Learning Drums

Carter McLean on Swipe Culture in the Era of #instadrummer

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On October 12, 2019, Cascio Interstate Music hosted its annual Drummerfest event. Three incredible drummers made the trek to New Berlin, Wisconsin, to grace our ears with performances and clinics. 

One of the three drummers who attended was highly-acclaimed NYC jazz drummer Carter McLean. 

Carter runs Four Hands Drumming, an incredible lesson program designed to help improve your playing as a drummer and help you find your unique voice.

He also runs an excellent YouTube channel.

Carter’s clinic was more educational than performance-based. He did start with a lengthy and impressive solo, but I took a lot from his statements afterward.

For example, he’s the only drummer I’ve heard that has commented on the current swipe culture that plaguing us all.

Now, before there’s a flame war in the comments, let me clarify. I’m not saying social media is inherently bad. In fact, it’s probably the greatest technological innovation to date. I’m just saying that with the good, comes some bad.

The Rise of #instadrummer and Swipe Culture

Siros Vaziri

We’ve all seen the hashtag #instadrummer on Instagram, right? I think it may be one of the most popular ones drummers include with their content.

With the rise of social media, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the amount of content that’s available for our viewing pleasure online. It’s come at a price, unfortunately.

We have virtually no attention span when viewing content on social media.

And don’t just take my word for it — researchers at the Technical University of Denmark suggest the collective global attention span is narrowing due to the amount of information available.

It makes complete sense. I notice it with people all the time in daily conversation.

It’s no shock that we have little to zero attention spans. I’m sure I scrolled past hundreds of posts today combined between Facebook and Instagram. 

I can’t remember many of them if any.

Selfish plug

Think about this in terms of drummers on Instagram. There are tens, if not, hundreds of thousands, all sharing video clips and pictures each day. 

There’s just too much noise for us to really focus on each drummer and take something positive from each clip we see.

Leave a comment down below with the number of drummers you’ve scrolled past on Instagram today (estimate)

How many of them do you truly remember — did you take away anything from what they played?

This idea was Carter’s main point in his lecture.

Carter McLean on Instadrummer
Carter McLean at Drummerfest 2019

“We’ve all got some device in our pockets. We can listen to every song ever written right now in your pocket, which is unbelievable if you think about it.

But the problem with that is it’s very disposable at the same time.

So, people who might see the most amazing drummer on Instagram go, “man, that guy’s great,” and then you swipe, next guy.

You’re not digesting anything. Even if it’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen in your life, you hang on it for about 3 seconds, and then you swipe.

And you got to think about that. Kind of readjust and try to slow everything down and really, the reason these two guys appear and sound the way they do is because they digested all the great players that came before them. They didn’t see Tony Williams and only go, “that guy’s really good.”

Carter McLean Drummerfest 2019

They sat and probably studied all the stuff that those guys have done. Think about that when you leave here and when you’re studying or watching a YouTube video or listening to a record.

Raise your hand if anyone in here during the last dedicated time to sit down and actively listen — put your phone down and listen to an entire record.

It’s important because if you just keep swiping through everything, you’re never going to learn really anything. You’re going to hear everything, let’s say, or a lot, but you’re not going actually to listen to anything.” -Carter McLean, Drummerfest 2019

It struck a chord with me when I heard him at the clinic. I’m so happy I had my device, ironically, recording during his speech.

Music is Disposable with the Advent of Streaming Services

He’s completely correct. How is it that we have access to almost every song ever recorded in our pocket. It’s truly a marvel when you think about it.

And yet, we take these things for granted. Music today is disposable because of how easy it is to acquire.

I’ll never forget being younger and begging my parents to buy me a CD for my birthday. A CD, with just ten songs maybe.

Today, I can hear any song, whenever, and wherever I am with my iPhone and Spotify (if the artist uses Spotify to promote their band, not sell music).

Carter mentions actively listening. He’s right on the money again. Take an hour out of your day, find an album, and just listen

Don’t fall for distractions — listen to the drummer, feel the accentuations, analyze the groove.

He asked if anyone in the audience had done this recently. The crowd was surprisingly quiet (I mean, it’s a Milwaukee crowd, we’re like Canadians, but still).

I think only a few people had mentioned active listening recently, myself being one of them.

In the past month, my Spotify plays have almost exclusively been from one album — Alive by Hiromi.

While I can’t say I’m always actively listening, when I did, I noticed a significant improvement in my playing as of late. 

I’m beginning to work in more linear grooves (thanks to Simon), and I feel like I’m making huge leaps, whereas before, I was somewhat stuck in a rut.

And Carter mentioned Tony Williams. If you aren’t aware of his playing, you need to have a listen. Tony is one of the best drummers of all time


Take five minutes right now and go listen to Fred. That tune has had a significant influence on my playing lately, as well.

Slow Your Roll on Instagram

I think collectively, as drummers, we should slow down and take time to digest the content we view. If we want to grow as drummers, we should apply concepts from others as we are inspired.

When you’re inspired by a clip on Instagram, study up and dig into other things that drummer does. Listen hard and try to apply their concepts to your own playing.

Had Tony Williams been a drummer today, would he have had the same impact as he did all those years ago?

I think so, but it would have been much more difficult with swipe culture.

Nick Cesarz

Nick is a drummer, percussionist, and blogger from Milwaukee, WI. He toured extensively with Vinyl Theatre, opening up for acts like twenty one pilots, Panic! at the Disco, and more. Now no longer touring, his passion lies in gear and playing the kit as much as time allows.

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