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  • Writer's pictureDave Harris

Talking In Code: An Interview with James Potts & Mike Heaton

Everything you ever wanted to know about UK-based drum head company Code*...

Here at Dave's Drums, we've been selling Code drum heads - and using them on our refurbished kits - for almost as long as we've been in business. We love them because of their great quality, diverse range (without being overly complicated) and competitive prices!

This week, we've spoken to business partners James Potts (Code founder) and Mike Heaton (drummer from Embrace) about the Code brand, its history and their own drumming...

*depending what you wanted to know, of course!

I asked founder James Potts what it was that motivated him to start Code. He told me: "I had a head from another brand that there was a quality issue with, and I wasn't happy with their customer service. I thought I could do better and treat people well. So I started researching head manufacturing...

"I was really quite restrained and did a lot of research and testing in 2013. When I thought it was viable, I stopped and just watched the market for a year. Then I took the plunge and ordered a shipment of heads. At this stage they were off-the-shelf items that were standard lines for factories, and were unbranded.

"I put them on eBay, and they all sold within days of arriving. So I bought another shipment. 

"They arrived in time for the National Vintage Drum show 2014. We got a really positive reception, which spurred me on.

"But I knew I needed to brand them and create an identity. So in Autumn 2014 Code was born."

Code drum heads
Code's comprehensive range of single ply drum heads

That all sounds pretty straightforward, but was it...? "It's had its moments!" James admits. "It really developed in a measured and steady way to start with. When Mike became involved it really accelerated. He has a keen eye for detail, is exacting in his standards and as a pro drummer knows what he wants.

"Mike immediately pushed to improve every aspect of the business. We launched a new website, improved quality of the products, developed our own heads made to the specs we wanted and started to recruit higher profile endorsement artists."

So, over to Mike Heaton to find out what inspired him to become a partner in the Code brand? "I had always wanted to be involved in some way in the production of drums, so when James came to me to endorse Code, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to fulfill an ambition."

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of being a drummer, I asked Mike which were his Code heads of choice, and how they help him to achieve the sound he wants. "My live kit at present has clear Generators on the tom batters with DNA clear as the reso heads. Clear Blast on the kick batter with an Enigma on the reso. On my snare I alternate between our TRS, Sterling and Zero, depending on the type of show, with 3mil Genetic for the snareside.

"In the studio I usually use RR’s on the bottom of my toms, as our producer loves the much more controlled sound they produce with very few overtones. I use the TRS when I want a nice bright and cutting sound with plenty of depth and a Zero when I need a lighter touch with more response.

"The clear Blast gives me that lovely big fat sound that is ideal for Embrace and it’s very versatile depending on how much dampening you add or take away. Even with nothing in, it has a controlled wide open sound. "

James tells me: "I don't play at all now as I just have so little spare time. I'm not a great player either, very basic boom boom bap!"

Something I'd always wanted to know, and now finally had the opportunity to find out from James - what inspired the name “Code"? "The idea came from using a Bar Code or QR Code as the logo, where people could scan the code and go straight to the website. It was apparent that printing the heads with a scan-able may have been too difficult to consistently do. But I liked the idea of using codes in the marketing, and there was also a really interesting way you could develop words for range names that went with the brand Code.

"For example "Zero" was from a Police term when an officer needs urgent assistance, a 'Code Zero'. DNA is a Code, Code of Law. Code of Honour [Honour was the original name for DNA clear heads], Code Generator, and Enigma was a code breaking machine. Lots of the names were derived this way, but as time moved on we have strayed a little bit, partially being due to running out of decent names!"

I ask a very mean question of Mike: "which is your favourite Code product and why?" "That’s like asking which your favourite child is! However I really like the look of our snare straps and the impact patch, which I had reversed printed so that our logo stays intact until you get all the way through it (which has never happened!) Out of the heads, I love the retro look and sound of the Law with the donut."

How about R&D? What's your role within the company on this front, and have you ever had any "eureka" moments? "My main role in the company is R&D and Artist Liaison, and it’s what I see as being key to the company's growth. It is crucial that we develop our own ideas and brand to set us apart from the other main players. As I mentioned above, and it’s only a small thing, but the simplicity of the reverse print impact patch was an idea that I’m really proud of."

Looking to the future, I ask James and Mike where they see Code in 5 years' time... "We have to be realistic and we know that the main players in this field are multi million American companies. Our first  aim was to match them for quality and beat them on price, and we strongly believe with our current heads coming through this autumn we have done this.

"So now it's growing sales in the UK and Europe, plus recruiting more high-level endorsement artists. In addition we want to bring in more UK made products. At present our beater patches, port hole surrounds and snare ribbons are all UK-made, and we want to expand this aspect."

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