Maveriqs Profile: Zach (KJ Rias) Collins, Online Drum Coach, KJ Rias Drum Lessons
By Lamin Turay
Zach Collins is a veteran drummer who has played for multiple bands across his performing career. He's toured outside of the U.S., and opened for some of the most popular acts in the world. At a young age Zach knew that his adult career would absolutely involve music. That premonition most certainly came true, but in a unique way.
Zach works as an online drumming instructor under the pseudonym "KJ Rias". He's built a deep and loyal following on YouTube by giving his audience what they want, while sticking to delivering quality content and instruction. I spent some time speaking with him about how he learned to cater to his crowd, what entrepreneurship has meant to him, and what it takes to build an engaged audience on the world's most popular video platform.
How did you get your start with music?
I was one of those hyperactive kids growing up. I was always banging on any surface that I could find. Because of this, I naturally thought that drums were the coolest thing. I ended up getting my first drum set at the age of 14, and started playing in bands right away. I realized then and there that I wanted to be a drummer.
I eventually landed in a band with a handful of musicians that had a lot more experience and skill than I did at the time. Playing with them forced me to improve my drumming quickly so I wouldn’t get fired. I stayed with them for the majority of my teenage drumming career, and I never really stopped. I was drumming for bands all through my teens and into my early twenties. Through playing countless shows, and being involved with dozens of these bands, I was able to open up for some really big name acts. As a teenager one of the first big acts I opened for was the group Dashboard Confessional. I was even able to tour Europe a couple of times.
At an early age I knew I wanted to make music, and drumming in particular, my career. I thought that there would be no other option. Drumming was it. I felt like it was going to be my service to the world.
When did you decide that you wanted to teach drumming as an entrepreneurial endeavor?
After my last European tour, I came back to the Unites States and decided that I wanted to keep things more local for a while. I then noticed that on YouTube there were a lot of people who were posting drumming videos. There were a lot of what’s called, “Drum Covers,” which is when a person will take a song and add their own drums to it. I thought, “Well this could be my next thing.” I kind of wanted to see how well I could do going solo at that point. So I started creating my own videos of myself covering various popular songs. I would upload them to my own YouTube Channel, and see what type of reactions or comments I would get.
I started teaching when I noticed that my audience was asking how I would perform a certain technique, or a certain drum progression in a song. I felt like I could create more videos explaining what I was doing. So it was basically my audience that inspired me to teach.
How was it that you decided YouTube would be your platform of choice for creating and delivering content?
It was around 2013. There were of course, a ton of videos on YouTube about drumming. However, I knew that I could perform at the top level without a problem. I had a drive to connect to my audience through a computer rather than on stage. That way I’d be able to reach far more people. It wasn’t an automatic decision though. I didn’t know the first thing about posting videos, producing videos, or setting up a shoot.
A lot of the knowledge I needed to create quality videos came from trial and error. Back then I was working my day job as well, and I had very little disposable income to put toward the drumming videos project. So I turned to Craigslist to find a camera guy or a sound engineer. These were resources that I just did not have when I was starting out. It was just myself and my drums and I had to reach out to acquire the equipment or people that could help me out.
How quickly did your audience grow after you first started posting videos?
There was already a large crowd of people on YouTube who were interested in this type of content. When I began, I would post videos based on Top 40 or chart-topping songs. So I knew there was already a big audience looking for content related to those songs, and that my video would pop up right near the top when they searched for any official videos about those songs. That helped my audience grow much faster because I was able to leverage the popularity of songs that my content was based on. I was able to move past hundreds of views and into the thousands pretty quickly.
When did you make the choice to establish this as an official business, and what were some challenges you faced?
Everything! Early on, everything was an obstacle. I had the idea of what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t even sure I could monetize it. It wasn’t until I got my first request for a tutorial that I thought, “OK. I can do this for a living.” Yet still, I had no idea how to set it all up. As I said before, I didn’t have any experience, equipment, or resources to execute a professional video production. Not to mention, I didn’t know the first thing about setting up a website, video editing, or video marketing. I had to learn all of those things on my own, and realized how overwhelming it is to create something all on your own. Those were some of the first obstacles that I faced.
In order to get passed those obstacles, my method was to take it one step at a time. I tackled each issue individually so as not to get too deep into a bunch of them all at once. It helped me to have small wins over the course of building the business.
