Whether it’s an aspiring heavy metal drummer wanting to improve his blast beats or a high school jazz player keen to learn that cool 5/4 time groove from Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, there is no shortage of good online drum instruction sites to choose from.
Arguably, the best – certainly the most popular in terms of search engine dominance – is Drumeo, based in Abbotsford.
“When it comes to sales, we do millions of dollars a year,” said Drumeo founder Jared Falk.
The online drum school draws some of the world’s top drummers to its Abbotsford studio to record video lessons for its 7,000 subscribers, including live daily lessons.
Drumeo’s 60 contract instructors include several local drummers, but also high-profile players like Carmine Appice (Ozzy Osbourne, Rod Stewart), Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, John Fogerty), Bernard Purdie (Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, James Brown) and Peter Erskine, the jazz drummer who helped Rush drummer Neil Peart improve his jazz chops.
“We just had Stanley Randolph out,” Falk said. “He’s drumming for Stevie Wonder.”
The 34-year-old drummer and entrepreneur has built what is arguably the most popular online drum instruction site going. It has been named best educational site by DRUM! magazine for two years in a row.
Of the dozens of online drum lesson sites, only a couple of others offer a similar range of services.
But here’s a little secret: some of those other online drummer instruction sites, like Freedrumlessons.com, Drumlessons.com and Drumlessons.net? Falk owns those too.
“We have around 50 drum education websites,” Falk said.
He said one of the keys to achieving search engine optimization dominance is having a “keyword-rich” domain name.
“Early on we bought a lot of domain names. We paid a lot for some of them because we wanted to have them. When you type in ‘drum lessons,’ we’re going to come up.”
Born and raised on a farm in Abbotsford, Falk started playing the drums when he was 15. He has played professionally on the road, touring the U.S. and Europe with several bands and has taught drums the old-fashioned way.
But Falk has always had an entrepreneurial bent and considers himself a businessman first and a drummer second.
In 2002, several years before broadband Internet and YouTube provided the speed and platform for uploading instructional videos, Falk began recording drum lessons with a Handycam and selling them on the Internet via eBay (Nasdaq:EBAY).
Though the videos were “terrible,” he said, they sold surprisingly well – well enough that Falk was able to expand the business organically.
In 2005, the same year YouTube debuted, Falk incorporated Drumeo. From the outset, he understood the importance of search engine optimization and cross-marketing.
“In the early days, it grew though pay-per-click advertising,” Falk said. “Over time, we switched to many different forms of marketing.
“We used a lot of search engine optimization, a lot of YouTube SEO. Then we did a lot of affiliate marketing, where people get a small cut when they refer someone. And, lately, it’s been lots of more organic and social marketing, bringing on a lot of these big-time instructors and utilizing their brands.”
For $29.95 per month, subscribers get a wide array of instructional features, from daily live lessons and structured lesson plans for specific styles, to drum notation charts and play-along loops.
One of the features addresses the challenge that online learning poses: it’s unidirectional. With traditional music lessons, instructors can hear and watch students and correct their mistakes.
Drumeo solves the problem with its Student Focus feature. Students can record themselves playing, upload the video to Drumeo and get feedback.
Drumeo generates revenue from subscriptions and the sale of special lesson packs and other products, including a new high-tech practice pad to which Drumeo has exclusive marketing rights.
Some of Drumeo’s 60 contract instructors fly in to record at the Abbotsford studio.
But Drumeo also uses satellite studios in Los Angeles, New York and Belgium, where drum instructors can do their own recording and live lessons.
The instructors are paid a fee plus expenses. Some of the video lessons that Drumeo films will go onto its YouTube channel, which has 450,000 subscribers. In those free YouTube lessons, featured drummers can plug drum and cymbal companies that endorse them or new albums they might be playing on.
Falk has invested roughly $1 million in Drumeo’s Abbotsford studio, where he employs a staff of 20 sound and software engineers.
The high-tech studio includes multiple cameras that allow drummers to be filmed from various angles.
Falk’s site has become so popular among drummers that he has no problem persuading high-profile drummers to sign on as featured instructors.
“A lot of the drum companies have started to notice that our videos get a lot of views, so they request that the artist comes on,” Falk said. “Another thing is, they will actually request to be on.”