Mike Johnston is one of the most influential drummers around, and not only is he an incredible drummer and educator, but an absolute gentleman! Warren van Wyk had a long chat with Mike over Skype, going into detail about his humble beginnings, dreams, and his road to becoming the most successful online drum educator in the world.
How did you get into drumming? Did it come naturally to you, or did you have to work really hard at it?
Yeah, I started really young at five years old, and it was just school music. It wasn’t something I chose. I actually picked a different instrument, and I was so terrible at it that the band director moved me back to the drums, and I was bummed. I was like, “NOOO, I want to play the Clarinet; it’s so cool.” I got stuck on the drums, and that was how simple it was, and then eventually, my parents supported that, which was terrific. I got drum lessons and a drumkit at around 6 or 7 years old and had drum lessons my whole life after that. It was quite the opposite of being natural. It was so unnatural that even my teachers would tell my parents that this really wasn’t my thing, which was rough. They would also say to my parents that I was never going to get better if I didn’t practice and my mom would tell the teacher that I was practicing 4 hours a day which they didn’t think was possible because no one could have been that bad with practicing 4 hours a day. The funny thing is that nothing has changed, I feel like six years old every time that I am on the drum set, nothing is natural, and everything is one note at a time. The only thing that has changed is that I am now familiar with the process, and I don’t freak out about the struggle. I actually think that the battle is part of the process, which is building more skill into my body as I go through that struggle.
You played for a rock band called Simon Says in your early years, where you got signed and really starting gaining a lot of success but realized that this wasn’t what you wanted to do with your life. Can you shed some more light on this?
It was my dream, and it was definitely my family’s dream too. I think I knew early on as a kid that I wanted to teach, but I didn’t realize that it was going to be drums, I just wanted to teach. I got a chance to be a drum instructor at the local music store that I was working at when I was 17. I taught there until I was 20 years old, and that was the time when my band got a record deal, and at the time, I thought, “I’m out. Goodbye teaching, I am a rockstar, and this is what I have always wanted,” and it was that way until I actually got to be on the road. I was on the road for about six years straight, whether it was making an album or supporting the album. It wasn’t until I got into it where I realized that it wasn’t as enjoyable as I thought it was going to be and that I really missed my old life and teaching, which made me a lot happier. These moments built up over time, and they also happened on stage. I remember we were playing some massive outdoor festival in front of 80 000 people with Blink 182, Foo Fighters, and the Deftones in Europe somewhere, and all I could think about was these permutations from Garibaldi’s book. I was spacing out, and in about three songs, I wasn’t thinking about anything else but this book. I kept having these moments, and I thought if I am so focused on that compared to this thing that is so amazing to so many people, then maybe this wasn’t my thing, and that took a little while. There were people in my life like Roy Burns (who just passed away) and my private instructor Peter Magadini that gave me the “Ok” that teaching could be my plan A instead of my plan B. I needed people that were further along in their careers to tell me that it was ok and that whatever I loved was the dream and that “making it” was being happy.
Was it a difficult decision to leave the band knowing how big you guys were going, or were you so focused on following your dreams?
Yeah, I think that is why it took six years, but I knew right away. I was on my first US tour and already thinking that it was not fun and that this was really as good as it was going to get for us because we were lucky enough to support major bands, so we were either playing massive theatres or arenas. We were playing great venues, and we didn’t have the pressure of the headliner because we were the opener, and we only played 45 minutes a night. Besides maybe the money, this was as good as it was going to get, and I wasn’t even remotely happy doing it, so I knew right away. The one fight for me was thinking about what was better for my career. I thought about going back and teaching in a private lesson room in a music store, which wouldn’t be okay if I wanted to stay in the drum industry. The other fight I had was that these guys were my three best friends in the world, and I didn’t want to let them down. It wasn’t even my style of music. We were out on the road with KoRn, Limp Bizkit, and I was listening to Sting.
When I left all of this, it wasn’t to do Mikes Lessons. The band was so old that we didn’t even have a website, so there was no idea of online drum education. Youtube hadn’t even launched yet so when I left the band it was to teach in a small ten by ten room at a music store and not be recognized by the drum industry ever again, and I was totally ok with that because that was closer to my happiness and dream then touring was.
