This is the second in a line of articles presenting people and brands that I find inspiring. (The first one about my homesteader friends in Sweden can be found here.) Sometimes I will present crafts(wo)men running their own small brand or just being prolific in what they do, other times I will interview Permaculturists working towards building a greener future and every now and then a musician or artist that really love the work they do. The idea behind this is to inspire you all to think about what you would really like to do in life by presenting people who are doing just that. People who follow their passions – regardless if they choose to do it full-time or on the side.
You will meet people from a wide variety of areas and that’s intentional. Hyperbrain.me is about learning and expanding as a person and I believe that you can learn a lot from almost any field. Take the bits and pieces that you can apply to your own life. They often show up in the most surprising places.
Today I’d like you to meet my friend and former boss João Figueiredo. I met João in Portugal when he had just started a music school in his home in a small village called Malveira, around 35 km outside of Lisbon. He was looking to expand his drum teaching with some more instruments so I offered to give singing and piano lessons. It was really exciting to be part of a small startup of that kind, especially when working for someone so passionate about high quality teaching. Passion for things make us able to achieve a lot more than we first believe to be possible. I wanted to talk to João about what drives him to work hard within the field of music education.
Some years have passed since we worked together. João spent some time teaching at a larger music school in Dubai while constantly building on his personal brand. For a bit over a year now he is running the Leeds Drum academy in the UK where he says his “…main focus is music education and support for aspiring professionals.” Individual lessons are mixed with masterclasses given by known drummers from all over the world and the reactions so far have been really positive. This is definitely a growing brand.
When asking for a short description of what his business is all about, the answer is clear:
“Drums! Ok… too broad. So right now my main focus is music education and support for aspiring professionals. I run a drum academy in the North of England, more specifically Leeds, where I obviously teach but also run master classes with world-renowned drummers – Thomas Lang, Aaron Spears, JP Bouvet, Claus Hessler and Chris Coleman are some of the names that I had the pleasure to work with so far. I also help other drum teachers to start their teaching careers and local drummers by providing them with rooms where they practice and other resources that they might need to take their drumming to the next level.”
So where did all this start? When I ask if drums was always the instrument of choice, the answer is yes, but it took some twists and turns to get there. Due to having some hearing problems at a young age João had to postpone taking lessons for several years, but at the age of 16 he decided to ignore the concerns and just went for it.
“I started taking drum lessons 3 times a week! I was all in and in love!… yes, it was my first instrument of choice…but I do like the piano and I’m getting more and more into other percussion instruments. I did play other instruments (piano, guitar and bass) and had some training as a choir condutor – my best kept secret so far!”
What formal education did you have within the field and what have you done to further educate yourself – both in drumming, but also pedagogic training or business training?
“I’ve been creating my own curriculum and I choose teachers, not schools. I started at the local music school and then went on to take lessons from the best drum teachers in Portugal – Hugo Danin and Michael Lauren. Nowadays I’m proud to say that I’ve been learning from the best drum educators in the world – Juan Carlito Mendoza, JP Bouvet and Claus Hessler are some of the names that have been helping me these days.
My pedagogic background is quite informal. It’s genetic I should say. My entire family is in some way or another connected to education – parents, aunt, grandparents, cousins… everyone’s a teacher! And having the best drum teachers in the world around really helps me as an educator. Oh, and my students!!”
The last bit is something I couldn’t agree more with! You learn so much from teaching others. It forces you to reflect upon how you do things and why you do them. This is really important to do to be able to convey it to others.
Since I know João is a quite business oriented guy, knowing the value of good marketing to be successful, I was of course curious to hear how he views marketing yourself and your brand. Is it a “must do” or something he enjoys? I also took the chance to ask if he has any useful marketing tips.
“I like some marketing. Not all of it. And to be 100% honest I’m very much against gimmicks and tricks. I believe that in this industry you have to expose yourself, not so much market yourself. Play a lot, be very honest and work on your elevator-pitch. After that just make sure that you are in fact as good as you told everyone you are. My best marketing strategy is and always will be to lock myself in the practice room and practice/study for 3 or 4 hours. That’s what I sell so I need to make sure that the product’s good.”
I know that you often use videos for teaching certain techniques. Is this something you recommend? What limitations are there?
“Oh yes! Big fan of Youtube, changed the world! Now… the problem is the amount of BAD information out there and it gets harder and harder to select what’s good or bad. So: drum teacher (a good one!) and Youtube. Perfect combination.”
Do you have any tips for people who wish to create a career of their own rather than having a normal job? (What to do and what not to do.)
“Never lie. Never cheat. Work your a** off everyday. If you need to work 15 hours a day, do it. And the best advice I could give? Quit your normal job and go get your career. It’s gonna be worth it! It’s a bit drastic but trust me, when you feel that you’re about to go bankrupt and maybe drumming was a bad choice, think of those 8 hours a day that you used to spend NOT drumming. Plan everything wisely though. I see a lot of people failing because they fail to prepare. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Write your business plan and by the way… don’t forget to charge for your work.”
What motivates you? What makes you want to get up every morning and keep on working hard?
“Tough one. I think the things that motivate me are the same things that scare me every now and then. My passion for drums. I do not stop thinking about drums. I love sharing knowledge. And my businessman brain keeps telling me that I need to do more and better. But that’s also scary at times. I’m currently touring a lot in the UK and Europe which is great and an amazing experience but there’s a lot of pressure time wise because I’m fundamentally a teacher and touring is very time consuming
Long answer short: I love drums and I love the process of learning. That keeps me motivated.”
Do you have any certain tips to someone who wants to become a drummer?
“Yes I do. Start drumming. Embrace the suck. It’s not gonna be great at first. Buy a couple of dvds. Watch a lot of Youtube – drummers, not cats! Oh, very important: forget the stick tricks, they don’t record well in the studio. Be humble. Be friendly. We’re drummers after all. Listen more than what you play. Breath. Never practice when you play and never play when you practice (a Thomas Lang quote).”
Any tips for someone who already plays drums or another instrument and wants to start teaching?
“Yes. Don’t be a bouncer. You don’t get to choose what to teach and when. You don’t get to decide who deserves to play the triple paradiddle or use traditional grip. There are no rights or wrongs in learning. Remember this: there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. Your role is to motivate and break things down. Share systems and concepts. Don’t teach “the drum fill of the week”. YouTube does that very well. Teach the how, not the what. There’s nothing worse than having the “Drum-Nazi” as a teacher that just keeps reminding you how his/her technique is the only absolute truth. It’s not! Jim Chapin once said that “if you find a teacher who says that there’s only one way of holding the sticks… run away.””
When asking if his goals and aspirations have changed along the way, the answer is that his ambitions have changed, but not the goals. They were always to “be better, go further.” I find those to be interesting goals since most people like to set up a fixed deadline or thing that they wish to achieve. With a goal like this you’re never “done”, which I find fantastic! There is always something new to learn, always some way to get better. I believe that’s a good way to keep your passion going.
I also wanted to know where João sees himself in a few years, if he’s doing the same or if he will expand his business further. The answer very much reflected the kind of view expressed above.
“I don’t wanna say anything that I might not do and look like a fool! But let’s just say that things are growing now and will grow more next year – including some drum clinics in Europe and a couple of visits to Los Angeles and a drum book. More than that I can’t really say.”
That sounds like quite an expansion to me!
If you’re interested in getting to know some more about João, go visit the Leeds Drum Academy website. You can also check out some of the Youtube videos on the Leeds Drum Academy channel – including several lessons for free.