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.