Where did you find motivation to keep moving forward when you were faced with so many initial challenges?
It really came from my audience. People were interacting with my content, and posting things like, “When’s the next video?” That’s what made it so easy to keep going. That’s what made it easy to learn what I had to learn. I felt like I had a responsibility to the community that I was building.
What methods did you use to establish a feedback loop with your community?
At that point in my progression I had my YouTube Channel and a Facebook page setup. Those were my main funnels for bringing in new lesson requests as well as feedback from my audience. I would constantly check my inbox or the comments on my videos and reply to as many communications as possible. It’s important to stay engaged with the people who interact with your content. You want them to know that there is actually a human being behind what they are viewing, and that you appreciate them spending their time to check out what you’ve produced.
This also helped to boost my following tremendously. I really started to see a spike in audience growth when I would give my audience what they asked for. It sounds really simple, but it’s very effective. The questions that you get from your audience, are more than likely the same questions that the majority of your community has had or did have at some point. For example, in the drumming community, I was getting a lot of requests for tutorials on “Beginner Drum Fills,” which is a segment of drumming that you use to connect other segments of a song. As soon as I started to post videos about Beginner Drum Fills my SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and my following started to grow. This was due to me posting things that not just my own audience wanted, but that the drumming community as a whole was requesting. So utilizing that feedback loop has been huge for my growth as a whole.
How important is authenticity in the content that you create, and how much of your personality do you inject into your own content?
It’s my belief that, if you don’t put who you are and what your personality is into what you create, then it’s not going to be authentic. If you’re not being authentic, then you’re not going to like whatever it is that you’re doing. That’s something that your audience can pick up on right away.
You should also be excited about the content that you’re creating before you put it out. If you’re not excited about your own content, then you’re definitely not gonna capture the attention of your audience, and you’re not going to have fun with what you’re doing. No one wants to purchase a product from someone who’s not in love with what they’re doing. The level of excitement that I have for what I do, and the content that I put out, gives my audience a foundation to like me from. Without that foundation I don’t think I’d be where I’m at.
How did you develop your on-camera presence?
A lot of the comfort that I have on-camera came from being a stage performer. Having spent time in a number of bands, I’ve been in front of an audience plenty of times. However, when it came to teaching on camera or teaching in general, I had to learn a number of things. I was always someone who learned to play the drums by ear from listening to other musicians. So when I got dropped into a teacher’s chair for the first time, it was natural for me to explain things the same way I had learned them. I learned very quickly from my audience's comments and responses that, if you’re not teaching in a manner that is digestible to the majority of your audience, then you’re going to get negative responses. I got those negatives responses, learned from them, and quickly adjusted my teaching style. With each bit of feedback I receive, I take it, and incorporate it into my next piece of content. This has supported my growing success.
How has being an entrepreneur changed your life?
It’s changed my life in so many ways. It’s exciting. It’s terrifying. It’s rewarding. More than anything it’s rewarding. You do have times where you wonder if you’re doing the right thing, but the good news is that, nowadays you can get feedback instantly. Engaging with that feedback is a pretty amazing way to keep yourself on track.
Again, back to the question, entrepreneurship has changed my life in every way possible. The thrill that I get from personally affecting someone’s experience on this planet in whatever small way that I can, is the most rewarding thing that I’ve ever felt in my life. Entrepreneurship allows me to make a difference in a person’s life that I may have never met or interacted with otherwise. Through the power of entrepreneurship, I have the ability to impact someone else’s life for the better, and that gives me the most satisfaction imaginable.
There’s a quote from Brendan Burchard that goes, “Did I live? Did I love? Did I matter?” I think entrepreneurship is the vehicle that allows human beings to matter. It gives you the ability to leave a mark. It’s you leaving a mark and making an impact in other people’s lives in a way that not everybody gets to do. I think that’s so important.
Who is your all-time favorite musician, and who is your all-time favorite entrepreneur?
Of all these questions this is the one that I fear the most (laughs). It’s so hard to choose a favorite. When it comes to musicians, I would say Chuck Ragan, because of what he’s created in the world of music. Tony Royster Jr., because he’s one of the best drummers in the world, and is so dedicated to his craft. There’s also Benny Greb, or Stewart Copeland, for what he did with The Police and his influence in my life. Even Johann Sebastian Bach for how he put his name and mark on music. It’s so hard to choose a favorite.