Can you tell us what steps you took to start building the life that you dreamt about after you had left the band?
Yeah. The one thing that I have in me is an entrepreneur spirit. I don’t know if you would call that a talent. I don’t mind grunt work, but I am not doing grunt work, and that is all there is to it. If you have me waiting tables at a restaurant, I am okay with that, but I do want to be the manager of that restaurant within six months, and I want to own that restaurant within two years. I don’t mind wherever I have to start, but I am going to move forward. When I left Simon Says, I was engaged, and my fiancé at the time was a volleyball player at a college that wasn’t my home town. I came home from tour and moved to this new town, which was 5 hours away from my home, and I had no contacts and didn’t know anybody. I knew that by leaving this band, I was also leaving a lot of security because we still had another album on our deal, which is more money in the band world because every time you start a new album, you get an advance, etc. I was going to leave all of that security and go to a town where I had no friends, didn’t know any of the shop owners, and didn’t even know if they had a drum shop. I just immediately thought that I needed to have enough money to take care of the next six months of my life and enough time to build a student base. I needed to get 80 students per week so that I could have a full-time income, and then at the same time, I could get embedded in the local music scene and start gigging in cover bands. I went to this beach town called St Louis Bristo, and I was not ready for the lack of diversity. It was like 30 000 white people that just listened to Sublime all day long, and I was like, “Oh God. I cannot live like this, haha. Where are the Cuban people and their culture? Who can I jam with that is rhythmically ten times more advanced than me, haha?” so that was difficult. I don’t think you can do this now because of the way the world has changed, but I went and spoke to all the principles and vice principles of all the elementary schools that were in town, and I asked if I could come in and give a free clinic which I will call ‘Rhythm around the world’ and I’ll teach their students about all the different rhythms from all around the world. The only thing I asked for is if I could give these students a gift certificate for one free lesson. I got hooked up with a local drum shop that gave me a room to teach in, and within like 30 days after doing a few of those clinics, I had a completely full roster. There was still no Youtube and online anything, so to me, I was done and thought that this was now my life, living in a beach town and teaching drums.
There are a lot of drummers out there that only teach as a plan B and use it as an income, and once they reach their plan A they ditch teaching. What do you feel about this, and how do you think this affects the student?
They can feel it. I have always known that if you put me in a room with four other drummers and all of us got offered our dream gig that I would be the only one that wouldn’t take it because I already have my dream gig, and that is teaching drums. If they said that Sting and Phil Collins are going out together and they want me on drums, I would be like “That’s great, (I will be very jealous of whoever gets that gig), but this is what I want to do.” I felt that my teachers, not having Peter Magadini as a kid and growing up with local music store teachers, didn’t even want to be there and that they thought that they are babysitting me, but I actually wanted to get better at the drums. I wished that they could have put some effort into it and didn’t just give me the lesson that they gave the kid before me or the lady after me. I was clearly struggling with the instrument and wanted them to help me. It was their job to crack the code and find out why I couldn’t understand the groove or why I couldn’t make it feel good; that’s the job as an educator. It wasn’t until my twenties that I had a teacher that was doing those things. I think that my teaching and the way that I teach was built out of me having teachers that would teach me as an individual. I had to invent new ways to teach myself because I thought, “This teacher has given me this set page of information, but I don’t understand it, so I am going to have to reverse engineer it and reteach it to myself” and then because of my own explanation, those lessons would make sense to other students when they were struggling.
“I don’t understand why people think that drumming takes so much practice, but teaching doesn’t.”– Mike Johnston
I find with my students that it goes beyond only drum lessons. Relationships are built, and there are many areas that they look to you for inspiration. Sometimes we can inspire them in other areas of life and not only drums.
