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Percussion Sensation and Educator, Greg Hersey, did a Live Virtual Q&A with our YMU Students - Behind The Beats

[Host] Everybody give it up for Mr. Greg Hersey. He's amazing. So you guys already know why we're here. We're here to hear from him, to learn from him, to hear his story, to glean from him, for you guys to ask him your questions, right? We're so grateful, Greg, that you took the time out to talk to our students.

Hi. So I just wanted to start off by asking you, when did you first start music?

I've been around drums my whole life. My dad played drums, so I kind of grew up with a drum set around the house. That was pretty normal to me. And then I really started playing and getting into it, maybe seven or eight years old, just kind of messing around.

And you know, my dad wasn't a professional by any means, but an avid drummer and listener. So his influences definitely rubbed off on me, and those are things that I picked up on. He showed me things that he learned through school and over the years. And I went through middle school band and high school, and just kind of continued. And never stopped.

I have two younger brothers that both play. My mom can play a little bit if she needs to. So, I guess you can say I grew up in a musical family for sure. Who was your biggest inspiration? Not just family-wise, like musician-wise? I mean, I know you said not family, but I gotta give credit to my dad. Like, he's the whole reason that I'm playing. And with him being a musician, you know, that definitely [got me] started. Aside from that, oh boy. The list is pretty extensive now. There's a band that started, [in the] late sixties/seventies called Rush. And Neil Peart was the drummer for Rush. And just an iconic drummer, especially in the progressive rock scene. And he was a huge influence on my playing pretty early on. So Rush, Rage Against [the] Machine, sort of the harder alternative rock. You know, I'll go ahead and date myself. I was born in '92, so I definitely grew up in the nineties era of music and that music was incredible. So lots of different influences to pull from with that. I could list hundreds of drummers that have influenced me, but really, it's just people that are exceptional at their craft. And really take it [seriously] and love what they do. You can really hear the difference [between] somebody that does it just to do it, or maybe for the wrong reasons, and then somebody that truly has a passion for music. So definitely picking up on those people that do it for the sake of music and just because they love it.

What was the gigging scene like for you as a high schooler?

You know, it was tricky honestly. It's difficult because I feel like a lot of businesses, or maybe events and venues, if they get a phone call from a high schooler or somebody younger, it's like, well, are are they really gonna take them serious?

Making enough phone calls and even making practice phone calls [build] that sense of professionalism and how to talk to somebody. That's something I learned pretty quick and it was a learning curve. I mean, there were plenty of phone calls where it was maybe awkward. But the more you do it, the better you get at it.

And really, the biggest thing was if something didn't exist, I made a point to create it. Maybe a Battle of the Bands event didn't exist, I would try to pitch that to different organizations and say, "Hey, this is something that we could do. How can we make this happen?" Really just kind of digging.

And you know for me, something that is still sticking with me is, you're gonna get a lot of "No's." So [make] that call and don't be discouraged if you get a "No." Make the next call, send the next email until you get that "Yes!" It's the small victories that keep you going for sure.

And speaking of victories, you've had a few videos go viral! Was that a goal of yours? Because I know "Teach Me How to Dougie" and "So Fresh, So Clean" have over a million views. Greg, how did that happen? [He posts percussion covers on Instagram playing various songs.]

Well, I'd like to say that there's some sort of all-knowing secret that I have, but there's really not. You know, honestly, it comes down to consistency.

With the social media game, I try to be as genuine as possible. I don't wanna post 10 times a day or spend hours and hours editing a video. My most viral video is actually one that took me the least amount of effort, the least amount of time. Typically a recording session for a 30 second video can range anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes until I get a solid take I'm happy with.

But with my video for "Teach Me How to Dougie", which I think is now over 11 million views, which is wild. That's wild to me. That probably took me five minutes. I was like, "Oh yeah, I got that." And that's the one that just kind of took off, and I have no idea why.

And that's really the biggest thing with social media. Once you post it, it's out of your control. That could have been a video that got a hundred views and stopped, or it could have, you know, took off to millions and millions of views and shares. It's pretty cool how that happens.

It's kind of like the lottery. You just don't know. So yeah, there's really not any sort of secret. I know with Instagram you have a lot of social media and content creators, like, here's a new algorithm and all these tips and tricks, and that certainly helps. But again, for me, I just kind of do it on my own terms. I keep it genuine, and people like it.