With entrepreneurs it’s the same thing. There are so many responses I could have, because it’s constantly changing. However, if I have to pick one right now, I’ll go with Elon Musk. I mean, he builds spaceships! His eye is on space, it’s not domestic. He’s looking at moving the human race forward, and I’m so grateful that he’s alive and doing what he’s doing.
What are three things you would tell aspiring entrepreneurs keep in mind when starting their own business?
First, know your audience. Second, understand your problem. Third, develop a unique solution. I’ve not been to business school, but I’d wager a guess that those are three things which are universally taught. Who’s your audience? What problem do they have? How are you going to solve it?
I will give a bit of advice on audience. When you’re trying to analyze your audience, it helps to be a member of that target group. If you are a member of that target group, then you’ll pay attention to what you are paying attention to. For me it’s watching drum performance videos and listening to amazing drummers. I pay attention to my own learning curve, and any challenges or obstacles I have while I’m learning drums. I’m both a student and the teacher. That way when I explain things, I can do it more comprehensively.
We extend a huge thank you to Zach for taking time out to discuss his entrepreneurial journey with us. We look forward to following his continued content creation and learning from the techniques he employs to keep his audience engaged. You can follow Zach on his YouTube Channel or on Facebook. What tactics do you use to keep your following growing and happy? We'd love to hear from you all in the comments below.
By Lamin Turay
When starting or running your own business there are many pitfalls that you should avoid. From simple everyday distractions like getting bogged down by email, to more significant things like overworking without enough rest. We all face these issues, but may not know about some of the more intrinsic traps which we may have already fallen into. In a September 2016 article, Kristen Vanstrom, a contributing writer at Business.Com details 5 Thoughts Traps That Cloud New Entrepreneurs. She talks about how simple things like believing that if all the most successful people in your industry are doing something then you should do it, can be hazardous to your own prosperity. Another great point she makes is about the concept of "Hustle". A lot of rhetoric is spewed out in the entrepreneurial world about how the one who hustles most will always come out on top. The problem with this is, there is no emphasis on focus. If you don't have a clear direction, then your level of hustle won't mean much at all. Vanstrom sums this concept up very well in the quote below.
If you don't know how to swim, but jump in the water anyways, and just flail your arms as fast as you can, you will still drown. But, if you keep a steady back and forth kick going under the water, you will float. "
Kristen's article about the thought traps to avoid as a new entrepreneur is a great read, and something we suggest anyone should archive for future reference. Beyond the thought traps she even offers solutions for making a better way forward for yourself. She talks about keeping a mindset of "If it's been done before, it can be done again". Have an understanding that a majority of the most successful people out there are no smarter than you. We recommend taking some time out of your day to give Kristen's article a read, and a bookmark. You can find the article through the link below. Cheers!
Kristen Vanstrom's 5 Thought Traps That Cloud New Entrepreneurs
By Lamin Turay
Dawn Jackson is a marketing professional working for WTRMLN WTR, a health-focused hydration product available in Ralph’s, Whole Foods, Costco, and Sprouts. The company is only a couple years old, yet it has strong social awareness, and is endorsed by many of the most influential members of the health, fitness, and wellness communities. This is due in large part to the efforts of people like Dawn, who have embraced and innovated the influencer marketing strategy that the company employs. Dawn spoke to me about how she took the initiative in her role at WTRMLN WTR to grow in both station and responsibility, while making the most of how the company promotes its product.
How did you become involved with WTRMLN WTR, and what do you do for them now?
While living in New York I was recruited to do some work for a modeling agency, which was owned by my friend Katherine. After moving to Los Angeles, Katherine sent me information about how WTRMLN WTR was looking for Brand Ambassadors. I decided to go and check it out. It sounded like a great company, and the philosophy was interesting. I ended up being hired as a “Baby Doll." That’s the official title for the female Brand Ambassadors that the company employs for their summer marketing in SoCal (Southern California). The company is based in New York.