Oh, totally, and that’s why I think, as teachers, we have to realize that it is not our job to inspire our students to play drums. If that is what they want to do, then that can be our job, but our job is actually to help them along with their lives so that they become as satisfied with their lives and their choices as much as we are. If drums fit into that, then that is fantastic, but I have had way more students that I have helped find their path in life, which didn’t happen to be playing drums more than it did. A lot of the time, that path is them telling me that they want to be this thing, which could be an athlete or a lawyer for an example, and I will then ask whether drums could fit into that. I would encourage them that when they get home from being a lawyer all day and stressed out of their minds, they get to see this beautiful drumset and can sit down, put on their headphones, play their favorite band’s songs, and it could be a vacation from reality. That might even be better than what you and I have. You and I see the drums, and it is like, “Oh God, I’ve had 8 hours of drumming today, and I haven’t gotten any better because it was all teaching and filming lessons, and now I still have to get better”. Sometimes the drumset is like homework for us.
Can you tell us more about your website and how this idea came about in a time where no one else was doing that sort of thing?
I think that most of the credit goes to the actual visionaries of that time. In 2005 and 2006, we had a fantastic visionary by the name of Steve Jobs, maybe not the greatest person in the world, but he was very visionary, haha. He could see the future, and he launched iTunes, which was the first time that anyone had broken up an album into songs for sale. There was a large portion of my childhood where I wanted a song so bad, but I couldn’t afford the album, or I would have to have spent all my hard-earned money on the album, the album sucked, and I only got one good song. I am sure everybody went through the same thing. Steve solved that, and when I saw it, it was so relative to what you and I have been going through and drummers all around the world when it comes to drumming DVD’s, which are like $45. I can really only handle one little chunk of the material at a time because it is so much information, so I think Apple and Steve Jobs launching Itunes was a massive influence on me to think “Ok I am going to break up drumming DVDs into chapters,” and that is where it started. Right around that same time, YouTube was only by itself, meaning that Google didn’t own it for about a year. I think Youtube launched in about mid-2005, and then in 12 months, Google acquired them. No one had caught onto that, yet, so to me, Google was just a Dropbox, a place where I could put my videos, and they wouldn’t charge me for it because back then, storage was crazy expensive. Those two companies combining kind of launched mikeslessons.com, where I thought of the idea of breaking these things up into small bite-sized chunks and even matched my prices to Itunes which was selling songs for 99c, so all of my lessons were 99c. I wanted to make a lateral “Oh, I just bought these three songs, and I’ll just buy these four lessons, and everything is nice and smooth.”
Was it awkward at first to be alone in front of the camera, or did you comfortable from the beginning?
Yeah!! I remember always asking the camera questions, not realizing that it couldn’t answer me back, but I would always say, “Alright, does that make sense?” and then I would wonder what I was waiting for because it wasn’t going to answer. I had to learn how to carry an entire conversation by myself with this little dot. I worked so hard at that. I have still left some of my first Youtube lessons up on Youtube just so that I can always go back and remind myself of how bad it was. Everything is a skill. Talking to a camera is a skill. Because of how much of a struggle drumming was for me, it taught me that whenever I encounter something new that it is just a skill and that I just need reps to get better at it and that it is ok if I am not naturally talented at it. I tried really hard to turn that little dot (the lens) into a person, and I always imagined that the lens was an eleven year old from maybe somewhere in Asia where English was his or her second language, that is who I tried to teach. I realized that if I can make an eleven year from China understand this lesson, then everyone in the world can understand it as well. That was kind of my concept going in to try and make a connection with the camera.
I think one thing that might help that is the fact that I am by myself. A lot of people don’t know that mikeslessons.com is only myself and my wife, there is no company, we have no employees, and there are nobody editing videos. She usually works from home, and she only has to be here a little bit, so 99% out of the day I am at the Mikes Lessons studio all by myself, so when I am talking to that camera, it is my first time of being social for the day. Even though I am by myself, I feel like I am getting to hang out with you and I know so many people just like you where I can decide “Ok I am going to teach Warren today” and once I am looking at that camera it is me and you hanging out bro. If I am excited that I finally nailed a groove, I want you to feel that through the camera. It’s funny, I go and press record on three different cameras, take out the memory cards, dump them into my computer, open Premier and edit it. I also have Protools going, and there are no engineers there, so I do it all by myself. I think that being alone is what helps me to want that human interaction, which I can’t get because there is no one there, so I give and get it from this camera lens.
