The 2019 Hit Like A Girl Contest opens for entries on March 1. This contest, which was started by drum industry marketing expert David Levine in 2011, has grown into a global phenomenon with girls and women from more than 50 countries competing in four age groups across categories including drum set, world percussion, marching percussion, concert percussion, and a technology category. [Full disclosure: Tom Tom and DRUM! Magazines co-founded the contest with David in 2012. Though no longer involved in running the contest DRUM! remains a sponsor.]
Putting on a contest is backbreaking work. You have to coordinate celebrity judges and forty different sponsors. You have to respond quickly to the needs of contestants and site visitors. Judging is a giant burden as you sift through hundreds of videos trying to make good decisions about who should advance in the competition. And, then there is communications, the web sites and social media that are a vital part of any enterprise today. We talked to David Levine about the people putting on the contest, the growth in female musicianship, and how the contest reveals the future of drumming itself.
DRUM!: I know a lot of volunteers help put on the contest. Who are some of the people working on the contest this year?
David Levine: We’ve got the brilliant and talented Louise King, the former editor of Rhythm, who I lured back in a few years ago to coordinate celebrity judges. We’ve also got Moty Baketas in Mexico, Noriko Terada in Japan and Camille Bijeault in France. They coordinate regional contests, the contests within a contest. And, in China we work with the Nine Beats school chain.
Louise has been instrumental on working on a special media project involving Sheila E. We’re interviewing her about her life story, and the issues of growing up as a female Latin musician. Each episode we’ll take a record of hers and break it down so the project will have a strong musical foundation. [Ed Note: Louise is also busy working on an unrelated project that is called “Count Me In,” it’s a feature film about the story of contemporary drumming from the Sixties to today. She’s interviewing lots of people for that.]
What is driving the international demand?
Partly those are countries where we think there can be more growth in female drumming. We want to encourage girls around the world to play.
Last year there were 18 million votes cast in the China contest. Nine Beats has more than 200,000 students in their chain of schools. China is the biggest potential market in the world. There are 1.5 billion people and maybe as many as 8 million who play drums in some form or other. Tama runs a big contest there. And, there are little drumming contests every week somewhere in China. It’s that big.
When the contest started there was one category for drumset. Now there are many different age groups.
This year there the age groups are under 13, 13-17, 18-39, and 40 and above. The girls who are under 13 really aren’t that competitive with the girls who’ve been studying longer. The women over 40 don’t really feel good competing against kids. So we’ve opened it up to more people. With all the categories there are 95 different prizes.
Two years ago the contest added non-drum set categories for the first time. Marching, concert, world percussion and rhythm technology. How are those doing in 2019?
All of those are growing. The Rhythm Technology contest is conducted with an organization called Beats By Girlz. And, we’ve engaged with Melodics, an app that teaches MIDI keyboards, drums, and finger drumming. That’s like where you use fingers on Ableton Push or other finger-activated drum pattern devices. It’s not too bizarre to think this could a big mode of drumming in the future. The whole point of the technology division is to teach girls who are interested how to program beats using computers, tablets, and phones.
In terms of marching Vic Firth has taken the lead this year in sponsoring the marching and concert categories, which should help expand those even further. And we work with DCI and WGI. This year we’ve also teamed with Girls March, a group led by Rachel Taylor. They focus on drumming and on leadership development, which is a key part of marching. The contest contains a lot of moving parts.
Do you get complaints about including “non-drummers?”
We say “Hit Like A Girl is a Revolution within a Revolution.” The drum set as we know it is 150 years old, maybe the next phase allows these other modes of drumming. It could evolve into someone who makes rhythms rather than plays drums.
Progress will happen whether we in the drum industry push back or not. I think we can coexist. We’re trying to attract more young people to play and any way we can get them in the tent is fine.
How have the styles or music of the entrants changed over time?
I think in the beginning we had no idea what the community was interested in. I don’t know if it evolved or we’re just catching up to it. There are so many women who play well, great musicians and great attitudes toward music. I think it’s incredible this was hidden for so many years. Now, women are ready to influence male musicians in a bigger way. So overall, I think the contestants now play with more confidence. Female drummers and female musicians are creating momentum, they’re creating a revolution. In the fall we printed up t-shirts for NAMM that say “I’m not with the drummer. I am the drummer.” All the women who saw it said “that’s it.”
We say “Hit Like A Girl is a Revolution within a Revolution.”
The entry period starts Friday March 1. Walk us through the schedule.
The contest opens March 1 this week. During the six-week entry period teachers in the Sabian Education Network provide the judges. There are weekly winners. Then April 15 we start public voting to winnow down finalists. Then the celebrity judges chose final winners.
In the past you’ve given the winners chances to perform at PASIC and at Sweetwater Gear Fest. But I hear this year there is something special?
This year the scholarships are pretty amazing. Drumeo will fly a champion to Vancouver to record a show. There’s also a huge Berklee scholarship with free tuition for their five-week summer camp and two summer scholarships to Musicians Institute in Hollywood. In addition there is a scholarship for School of Rock, for a young contestant. And, again some of the champions will be invited to perform at the Sweetwater Gear Fest or at PASIC in Indianapolis in November. It’s got the potential to change someone’s life.
I have had a couple of male musicians come up to me in recent years and say their band sounded better with a female drummer. Which reminds me of something Cindy Blackman said at a clinic years ago—that she felt there was a feminine side of herself she tapped into through drumming. She said drummers nurture the band. Do you think that is an aspect of the talent you see in the contest?
[Laughs} I’m sure the women in the contest would disagree. I would say that one thing I notice is that women seem to have good timekeeping ability. They really play pocket. But overall, I think the future is more a mix, a melting pot of genders, styles, attitudes, and technology is the future of drumming. If you look at the next 100 years rhythm is king. But how we create it is always in transition. That’s the exciting challenge of where we are.
Sponsors of the contest include all the following companies: Avedis Zildjian, Drumeo, DRUM!, Nine Beats, Beats By Girls, DW Drums, Girls March, Gretsch, LP, Ludwig, PDP, Pearl, Remo, Sam Ash, Sweetwater, Vic Firth, Yamaha, AP, Berklee, Crush, Gibraltar, Innovative Percussion, Musicians Institute, Percussive Arts Society, Roland, Sabian Unbound, Tama, WFL III, Ableton, Aquarian, LaBaguette, Balter Mallets, Black Swamp, Booty Shakers, Craviotto, Cympad, DCI, Digital Drummer, Dixon, DrumChannel, Drum Guru, Dramatic Mexico, Drumming Lab, DTX Drums, Evans Drumheads, Girls Rock Camp, High School Nation, Hudson Music, Jammcard, Japan Percussion Center, Korg, Little Kids Rock, Marching Band Activity, Melodics, Montano, Musicologists Pro, Pork Pie Percussion, PreSonus, ProMark, Puresound, QueensGuard, Rhythm Mag, Rhythm & Drums Magazine, Roli, School of Rock, Soundbrenner, Techra, The Sessions, Trick Drums, TRX, Vater Percussion, WGI, Wix Drummers, Women In Music.