Over the past few years, youtube drum covers have seemed to explode in popularity. A quick search on the world’s premier video search engine returns thousands of clips for us to feast our eyes on. From 12-year-old kids filmed on their cell phone to professional youtube stars who have expensively made movies worthy of a Hollywood promotion.
So what exactly can we learn from a youtube drum cover?
Well, some good stuff, some bad stuff, and a whole lot of “in-between-the-lines” lessons. And the latter is what I will be focusing on today. I’m not going to suggest that anyone stop watching them (or making them). I continue to enjoy them myself. What I do want to do, is offer a new prism through which to view these performances in order to extract the most out of them, as well as avoid the mistakes so often made by trying to copy everything.
When you see a youtube star performing a new drum cover (or original tune for that matter), you are watching a highlight reel. You are seeing a fabricated depiction of reality. They have had time to practice the song (and techniques for years) and do take after take until the performance was perfect.
What you don’t see is the years and years of practice, the setting up of the kit, the tuning, the microphone placement, all the mistakes that were made in the out-takes, etc. This is especially true when we see a professional youtuber because they will have a professional camera crew. There are expensive lights and cameras to capture the visuals.
The way these videos can be perceived is somewhat in awe of the performer. They look so amazing and sound so good. But it’s a mistake to assume that this is how we should be perceived on a live stage.
Of course, when it comes to the kit, the performer will wish to show off their best set up. The problem is, it will have been designed with the solo performance in mind.
In other words, it will have everything the drummer needs to perform their cover the way they want. Also, the kit will be set up to look as good as possible on camera. And usually, it will be a big expensive kit. Not that there is anything actually wrong with big, expensive kits. But you certainly don’t need the biggest most expensive kit to play well, live on stage.
In fact, if you get the impression that you need a huge kit, then this can easily contribute to over-playing. The more drums you have available to hit, the more you are going to want to hit them.
When we watch a youtube cover, they sound amazing. Not only do we hear perfect playing, but the tone, clarity and sound of the drums are always amazing. There will be nice effects like reverb and such, and just the general volume level of the drums will be louder than in a normal stage mix and very drum-centric. This can lead us to believe that our drums should always sound amazing and loud.
And the problem here is it can make us feel frustrated if we don’t achieve the same amazing sound. The thing is, we never will achieve this sound.
A professional youtuber drummer has the time and money to tweak their sound forever. All the way from having an expensive drum kit with painstakingly tuned skins, all the way to tweak, after tweak on the mix that was captured through high-end microphones. None of these things are available to the average live drummer when on stage.
But the point is, you don’t need to sound as amazing as the video stars.
On stage, all you really need is a nice deep kick that can be “felt” more than heard, a punchy snare that can reach across the room, and a hi-hat that cuts through the mix.
Everything else is up to your playing. not your sound.
The technique is always amazing in a youtube cover. Not only does the performer have the luxury of recording over and over again till the performance is perfect, but they are also in a comfortable environment. Even though there are cameras and lights, they are usually familiar with the setting and can relax. Not to mention they can warm up before hitting record.
Again, on stage everything is different.
You only have one chance to get it right when playing live. You are on a stage you may have never been on before and you have a multitude of strangers looking on.
And you will make mistakes. We all do. Maybe not very often, or maybe all the time, but you will. And the point is, it’s ok to mess up. So long as you learn from it and don’t beat yourself up.
It’s a mistake to believe our technique needs to be as flawless as what we see on youtube. It’s great to have perfect technique and we should always strive to improve. But placing emphasis on one area of drumming can significantly diminish our returns in other areas (like the music for example).
Another problem with the over-emphasis of technique is over-playing. If we spend hours learning and replicating the complicated fills and beats we see in youtube covers, when we play live we want to show them off — as often as possible!
Playing live on stage with a band is all about making music, not showing off our triple inverted paradiddle-diddle fills!
Once again, a youtube cover is a performance. A well rehearsed, tweaked and fabricated performance.
And as is usual, the performer will want to add a visual element to the performance. Like big stick movements, head banging, stick twirling and throwing, etc.
It’s all great and entertaining, but just don’t feel like you “should” be doing these things on stage. It’s not necessary at all. The music you make with your band needs to sound as good as it can. After that, everything else is gravy.
I’ve seen many a drummer “look” amazing on stage — but sound average!
If you can have both, by all means, go for it! But if you have to choose, the drums are an instrument of music, not a juggling act.
A big part of playing live on stage is the interaction we have with other musicians. Of course, this is completely missing from a cover video. And it’s one of the biggest downfalls of playing alone. Nothing can replace the experience, lessons, and fun we have by making music with other human beings.
It’s great to practice and perform alone. But unless your only musical goal is to play to a camera that you can stop and start every time you mess up, then you need to get jamming!
Playing to a camera can lead to a self-indulgent mindset, where all we want is to satisfy our own ego by showing off everything we can. Needless to say, the best musicians in the world (drummers or otherwise) understand the value of teamwork and working towards the common goal of musical creation.
It’s not about you, it’s about the music.
The last thing we need to understand about the difference between playing to a camera and to an audience is the expectation.
If you see an amazing drum cover then expect to play the same, sound the same and look the same — you’re in for a rude awakening!
But the point is, you don’t need to sound amazing, look amazing and have perfect technique to be a great live drummer.
You just need to understand the value of teamwork in the context of music. Once you grasp this idea, you drumming will improve without the need for multiple takes, fancy microphones or huge kits.
I’m not saying anyone should stop watching or making drum covers. I’m just saying that we need to understand they are just entertainment and we shouldn’t use what we see on youtube as a barometer for our own success.
Thinking we need to sound like the youtube stars, is like trying to karate chop a mugger just because we watched Jackie Chan do it in a movie!
You just give them your wallet, escape and inform the police!
(And yes… I know he does Kung-fu, not Karate! lol!)