Having no staff, were you involved with the graphic design and site development as well?
Yeah, I did the first three versions of mikeslessons.com. I was the developer for that. I eventually handed that off, so I do have a developer, but he doesn’t live here. He does the site, and I usually do most of the graphic design, and then we will kind of split the UI design stuff. He is a much better graphic designer then I am, so once I give him my ideas, he will fine-tune everything. When we started mikeslessons.com I had no money, no loans or investments, so it has always been about the amount of money we have in our bank account, that is what we can afford, and that is what we can get. When we started, I tried to hire people to do the website, the audio, and the video, and it was so painfully apparent that I wouldn’t be able to afford it. I had no other option other than to learn it myself, so I took graphic design, video editing, and audio engineer courses online. My wife and I have what we call the “Two shake rule,” which is I try to reason that if I was in bed when she fell asleep and I was in bed when she woke up then technically we slept together because how would she know that I wasn’t there. She was usually in bed at around 9:00/09:30 pm, and if I was in bed with her and could shake her twice without waking her up, then that meant she was out, and I could leave the bed, go into the office and take online courses until 1:00 am. I would make sure to be back in bed again before she woke up, so for her, I was there the whole time, haha.
I feel that doing things yourself is the best because it gets challenging to rely on somebody else knowing that you want things done a certain way and have to wait for things to be done. Sometimes you know you can do things a lot quicker if you knew how to. I have also hired teachers that don’t care as much as I do, and it is so frustrating.
Yeah, it is really tough, and it also depends on how much of a control freak you are. I know how I want it done, and I can’t handle it done any other way. I think that the difference between something like Drumeo and mikeslessons.com is the personal interaction of it. I think Drumeo will always have vast numbers, but they will be cycling through students so fast. I’ve always felt that I have had this funnel system going which is if someone starts playing drums the first thing that they are going to do is go onto Youtube (if they don’t have a private drum instructor ) and then from there Drumeo will catch them somehow through advertising, etc. That is not when I want the student because they are kind of confused and lost. I let them go through that Drumeo thing, then they come out of that funnel and get back onto Youtube.
Once they hit Youtube and realize that there are so many teachers out there, they start narrowing it down, and right around that intermediate level, they realize that they need something a little more personal. That is when they usually find our site, and then I become their actual teacher. It’s not like, “Hey, Benny Greb is your teacher.” Is he, though? No, he is not; he was just there once in September, he is not your teacher like I am actually your teacher. I am the one that is going to be reviewing your videos when you submit them. I am going to be the one that is going to be talking to you when you are thinking about quitting. I also don’t want 20million students but rather want slow organic growth that will last for the rest of my life. The good thing about our job is that we don’t have to retire at 50. I literally want to be like, “Hey what’s up guys, welcome to mik…..” and then die, that’s how I want to go out, hahaha, right around 84 years old, hahaha. That is very important to me, making sure that my students feel that it is really personal and that what you see is what you get. If anybody meets me at NAMM or meets me at a clinic in South Africa, I never want them to feel like “Wow, that is so not the guy from those videos.”
What advice would you give the drummers out there that want to build their online presence?
Anyone starting their Youtube channel now has to make that decision at the beginning. Do you want to be one of our heroes like Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, Vinnie Colaiuta, where they are set up as heroes? I have done drum festivals with those guys, and I am still nervous about meeting them. I walk up to them and be like, “Dude, I really don’t want to bother you.” So you can set yourself up like that which that gives you a nice personal buffer, or you can be everybody’s friend where you better be ready when you show up to NAMM or a clinic because everybody is going to hug you and talk to you because you are their buddy. They are also going to bother you at dinner, which I don’t mind, you have to be ready for that because you have set yourself up for it. I like that a lot personally, but you have to be prepared for it, you can’t have it both ways, and you can’t be everybody’s friend online and then when it comes to reality be like “Give me some space, man.”
There is always a debate regarding online lessons vs. private lessons, but there are pros and cons to both. What is your take on this debate?