So I started as a Baby Doll working at events. The company would sponsor these various events put on by fitness studios or gym owners. There’s a focus on athletes and people interested in athleticism. In addition to the event sponsorship, we would do demos so that people could try out the product by giving it a taste. There are also what’s called “seeds” or “seeding,” this is where you visit a business that might be a good distributor, and you give them a sample of the product. Once the business has tried the product, you see if they’d be interested in distributing or if there’s potential to have an event there in the future. Those are the particulars of the “Baby Doll” position.
Eventually, after showing some initiative on the Brand Ambassador side, I was able to transition into a more corporate marketing behind-the-scenes position. In this new role I execute what we call “Drops.” This is a practice where we work with a PR agency who helps us identify influential people that we can deliver product packages to. The Drops are hand-delivered because the product is perishable. We never mail Drop packages. They’re also hand-delivered because that gives us an opportunity to educate the people we are sending them to. It’s about having a conversation. We let these influencers know what the product is about, how and why to use it, and answer any questions they may have. In the past we’ve made Drops to individuals who are popular social media influencers, and also maintain a healthy lifestyle. We hand deliver the product to their homes. By doing this we give them a reason to share WTRMLN WTR on their social media feeds and provide exposure for the company.
How was it that you were able to transition from Brand Ambassador to a corporate marketing role?
It was an observation actually. I had done Brand Ambassador work on and off for about 10 years when I was living in New York. I worked while I was in college. I’m an Economics and Political Science major. I worked in commercial real estate and for a hedge fund for a while as well. I was also a little older and more experienced than most Brand Ambassadors, so I brought a wealth of knowledge to the position. When I would go about doing my job, I would also come up with new ideas, recommendations, and utilize my contacts in the area to spread awareness. For example, I’m a member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, who I contacted and ended up brokering my own sponsorship event with on behalf of the company. They ended up featuring us on their Twitter feed, and now we have a scheduled meeting with them to discuss product distribution. Brittney Newman is the manager out here for the Southern California region. She noticed my experience and the initiative I was taking, and moved me into a role with more responsibility.
How has your experience been working through the ranks, and being where you are at now?
There’s been a bit of a challenge since the main corporate headquarters is in New York. It’s much more cohesive in that area, especially since it’s the type of company that has a real family feel. However, one of the Baby Dolls that’s based in New York traveled out to Los Angeles to do the training for the Baby Dolls here. Here name is Tara, and she’s involved on a deep level with the company. Her energy, and comprehensive knowledge of the business was helpful.
How effective has influencer marketing been for WTRMLN WTR?
It’s been very important. It’s almost exclusively what the company does for advertising. There are no paid advertisements in magazines, on television, or radio. If we are ever mentioned on one of those mediums, it’s because we executed a drop to an influencer, and that was the result. Recently Jody Levy, the WTRMLN WTR C0-Founder, has been doing more press. She was on the Today show in New York, and she’s getting more interviews, but the company does not do any paid traditional advertising. It’s also important to note that WTRMLN WTR does not pay for the social media mentions that we get. A lot of companies will pay thousands of dollars to have a celebrity mention their product. We don’t do that. It has to be their choice. It comes from the strength of them actually enjoying the product, and wanting to be involved in the brand. WTRMLN WTR also has an environmentally conscience and conservationist component to it. That adds incentive for influencers to spread the word.
Do you only target celebrities, or do you engage other types of people when you are executing influencer Drops?
We don’t just go after celebrities. Our main celebrity push was around National Watermelon Day, which was August 3rd. We also engage with experts in their particular market. We’ll talk to fitness experts or wellness gurus who have a big, engaged following as well. We want quality of influence and not just quantity. Don’t get me wrong, there is a threshold for the amount of followers a person needs to have, but we also want them to have an audience that is very interactive.
When it comes to the celebrity end, I was tapped to interact with those influencers because of all the Baby Dolls, I was well suited for that role. This was mostly based on my level of experience and ability to communicate or engage these people in the best way possible. You have to maintain the right touch, because if you rub a celebrity influencer the wrong way it could have very bad ramifications for your brand.
What actual materials go into a Drop?
We’ll provide branded cooler bags to keep the product cold, there’s also a tri-fold that’s in the shape of a WTRMLN WTR bottle and has all of the product information on it, there’s even a postcard with a greeting that displays the fitness and wellness brand messaging on it. Of course there’s a bunch of the actual product in the package, and business cards with follow up contact information as well. Depending on how much product we are giving away we’ll wrap the package differently with a nice bow and some cellophane. The company provides all of the materials for the Drop packages, and training on how to present them.
