|Drummer Luke Holland in concert with The Word Alive in Manila.
Luke Holland's Numbers Game
Gifted and shrewd, young drummer advances his career by optimizing his popularity on the
world’s biggest stage.
FOLLOWING LAST MONTH'S spotlight on YouTube guitarist Jack Fliegler, we visit another talented musician and clever entrepreneur, drummer Luke Holland. Though just 25, Holland recently passed the 75 million views milestone on YouTube, and his YouTube channel has nearly 480,000 subscribers. An endorser on the DW, Meinl, Remo, Vic Firth, Roland, and 64 Audio artist rosters, he was recently a featured performer at the official launch of Roland’s TD-17 V-Drums series, sharing the bill with Michael Schack, Jordan West, and the legendary Vinnie Colaiuta.
“If you can find a way to
separate yourself from the masses,
it can be life-changing.”
An Arizona native, Holland started playing at ten and created his own YouTube channel, LukeHollandDrums, at 16. His early videos, spotlighting astounding “stick tricks” while playing, set him apart from thousands of drummer videos and quickly amassed a huge YouTube fan base. Later spots focused on musical substance over flash, and in short order his audience included drummers and non-drummers of all ages, nationalities, genders, musical interests, and abilities. In 2012, Holland began balancing his video production enterprise with a demanding live gig: touring the world with metalcore band The Word Alive. Four years later he left the band to explore other music and refocus on his online career. Measured by views and subscribers, LukeHollandDrums has become the fifth-largest drum channel in the world.
Education Meets Entertainment
In some of his posts, Holland attempts to “completely cover the track,” a feat that isn’t as easy as it sounds considering that many of today’s pop, hip-hop, and EDM tunes comprise multi-layer sequences that were originally programed, not played in real-time. In others that he calls “remixes,” he takes more creative liberties. A devotee of metalcore throughout his formative years, he has devoured chops-laden tunes by bands ranging from August Burns Red while in his teens up through Animals As Leaders today. But he also shines on hip-hop, R&B, EDM, and pop, and many of his posts strike a balance between education and entertainment.
YouTube’s openness can be a double-edged sword: While fueling the universal reach and big numbers aspirants crave, it also generates a commensurate level of “noise” for them to break through, rise above, and get noticed. Acknowledging that there are many thousands of drummers posting videos of themselves on YouTube, Holland says, “If you can find a way to separate yourself from the masses, it can be life-changing.”
Early on, Holland’s stick tricks brought him front and center. Later, his prodigious chops both “legitimized” him among musicians and broadened his appeal. But by combining his eclectic musical tastes with a bit of shrewd calculation—consciously selecting the artists and tracks he covers based on the size of their audience—he has cultivated a much larger fan base. This is evidenced in the material he chooses to cover—everything from Justin Bieber to Skrillex and Animals As Leaders—and not cover, such as “obscure death metal drum parts or random bands that no one will search for.”
Playing on YouTube has sparked
"incalculable" opportunities, besides
“allowing me to spend
thousands of hours on my craft,
practicing and performing."
If playing this numbers game sounds a bit mercenary, it’s really more reflective of Holland’s focus on the long game and big picture. “It’s a common misconception that YouTube pays artists a lot of money,” he notes, adding that only about four million of his 75 million views have earned him a cent because most of his performances are covers of songs for which others own the publishing and performance rights. “YouTube has algorithms that detect published material, so the record label or the song’s publishers are paid for its use,” he explains. But while he makes relatively little from YouTube directly, the dividends it has paid him in terms of career opportunities—and “allowing me to spend thousands of hours on my craft, practicing and performing”—have been incalculable.
The latest example of Holland’s self-marketing savvy is his coverage of K-pop artists such as Black Pink and supergroup BTS. Among its many accomplishments and accolades, Time magazine lists BTS as “one of the 25 most influential people on the internet,” and the band is cited in the 2018 Guinness World Records as having “the world’s most Twitter engagements for a music group” after being identified as “the most tweeted about celebrity in 2017, being liked or re-tweeted over half a billion times worldwide.” As an example of the kind of popularity “feedback loop” that a high YouTube profile can create, the success of Holland’s BTS covers was no doubt enhanced by a recent solo clinic tour in Asia. Co-sponsored by the producer of the Singapore Drum Fest and Holland’s endorsement partners, every show was sold out, and the tour achieved several firsts and attendance records.
“In the digital age,” he admits, “numbers sometimes mean more than talent. I’ve seen instances when musicians get hired based on their number of [Facebook] followers or [YouTube] views. Big numbers can be equated with big ticket and merchandise sales. But players who have both talent and numbers are pretty unstoppable,” he adds, earning gig offers, endorsement deals, and other business opportunities. Case in point, Holland’s online notoriety has helped land him gigs as a fashion model!
Make Your Own Opportunities
To nurture his rapport with his fans, every few weeks Holland produces a video live stream, playing drums and talking about his current activities. He responds to direct messages from fans only occasionally. “It’s very important to stay connected to your audience,” he says. “Without them, my career would look very different. But there has to be a balance; I just don’t have time to spend all day responding to messages.”
Holland describes a recent project with guitarist phenom Jason Richardson as “in the same vein as Animals As Leaders, but more in your face.” Their album, Jason Richardson I, “did way, way better than we thought it would,” propelled in part by the fact that Richardson, too, enjoys a tremendous YouTube following. Assuming they would never have to perform the material outside the studio, the pair “went crazy” composing and arranging the super-technical tunes. “Then the first week’s [sales] numbers came in, and we said, ‘Oh, s***, we’re going to have to do it live!’” The project’s unexpected commercial success aside, it represents an artistic reward for all the other directions Holland’s career is taking him. He sees neither his prolific YouTube video production nor his various touring and recording projects as “side gigs”; rather, he joins countless musicians who have long accepted that to do music for a living, you have to exploit every opportunity available—and even create new opportunities that may not have been imagined before.
Holland even offers a branded line
of apparel (including paradiddle sweatpants!)
and other items bearing his
stylized “LH” logo.
For instance, he is regularly paid for cyberspace’s equivalent of a studio gig: accompanying other artists recording videos through which they hope to become YouTube celebrities. He has been teaching private lessons for about eight years at his studio in Los Angeles and via Skype, including some for international students. And through MerchNOW.com, Holland even offers a branded line of apparel (including paradiddle sweatpants!) and other items bearing his stylized “LH” logo.
Taking such an unconventional path, how does Holland gauge his success as a musician? “When I was 11,” he says, “I started off playing to recordings of metal bands in my garage, dreaming of playing to 1,000 people. With Word Alive I played a number of big shows, including one with a crowd of 30,000. Now, when I put out a video, it reaches nearly half a million. If 11-year-old me could see 25-year-old me, he’d be saying, ‘No way!’”