Yeah, I think there are pluses and minuses to online education. If you are going to do online lessons, then it is your job to continually think about what the pitfalls are of online education, meaning that you are not in the room with the person so how can you tell these people what to watch out for and how their bodies are going to feel. I think one of the most significant benefits is that not everybody lives in Hollywood or California or in New York City, where they have access to the greatest educators in the world. The fact that technology has given us a way that you and I can jump online and study with JP Bouvet for an example is incredible! JP is awesome and my little brother, but he also happens to be one of my top 5 favorite drummers in the world. Without online, we couldn’t do that and would have to hope that Hudson would make a DVD for him someday. I can now study with him at his practice space in New York, which is amazing.
The reason I started Mikes Lessons in the first place was that I wanted access to Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, and Dennis Chambers, and I couldn’t get it, so I thought that if they don’t give lessons, then I will. I also feel that the other benefit is the cost. We can bring the cost down for people that maybe can’t afford private lessons. Oddly enough, my prices were set from a magazine in South Africa ten years ago. I had an interview with a magazine called SA Drums and Percussion by a drummer called Sean Nunan, and I was just about getting ready to launch the live online lessons and make it a subscription instead of 99c per downloadable video. I was going to make live streaming videos that hadn’t been done in music yet. We were doing an interview just like this but over the phone and he asked how much I was thinking of charging and I told him that I thought about $100 per month and he replied that not many people in South Africa could afford that. I then thought maybe $50, and that was still too much. I asked what could the drummers in South Africa afford, and he said maybe $20 per month, and since it had never been done before and there was no pricing structure to compare it to, it was set at $20 per month. We stayed at that price for eight years without raising them, and it was all because of South Africa, which is crazy because I have never even been there, haha!
There are quite a lot of guys giving online lessons that are not exactly teachers or don’t have the experience of teaching. What is your take on this?
I think some of the pitfalls of online lessons is that it gives everyone the ability to make online lessons, so you have some teachers that really aren’t there yet with their teaching. They don’t care enough, which comes through the camera, or sometimes they are factually incorrect. They are teaching to early in the game. They should be practicing teaching for sure, but when you set yourself up as an authority, you have to be really sure about whatever it is that you are saying. I am always cautious when I am teaching something that is not indigenous to my drumming world. If I am teaching some Brazilian or Cuban stuff, I try to triple-check my references. I have to tell the camera that I am a Californian drummer who has never visited Brazil teaching you Brazilian stuff, so please understand that this is the Californian version of it or even the American version of it, which is completely useful. I’m not the guy telling you how to do it as a Brazilian. I am saying that we are so lucky that the Brazilian culture made it to America and all the way to the West Coast, and once it got here, this is how we do it. So you have to be really careful with making sure that you are referencing the right stuff and that you are also giving credit to the correct lineage. If I am teaching a BLUCHDA lick, then it goes backward, which means it is me teaching it back to Todd Sucherman teaching it and to Vinnie Colaiuta playing it, until we get all the way down the line to Tony Williams. You have to make sure that your students know that lineage so that you are not saying that you woke up this morning and invented it because you are awesome.
I agree. You get some guys that make out that they invented a pattern that you know that they haven’t.
Hahaha! Unfortunately, I have seen it a few times, and I am like “Wait a minute, I don’t think that you invented flams bro…pretty sure.”
With everything starting to go online, do you think online lessons will eliminate private lessons in the future?
