  I learned everything else by slowly doing it everyday and having faith in the process.  I learned it by that I had to teach myself on my own.  People ask me this question all the time and I always say, “One step at a time.”  Nothing is magic and it’s really hard.  You have to read everything, spend time talking to people, and be patient with yourself and everyone else. Ultimately, if you put one foot in front of the other for 455 days, you’re going to get somewhere.  

How do you make sure that Tom Tom isn’t a place for women drummers to be viewed as novelty?

I think by remaining in print, increasing page numbers, and by flooding the internet with content. While there’s nothing that I can do about the idea of individuals, our longevity will moot that point. That novelty will wear away. 

Moving forward, do you have specific plans you foresee in Tom Tom’s future?

We are hoping to expand our print distribution to England. For me, that may mean relocating and helping the printing there.  With that, becoming more global is a priority and expanding the content and pages within each issue. I’d like for us to continue doing more performances and potentially assist in the production of a drum set that makes it easier for any bodied person to play. I also want to start printing reports with hard data that helps companies advertise to women and girls on drums. 

With the reports, is it an aim of changing how girl and women drummers are advertised to on a general level?

Yes.  Because this way, they can’t refute it.  People who are set in their ways often can’t reason with the idea of changing, so me and group of people stating ‘this is what we believe in’ isn’t going to change that.  But hard data will. One of the goals of the magazine is to create hard data that helps them feel more confident investing in us and in communicating to us.  It’s an idea I learned from Barbara Corcoran’s book Shark Tales and it’s pushed us to aim for being experts on the drums in order for people to reach others on the drums.

What has surprised you most since launching Tom Tom?

Number one is the amount of support that I have.  I’m constantly amazed at people. They show up and help me and it’s been happening for five consistent years.   Whether it’s with copyediting or carrying boxes of magazines up a flight of stairs, that support consistently shocks me. The only reason I’m still doing this psychologically and physically is because of them.  I wouldn’t be able to do it, physically, without them, but it’s also such a difficult task that when people ask me if I need help with anything, it pushes me to work for another 24 hours. 

Best piece of advice to new or prospective drummers?

Call yourself a drummer as soon as possible.  This is advice that I’ve been giving for a long time, but say it as soon as you can. I’d say the first time you play but if you’re not quite ready until a bit more time, that’s okay too.

Mindy Seegal Abovitz started out like any other drummer—with guts, enthusiasm, and the drive to play.  Raised in South Florida, Abovitz was inspired to jam after swooning over punk idols like Bikini Kill and Tilt.  Abovitz’s best friend gave her a drum kit when they were still teens and the rest is history.  Since playing in bands including More Teeth, Taigaa, and Chica Vas, Abovitz has made a name for herself and fellow female drummers as the creator and editor of Tom Tom, a website turned magazine that celebrates its fifth year in print this month. I had the chance-of-a-fan-girl’s-lifetime when I sat recently to talk to Abovitz about starting the magazine, five years of Tom Tom, and the magazine’s exciting new drumming academy in Brooklyn.

Mindy made us a mixtape of some of her favorite drummers! Listen to the full mixtape on Spotify or a shorter version below

Tom Tom Tunes from BitchTapes on 8tracks Radio.

Emilly Prado is a former Bitch intern and graduate of Portland State University. When not writing for various publications, she partakes in a day job and uses the internet far too much.

by Emilly Prado
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Emilly Prado is a writer, photographer, and button maker. When not crafting sassy critiques for various publications, she partakes in a day job and uses the internet far too much. You can see her work at www.emillyprado.com.

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