There are also very specific strategies for executing the Drops. It’s an entrepreneurial endeavor in itself. Beyond hand-delivering the packages, we also have to meet certain time windows based on availability of the influencer or their reps. So you have to keep a schedule. In addition, we use our own vehicles and have to pick up the product from specialized cold storage facilities. You also have to dress appropriately, as you are representing the company, and managing your own business within the company. The Drops aren’t just a drop-off, they’re like a small business meeting. When you arrive at the influencers location they are expecting you, they’re excited, and you need to be ready to sell them on the experience.
What’s the biggest impact that has been made from working with an influencer?
We’ve done some work with a female former star of the show “Seventh Heaven." She’s a big influencer in the Southern California region. Her endorsement of the product was huge for our exposure. One of the Kardashian sisters also Snapchatted about the product on National Watermelon day. That provided another big leap in awareness. Both of those engagements were directly attributed to Drops that I made.
We also had an incredibly well-known pop singer and performer make mention of the product on her Instagram feed during the National Watermelon Day push. There was an image posted of her backup dancers drinking the product that ended up getting a lot of buzz. She’s also invested in the company.
It’s important to keep in mind that not every Drop we make results in someone posting or sharing on social media. They always think the product is great, and give us positive feedback on our engagement with them, but it still may not end up in our company gaining any sales. So we make sure to be strategic with the Drops.
What methods do you use to identify the influencers that you want to work with?
One of the main things we look for is healthy living. People who have embraced a lifestyle of health, fitness, and wellness. We look out for people who have that health-focused mindset. They don’t smoke, they don’t go out and party a lot. They’re usually fit on some level. We don’t target a specific body type, but we do look out for people who take care of their bodies and advocate that practice. If they’re living a fitness-oriented life, then they’ll have the results of that life. Additionally, we look for people who not only workout, but workout as a part of their overall lifestyle. They may be into biking, or swimming, or a number of other activities.
We also engage with people or companies on the beauty or wellness side. That includes salons and spas. Most likely these organizations have customers who are into health and fitness. It goes back to when I mentioned the concept of “seeding." We’ll identify a yoga studio for instance, because that’s an ongoing activity where customers continually visit the location. We’ll talk to the studio owner, introduce them to the product, and if they like it, they’ll roll it into their offerings.
What areas are you and the company looking at in order to grow your reach?
I know that there was a company presence this year at both the Burning Man and Wanderlust music festivals. Personally, I’ve been trying to place some focus on the “Mom” market. The product is very low in sugar, gluten-free, vegan, and GMO-free as well. It’s all those things, plus it’s a product that pregnant women, or women with children can feel confident about sharing with their child. It’s something that's tasty enough for children to want to drink and healthy enough for moms to want to drink.
In order to tap that particular market, I’m targeting fitness groups as well as workout groups that are specific to women who have children. It’s about getting into those avenues. The fitness activities or wellness groups that are directed at young mothers. I find them and figure out a way that the product can bring value to their community.
What advice do you have for anyone out there working as a brand ambassador or looking to take initiative in their marketing representative position?
I’d definitely encourage people who are working for a brand to utilize their personal networks. Think about the events that you put on or attend, and see how you can incorporate the brand that you're representing. Birthday parties, get-togethers, whatever social activities you’re into. Have your friends post about and take pictures with the product. Integrate the brand into your personal life and provide opportunities for it to shine in an organic way. Of course you’ll want to make sure that the company you represent is good with that.
Where can we follow WTRMLN WTR and your own involvement in the company?
The company has a primary website at https://wtrmlnwtr.com/. They also have an instagram at @wtrmlnwtr. Their facebook is https://www.facebook.com/wtrmln.wtr. All of the social feeds are updated daily.
I’m also available to work with potential influencers or if anyone out there is looking to work as a brand ambassador. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We want to thank Dawn for spending time to share her experience with us. We appreciate the knowledge she has shared about growing in a brand ambassador role, and utilizing influencer marketing. Do you have any questions about these concepts? Please let us know your thoughts or feedback in the comments below.