No, I think what is going to happen is that the private teachers are going to have to involve the online side of things in their private teaching. What I mean by that is when I teach a private lesson, I always save the last five to ten minutes of the lesson to film the end result of what I taught them so if they get home and they forgot what I showed them they now have a video reference of it. I also give them the notation of it. I am making sure as a private drum instructor that you have no excuses. The only thing that could have possibly happened is that you didn’t practice. I think the private teacher would have to involve filming and editing into their lessons, but I don’t believe that we will ever get to the point that somebody doesn’t need another person in the room with them to see them. I think that is why my drum camps are always sold out because my online students are like “I would really like you to be in the room with me when I do this and tell me the truth about what you hear.” because even if they record themselves I don’t know how much compression they used. I may think that their ghost notes are right, but I am not really in the room with them. I guess what will happen is people will get so detached that when they finally get to see something in person, whether it be a private drum instructor or a concert or something they are going say, “Wait… What?”. The online world and the VR world offers nothing compared to the feeling of sitting right in front of Weckl’s kit and getting your hair blown back from him hitting the bass drum, that is something that you cannot create, that is such an amazing thing. I guess that is another push on Mike’s lessons front. We have always tried to keep our prices at the point where most adults can afford them. I am some mid-twenties drummer who would struggle with anything financial, but most adults can afford it. They can then take those concepts to their private drum instructor and ask if they are doing it right. Even though they can upload videos to me, they maybe feel more comfortable with their private drum instructor, which is totally fine. I think both are necessary for sure.
“I actually wanted to get better at the drums. I wished that they could have put some effort into it and didn’t just give me the lesson they gave the kid before me or the lady after me.”– Mike Johnston
That makes complete sense because when you are taking online lessons, there is also no one to tell you if your technique may be wrong as well.
Yeah, and I am in the same boat. I get a lot of my content from the online world, and it just nudges me into practice, but then I have the people that I trust in my life where I can say, “Hey man, I am working on this concept. Can you come over here and get some jam time so you can really check out my technique because you are somebody that I look up to for technique.” So I think person to person is always going to be essential and a big part of this. Something that the older private drum instructors will have to realize is that online drum instruction is not their enemy. I mean, how many people are playing drums now because of the online world that never would have started in the first place? Once they have started, we have now created a whole new crew of students for them to advertise to.
You and I have been playing for a long time, I have been playing for 35 years now, so I have seen this industry go through so many different things, but it always needs to keep moving forward. When people ask me what I think about Travis Barker, I’m like, “Travis Barker was a Godsend to our industry.” We were in a really tough place when he came out, and he got the entire world excited about drumming again. I have never even thought once to break down whether he is good or bad, I couldn’t care less. That dude almost saved our entire industry by himself. We need those people all the time. I remember thinking the same thing when Cobus came out. He and I pretty much came up together or almost at the same time. He was the drum cover guy, and I was the teacher.
We were coming up together on YouTube, and I remember seeing those numbers and didn’t think it could be right that it read a million. I remember just thinking that a million human beings watched a drummer play a song all by himself. That is amazing; why would anyone dog that out? We need that, and we need those people and guys like Luke Holland, whoever it is. Anika Nilles is another great example, even though her stuff is original music. We need those people that get other people excited to play drums and alert people that it is a passion that maybe was dormant inside of them. We need to let them know that if they are 52 years and have wanted to play drums since they were seven years old that they can still start.
You must have had so many incredible highlights so far. What would you say have been some of your biggest highlights to date, and where do you see yourself going next?
When I look at the highlights, I think PASIC was a huge highlight for me. Playing drum festivals and drum clinics is awesome, but at PASIC, everyone in that crowd is majoring in drumming or music at college somewhere, so it is the smartest crowd that you will ever play for. It is like giving a TED talk because you know that you can’t BS anybody because the crowd is actually smarter than you, you can’t lie to them. I remember sitting in the crowd at PASIC the year before I performed, I can’t remember who was on stage, but he was breaking down what he was doing like “I am playing a swiss triplet” and there were three kids next to me and they were like “That wasn’t a swiss triplet, it was flam accent. He was clearly alternating his strokes” and I was like “Oh crap, these kids are wicked smart.” I wasn’t prepared for my performance going so well at PASIC, I mean I was an online drum teacher, and they put me in the same room in between Chad Smith and Dave Weck, and I was just like “HUH?.” I was backstage setting up my kit, and I was like “Oh my God, It is Dave Weckl tuning up his toms.” I didn’t even tune my kit because I didn’t want to bother Dave Weckl while he was tuning his kit. So yeah, PASIC was a huge highlight for sure. Winning Modern Drummer’s educator of the year award was a huge thing. I think the other big highlight was finally having one of my students, who had been to my camps, on the same drum festival line up that I was playing. I had no help in it, so I was like “Dude, you were somebody that couldn’t play drums, you signed up at mikeslessons.com, and now we are on the same drum festival together, and I didn’t help this happen.” That is insane! His name is Spencer Bowman; he is an amazing Canadian metal drummer.