I love that. So you have a lot of followers on both of your accounts, and you've gained tens of thousands more in just a few weeks. Do you have a posting schedule at all?

I really don't. I don't even make a point to post every single day. For me, it doesn't really work in my schedule, and that's something important to keep in mind if you're wanting to create content and post things. Do it on your terms. At some point I felt this unnecessary pressure to come up with the next coolest thing and post this day and the next day, and it took the fun out of it for me. So I was like, "You know what? I'll just wait a couple days and keep the people waiting." And it's like, "Ooh, what's he gonna come up with next?" But with that, sometimes you're following can just kind of take off.

I mean, there's ups and downs to it [but] as far as a consistent schedule, no. At least every couple days or maybe a couple times a week [I'll post, but] again, I really try to do that on my own terms. I post when it's convenient for me, you know? I'm a band director, so [posting] in the middle of the day is probably not the smartest move.

So definitely when I'm home, done with lessons, done with teaching, and I can find some time to do that.

On your Instagram, when you remake beats and things, do you wake up and say "Oh, I'm gonna do this song"? Or do you hear a tone that brings you to a song and go from there?

Alright, that's a great question. I feel like it's a little bit of both. Some days on my drive to work, I'm listening toSpotify or whatever's playing [in] my car, and I'll pull inspiration from that. Or songs that I've already heard. I definitely try to pick songs that people know. Especially, you know, throwing it back '90s, early 2000s, sort of by my generation if you will.

And then if I'm not doing songs or covers, [I'll pull] inspiration from different instruments that I use. I try to pick some unique percussion instruments between the tonal wooden planks that I use, wood blocks or tempo blocks, different metal implements, small gongs, just some unique sounds.

A lot of the times, it's not something that I necessarily plan out. I feel like when I think too much about it, that's when I start getting in my own head. And there's too many ideas flowing and I can't find exactly what I'm looking for.

So sometimes, just finding those different instruments and picking a couple and rolling with it allows me to push my creative side without having too much to think about. I just find a couple sounds, like definitely some sort of kick drum or low sound, a snare sound, some sort of metal or wood, and then maybe something else. And, you know, that [puts me in a] position to be as creative as possible.

The room that you have behind you is full of instruments [Greg did this virtual interview in his music room]. Can you take us through some of your favorites?

Sure. I'll kind of get outta the way for a minute.

You had even more behind you, Greg. It's like a store in there.

Yeah, so I feel like in the last couple years... well really it started once I graduated high school is when my snare drum collection kind of took off. And, wow. It just never stopped. I think in here, and I have a lot of my gear at the school that I teach at, I think I have at least 25 snare drums. So I have some options, and there's always more that I have my eye on and I'm like, "No, I don't need that." And then I just buy it.

But you know, it's funny because I feel like my hobby is still my profession. So that's how I talk myself into investing in my equipment. It's an investment. I'm not just buying it. And it is fun. I don't know, I feel like each drum that I have back here, every snare drum has a story.

So what's the craziest story that you have out of all 25 snare drums?

Outta all 25, there's this one from Cherry Hill Drums. A dear friend that lives in California, he hand-makes drums, which is very cool. There's a lot of custom drum builders that do all this by hand, and that's a skill that is really incredible and amazing.

So this was several years ago, I actually entered a giveaway that he was doing when he first started building drums. And, I entered the giveaway and he made this really thoughtful post acknowledging that I was an educator. I don't know if it was totally random, but I guess he saw and liked what I was doing and admired that.

So, I won this beautiful drum in a giveaway. And it's just an incredible work of art. There's different types of wood here, and it's just a beautiful instrument. And he's [now] a dear friend, so that was really cool and that started a whole sort of relationship between the two of us. Of you know, giving feedback on some of his [drum] builds. We haven't met in person yet, but I hope to someday.

Another one, let me grab it really quick. This one, this is the reason... this one started it all. After I graduated high school, this was sort of my high school graduation gift from my dad. There's a drum shop in Orlando called Drums 2 Go. And this one, it just spoke to me. It called out to me. And so this is one that I can't part ways with, and I can't get rid of.

And honestly that drum early on, especially through college, I gigged with a lot, so that's sort of my workhorse drum. I put a lot of hours of practice and performances on that specific snare drum, and I still use it. It has that sense of nostalgia, which is weird. It's just a circular piece of metal. But again, I feel like with all these [drums], I have some sort of story or connection.

