BY PHIL HOOD
There are more female drummers in China than there are drummers in the United States. I know this because the Hit Like A Girl Contest ran a separate contest in China this year working with 9Beats, a Chinese music school with more than 200 locations. With 722 entrants, 6 million page views and 18 million votes cast, the China contest was a big hit. After finalists were selected by local judges, a celebrity judging team comprised of Anika Nilles, Aaron Spears, Dom Famularo, DiDi Negron and Lindsay Artkop picked the eventual winners.
The Hit Like A Girl Contest also crowned its global 2018 winners last week. Entrants from nearly 50 countries were represented, including a small contingent for a separate contest in Mexico. Three different past champions, 2014’s Riesha Fayson, 2015’s Lindsay Artkop, and 2017’s Faith Benson, performed at an event with industry luminaries and hosts Mona Tavakoli and Jordan West at Drumchannel studios in Oxnard, California, as they announced this year’s winners. In case you missed the show, here’s the link.
Change Can Happen Fast
More than 40 years ago the Go-Gos with Gina Schock on drums became the first all-female band to write, play, and produce a number one record. There have been plenty of significant female drummers since then. But phenomenal growth in the breadth and depth of female drummers really didn’t start until this century, and it is a trend that is still growing.
This Hit Like A Girl contest has helped give voice to the aspirations of many of this new generation female drummers. In its first year, 2012, it seemed like entrants submitted videos just to say to the world, “I’m a girl and I’m a drummer.” Considering the box that parents and the world-at-large sometimes put drummers in, that’s hardly surprising. Talent-wise, that first batch of entrants took a back seat to no one. The first winner, DeArcus Curry (who later toured with T-Pain), had a big Dennis Chambers-style groove that funked on for miles. The runner-up, Agnieska Matuczak of Poland, whose style ran more to fusion and progressive music, was just as good.
Six years later and the talent bar keeps climbing. But the confidence level of female drummers is way above where it was then. Girls who years ago were saying timidly, “I’d like to be a pro someday,” now show up with music degrees and serious chops under their hands and feet. They’re involved in bands, world tours, recording, and teaching. Contest finalists such as Elise Trouw and Anika Nilles have generated millions of views and fans on YouTube while others have appeared on stages from Beyonce to Billy Gibbons to Jimmy Kimmel, and many more. The drummers did this on their own and deserve all the credit. The contest has just been there to provide encouragement and visibility as they kick down the door.
The 2018 finalists were no exception. The under 18 winner was Yuki Ogawa of Japan, while Indonesia-based Calsey Tory won in the 18+ age group. I’m told a tiny slice of votes out of hundreds separated the top few finishers.
There were also eight other winners in World Percussion, Concert, and Marching categories. And weekly winners too. One of them, eight year old Yokoka Soma of Japan blew up on Vimeo just this week as her cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times” was watched about a million times (see video above). Good choice Yoyoka, that’s my fave too.
Where It All Began
Do you know the difference between putting on a global drumming contest and brain surgery? They give you anesthesia for brain surgery. Okay, so I’ve repurposed an old joke. But it’s an astounding amount of work. In fact, whenever I have collaborated with companies in the music industry on contests, one of the first things that comes up is the burden involved in judging hundreds or even thousands of videos.
Judging becomes a vast sinkhole that swallows all the time of everyone involved. For the first Hit Like A Girl Contest in 2012 we needed the help of two dozen judges, and also various graphic designers, bookkeepers, publicists, photographers, interns, judging coordinators, plus the entire staff of DRUM!, TomTom, and Drumchannel, who hosted on the awards show. And, there was tons of support from retailers, teachers, publicity firms, teachers, and other well-wishers who wanted to add their energy to beautiful cause. Since then it’s only grown in complexity and the number of drummers and industry folk who donate time and money to make something like this possible.
Credit Where It’s Due
This program really started in 2011 when longtime industry promoter and marketer David Levine and TomTom Publisher Mindy Seegal Abovitz came to me with the idea for a global web-based video contest for female drummers. DRUM! signed on and for many years hosted the web site and did a lot of heavy lifting for the contest. [Note: DRUM! is still a sponsor, but no longer involved in the daily running of the contest.] The first sponsor I called to get involved was Craigie Zildjian. I knew she’d say yes and I also owed her a favor for a previous global contest we had participated in with Zildjian. Since then dozens of top companies have gotten involved because they believed in the cause.
We reached out to Hannah Ford Welton, then one of the most visible female drummers in pop. We were in need of a contest spokesperson and she chipped in right away. Then Sheila E. agreed to lend her name to judging. That’s worth a million bucks in the drumming economy. The first named drummer in history was a priestess named Lipushiau in Mespotamia, 4,000 years ago. But Sheila E. is more popular than Lipushiau ever was, and I’m pretty sure she would have owned the Sumerian priestess gig on conga or drumset had she been there. Her impact on generations of drummers male and female is enormous.
With the support of other top female trailblazers like Dawn Richardson, Shawney Recke, Jess Bowen and some of the greatest companies in the drumming business we held a kickoff event at NAMM in January 2012, and the video entries started rolling in that February. The contest has never looked back.
It’s Not About Discrimination. It’s About Overcoming It
The thing that made the biggest impact on me in that first year and the year after was not the drumming, or the workload, or the parents who would call to thank us for creating a contest their little female drummer could enter. What I recall the most are the stories women told about discrimination they experienced as aspiring drummers.
It felt as if every girl had experienced something. Many had been ignored by clerks or mistaken for the drummer’s boyfriend when visiting music stores. Others described how front-of-house engineers routinely bypassed their sound requests, acting as if female drummers wouldn’t know what they were talking about. Others described being passed over for drum chairs or drumline or being advised to play clarinet rather than drums in the school band. Many had parents who were convinced that it was a passing “unfeminine” phase. In short, it was clear that to play drums many girls had to push a little harder than their male counterparts.
The most extreme story of this type was from a Korean drummer — an awesome jazz improviser named Mischka Seo (below) — who left her home as a young woman to study drums in Germany. Drumming was an inappropriate career choice to her traditional Korean parents, so she decamped to Europe with few resources and no knowledge of the language, carried forward by her burning desire to play drums. Such motivation inspires me to this day.