As far as where I am going next, I don’t think I am there yet with making videos. I think I am still terrible at making online drum instructor videos compared to what I want to do, and I know that they can be so much better. I know that some of my explanations can be so much clearer, and I know my inspiration through the camera can come through more genuine, so I feel like I have a lot of work to do with that right now. That is where I am kind of putting all of my focus.
With gaining so much success already, how important do you feel it is to work on pushing yourself to the next level constantly?
Yeah, that is what I am going to try and do in the next few years. I want to pass on that hunger for forward momentum. I never ever want to be where I was last year. I always think I am eventually going to run into somebody and they will ask what I have been up to lately and I can’t imagine it ever being same old same old. I want to be like, “oh, since last time I saw you, I changed the world. I have done this and started doing that and started this for my health, etc.” I always want to have forward momentum in every aspect of my life. If I can’t teach somebody how to do an inverted flamaddidle then I should be able to teach them how to bring more self-motivation into their life without it being goofy you know, I never want to sell those DVDs that are like “Be the best you that you can be,” screw that. It must be a legit reality of how to keep your head down, nose to the grindstone, work your butt off, and have forward momentum all the time.
What advice would you give to drummers that want to get into providing online lessons?
I think the first thing on a practical level is getting a camera; your phone will do but get a camera if you can afford it and learn how to use it because you are going to need to know ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture, etc. You are going to need to understand color correction and how to film indoors because you can be a one-man crew and a successful entity at the same time, and I have proven that. That is a very practical thing, and as I said, you can do it with your phone, but eventually, you are going to want higher quality than that. If you have a birthday or a Christmas coming up, instead of asking for another ride cymbal (As long as you already have the Mike Johnston Transition Ride, hahaha), ask for a camera and a lens. That is something practical. The next thing is finding influence outside of the drum industry. Don’t look to me and try to do things the way I do it because it has already been done, it’s over, and you missed out on the chance to do what I did or what Cobus did. Those things have already happened, so find somebody in a totally different industry that you maybe have some passion for, perhaps it is cycling or fitness, but find something someone else has done and be like “Ok. Those are the kind of videos that I want to make” and model yourself after them. That way, even though you are borrowing influence, you are not going to show up on the drum scene as a copy of one of our other drummers or where people will know that you are clearly into this guy or this girl. The next thing is to practice teaching. I don’t understand why people think that drumming takes so much practice, but teaching won’t. I promise you that as soon as you push that record button, you have no idea what you are actually doing, you think you know the pattern until you press record, so practice teaching. It’s funny because it seems like none of us have a problem recording ourselves audio-wise and then listening to that to review our drumming, but not enough people do that with video and their explanations. Just because you filmed it doesn’t mean that you have to upload it, you are allowed to move it to the recycle bin. Make the video, watch it, critic it, take notes of how many times you said “um” or how many times you said “You know” or how many times you used the word “Like” to get you from one part of your sentence to the next.
Write all that stuff down and get better next time. Every time you make a video, make sure to be better at every aspect, be better at talking to the camera, be better at color correction. I am really pissed right now because I just uploaded a YouTube video yesterday, and I am telling you that it looked so good on my monitor but sometimes like how we go deaf from being in the studio for too long. We can’t hear snare tone or anything anymore, that can happen with film editing as well. I think that I just looked at the monitor for too long. I got home and fired up the video after I uploaded it, and I was like, “Why is my skin neon orange?” and wondered what I was doing in color correction. I am so tempted to take that video down, but it is a good video, and I put a lot of work into it, so I don’t want to. I am happy about that, and I want to feel like that because I always want to think about why I didn’t notice that. It drives me nuts, but it won’t happen again.
So I would give you three tips:
1) Get a camera, get a lense and learn about it
2) Start getting influence from somebody outside of the drum industry
3) Practice teaching to your camera