So I'm assuming each snare has a different feel or sound or texture?

Yeah, when you have metal versus wood snares, that's already a huge sound difference in what type of heads you're using. Even down to the actual snare wires on the bottom, like some have standard 14 strands. Like the actual strand count on the bottom, some will have a lot, some will have fewer. And that definitely makes a difference in sound for sure.

What was your very first song?

Okay gosh, that's tough. I honestly can't recall the first song that I played along with, but I will tell you the first song that I played with a peer, and that was like for a middle school talent show.

It was just guitar and me on drums, and the song was "Brain Stew" by Green Day. It's very easy, very basic. But you know, [it] put me in a position to focus on timing. Even though it was simple, it wasn't a very complex or complicated song, it was really fun to play. And I'll always remember that specific Green Day song, again, throwing it back to the nineties. I definitely have fond memories of playing that in middle school like. It felt like the coolest moment ever being at a middle school talent show in front of all the student body.

I wanna counter that, Greg, that was your first song. What's your favorite song you've ever played?

I'm gonna go ahead and say by the band Rush, which I mentioned earlier, "YYZ". Every drummer should know "YYZ". That is just an iconic rock song. It's an instrumental, so there's no lyrics. It's just drums, bass, guitar, and synthesizer. And, Neil Peart again was the drummer for Rush.

It's a very well-thought-out orchestrated drum part, to where even non-drummers and music lovers in general might know some of the parts. Like there's very iconic bell parts and little drum solos. I've listened to that song a lot over the years and I've been able to play it live, and it's difficult. It's very tricky. It's very nuanced. So, I think I would say that's probably one of my favorites. I mean, I've played a lot of songs over the years, but I'd have to say that song "YYZ" for sure.

What is a piece of advice that you wanna share with these young musicians? What's something that was profound for you, that you feel will be profound for them?

You know, there's a lot to music and there's a lot to being a great musician. You know, music is fun. It's fun. There are times where it is just the most frustrating thing in the world. And trust me, I've had my moments where I'm just like, "I'm done. I don't wanna do this. I'm gonna sell everything I have." And then I wake up five minutes later, I'm like, "Okay, all right. Let's just, let's take a breather. Let's calm down. Remember why you love this."

Yeah, I think the more that you're around music and the more that you're playing it, you'll find more joy in that. As soon as something becomes not fun or you're not finding the joy in that, you need to take a step back and sort of reevaluate.

It's not something that everybody does professionally. If you play music for fun and strictly for fun, and it brings joy to you, great. Nobody's telling you that you have to practice six hours a day and do A, B, and C. [But] if you want to, that's great.

There are a lot of different outlets and, and venues and avenues for music. You can be a performer, being an educator, music therapy, recording, engineering... I mean, there's so many things with music that you can involve yourself in, and be able to connect with people.

So, I would say as a working musician or if you're wanting to really get into music, a couple of key things that are easy to keep in mind, but a lot of people maybe miss this, be a kind human being. You know, I've worked with some people that are not so nice and I don't wanna work with them again.

They make that experience unpleasant. But just by being personable and being nice and kind and supportive, that goes a long way. Being appreciative, you know. We're blessed with this gift to be able to play music, whether it's for a recital or small performances or large performances. It's so cool what we do and musicians think differently.

We are different people, and music is a universal language. People love music. if you meet a person that says, I don't like music at all, then I don't know. [They] may be from a different planet. I think everybody loves music in some aspect or some regard.

And you know, one thing that I've learned is just leave your ego out of it. Leave your ego out the door. It doesn't matter how many hours you've put in practice or how great you think you sound, just do you. Keep it genuine, keep it authentic. I found that being humble goes a long way. And receiving any sort of feedback or compliments, it makes it that much more special. And again, it's not about that for me. It's about connecting with other musicians.

Now I get to educate for the majority of my musical career, sharing my love and passion for music with students and people now all over the world, like that's really cool. I never would've thought starting out, that I'd be doing what I am now.

And it was through all those years of practice and meeting the right people, and just truly enjoying what I do. It's led me to where I am now. And that's super cool. I mean, music will take you to some interesting places and really cool opportunities, and you get to meet cool people. So... just love what you do.


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